Saturday, December 7, 2013


This updated photo of a painting provided by the artist Mort Kuntsler, shows “Washington's Crossing: McKonkey's Ferry, Dec. 26, 1776."  This painting is probably a more realistic portrayal of the event, with the men on barges wearing their own clothes huddled together for warmth.
In 1659 Christmas celebrations were banned in most of the New England colonies by Calvinists and Puritans.  Massachusetts imposed a fine of five shillings for observing the day and Connecticut prohibited keeping Christmas, Saints days, reading the Book of Common Prayer, playing an instrument, or making mince pies. However, in communities with large populations of Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Moravians such as New York and Philadelphia, Christmas was celebrated.  In parts of the south celebrations included fox hunts, balls, gift exchanges and extended revelry.

Missionary Philip Fithian wrote in his diary of singing the hymns of Isaac Watts including “Joy to the World” one Christmas Eve in Staunton, Virginia but 1775 found him in western Virginia, Scotch-Irish territory “Where Christmas Morning--Not A Gun is heard--Not a Shout--No company or Cabal assembled--To Day is like other Days every Way calm and; temperate-- People go about their daily Business with the same Readiness, and apply themselves to it with the same Industry.”

In 1775 King George gave the colonies the gift of a royal proclamation effective in March 1776: all commerce and trade to those shores was closed. Congress did receive some good news when France agreed to consider supporting the rebellion against Britain.

On December 11, 1776 Washington crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania and the next day the Continental Congress left Philadelphia for a safer Baltimore.  Thomas Paine, traveling with the Continental Army wrote words that resounded when they were printed "...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 his country: but he that stands 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."

 Two weeks later in the evening of Christmas Day in a nor’eastern, Washington crossed the Delaware River once again with 2400 men and led a surprise raid on the Hessian Troops at Trenton, New Jersey.  He captured 900 mercenaries and lost only six wounded, Future president  James Monroe was among the wounded.

The victory under miserable conditions and Paine’s stirring words provided a morale boost for the discouraged Continental Army and marked a turning point after repeated defeats during the summer and fall.  Washington’s troops viewed as nothing more than “rebellious farmers’ by the British and their paid Hessians had suddenly been transformed into a cohesive army to be feared and defeated.

Two hundred and thirty seven years ago what looked like it might be the end of a rebellion became a rebirth and a renewed commitment to freedom.

posted by Diane Price

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