Friday, March 4, 2011

Princeton Battlefield Park

General Washington rallying his troops at the Battle of Princeton.
The first inhabitants of the Princeton area were the Lenni Lenape Indians. Europeans founded the settlement in the latter part of the 17th century. The first European to find his home in the boundaries of the future town was Henry Greenland who built his house in 1683 along with a tavern. It was in that tavern that representatives of West and East Jersey met to set boundaries for the location of the township.

Princeton was to be divided into two parts: a borough and township. It was founded from pieces of Middlesex, Burlington, Somerset and Hunterton counties which were divided by the central “King’s Highway.” The King's Highway is today's Nassau Street which eventually turns into Princeton-Kingston Road to the north and Stockton Street to the south.

Even though New Jersey's capital is the city of Trenton, the governor's official residence has been in Princeton since 1945. That is when Morven became the first Governor's mansion. It was later replaced by the larger Drumthwacket, a colonial mansion also located in the township. Morven is now a museum property of the New Jersey Historical Society.

Princeton Battlefield State Park is a 200-acre (81 ha) state park located in Princeton Township. The park preserves the site of the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777.

On the night before the battle, George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, repulsed a British attack at the Battle of the Assunpink Creek in Trenton. That night, he evacuated his position, circled around General Lord Cornwallis' army, and went to attack the British garrison at Princeton. Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, of the Continental Army, clashed with two regiments under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood of the British Army.

Mercer and his troops were overrun and Washington sent some militia under General John Cadwalader to help him. The militia, on seeing the flight of Mercer's men, also began to flee. Washington rode up with reinforcements and rallied the fleeing militia. He then led the attack on Mawhood's troops, driving them back. Mawhood gave the order to retreat and most of the troops tried to flee to Cornwallis in Trenton.

In Princeton itself, General John Sullivan forced some British troops who had taken refuge in Nassau Hall to surrender, ending the battle. After the battle, Washington moved his army to Morristown, and with their third defeat in 10 days, the British evacuated southern New Jersey. With the victory at Princeton, morale rose in the ranks and more men began to enlist in the army. The battle was the last major action of Washington's winter New Jersey campaign.

Princeton hosted the first Legislature under the State Constitution of New Jersey to decide the State’s seal, Governor and the organization of its government. In addition, two of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence—Richard Stockton and John Witherspoon lived in Princeton.

In 1783, Congress fled from Philadelphia to Princeton, fearing a mutiny by some of the soldiers. General Washington took up residency at Rockingham in Rocky Hill, where he wrote his Farewell Orders to the Army.

On September third, he rode to Nassau Hall to receive news that the Treaty of Paris had been signed, which officially recognized America's independence. Princeton, thereby, became the first Capital of the new nation.

The Battlefield Park is maintained by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, and is located on Mercer Road (Princeton Pike), about 1.5 miles south of Princeton University and 3.8 miles north of Interstate 295/95.

Besides the battlefield itself, another stop is the Mercer Oak named after Hugh Mercer, a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. During the Battle of Princeton, Mercer was stabbed by an English soldier's bayonet. According to legend, he was unwilling to abandon his troops, and rested on the tree's trunk while they stood their ground. After the battle, Mercer was taken to the Clarke House where he died from his injuries nine days later.

The tree was about 300 years old when it was torn by strong winds in March 2000. It is the emblem of Princeton Township and appears on the seal of the township and is an element of the seal of Mercer County, New Jersey. For public safety reasons, arborists cut off the remnants of the trunk the day after the tree fell and several scions from the tree were planted around the battlefield. In May 2000, an 8-foot sapling grown from a Mercer Oak acorn was planted inside the stump of the former tree.

The Thomas Clarke House Museum, built in 1772, was built by the third generation of Quakers at Stony Brook. The house is furnished in the Revolutionary period and contains military artifacts and battle exhibits, as well as a research library. During the battle General Mercer was brought to the Clarke House and treated unsuccessfully by Dr. Benjamin Rush.

There is also an Ionic Colonnade designed by Thomas U. Walter (architect of the US Capitol Building)and a stone patio marking the grave of 21 British and 15 American soldiers killed in the battle. A poem was written for the site by Alfred Noyes, Poet Laureate of England.

The park's hiking trails lead to the Delaware and Raritan Canal and to the adjacent property of the Institute for Advanced Study.

The Princeton Battle Monument is located near Princeton University on park property at Stockton Street and Bayard Lane.

The Historical Society of Princeton uses the Bainbridge House which had previously been used once for a meeting of Continental Congress in 1783, a general office and as the Princeton Public Library. The House is actually property of Princeton University and is leased to the Princeton Historical Society for one dollar per year. The house has kept its original staircase, flooring and paneled walls and is 70% unaltered.

Take a virtual tour of the Princeton Battlefield Park

Princeton Battlefield State Park official site

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