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History of Washington Crossing Historic Park

The Revolutionary War

A Discouraged Army

During December of 1776, General George Washington’s army had just retreated from New York, giving up the city to the British. The exhausted soldiers fled through New Jersey to Pennsylvania. The soldiers were discouraged, hungry, and lacked blankets, shoes, and basic necessities. Many soldiers were sick and could not fight. About 1,000 soldiers were due to leave the army when their enlistments expired during early 1777.

More bad news followed when Rhode Island and much of New Jersey fell under British control. The people of Philadelphia feared that the patriot capital would be conquered next.

On December 20, General John Sullivan arrived with 2,000 soldiers from New England. General Washington knew that he needed to use the enlarged army to achieve a victory or the revolution might be over.

A Daring Attack

On Christmas Day, continental troops marched from as far away as Newtown in the rain and cold to join soldiers already encamped near McConkey’s Ferry on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River.

As darkness fell, the rain became driving snow, sleet, and wind. Sailors from Massachusetts and the Pennsylvania Navy ferried the 2,400 troops across the icy river under General Washington's careful supervision. Durham boats, typically used to carry pig iron and other cargo, carried the soldiers across the fast moving water. Artillery and frightened horses crossed the river on larger ferry boats.

Because the boats had to make several trips across the river, the army was not ready to march until 4:00 A.M., too late for the planned attack. The patriots pressed on, hoping that they could still surprise the British troops in their barracks in Trenton, New Jersey.

General Ewing and Colonel Cadwalader and their troops were to cross to the south, but icy conditions prevent the crossing.

At 8:00 A.M., the American troops surprised and defeated the Hessians at Trenton, taking many prisoners. Only a few American soldiers were injured. Laden with captured supplies and prisoners, Washington’s troops re-crossed the icy river.

On January 2 and 3, the Americans again crossed the Delaware River and defeated the British in the Second Battle of Trenton and in the Battle of Princeton, driving the British so far back that the continental army went into winter quarters in New Jersey.

The victories not only boosted the morale of the army, but also inspired the patriots of the colonies. Many of the soldiers due to leave the army agreed to extend their service. New recruits joined the army. The daring attacks revitalized the American War for Independence.

The “Ten Crucial Days:” A Timeline

Prelude

December 14-25, 1776

Following a series of military defeats in New York and New Jersey, General George Washington led the Continental Army in its retreat across New Jersey. They arrived in Pennsylvania in December, 1776, where Washington planned the army’s next move before soldiers’ enlistments expired at the end of the month.

Day 1

December 25, 1776

A Continental Army force of 2,400 soldiers crosses the Delaware River at McConkey’s Ferry to New Jersey. They march 10 miles to Trenton in a blizzard to assault the 1,500 Hessian troops occupying the town.

Day 2

December 26, 1776

First Battle of Trenton

The Continental Army defeats the Hessians at Trenton to win its first significant victory of the war, then returns to Pennsylvania with its prisoners and captured goods.

Day 3

December 27, 1776

Washington and his generals re-cross the Delaware into New Jersey to discover the enemy has withdrawn from the Trenton area.

Day 4

December 28, 1776

After convening a council of war, Washington and his generals plan a defense in Trenton from Cornwallis.

Day 5

December 29, 1776

The Continental Army crosses the river at several ferry crossings and returns to Trenton.

Day 6

December 30, 1776

Washington persuades a bare majority of his soldiers whose enlistments are to expire on December 31 to remain with the army for another six weeks by promising to pay each of these soldiers $10 in hard coin. Washington’s force of 6,000 men prepares a defense on high ground south of Assunpink Creek in Trenton.

Day 7

December 31, 1776

The Continental Army advances from Trenton toward enemy occupied Princeton.

Day 8

January 1, 1777

British and Hessian forces gathered strength in Princeton. The Continental Army skirmishes with British and Hessian troops on New Year’s Day.

Day 9

January 2, 1777

Second Battle of Trenton

The Continental Army fights against 8,000 British and Hessian troops under General Cornwallis. The Continentals repelled Cornwallis’s attacks along Assunpink Creek until dusk. Cornwallis planned to “bag the fox in the morning.”

Day 10

January 3, 1777

Battle of Princeton

Overnight, Washington and his troops withdraw from Trenton and begin to march to Princeton where they defeat the British and the Hessians. This results in the third and final victory for the Continental Army, thereby ending the military campaign associated with the “Ten Crucial Days.”

Postscript

January 3-6, 1777

​The Continental Army makes its way from Princeton to Morristown, NJ, where it establishes its winter quarters.

The Park

During 1895, the Bucks County Historical Society placed a stone marker to commemorate the 1776 launching point of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River.

In response to continued interest by its citizens, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania created the Washington Crossing Commission, which created Washington Crossing State Park on July 25, 1917. During 1953, the commission was abolished and Washington Crossing State Park transferred to the Department of Forests and Waters. During 1961, the park was declared a National Historic Site.

The park was transferred to the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission in 1971. During 2015, Washington Crossing returned to DCNR's Bureau of State Parks.

Historic Buildings

Many buildings in the park date from the area’s long history.

Bowman’s Hill Tower: A 125-foot structure completed in 1931 to commemorate the American Revolution, the tower boasts a commanding view of the Delaware River and surrounding countryside. The tower roof can be reached by elevator and 23 stone steps. This site is open seven days-a-week, March through December, weather permitting.

Bowman’s Hill Tower Brochure (PDF)

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve: This site is devoted to the preservation of native plants of Pennsylvania. It features trails, programs, special events, and exhibits. The headquarters building contains a gift shop, public restrooms, and the preserve offices. The preserve is administered by the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, Inc.

Durham Boat House: This twentieth-century structure houses the Durham boat replicas. Durham boats were originally used to haul iron ore and were the sturdy type of craft used by Washington and his men for the crossing. Today, these replicas are a key component of the annual reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Day.

Frye House: The Frye House is a Taylorsville tenant home built circa 1828-1830 by the Taylor family. The home is believed to have been constructed for a blacksmith. A recreated blacksmith shop is located beside the Frye house and features demonstrations at various times throughout the year.

Hibbs House: This restored and furnished nineteenth century home was erected circa 1828-1830 as part of the village of Taylorsville. It was leased out as a tenant house for craftsmen and was advertised as a wheelwright’s house and shop. Open hearth cooking demonstrations are held here at various times throughout the year.

Mahlon K. Taylor House: This home was built circa 1817 for one of the town founders of Taylorsville, now known as Washington Crossing. It shows the status and prosperity of the Taylor family in the community.

McConkeys Ferry Inn: This eighteenth-century inn and tavern was owned by Samuel McConkey. The inn served as a guard post during the Continental Army’s encampment in Bucks County in December 1776. Earthworks and cannon defended the ferry landing. According to tradition, this inn is where Washington and his aides ate their dinner prior to the crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day. Additions were made to the inn in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century by the Taylor family. This building continued to serve as an inn for many decades.

Taylorsville Store: Beginning around 1828, this store was owned and operated by Mahlon K. Taylor. It also functioned as the Post Office for Taylorsville with Mahlon Taylor serving as postmaster for nearly 40 years.

Thompson-Neely Farmstead - Washingtons Encampment: The Thompson-Neely House, encampment site of George Washington’s army prior to the crossing, was the home of Robert Thompson and his son-in-law William Neely. The property contained a mill and was situated near several ferries, making it an ideal location for sick and hungry soldiers to camp.

For two weeks, the Thompson and Neely families shared their home and their lives with convalescing soldiers as they awaited their orders to march to McConke's Ferry to cross the Delaware on Christmas night.

Thompson-Neely Farmstead Brochure (PDF)

Thompson-Neely Grist Mill: In December of 1776, the Continental Army was unwelcome in many parts of Bucks County.  Some millers even refused to grind grain for the hungry soldiers. This forced George Washington to order flour be taken from uncooperative millers and that they be paid for their losses. The owner of this mill, Robert Thompson, likely embraced the patriot cause and provided flour from his mill to the army camped on the property.

The original mill, constructed in the early 18th century, stood approximately 100 yards downstream from the present mill. This restored, water-powered mill was built in the 1830s by the Neely family.

Soldiers Graves: The grave sites of New York Artillery Captain James Moore and many unknown soldiers of the American Revolution who died during the December 1776 encampment are located here.

Washington Crossing Historic Park Visitor Center: This location provides orientation and information about Washington Crossing Historic Park, including a documentary film, exhibits, gift shop, restrooms, ticket sales, and park offices.