In a letter dated December 3, 1776, General George Washington writes to Congress from his headquarters in Trenton, New Jersey, to report that he had transported much of the Continental Army’s stores and baggage across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania. His famous crossing of the Delaware would come less than one month later.
In his letter, Washington wrote, “Immediately on my arrival here, I ordered the removal of all the military and other stores and baggage over the Delaware, a great quantity are already got over, and as soon as the boats come up from Philadelphia, we shall load them, by which means I hope to have every thing secured this night and tomorrow if we are not disturbed.”
Washington then made the critical strategic move of confiscating and burning all the boats along the Delaware to prevent British troops from pursuing his beleaguered forces across the river. The British strategy of chasing Washington across New Jersey, rather than capturing his entire army in Manhattan, seemed to be a stroke of genius. As New Jersey was devastated at the hands of British forces and Washington’s men cowered in Pennsylvania, even staunch Patriots, including Thomas Jefferson, considered surrender to the crown.
Also on this day, General Washington received a letter dated November 30 from his second-in-command, General Charles Lee, reporting that he was about to cross into New York near Peekskill on this day in 1776. In an apt reflection of the state of the American fortunes, the British captured General Lee nine days later in New Jersey. Richard Stockton, a leading New Jersey patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was also in British custody and was forced to swear an oath of allegiance to the British king along with thousands of his New Jersey neighbors.