Tuesday, July 8, 2014

George Washington at the Battle of Trenton

Hello and Happy Tuesday,

If you think back a few days to this past July 4th weekend, then today’s key will be quite relevant, and exciting if you’re interested in American history. It was used by our country’s founding father and first president, but it pre-dates the United States by about 20 years. The key belongs to the Hessian Barracks which were built in Trenton, New Jersey by the Colonial Legislature of New Jersey during the French and Indian War. The Barracks are also known as “Ye Old Barracks” and still stand as a museum today, but when first built they were used to house war troops that had previously been put up in private homes. As our Bill of Rights suggests, that practice was not appreciated by Trenton’s townspeople. Until 1776 the Barracks housed mainly British and Irish soldiers and were a modest housing unit of little importance, but they gained their historic value when they became the location of the Battle of Trenton, a valiant effort by General George Washington and his men to reclaim the city and the Barracks themselves during the Revolutionary War.

The Battle of Trenton, as it turns out, was a lot more than just another one of the many battles of the Revolution. The American victory was overwhelming, cost very few American lives, and came at a time when Revolutionary forces needed a morale boost more than ever. Had Washington’s army not succeeded in capturing the garrisoned Hessian army, it may have meant the end of the Revolutionary war effort. Leading up to the battle, the Americans had suffered several losses in New York and had been pushed out of New Jersey into Pennsylvania. At that point, Washington devised a plan to take the British by surprise which began with his famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas day 1776. After bravely facing the icy river and making it across with just 2,400 men, he ambushed the Hessian Barracks the morning of December 26th and captured almost two-thirds of the 1,500 Hessian soldiers lodged there who were unaware and unprepared for the attack. Numerically the victory wasn’t the most impressive, but it rejuvenated the discouraged and dwindling American forces. News of the battle inspired reenlistment and new recruits from all over the colonies as well as increased confidence in General Washington’s leadership.

Personally I think it’s fascinating that we have keys all the way from the Revolutionary War era here in the Key Room. If you’re a fan of the theatrical, you might call this one of the “keys to American Independence,” and at the very least it’s an important piece of history to have preserved. I hope you come see it for yourself sometime soon.

Happy Independence Day from the Baldpate!

Key Room Museum Curator