Travels with Darley | S11E9 | New Jersey: Revolutionary Road Trip - Part 1

Travels with Darley | S11E9 | New Jersey: Revolutionary Road Trip - Part 1

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(logo chimes) - Hi, I'm Darley Newman, and I have just e-bikes my way from downtown Princeton here to Princeton Battlefield State Park, where I'm interviewing experts on a pivotal battle of the American Revolution. In this episode of "Travels with Darley, we're traveling from Princeton to far beyond in New Jersey on a revolutionary road trip. Let's go. (upbeat instrumental music) New Jersey is known as the Garden State, but if you knew anything about American history, you may also consider it the crossroads of the American Revolution.

General George Washington, and the Continental Army spent more time in New Jersey during six years of conflict than any other state, and landmark battles took place in New Jersey that would change the course of the American Revolution. We're traveling throughout the state to understand New Jersey's role in the American Revolution, and in this episode visiting Princeton, Washington Crossing and Trenton. Meeting experts who share lesser known stories, artifacts and new discoveries that continue to change what we know about the past and may help shape our collective American future. We're starting our revolutionary story in New Jersey on the campus of Princeton University, the fourth oldest institution of higher education in the United States, and one of nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

I know Nassau Hall was very important during the American Revolution, and Princeton in general. - Right, right. - Dan Linke. University archivist is taking me inside Nassau Hall. - So the Battle of Princeton occurs about a mile from here on the battlefield.

And what happens here in Nassau Hall is sort of a coda to that battle in that the Americans fresh from their victory defeating the British army come into town to mop up of force that's here including some that are occupying Nassau Hall, and keeping American prisoners in the basement. Alexander Hamilton sets up his artillery on a hill nearby by what's now Blair Arch, and fires upon the building, and forces the troops out. The report at the time is that a cannonball flies through the window, and decapitates George II's portrait. This is sort of where history and myths start to mix. - That's our favorite kind.

- [Dan] There's some speculation about whether the portrait was actually damaged by that cannonball. When the trustees meet in 1783, George Washington gives them 50 guineas as a thank you for the college's service during the revolution. They choose to ask Charles Willson Peale to paint the portrait of Washington, which became Washington at the Battle of Princeton. Peale Studio produced multiple versions of that. The original is in the art museum. This is one of the derivative pieces, and the minutes say it will hang in the frame that King George's portrait formally held, and that had been torn away by American artillery during the Battle of Princeton.

So no matter what destroyed the portrait, we don't really know. It's sort of pretentious of what was to come. - [Darley] Pretty fitting then that King George II is replaced by George Washington.

- [Dan] Absolutely. Swapping out of the Georges. Yeah, it is really the sort of the turning point of the revolution in the sense of the British having to rethink their strategy.

That battle showed that they were not invincible. In 1783, Congress leaves Philadelphia, and they meet here in Princeton for about four months. So Congress is meeting here in Nassau Hall when word comes from Europe that the peace tree with the British has been signed. So in a way, this building is the first capital of the United States. - So I'm standing right now in a historic US capital? - Yes you are.

- Maybe for a brief amount of time, but pretty significant. - Four months. - Yeah. - Four months. - Is there a spot, Dan, on the building where you could see where the cannonball might've come through? - Yeah.

This is again, myth in history. - We head outside to see if we can spot them. Looks like that would be the spot right there. - Yeah, yeah. The myth is that the cannonball hit there, and dent at the wall, whether the cannonball actually did the deed or whether it was other things. - [Darley] Whatever happened, George got replaced by George and it happened right here.

And on that note, we're heading to a secret secure location to see an original painting by Charles Willson Peale. I feel like I'm getting the big reveal here. - Indeed.

- [Darley] Princeton University Art Museum, Director James Stewart. So I saw earlier at Nassau Hall the reproduction of this work. - [James] Right.

So this is considered not only the original of this particular painting, but one of the great documents in the whole of American art history. It's one of the most important representations of George Washington painted from the life unlike many others that were not. It's at monumental scale. The College of New Jersey as Princeton University then was called, had actually built an art collection starting in the 1750s. And that collection was destroyed during the Battle of Princeton. So they commissioned the then most prominent American painter, Charles Willson Peale to come to Princeton and paint the general.

From the life, Peale had fought with Washington in the Battle of Princeton. So Peale painted this work as if literally it's taking place during the unfolding of the battle. Washington is standing, obviously with his sword lifted. One of his great friends and fellow generals, Hugh Mercer has fallen on the battlefield. We even see a mounted rider coming out with a white flag from Nassau Hall, which seems to be- - Oh, I see there - a portent of the British, and their imminent surrender.

There was a sense that the nation, as it was coming into being needed statements like this that could become the equivalent of the paintings of British monarchs, that in this case, this literally succeed. The fact that for over 200 years this painting was hung in Nassau Hall, the space for which it was created. There are very few works of art in American history about which something like that can be said. - [Darley]] Author Larry Kidder joins me at the site of the battle now preserved as Princeton Battlefield State Park. This battle would've been the third surprising and significant victory to cap off what many historians refer to as the 10 Crucial Days. What is the significance of the Battle of Princeton in the greater American Revolution? - It really turned the tide.

The tide had been flowing in the direction of the British victory. The war could have ended if it hadn't been for the Battle of Princeton, but it went on for six and a half years after. And that's because Washington did what he did here, and was successful. Before the battle of Princeton was the time that Thomas Payne referred to as, "These are the times that try men's souls."

The revolution was essentially envisioned as being close to over by both sides, and the Americans obviously losing. By the end of the battle of Princeton, and the 10 Crucial Days, everything had turned around, and the Americans had a new lease on life, and the British were saying, "Uh-oh. we got a long thing going here." - [Darley] A battle was not planned that early in the morning, but the Continental troops were moving north to Princeton just as the British were traveling south to attack Trenton.

The area where Princeton Battlefield State Park is today was at that time farmland, and it's where the two armies would suddenly meet. - [Larry] Both Washington now, and the British commander had to make a decision, do I keep going where I'm supposed to be going, to Princeton on Washington side, to Trenton on the British commander's side. Or do I try to find out what's going on here.

And the Battle of Princeton took place because both decided to find out what was going on here. - [Darley] Why is it important for people to visit Princeton Battlefield State Park? - [Larry] Not only can they learn about the military actions that took place, which were extremely important, but they can also learn about how military actions affect the people whose property the actions take place on. - [Darley] The battle took place on the farm of Thomas Clark, whose home remains here today. Inside, travelers can learn from exhibitions, and a plan is underway to restore the core of the battlefield, and add traditional interpretation, and new technologies to share the full story of the battle. - Marching literally on their front porch.

- Will Krakower share some details about the family and what happened in the days after the battle. - [Will] Thomas Clark lived here with his sister, and an enslaved woman owned by the Clark family named Susanna and the three of them were here in this house with obviously shrapnel shots and shells coming through the building. They hid below our feet in the basement of this house.

They were Quakers pacifists. So they are deeply thought of as suspicious by both American and British military forces. That translates here in the Clark House in an interesting way. After the battle, these Quakers get to take a little agency back by deciding who comes in, and they decide everybody, both British and American soldiers will be taken here and treated in the house. - We were able to take a look at the Charles Peale portrait of George Washington depicting the battle of Princeton. - [Will] Brigadier General Hugh Mercer here at Princeton, his brigade is right in front.

And so it is Mercer who will be mortally wounded when the British bayonet charge into the apple orchard. He's taken to this root here about two hours after the conclusion of the battle, and he will remain in that room for the rest of his life. The next nine days. - [Darley] General Hugh Mercer is shown in Peale's painting as expiring in the arms of surgeon, Benjamin Rush. - At the time of his death, he's the second highest-ranking Continental Army officer to have been killed in the line of duty thus far during the war. - We have this battle happening on the 10th day of what is called the 10 Crucial Days.

- [Will] The 10 Crucial Days, one of their contemporaries said that "It gave reputation to their arms." And in that sense, hope was rekindled that this revolution could be won. They still have six more years of war, but these 10 days are the first step towards victory.

- [Darley] Back on Princeton University's campus. Mimi Omiecinski of Princeton Tour Company takes me back in time to understand why this location was so important Pre-Revolution and how Princeton and Nassau Hall got their names. - [Mimi] So in the 1600s, this was all land to Lenni-Lenape Indians, and by 1701, William Penn gets here, he takes over all the land.

He's gonna sell it to five major families. They get super rich. The reason why we get so wealthy is because we're equal distance from Philadelphia and New York City.

So this was a popular stage coach layover town. - Strategic stop. - It was. I mean, administrative too, right. - Horses had to rest. Drivers had to rest.

So before the Revolutionary War, we're doing everything we can to impress this king. So we named everything after him, and that's why you have Kingstown down the street. Queenstown closer in. That's why this is called Princetown.

- Ooh. - Named after the King son, Prince William III. - Okay. - He was with the House of Nassau. That's where you get Nassau Hall. That's where you get Nassau Street.

That's where you get these orange colors. because his colors were orange. - So Mimi is giving me a lay of the land. Now I know I am in Princeton.

- Well now you know why we're called Princeton, - Right. - Yeah. And it wouldn't be a Revolutionary War reference without a mention of Hamilton. Especially so close to New York City and Broadway. - [Mimi] So then the next question is, okay.

Why would the college come to Princeton? College comes to Princeton because of a guy living in this house right here. His name' is Aaron Burr Sr. You know his son, Aaron Burr Jr. Famous duelist who gunned down Alexander Hamilton. - Oh my goodness. - Grew up in this house.

So what he's gonna do is, he's gonna bring the college here. He's gonna build the largest building in the colony. He's gonna get the best faculty he can find from all over the world.

This guy was in it to win it to impress the king. - [Darley] Mimi and I hop on e-bikes to go off campus. She's introducing me to notable homes around Princeton. - Over here to the right, just behind these hedges, you're gonna see the home of Grover Cleveland, moved here to Princeton.

He wasn't a student or a faculty member, he was just the most recent President of the United States. - [Darley] Is this Woodrow Wilson's house? - [Mimi] One city block. You've got two United States presidents who lived here. It's pretty amazing.

Exact condition it was when Woodrow Wilson actually lived there. - [Darley] From e-biking to beer, steps away from campus, we're on Palmer Square visiting the Yankee Doodle Tap Room at the Nassau Inn. The Inn hosted members of the Continental Congress when they were meeting at Nassau Hall.

Yankee Doodle tap room is where we get, our name is from this painting, Edgar Palmer, who's friends with Norman Rockwell, and he commissioned him to do it in 1937. It's a pretty famous piece. - [Darley] Kind of exciting that you can belly up and have a drink with the Norman Rockwell right here. Besides a Yankee Doodle Beer, the tap room has been visited by a roster of famous past guests.

Many of them Princeton University graduates, and local residents. - When Edgar Palmer brought the tap room here, the boys would skip class, and they carved their little names. Local folks like to say that Einstein, Albert Einstein actually carved his name right there. - Okay, so I'm seeing it. I found it. It took me a second.

There are a lot of names carved in here. - I know, right? - So Einstein came here? - He actually, he frequented here. He had tea every day upstairs where he would also be with members of the Institute for Fan Study. - [Darley] So while we don't know if this was legitimately carved by Albert Einstein, we do know that Einstein was here.

- Let's cheer. - [Darley] Sort of feeling like this beer is making me smarter. (upbeat instrumental music) Another cool place to grab a cocktail, have a nice meal, and perhaps stay the night is the Peacock Inn. Evan Coppel joins me to share the inn's history.

- [Evan] The owner at the time of the Continental Congress was a member of the Continental Congress, and other members of the Continental Congress stayed here. We definitely know that Einstein spent time here. Einstein spent time all over town. Fitzgerald has been here.

We still get a lot of high profile people. - I'm happy to be among them. - Yes, thank you. Welcome - [Darley] Cocktails here marry with upscale American fair, like perfectly seared sea scallops with purple cauliflower puree and Bok Choy.

It's just really special to get to dine, and be in a location where so many great people have passed through throughout history. - Yeah, - The history of the place really puts everything kind of in context. - [Darley] Our final stop in Princeton is Morven Museum and Garden. - So in this gallery, we interpret the first generation of Stockton's at Morgan, which includes Richard Stockton, one of the five. - [Darley] Elizabeth Allen, Deputy Director and Curator introduces us to one of five New Jersey signers of the Declaration of Independence.

So it's in this home and through that door that he would've left to go sign the Declaration of Independence? - Yep. - He was elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress in June, and he made his way down there just in time to make the vote that afternoon in June. And then we know he was there on August 2nd to sign. - What is significant about Richard Stockton? Why should we know his name related to the American Revolution? - Stockton is really unique in that he's one of the few signers that was captured during the revolution. It's early in the war.

He's captured in November of 1776, receives a pardon from William Howe after saying, kind of signing his allegiance back to the king. This is something that thousands of people did. And like many, it's assumed that this was signed under duress. But within the year, he has sworn his allegiance back to the colonies. His actions were before and after, truly through demonstrate an allegiance to the independence cause.

- [Darley] The Battle of Princeton was the end of the 10 Crucial Days. We're going to the location where those 10 Crucial Days started on December 25th, 1775 at Washington Crossing. George Washington's plan was to get approximately 2,400 men, around a 100 horses and 18 artillery pieces across the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. Using ferries and Durham boats, they would then march on to Trenton. - And then you had a number of other smaller craft...

- [Darley] Military Historian Colin Zimmerman meets me on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, where you can get up close to replicas of the Durham boats. So this is where Washington, and his troops crossed- - Yes. - [Darley] In December and headed over to the Battle of Trenton. - [Colin] Yep. We're about nine miles, nine to 10 miles above the City of Trenton, and where the battle began. If you look at the Delaware River today, it's the 18th century equivalent to Interstate 95.

It's your main transportation down to Philadelphia, which is one of the main ports in North America, and the Durham boats are your 18th century equivalent of tractor and trailer. In the case of the Continental Army, it's great to put a lot of soldiers in, and go across the river. And then of course you have the ferry boats. You would've been able to transfer you know, artillery pieces, horses, any kinda wheeled carriages. As soon as they began the operation of the crossing, a Nor'easter storm settled in, and this is where you're in these boats, you're in these crafts in Anglican, Virginian with a Puritan New Englander, and perhaps someone who's a former Quaker.

In this moment. they recognize that you know, "Okay. All that aside, we need to do this. We need to accomplish this." That these different states could put their differences aside, and work together in the face of adversity.

To me, what I like to call that is this American spirit. - [Darley] It's interesting to be able to look back to the American revolution, and find that American spirit that we have. - [Colin] Yeah. - [Darley] I crossed back over the Delaware River to New Jersey where Historian and Author Larry Kidder meets me. So George Washington and his fellow Patriots, they were quite the MacGyvers. - Yes.

And they were constantly coming up with a new idea. Modifying an idea in order to make things work. The Hessians have six artillery pieces in Trenton.

Colonel Knox, his artillery guy, convinced him, "You better take 18. You better outnumber the Hessians three to one in your number of cannon. And so he did. So had to have the ferry boats.

And that's one of the most overlooked things about the crossing. - It's that American ingenuity. - Ingenuity.

Yes. - [Darley] George Washington knew that once he reached Trenton, he'd be up against a brigade of Hessians. Tens of thousands of German troops hired by the British to help fight during the American Revolution. Washington and his troops defeated the Hessians in Trenton, and the following week won a second key battle in Trenton against the British. Dating back to 1758, Trenton's old Barracks was an eyewitness to those battles.

Today, it's a living history site and museum. - You ready to give it a try and get dressed? - Let's do it. We're gonna get dressed. It is gonna be what, 90 degrees today in Trenton? - Yeah.

Let's put on some stockings. Carrie Fellows, Executive Director of the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area, and Educator Leslie Bramlett, are helping me step back in time by putting on authentic colonial clothing for my visit. I'll be wearing simple shoes that a nurse or launders or other working class woman might have worn during colonial times, as well as a pair of stays. Well, how does this help? - Well, because you are lifting 50 pounds or better several times a day to fetch water, you do need support for your bust in your back.

- [Darley] There are many, many layers, and a lot of pins. All jokes aside, it does give you an appreciation for what women went through in colonial times. And these are just the clothes.

The Olympics of outfits here. - Yep. I see you cringing, but she has not stabbed you yet. - [Darley] Outside. Carrie and Leslie give further context to the old barracks, and New Jersey during the American Revolution. Leslie, what role did women have here at the old barracks during the American Revolution? - Well, during the American Revolution, the old barracks was a hospital, and used to inoculate the soldiers from the smallpox epidemic.

So the women were actually nurses who did the inoculations. - So this is actually where people would come to get their inoculations done. So Washington mandated that everyone who joins the Continental get inoculated for smallpox, mainly because there are people who are coming from the rural sections of the colony, and then they're going to be staying in a room with 18 other people. So they're very susceptible to disease.

- Smallpox killed more soldiers than were killed in Revolutionary War battles. And the old barracks was the site of the first mass medical treatment in the Western Hemisphere. It's just amazing to be here, at this building, which predates the American Revolution. And then to realize how much happened here in Trenton, how much happened here in New Jersey. [Carrie] Well, New Jersey, surprisingly, is one of the states where Washington and the Continental Army spent the most time.

They were here about a quarter of the time during the war, the entire period of the war, there was some action happening in New Jersey. - [Darley] I'm heading to the New Jersey State Archive. I'm gonna go see documents that date back to the American Revolution. These are documents that members of the public can access with a prior appointment. - These are early estate records...

- [Darley] Executive Director of the New Jersey State Archives, Joseph Klett, is giving us access to some of the state's special finds. - [Joseph] Chronological order. On the left is the ratification by the State of New Jersey of the United States Constitution. - Wow.

- [Joseph] "We the people of the United States." New Jersey was the third state to ratify the US Constitution, which is why we're called the third state. - It's just amazing that it's been preserved. - So Continental Congress had asked all of the states to declare their independence from Great Britain before they came together for a unanimous Declaration of Independence. And this is New Jersey's own Declaration of Independence from the King. It gave property rights to anyone that had 50 pounds worth of property, and that meant white men, but it also meant women and free blacks, which was somewhat unique in all of the colonies.

It really wasn't allowed under any other of the constitutions. They revoked that part of the constitution by law 30 years later, and limited it just to the white men. But for 30 years you had women and blacks voting in New Jersey, - [Darley] Inside the New Jersey State Archives, there are almost 40,000 cubic feet of paper records and over 30,000 reels of microfilm providing insights into American history from the founding of New Jersey in 1664 to current times. - This is New Jersey's original Bill of Rights. One of 14 originals that were produced by Congress. One was kept by Congress.

13 went out to the original states. Some of 'em were lost. But New Jersey is one of the states that has its original Bill of Rights. It's our job as archivist to make sure that these documents are preserved because this is what we look back to in order to understand what the intention was for what our country was going to be. What rights were going to be, and how do we change going forward. This is our point of reference.

- It's really special to be able to look back at this. - And then I thought you'd also like to see the Dunlap and Claypool printing. This is the first printing of the United States Constitution.

Only 13 of these exist today we think in the whole world. And ours is particularly nice because it has the cover letter from New Jersey's delegates to the Constitutional Convention. And Washington as the President of Congress is communicating to the states.

And this is their recommendation of a constitution for the United States of America. - [Darley] There's only 13 of these? - [Joseph] Right, they're very rare. A couple of them sold that were in private hands sold at auction. - How much did they sell for? - I think both of them sold for over $40 million. - Wow. I like then George Washington wrote, "We hope and believe that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness is our most ardent wish."

George Washington. - [Joseph] That's a great quote there isn't it? - Something we're- - I'm glad... - Still striving for. - Yes, exactly. - [Darley] I leave this trip to New Jersey with a new appreciation for history, and those who seek to foster, preserve and share it. The keepers of our past don't just hold onto what's happened, they hold keys to what's to come, and what could be.

From the battlefields to the archives, we've dug deep in this episode to understand the history of the American Revolution right here in the State of New Jersey. I'm Darley Newman and thanks so much for joining me on this revolutionary road trip, and thanks for watching "Travels with Darley". - You look ready to go start a fire. - Yes.

I'm ready to go start a fire now. He spent a lot of time here, and he was a bit of a drinker. I wanna hear, I mean. I know that we've got F. Scott Fitzgerald.

We've got a lot of rain coming. - We do have a lot of rain going. - Here let's go in for this. - But it doesn't matter because we got this beautiful shiny campus, right. I love Mimi's tour. - Is this okay? This history is great.

- Okay. - She's making it fun.

2024-05-24 02:09

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