Battle of Princeton

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Battle of Princeton
Begun January 2, 1777
Ended January 2, 1777

After winning the Battle of Trenton on Christmas night, 1776, General George Washington took his tiny force and challenged General Cornwallis' British army consisting of 8,000 men. This ten-day period from Christmas 1776 to early January 1777 was described by Frederick the Great of Prussia as "the most brilliant in the world's history."

Following the Battle of Trenton, where Washington surprised and defeated the Hessians on December 26, 1776:

On Dec. 27th General Calwalader, who had been unable to land on the Jersey shore on the 26th due to the ice on that shore, reported he was crossing near Burlington, reinforced by militia which was turning up encouraged by the victory. Calwalader was unaware that Washington had recrossed the river. He moved into the now empty Burlington and then to Bordontown, reporting that the citizens were hastily removing the red rags nailed to their doors as symbols of loyalty to the crown. He entreated Washington to join him in advancing on the British who were in a panic.

Washington gathered all the troops he could to him, calling on the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey militia. He sent the following notice out with militia officers:

To the Friends of America in the State of New Jersey The Army of the American States under my Command being lately greatly reinforced, and having again entered the State of New Jersey, I most warmly request the Militia of Said State at this Important Crisis to Evince their Love of their Country, by boldly Stepping forth and defending the Cause of Freedom. The Inhabitants may be Assured that by a manly or spirited Conduct they may now relieve their Distinguished State from the ­ depredations of our Enemies-I have therefore dispatched Coll. Neilson, Majors Taylor, Van Emburgh, + Frelinghuysen together with some other Gentlemen of your State to call together and Embody your Militia, not doubting but Success will attend their Endeavors-

(signed) G. Washington

Trentown 31 Dec. 1776

The evening of Jan. 2, 1777, General Washington left the campfires of his troops burning and quietly had his army sneak around the back of the British camp at Princeton, New Jersey. Then, at daybreak on Jan. 3, 1777, Washington accomplished a brilliant surprise attack. His men captured three regiments of British troops. It was a huge victory that energized the Patriots.

Yale President Ezra Stiles observed in an Election Address before the Governor and General Assembly of Connecticut:

"In our lowest and most dangerous state, in 1776 and 1777, we sustained ourselves against the British Army of 60.000 troops, commanded by...the ablest generals Britain could procure throughout Europe, with a naval force of 22,000 seamen in above 80 men-of-war.

Who but a Washington, inspired by Heaven, could have conceived the surprise move upon the enemy at Princeton-or that Christmas eve when Washington and his army crossed the Delaware? ...

The United States are under peculiar obligations to become a holy people unto the Lord our God."


Samuel Sutphin Pension Applications/Papers

Samuel Sutphin, as his application shows, was a black slave during the war. His application was repeatedly denied for lack of detail of time of service and for having no documentation. Important area men pressed for his pension, while other (white) men made simpler, less detailed applications and were approved, at least one of which Sutphin testified for. There was apparently prejudice because he was black, and also because he had been a slave, and served as a substitute. As a slave, he was not able to volunteer or enlist in the militia, and they may have thought that only those who served voluntarily should receive a pension. He was illiterate and did not know what name he had been enrolled under~ the application shows he was called Sutphin only well after the Revolution. He was not found on the Continental records by the War Department, and I am not sure which Samuel he might be, if any, in the records of militia Captain Jacob Ten Eyck, which records I also have. He was helped in his quest by Doctor Lewis Condict, who tried to help the NJ veterans of the Revolution get pensions.

The applications transcribed here are interesting for several other reasons. Samuel Sutphin was both black and culturally Dutch~ he says he did not speak much English at the time and knew his Dutch officers but not the English ones. The Jersey Dutch retained their own language well into the 1800's, although many also spoke English. Names are often various due to the switching between English and Dutch~ pronunciations seem to be different, plus many names translate~ Johan to John, Dyrck to Richard (Dick), Jacobus to Jacob, Coon Rod to Conrad. The same man might write his name several ways, both due to the less standardized spelling of the time, less familiarity with the rules of spelling, and what language he was thinking in. This could also lead to his name having been lost by the War Department.

He also points out something else important. Pension applications were not written by the applicant. They were recorded by a court clerk from testimony given in open court. The clerk might make errors in taking the testimony down on paper. Some may have listened to the applicant, then written it down afterwards. Transcribing verbal testimony is not easy~ in the late 1800's, the reporters at the Reno inquiry, during the army's inquiry into Custer's defeat, had wide variations from the official recording~ which is more accurate? Pension applications are never considered primary documentation due to the years gone by between the action and the account, with subsequent errors in memory, and also to the very advanced years of the deponents, who might have suffered some loss of mental agility. The fact that they were written from a verbal account is another reason.

A sad case of an old veteran probably denied a pension due to his race....The entire set of papers in the federal record is included here; if not transcribed, then a short description is given. Spelling and grammar uncorrected, pages separated by a plain rule, my notations and comments in brackets in bold:

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