This Timeline contains events from founding through the American Revolution, with an emphasis on those relating to Washington Crossing.
1681: Pennsylvania was founded as a proprietary colony known as William Penn's Holy Experiment. As founded by a Quaker and governed by a Quaker majority, it did not have mandatory militia duty — as many other colonies had — as part of its regime.
By 1682, Bucks County, Pennsylvania was founded. It was supposedly named after Buckinghamshire, the location of the Penn family home in England. (Bucks County has Washington Crossing Historic Park within its boundaries.)
Early 1770's: A routine of settlement of the land by territorial claim or brute force can best categorize the early 1700's in the colonies. As Penn taught religious tolerance and made peaceful treaties, other settlers chose a conquerors stance to the Native peoples. Meanwhile, Philadelphia thrived and was soon the height of colonial society. Outlying counties benefited from trade and business with the city, especially those along the Delaware River.
1750: Representatives for the French and British met in Paris to discuss ownership of the Ohio Valley territory. Each group began in earnest to build a series of forts in the region to protect their claim of ownership.
1754: A young British officer of the colonial Virginia militia, George Washington, was sent to deliver a letter to the French from the English stating that the French were to remove themselves from English lands. The French and Indian War, as it was known in the colonies, and the Seven Years War, as it was known in Europe, began.
1755: The doomed Braddock expedition gave a young George Washington military experience he did not soon forget.
1756: War between England and France was officially declared.
1763: The Treaty of Paris was signed giving England the right to the territories in North America — including the continent and some of the Caribbean (sugar) islands. The war was lengthy and expensive. Parliament decided to place taxes on its people — including the colonists — to pay for the debt of monies spent on the war and to sustain its continued military presence needed to defend the land gained. These taxes went directly to England. Stricter trade regulations and heavy duties on trade were also enforced in order to increase revenue.
1764: The Sugar Act placed heavy duties and stricter trade on sugar and molasses. Sugar and molasses (to make rum) were a large part of the triangular trade route and a strong economic factor in the colonies.
1765: The Stamp Act taxed printed materials and legal documents. The Stamp Act required all legal documents, licenses, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards to carry a tax stamp. The colonists violently opposed this infringement into their everyday life and felt they should not be taxed by Parliament if they were not represented in Parliament. (The residents of England proper were taxed just as heavily, if not more so, and had little representation or voice in Parliament themselves.)
Parliament further angered American colonists by passing the Quartering Act, which required the colonies to provide barracks and supplies to British troops in colonial America.
1766: The Stamp Act was repealed
1767: The Townshend Duties were levied. The key statute placed import duties on glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. Its purpose was to provide salaries for colonial officials placed by the Crown so that the provincial assemblies, colonial governments, could not coerce the Crown officials by withholding their wages.
The Colonists organized boycotts and active resistance movements which escaladed matters and led to open rebellion against England.
1770: The Boston Massacre: A small group of colonists taunted a British sentry in front of the Custom House. The sentry reacted which created violent hostility. A crowd gathered. The sentry called for help, setting up the clash. A group of soldiers led by Captain Thomas Preston came to the rescue of the lone sentry. Captain Preston and his detachment of seven or eight men were quickly surrounded. All attempts to calm the crowd proved useless. A soldier supposedly fired a musket into the crowd, which was immediately followed by more shots. This action left several wounded and five colonists dead. The crowd quickly dispersed, and the soldiers went back to their barracks. Quickly dubbed a massacre, this incident became a rallying point for Boston against Great Britain.
The Townshend Duties were repealed, except the symbolic tax on tea.
December 1773: The Tea Act led to the Tea Party in Boston and other cities.
Mother England hoped to chide her errant children (the colonists) and bring them back under its reign by sending troops to keep order and bring about peace. Instead they found the colonists taking up arms in order to break ties with England.
March-June 1774: Great Britain closed the Port of Boston until restitution for the destroyed tea was made. Additionally, Parliament enacted a series of laws that included quartering British troops on private property. Colonial resentment towards what they perceived as British oppression grew.
September 1774: Delegates from each colony met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in order to form the First Continental Congress. It was designed to discuss colonial grievances.
April 1775: Battles of Lexington and Concord: An organized Massachusetts militia ("Minutemen") defended colonial munitions and forced British regulars to retreat back to Boston. Mother England was stunned.
May 1775: The Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
June 1775: The Continental Congress appointed George Washington as commander-in-chief of its newly established Continental Army. Soon after, British troops achieved victory at the Battle of Bunker (Breed's) Hill but suffered severe casualties during three assaults against the determined colonial troops.
March 1776: Washington commanded the American siege that eventually forced the British to evacuate Boston. The British departed by sea for Halifax.
April 1776: The Continental Army left Boston and moved south to take a defensive position in New York anticipating a British landing. Washington had hoped to keep the British from occupying this locale. New York was a familiar base of operations from the French and Indian War. The colony of New York also had a strong Loyalist population. Additionally, the force which occupied New York would be centrally located and therefore able to keep New England cut off from the south.
July 1776: The Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Second Continental Congress, officially severed American ties to Great Britain.
Summer of 1776: Though the American were successful at making a worthy stand at Lexington and Concord as well as in Boston, they soon discovered that this was only the beginning as 30,000 British troops (including their Hessians allies) arrived in New York harbor. The next few months were filled with disastrous defeats and demoralizing retreats.
August 27-30 1776: The British win the Battle of Long Island (Battle of Brooklyn)
September 15, 1776: The British occupy New York City
September 16, 1776: The British win the Battle of Harlem Heights
October 28, 1776: The American army retreats at the Battle of White Plains
November 16, 1776: The British capture Fort Washington, NY
November 20, 1776: Fort Lee, NJ falls to the British
Many troops were killed, wounded or captured from Washington's army during this time. Supplies were lost and strategic spots were captured. New York would remain a possession of the British throughout the war.
December 1, 1776: Washington's troops retreated past New Brunswick, New Jersey and headed toward Princeton with the British following closely behind.
The Philadelphia Associators (Philadelphia's answer to the lack of organized militia) were mobilized and on the move to meet Washington's army.
Washington directed Colonel Richard Humpton to gather boats along the Delaware River. He specifically requested that the boats be in good order, oars and poles accompany them and that the Durham boats — used for hauling iron ore on the Delaware River — were among them. The River was swept for 75 miles to secure all vessels. The boats were awaiting Washington's army in Trenton, New Jersey.
December 7-8, 1776: Washington's army crossed into Pennsylvania from Trenton. They were deployed to guard the River for a 25 miles stretch. All boats remained with Washington's army, making it impossible for the British to follow.
December 9, 1776: "All shops ordered to be shut; the militia to march into the Jerseys; all in hurry and confusion; news that General Howe is on his march...." Washington ordered, "Spare no pains or expense to get intelligence about the enemy's motions and intentions."
December 12, 1776: The Continental Congress abandons Philadelphia as they fear the British approaching.
December 13, 1776: Washington received the news that General Charles Lee was taken prisoner by the British at White's Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Lee's troops were slowly marching to meet Washington when Lee made a personal side trip which caused his capture. With the loss of Lee, some assumed that America would be forced into complete surrender as he was considered a highly valuable soldier.
Howe announced that his campaigning season was over and he intended to winter in New York. Cornwallis intended to return to England for the winter, and, like Howe, he departed from the troops.
December 14, 1776: Col. Johann Rall's (known as the Hessian Lion) regiment was left in Trenton as one of a loosely connected string of outposts which was to guard the king's subjects in New Jersey and keep watch against an American raid. 1500 troops were stationed at this location while the bulk of the British army wintered in New York.
December 19, 1776: "The American Crisis" was published in Philadelphia. Thomas Paine wrote... These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
This essay rekindled the American people's desire for independence and renewed the spirit of the troops.
December 20-22, 1776: Taking Lee's place as commander, General John Sullivan delivered Lee's remaining troops to Washington in Pennsylvania.
December 21, 1776: The Hessians thought little of the Americans, but they thought even less of their strategic position in Trenton. Thought criticized for not constructing defensive works, Rall felt Trenton was next to impossible to defend. He stated his concerns about his position as well as his troops fatigue to his British Commanders.
To Hessian commander Col Rahl in Trenton from British General James Grant in Brunswick:
I am sorry to hear your brigade has been fatigued or alarmed. You may be assured that the rebel army in Pennsylvania...does not exceed eight thousand men who have neither shoes nor stockings, are in fact almost naked, dying of cold, without blankets, and very ill supplied with provisions. On this side of the Delaware they have not three hundred men. These stroll about in small parties under the command of subaltern officers none of them above the rank of captain, and their principal object is to pick up some of our Light Dragoons.
Rall's regiment remained alert and concerned as to their tenuous position. They intended not to remain in Trenton but rather wait for the Delaware River to freeze allowing the Hessian troops to march across the frozen river and directly toward Philadelphia.
December 23, 1776: Another Hessian commander, Colonel von Donop, left the Bordentown area where he was stationed and headed south with a regiment and two battalions to suppress rebel skirmishes led by Colonel Samuel Griffen's New Jersey militiamen against the Hessian outposts near Mount Holly. After scattering the rebels, von Donop chose not to return to Bordentown, but instead reportedly took up quarters in Mount Holly with a young widow. His three-day delay left Rall's forces at Trenton vulnerable without any nearby support.
December 25, 1776: Washington assembles his troops to start the crossing of the Delaware River. There are three crossings scheduled for that evening. Washington was to cross at McKonkey's Ferry. Ewing was to cross at Trenton. Cadwalader was to cross at Bristol Ferry which was moved to the site of Dunk's Ferry. There troops are given strict orders.
Letter from General Henry Hugh Mercer to Colonel Durkee:
Sir: You are to see that your men have three days' provisions ready cooked before 12 o'clock this forenoon — the whole fit for duty except a Serjeant and six men to be left with the baggage, and to parade precisely at four in the afternoon with their arms, accoutrements & ammunition in the best order, with their provisions and blankets — you will have them told off in divisions in which order they are to march — eight men abreast, with the officers fixed to their divisions from which they are on no account to separate — no man is to quit his division on pain of instant punishment — each officer is to provide himself with a piece of white paper stuck in his hat for a field mark. You will order your men to assemble and parade them in the valley immediately over the hill on the back of McConkey's Ferry, to remain there for farther orders — a profound silence is to be observed, both by officers and men, and a strict and ready attention paid to whatever orders may be given — in forming the Brigade Co Durkee takes the right, Co. Stone left, Co. Bradley on the left of Co. Durkee & Col. Rawlings on the Right of Col Stone — the Line to form & march from the Right — Co. Hutchinson to form by themselves. –
Your obt S'vt
Around 4:00 pm, the crossing began. A nor'easter developed.
It was as severe a night as I ever saw. The frost was sharp, the current difficult to stem, the ice increasing, the wind high, and at eleven it began to snow. It was only with the greatest care and labor that the horses and the artillery could be ferried over the river.
December 26, 1776: Washington's army completed the crossing at McKonkey's Ferry at around 6 am — behind schedule and loosing the surprise element of reaching Trenton before daylight. Ewing and Cadwalader's crossing further south were unsuccessful due to weather. Washington's army marched 9 miles to Trenton and arrived around 8 am.
What I suffered on the march cannot be described. They who were with us know best about these things, others cannot believe the tenth part, so I shall say nothing further.
–John Greenwood, fifer
Executing a two-prong attack, Generals Sullivan and Greene led the army against the Hessian garrison. The battle is complete in under an hour. Washington is victorious and takes approximately 900 Hessian prisoners.
December 27, 1776: After almost 48 hours without rest, the exhausted American troops returned to their Pennsylvania camps. As the new year approached, many enlistments were coming to an end. Congress granted Washington's requests to increase the size of the Continental army and length of enlistment periods.
After the Hessian defeat at Trenton, General Leslie ordered Colonel von Donop at Mount Holly to march his troops, along with those who had escaped from Trenton, immediately to Princeton. They arrived on December 28th. General Cornwallis was forced to cancel his plans to return home to London. General Howe had ordered him to Princeton.
December 28-31, 1776: The American troops began another crossing of the Delaware River — a few miles south of McKonkey's ferry in Yardley. Their goal was again to be in Trenton. Once there, Washington begged for the troops whose enlistments would expire at the end of the year to add six weeks to their enlistments and they would receive a $10.00 bounty.
General orders were issued, All the Artillery are to be Drawn up on the high Ground over the Bridge...the Troops are to form on the Ground in the rear of the Artillery to form in three lines...Soldiers to hold themselves in compleat readiness to advance at a moments warning.
The Americans prepared for a British counterattack.
January 1, 1777: Washington sent a message to Cadwalader who was with his men south of Trenton with the instructions, March your troops immediately to this place. I expect your brigade to be here at five o'clock in the morning without fail.
Reinforcements had continued to join Cadwalader. He marched some 3,500 troops, including his own militiamen and some New England Continentals, through the darkness to Trenton arriving just before sunrise on January 2; increasing the number of Washington's forces to about 5,000 men.
January 2, 1777: Cornwallis took command of the 8,000 British and Hessian troops there. He was determined to advance his superior forces against the American troops and put an end to this campaign.
Cornwallis and his troops departed after sunrise and headed toward Trenton. It had rained heavily the previous night. The road was extremely muddy and difficult to pass. Troop movement was slow. As the British approached Trenton, they were purposely delayed by American forces under Colonel Edward Hand and his Pennsylvania riflemen, who harassed the British with gunfire that forced Cornwallis to deploy his men into a line of battle for two hours.
Cornwallis' troops were led to the Assunpink Creek where the American forces were awaiting them. The Second Battle of Trenton ensued. Bloody attack after bloody attacked was made as the Hessians and British soldiers tried to take the bridge at the creek. The Americans currently commanded the high ground, yet if they weakened, they would be trapped between the Assunpink Creek and the Delaware River. Horrific fighting marked the day and soldiers noted that the bridge turned red with the intermingling of blood and the British coats. As darkness came, Cornwallis called a cease fire for the night, claiming they would, "bag the old fox in the morning."
During the night, Washington realized his troops could not hold the line forever. He wrapped the wheels of his cannon with cloth, told the local militia to keep campfires burning and had the militia make the sounds of an army while Washington and the rest of his troops slipped away toward Princeton. The roads that had been muddy all day and caused much delay for the British had now frozen solid and caused a perfect escape route for Washington.
January 3, 1777: Cornwallis awoke to find Washington gone. On the Quakerbridge Road, as they headed to Princeton, Washington's men stumbled upon British troops leaving downtown Princeton to go to Cornwallis' aid in Trenton. The armies clashed at the farm/orchard of Thomas Clarke. While troops were engaged in the fight at the Clarke House, others attacked the troops still quartered in Princeton University's (College of New Jersey) Nassau Hall. After fierce fighting, Washington's troops were victorious. However, the Battle of Princeton left devastating casualties for both sides, which included the loss of General Hugh Mercer — a close comrade of Washington.
January 6, 1777: The main Continental Army entered into its winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey. The Continental Army remains there until May 1777. New Jersey militia continued the fight throughout the winter months. They denied the British and Hessian troops peace as they kept watch and harassed them at every turn.
Nathaneal Greene wrote to Thomas Paine:
The two last actions at Trenton and Princeton have put a very different face upon affairs. Within a fortnight past we have taken or killed of Howe's army between two and three thousand men. Our loss is trifling.
...the achievements of Washington and his little band of compatriots between the 25th of December and the 4th of January, a space of ten days, were the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements. Frederick the Great
August 25, 1777: The British landed at Head of Elk in Maryland and began their approach to capture Philadelphia.
September 9 to October 17, 1777: The Battle of Saratoga proved the American army was an effective fighting force, capable of defeating the highly trained British forces in a major confrontation. As a result, the European powers, in particular France, believed the American cause was worthy of increased support.
September 11, 1777: The Americans were defeated at the Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania. The Marquis de Lafayette was wounded in the battle, securing his status as a war hero. Two of the Hessian artillery pieces captured at Trenton were re-captured by the British at the Battle.
September 22-26, 1777: The British captured Philadelphia and occupied the city until June 18, 1778.
October 4, 1777: The Americans were defeated after fierce fighting occurred at the Battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania. The multi-pronged attack that worked so well at Trenton was unable to be executed by the American army during this battle.
November 15, 1777: Thirteen sovereign American states signed the Articles of Confederation.
Winter 1777-1778: The Americans encamped for the winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Von Steuben trained the men throughout the spring.
June 28, 1778: The Battle of Monmouth occurred. Victory for either side was questionable as the British departed before the battles end just as the Americans did at the second Battle of Trenton. From Valley Forge on the way to Monmouth, the troops passed through Bucks County and crossed the Delaware River again.
July 1778: France declared war on Great Britain and provided the Americans with much needed supplies and additional European arms. Troops soon followed.
January 1779: The British took Augusta, Georgia. The heaviest fighting of the remainder of the war played out in the south.
June 1779: Spain declared war on Great Britain.
Spring 1780: Charleston, South Carolina was captured by the British.
December 1780: Great Britain declared war on the Netherlands.
January 1781: The Americans were victorious at Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina.
July 1781: After French General comte de Rochambeau and his troops joined Washington on the Hudson River, the two armies marched south to battle the British troops under Cornwallis in Virginia.
August-September 1781: The French fleet under Admiral Comte de Grasse arrived from the West Indies and blockaded the Chesapeake Bay.
The Battle of Virginia Capes prevented the British fleet from coming to Cornwallis' rescue at Yorktown.
October 19, 1781: Cornwallis made the final British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia. At a dinner following the surrender, the British commander-in-chief toasted General Washington: When the illustrious part that your Excellency has borne in this long and arduous contest becomes a matter of history, fame will gather your brightest laurels rather from the banks of the Delaware than from those of the Chesapeake.
January 1782: The British began withdrawal of their forces in the colonies. Loyalists fled in great numbers.
September 3, 1783: The Treaty of Paris was signed, which officially ended the war between the United States and Great Britain.
November 1783: Washington gave his farewell orders to his troops. The British began to evacuate New York.
December 1783: In New York City, Washington bid farewell to his officers. Washington officially resigned his commission to the Continental Congress and retired to his home at Mount Vernon in Virginia