Historic Valley Forge

Did George Washington really stand up in his boat crossing the Delaware River?

Q.Did George Washington really stand up in his boat crossing the Delaware River?
Megan Younger, California, Age 10

A.You probably got that idea from the famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware done in 1851 by the artist Emanuel Leutze.

There are several things wrong with that painting: the flag you see was not in use until six months later, the boat shown is the wrong size and shape, and if Washington stood up like that in a boat such as the one depicted, he probably would have drowned and may have taken a few men down with him.

Leutze was using what is known as "artistic licence." Sometimes accuracy will take a back seat to the portrayal of symbolism and emotion, as is the case here. Despite its inaccuracy, the painting engages the emotions of the viewer, and Washington standing proudly upright produces a more powerful image than a more accurate portrayal would. The bold, triumphant stance highlights the significance of the the brilliant tactical move that Washington and his army were about to undertake. The surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton resulted in an important victory and a morale boost for the colonial troops.