AMERICAN LEGENDS: George Washington

July 21, 2020

This story comes from the book American Folklore and Legend by Reader’s Digest. It is an old book, published in 1978. I used it as part of my son’s homeschooling curriculum… this story appeared 100 years after the war.

George Washington, crossing the Delaware

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“It was a dark and dreary night 99 years ago when in an ancient farm house an old man and his children gathered around their Christmas hearth. The old man, sitting in the full glow of the flame; his dame, a fine old matron; his children, a band of red-lipped maidens – some with slender forms just trembling on the verge of girlhood, others warming and flushing into the summer morn of womanhood! Had you, on that dark night while the December sky gloomed above and sleet swept over the hills, dawn near, you would confess that by that hearth burned a poetry like Heaven, that of Home!”

The old man is thinking of his boy, gone now a year. Over the fields of snow, a faint moan is heard from afar. The lantern is grabbed, a young girl by his side. Side by side they go out softly, treading lightly on the frozen path. As they gaze about, they see a bloody footprint, on the footpath.

“My child,” whispers the old man, “now pray to Heaven for Washington! For by this footprint, stamped in blood, I judge that his army is passing near.”

The old man and the girl follow the footprints to a rock beetling over the river shore. The lantern’s light flashes over the form of a half naked man, crouching in the snow. It is the only son! It is the girls brother! The father called to him, the young girl tried to warm his hands, but when she could not, she gathered them to her young bosom and wept.

“Look there father,” the boy said suddenly, raising his head. There, in the dark, among piles of ice were a fleet of boats. The last boat had just left the western shore of the Delaware River. There also stood a tall man, half hidden in a warrior’s cloak.

“Give me my musket, Father,” says the boy. “For tonight – for tonight – ” He fell quiet, laying stiff and cold. “Tonight – Washington – Trenton” words that hung faintly on his pale lips.

The next morning, the old man learned the meaning of the mysterious words his son had muttered.

“Musketry to the south, booming along the Delaware the roar of battle. Then the old man, with his wife and children gathered around the body of that dead boy, knew the meaning. George Washington had burst like a thunderbolt upon the British camp in Trenton! The gleam of morning shone over yon cliff above the wintry river.”

Buyenlarge 'Washington Crossing the Delaware' by Emanuel Leutze Painting Print

The following info comes from…

  • George Washington crossed the Delaware River, Christmas night 1776
  • 2400 Continental soldiers were ferried across the river – using the dark night as cover
  • Washington knew that the element of surprise was the only way he and his army would stand a chance of defeating the Hessian army in Trenton
  • early in the morning, Dec 25, the Continental Army started lining up along the river, not knowing about the upcoming mission
  • George Washington kept almost all the details secret
  • there were many things that went wrong:
    – the weather had made a turn for the worse, a severe winter storm slowed their crossing
    – many of the men didn’t show up until well after dark
    – larger ferries were needed to get the artillery across the river
    – with all the delays, they were more than three hours behind schedule. George Washington contemplated canceling the mission
  • with out getting much rest, the army marched to Trenton, securing the first major victory of the war

Beetling: jutting or overhanging (; “Something that’s beetling sticks out over the top of something else. A beetling boulder behind your camp site projects out over it.” mid-18th century

movies about Washington Crossing the Delaware: The Crossing, with Jeff Daniels portraying George Washington. Highly recommend if you have not seen it.

Hope you have a great day!
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