Washington Crossing

This weekend we went to Washington Crossing, both a town in PA and a state park straddling both Pennsylvania and New Jersey on the banks of the Delaware River.  My 8 year old had to visit a local historic site in order to earn some sort of badge and the pack leader suggested Washington Crossing.  Every year, the folks of the area stage a reenactment of General George Washington’s Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware River in 1776.  Happily they don’t just stage the reenactment on Christmas Day but also on an earlier weekend because we could not have sold a Christmas Day excursion to walk some men in fancy dress row some boats to the kids.  Want to know how stoked the boys were to be attending this event?  Yup.  Correct.  Not.  At.  All.

Honestly, it was a hard sell.  On a list of a hundred trips my kids might be enthused about, standing on the banks of a river watching some historic reenactors go to and fro does not feature.  Not remotely.  In fact, it might feature on a list of things my kids will rebel against.  Which was kind of apt given it was all about a revolution.  It was also hard for me to whip them up into some sort of interest because, quite frankly, the Revolutionary War doesn’t especially engage me either.  Finally I segued from playing Devil’s Advocate with my failing and flailing attempts at persuasion and just went with threats of dire punishment to get them into the car and get the trip underway.

Washington Crossing was absolutely thronging when we arrived.  Finding parking proved to be quite a challenge.  Clearly whole vast herds of other parents had no difficulty enthusing their children about the event.  The best views were to be had from a VIP area with a marquee and ticketed entrance.  There was no way I was going to hand over cash just to hear my kids whine and gripe so we found a spot further along the bank and settled in there.  And by “settled” I mean that Mr Pict and I had to stay on hyper alert as our children picked up large sticks with which to have lightsaber fights, jumped off rocks down to the shore, gave other people palpitations as they scuttered down steep slopes at high speed, hurtling towards the water, and tried to escape.  Oh what fun.

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Finally it was time to watch the reenactment.  I then became utterly confused because the row boats pushed out from the Pennsylvania shoreline and crossed to New Jersey.  Somewhere in the dusty shelves of my memory, I thought that Washington had crossed the other way.  So, to be clear, I had dragged four unwilling and rebellious children on a trip to see a historic event reenacted when I had almost zero knowledge of the event.  This was going great.  So it transpired that what happened was that George Washington conducted a surprise maneouvre  whereby he crossed the river on Christmas night in order to attack the Hessian troops in Trenton.  They then crossed back to Pennsylvania with prisoners and some useful things they had purloined.  Washington’s troops would later cross again in order to defeat Cornwallis’ troops at Trenton.  This whole episode is the subject of Leutze’s famous painting.  So we watched the reenactors cross back and forth in the Durham boats, had our ears cleared and our ribs rattled by the boom of canon, and smelled the rotten egg of the smoke as it wafted thickly in our direction.

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It ended and the crowds clapped and cheered.  My boys yippeed because they could finally depart.  Honestly, it was not the most exciting trip I have ever taken them on but, as I explained to them, it could have been worse: I could have taken them to the Christmas Day reenactment after all.  I realised, however, that my lack of engagement and enjoyment was down to my very limited knowledge about the War of Independence.  Given that we live in an area that is so connected to, so immersed in the history and events of that era, I really must make an effort to learn more.  I think, therefore, that we may well return to Washington Crossing at some stage in order to visit the buildings and learn a bit more about the events we saw being depicted, see replicas of the boats up close, that sort of thing.  Of course, persuading my kids to return might be a whole other thing.

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17 thoughts on “Washington Crossing

  1. Ah yes, the historical trips! Growing up in the midwest we didn’t have as many. Friends from the East Coast seemed to have a trip to a historic spot every weekend. I suspect they got something from it and may well remember it well – even if only to recall that they didn’t want to go! Now there’s a picture book idea!

    • My husband and I are history nerds so we like visiting such places. I suspect the kids engage more when we are more electrified by a subject and sadly the Revolution doesn’t do it for us (and not because of Brit prejudice). Watching men row back and forth isn’t too exhilarating either. They’ve done better watching reenactments of battles and skirmishes. Still, we parents have to give the kids something to rebel against.

      • True. Where I grew up the history was all about the early fur traders and various of the Native American tribes. And out here in Oregon, we have Lewis and Clark historical markers every few feet. I’ve visited ‘the historic East’ now several times and had fun. There is a Fearing Family museum and tavern in Wareham Massachusetts I still need to visit. It’s supposed to be haunted too, so I think I get my daughter excited to visit! http://wareham-ma.villagesoup.com/p/wareham-historical-society/98977

      • You should see if you can spend the night a the haunted tavern! Along with some friends, I spent the night in Inverary Jail a few years ago to raise money for charity. It was such a good – though cold – night that we then spent the night wandering around the old crofts at Auchindrain Township. I would love to upgrade to staying at a more comfortable and warm “haunted” location.

      • It’s a fascinating place. I have been during the day too and done the more traditional tour. Wandering around by torchlight and the beam catching mannequins in the cells is quite “atmospheric” though.

  2. I think you were very nice to the Washington Crossing’s event – it’s the kind of thing, I think, that gets better press than it delivers in reward. But I find the Revolution kind of uninspiring myself, or maybe it is the way I was taught about it (verging on a religious respect for our side and demonizing the other). It tends to cut down on the actual interesting parts of which there are many. They do a nice encampment in the spring at Hope Lodge in Fort Washington with more action the kids might like…

    • Thanks, Claudia. I think my sons’ Scout troop does something at Hope Lodge every couple of years.

      It is difficult for me to judge how much of the damp squib nature of our trip to Washington Crossing was down to the event itself and how much was coloured by our lack of engagement, lack of knowledge, and the griping and groaning of the kids.

      As I have shared before, my husband is a Civil War nerd and we have all been sucked into that vortex too but it is easier for me to find things of interest in that conflict because it crosses out of military history and into such areas as social history. Perhaps it is the way I have seen the Revolution depicted that puts me off really wanting to learn more. It is presented in such a reductive “goodies and baddies” way, and the focus is very much on military history which I find rather snoresome. Still, we are going to have to increase our knowledge so as to gain a better sense of local history.

  3. Your post brings back memories. When I was a kid, we went to that re-enactment and probably had the same attitude as your boys. Once, while in high school, I went willingly because a group of classmates dressed up like British soldiers and mounted a fake cannon on a couple of canoes and “spoiled” the Continental Army’s sneak attack

    • Well it seems I am participating in a local parenting tradition then of dragging unwilling children to this reenactment. I think my kids would have livened up had such an “intrusion” taken place.

    • Strangely enough, we did pass comment on that. We also hoped the canon explosions were just for theatricality and we’re not part of the reconstruction because I’m pretty sure a booming canon would remove the element of surprise.

      • Canon, surprise. Hmm. Yes, I can see the problem.

        The idea that the historic re-enactors jumped in their boats and paddled the wrong way has been sneaking up and making me laugh all day. I didn’t respond to it at first, but it grew on me how funny that is.

  4. Oh this did make me laugh Laura – especially the bit where you quit with the drumming up interest and moved straight to the dire punishment phase. I know that all too well but with four to dish it out to, well that must be quite a different story – I just have one protester to deal with and that’s hard enough at times.

    • Well I promised myself I would be truthful about family life when I started this blog, that I wouldn’t gloss over the bits that are struggles, and sometimes getting the kids to cooperate with an outing is mighty challenging.

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