It was on Christmas night, 1776, that General George Washington and his troops crossed the icy Delaware River from Pennsylvania in a sleet storm on their way to a surprise attack on the Hessians in Trenton. This first battle won by the Continental Army became a turning point in the American Revolution, giving courage to the colonials.
Now Washington’s crossing is celebrated with all the spectacle that a winning military operation deserves. About 5,000 people are expected to observe the event, which begins at 11 a.m. with the gathering of colonial troops in the park.
Beginning at 1 p.m., Revolutionary War troops will assemble along the banks of the Delaware River and parade to the memorial building, where they will be addressed by George Washington, before boarding the 40-foot Durham boats and crossing the river.
St. John Terrell, a New York theater producer, originated the re-enactment in 1953, and performed the patriot’s role for 25 years, through the nation’s bicentennial year. He was succeeded by Jack Kelly, Princess Grace’s brother, who played Washington until his untimely death in 1985. The third Washington was James W. Gallagher, a retired executive of Westinghouse Corporation, who relinquished the role in 1996. Delaware river captain Robert V. Gerenser, who is also an actor and owner of Gerenser’s Ice Cream in New Hope, and Jim Stinson were the fourth and fifth to don a white wig and custom handmade military garb to re-enact the famous crossing at Washington Crossing Historic Park, Pennsylvania, the 500-acre park established to commemorate the historic night. James Gibson portrayed the general for several years. This year Gerenser takes up the hat again.
Washington and his forces may have selected the spot to cross the Delaware because Samuel McConkey operated a little-known ferry and a tavern there that allowed the troops to cross without detection, and it was central to the area where Washington’s troops were deployed, along the Delaware River, from Lambertville to Trenton. Washington took the precaution of have Captain Daniel Bray steal all the boats on the New Jersey side of the river, to prevent the British from pursuit.
Washington Crossing Historic Park has 13 historic buildings, including the original ferry inn, an 18th century farm and industrial complex, and the 19th century village of Taylorsville. The park is divided into two sections. The northern section centers around the Thompson-Neely house, built in 1702 with additions made in 1757 and 1788. Here Washington made the decision to cross the Delaware and attack the Hessians.
Washington Crossing the Delaware, Monday, December 25, 1 p.m., Washington Crossing Historic Park, Routes 32 and 532, Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. Annual reenactment marking the 230th anniversary of George Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware. River crossings are contingent upon safe conditions for participants. 215-493-4076.