Following the crossing of the Delaware River by boat late on Christmas night, 1776, the Continental Army still had to march several miles through snow, sleet, hail and rain to attack Hessian troops at Trenton. Around 6:00 AM on December 26, they reached Jacob’s Creek. This stream they had to ford on foot, winching their cannons down one side of the steep ravine and back up the other side. Once they had crossed the stream, they still had two more hours of marching before reaching Trenton, where they would achieve a stunning victory over the Hessians.
In a footnote, historian David Hackett Fischer writes “The line of the road across Jacob’s Creek and its tributary stream must be walked to be understood. Even today after many improvements it presents exceptionally steep grades and sloping surfaces. The topography of the march has been missed in every major historical account of this event” (Fischer, Washington’s Crossing, 2004, p. 516)
Featured image: Detail of interpretive sign near the modern bridge.
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.