Assunpink Firewalk

Scenes from the first Assunpink Firewalk, part of the City of Trenton’s Patriots Week, which celebrates George Washington’s revolutionary victories at the Battles of Trenton.

Assunpink Firewalk, Trenton, NJ. Source: TCM


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 their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776

The Firewalk was held along Assunpink Creek, near where American soldiers repulsed three British attacks at the second battle of Trenton on January 2, 1777.

Source: TCM

After night fell, Washington left a rearguard to light campfires and fool the British into believing the Americans were holding their positions. In actuality, the American troops were marching away. The next day, Washington would win another victory at the Battle of Princeton.

The Firewalk included the lighting of 13 torches, symbolizing both the 13 colonies and the fires lit by the Americans to cover their retreat, and a reading of Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis, written on December 23, 1776, and read to American troops before the first battle of Trenton.

Reading of The American Crisis. Source: TCM


Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered.

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776

These are the times that try men’s souls. Source: TCM

General Philemon Dickinson’s Hermitage and Washington’s Crossing

The Hermitage, Trenton, in 2018. Source: TCM

Philemon Dickinson,  called “one of the truest patriots of the revolution” by historian William Stryker, was from a wealthy family that owned land in several states, but he chose to establish a country estate, which he called the Hermitage, at a site outside the town of Trenton, New Jersey.  He bought the property, which included a house and barns, in July of 1776.

Not long after he bought the property, Hessian troops seized the building and established a picket there, which guarded the approach to Trenton from the north. Dickinson, who was a general in the New Jersey militia, was stationed across the river in Yardley, where he could observe the Hessians occupying his home. After crossing the Delaware on Christmas night, American troops marched past the Hermitage on their way to Trenton, driving the Hessians before them. General Dickinson, still stationed in Yardley, contributed to the effort by ordering the artillery to shell his own home; fortunately for his real estate, the effect was mostly symbolic.

Continue reading “General Philemon Dickinson’s Hermitage and Washington’s Crossing”

The c. 1721 Trent House, Trenton, New Jersey

Trent House. View of South elevation. Source: TCM

The Trent House was built around 1721 (although a plaque on its wall puts the date at 1719) by William Trent, after whom New Jersey’s state capital is named.  It replaced an earlier house built by Mahlon Stacy.

The house was modified and expanded over the next 200 years. In the 1930s, a WPA project removed the later additions, uncovering the brick well and  restoring the house to its original appearance.

The Trent House prior to the removal of the eastern wing and greenhouse. The well was located beneath this addition. Source: Library of Congress/Historic American Buildings Survey

Continue reading “The c. 1721 Trent House, Trenton, New Jersey”

1969 Murder of Jane Britton, Harvard Archaeology Grad Student, Solved by DNA Testing – No Primitive Rites Necessary

“Remember me any way you like, but remember me”
-Jane Sanders Britton

Jane Britton’s Anthropology Notebook. Photo released by Middlesex County (Massachusetts) District Attorney Office.

Almost 50 years after her murder, police in Massachusetts say they have solved the murder of Jane Britton, who was a graduate student in Harvard’s anthropology department. DNA evidence indicates that Britton was  murdered in her apartment by Michael Sumpter, who died in 2001 while serving a sentence for the rape of another woman in 1975. He has since been linked to two other murder/rapes.

Britton’s death was sensationalized at the time, not only because she was a Harvard coed, but because newspapers, quoting a police detective, reported that her murder was part of a “primitive rite” involving red ochre found on her body and the walls of her apartment. Britton, as an archaeologist, had done fieldwork at Tepe Yahya in Iran and in France, and some people made a connection with the red ochre sometimes found in prehistoric burials. Furthermore, a sharp stone tool (possibly a prehistoric hand ax?) that an archaeologist friend had given to her was reported missing from her apartment. Her boyfriend, who found her body, was also an anthropology grad student, as were two of her neighbors, who had been with her before her death, and a “Peru hippie” she had previously dated. Rumors later tried to link her death with other Harvard anthropology students who had died or disappeared, and other women in the Cambridge area who were murdered before or after Britton.

Police and anthropologists at Harvard quickly denied the “primitive rites” story, and the chief instituted a news blackout because of “inaccuracies” in the reporting. No one was ever arrested for the crime. Anthropologist Don Mitchell, one of the last people to see her alive, said he

had long suspected the killer was someone Britton knew at Harvard. “I was surprised,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “Very few people at the time thought it was somebody random who came in and killed her. Everyone thought it was connected to the anthropology department.”

Yet the man now identified as responsible for her murder had no other connection to Britton. The missing stone tool was found soon after the first newspaper reports came out, and the “red ochre” was, according to the new report, from painting supplies that Britton had.

Details on the DNA investigation are at The Boston Globe. More details in a 2017 article, when amateur investigators and a reporter were trying to get the prosecutors to release records of the investigation. Official press release of the Middlesex County District Attorney

 

Members Only: There is No Excuse Not to Vote

Members Only, the makers of the now-classic 1980s racer jacket, encouraged Americans to vote in the 1988 elections using imagery that probably seemed overly dramatic at the time. The U.S. Constitution, the narrator intoned, “suggested a very simple way to keep fools like these out of our government.” The fools? Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. The remedy? Voting. Some commercials are timeless.

That jacket is itself pretty timeless:

Members Only Stranger Things

Irish Folklore Collected by Schoolchildren in the 1930s

 

“Crom Dubh” Head in Churchyard, Clochán, Cloghane, Co. Kerry. Photo by Caoimhín Ó Danachair. F025.18.00338. www.duchas.ie. CC-BY-NC 4.0

In the 1930s, schoolchildren in Ireland set out to write down local folklore, history, and mythology, like the story of Crom Dubh.  Ireland’s National Folklore Collection has now put a massive collection of these Irish folktales and oral history online.

Approximately 740,000 pages (288,000 pages in the pupils’ original exercise books; 451,000 pages in bound volumes) of folklore and local tradition were compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939.
This collecting scheme was initiated by the Irish Folklore Commission, under the direction of Séamus Ó Duilearga and Séan Ó Súilleabháin … For the duration of the project, more than 50,000 schoolchildren from 5,000 schools in the 26 counties of the Irish Free State were enlisted to collect folklore in their home districts. This included oral history, topographical information, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, games and pastimes, trades and crafts. The children recorded this material from their parents, grandparents, and neighbours.

Read some of the stories (and admire the handwriting) at The Editors’ Picks, or search the entire Schools’ Collection.