In the winter of 1776, General George Washington and his ragged army had experienced only defeat and despair. The War for Independence was going badly, with failure following failure. In the preceding months, Washington's campaign in New York had not gone well; the Battle of Long Island ended in a loss when the British troops managed to out-maneuver the Continental Army. A series of defeats settled around Washington as he was forced to retreat across New Jersey to Pennsylvania on December 7th and 8th.
As the harsh Pennsylvania winter set in, the morale of the American troops was at an all time low. The soldiers were forced to deal with a lack of both food and warm clothing , while Washington watched his army shrink due to desertions and expiring enlistments. Now, more than ever, a victory was desperately needed.
The original plan called for the three divisions to cross the river under the cover of darkness. The boats to be used for the crossing were gathered earlier in the month in compliance with General Washington's orders, primarily as a defensive measure. Various types of boats were collected; most notable were the large, heavy Durham boats used to carry pig iron down the Delaware.
Fully expecting to be supported by two divisions south of Trenton, Washington assembled his own troops near McConkey's Ferry in preparation for the crossing. By 6 PM. 2,400 troops had begun crossing the ice-choked river. The operation was slow and difficult due to the condition of the river. There was an abrupt change in the weather forcing the men to fight their way through sleet and a blinding snowstorm. These obstacles proved to be too much for the supporting divisions led by Generals Cadwalader and Ewing, ultimately preventing their crossing at southern points along the Delaware.
Against all odds, Washington and his men successfully completed the crossing and marched into Trenton on the morning of December 26, achieving a resounding victory over the Hessians.
By moving ahead with his bold and daring plan, General George Washington re-ignited the cause of freedom and gave new life to the American Revolution.
Washington Crossing Historic Park was founded in 1917 to perpetuate and preserve the site from which the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River. This purpose is achieved by interpreting the historical significance of this site for thousands of Park visitors each year through tours, exhibits and various special events. The spirit of the 1776 Crossing is recreated every year on Christmas Day when the annual reenactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware takes place on December 25. In this annual reenactment the visitor can see reenactors in Continental military dress cross the river in the replica Durham boats.
But that isn’t all! Washington Crossing Historic Park also preserves and interprets the early 19th century history of Taylorsville, the area in which the crossing of the Delaware occurred. This small ferry crossing of the 18th century developed into a quintessential village of the next era, reflecting progress, American ideals and the new industrial age. As the Delaware Canal came through, a fully fleshed out community bravely looked to the future while remembering its past.