Americans celebrate Independence Day in the summer heat, but key battles that led to freedom from Great Britain were fought in central New Jersey in winter’s chill.
Victories over the British at Trenton, Assunpink Creek, and Princeton between Dec. 25, 1776, and Jan. 3, 1777, proved crucial in restoring American morale after setbacks in the American Revolution. The success of the military campaign will be commemorated during Patriots Week from Dec. 26-31.
“Patriots Week is, at its core, about a wildly significant yet under-celebrated day in American history — the Battle of Trenton,” says Lauren Ronaghan, program coordinator for the city’s Old Barracks Museum. “However, it has expanded to really just celebrate so many different aspects of the histories of Trenton and the American Revolution.”
Although based in Trenton, more than 70 events also will be held in other parts of Mercer County, as well as Burlington and Bucks Counties.
Highlights include the Trenton Battlefield Walking Tour, 102 S. Warren St., on Dec. 26 and 28 at 10 a.m.; re-enactments of the Battles of Trenton (11 a.m. at the Battle Monument down Warren Street to Mill Hill Park) and Assunpink Creek (3 p.m. at Mill Hill Park, 165 E. Front St.) in Trenton on Dec. 29; and a real-time tour of the Battle of Princeton (500 Mercer St., Princeton) from 7-10 a.m. on Dec. 30. Social events in Trenton include a Revolutionary Pub Crawl (Checkers at 14 S. Warren St.) at 6 p.m. on Dec. 26 and a Colonial Ball (Historic Trenton Masonic Temple, 100 Barrack St.) from 7-10 p.m. on Dec. 28.
A paid bus tour that visits all three battle sites and starts at Washington Crossing Historic Park will be held on Dec. 26 and 31 at 9 a.m. and feature author Larry Kidder (Crossroads of the Revolution: Trenton 1774-1783) and historian Roger S. Williams as guides.
A trustee of the Princeton Battlefield Society, Williams says the Princeton victory built upon the earlier successes of the American forces.
“There were two campaigns — The Trenton Campaign Dec. 25 to Dec. 27, and the Princeton Campaign Dec. 28, 1776 to Jan. 3, 1777. Assunpink was part of the Princeton Campaign,” says Williams, a Lawrence Township resident.
“Collectively they are referred to as the ‘Ten Crucial Days.’ And collectively they are of equal import,” he notes. “Without one victory, Washington would not have had the other two, had he lost any of the three battles, his continued leadership would have been questioned.”
“Military historians will tell you that the Ten Crucial Days changed history,” Williams says. “Every American should come see, and understand how a nation was launched on Quaker land just one mile south of Nassau Hall. “
While the battles are a primary focus, Patriots Week has diversified to examine different facets of the Revolution, according to Ronaghan. “There are talks on the lives of Hessian and British soldiers so that people can better understand that the enemies were also people,” she notes, “[while] programs on African American history challenge the notion that history is of and for wealthy white men.”
Other programs include Songs of the Revolutionary Era by Liberty Tree at the Bordentown Branch Library, 18 E. Union St., Bordentown, at 2 p.m. on Dec. 27, and a one-man show featuring actor David Henson as George Washington at the library the same day at 6:30 p.m. Patriots Week has provided a boost for New Jersey’s capital city. “It’s helped to increase Trenton’s visibility,” says Tom Gilmour, president of the Trenton Downtown Association.
The events have drawn about 7,000 visitors to the city plus battle re-enactors from outside the region and added about $250,000 to the local economy, according to Gilmour.
“It’s a really good time to hold Patriots Week,” Ronaghan says of the year’s final days. “Children are off from school and many people are off from work.” Visitors have shown an independent spirit when facing adverse weather, she adds. About 500 people attended the Battle of Trenton re-enactment in 2017 despite temperatures below 20 degrees and snow covering the ground.
“We’ve never had to cancel anything because of the weather,” Ronaghan says.