GOAT HILL OVERLOOK
Coryell's Crossing was a critical location during our American Revolutionary War. The fireworks you see are being launched from the exact location of that famous ferry crossing -- just south of the bridge connecting the communities of Lambertville, NJ and New Hope, PA on the Delaware River.
Following the retreat of the Continental Army from New York and as it was crossing New Jersey during the fall of 1776, General Washington ordered several troops to go ahead and to gather all the boats along the Delaware. His plan was for his Continental Army to cross into Pennsylvania, leaving no boats behind for the British to use in pursuit. Most critically, he sought to prevent the British from taking a force of sufficient size across the river that could attack Philadelphia, which was at the time was the Capitol of our fledgling nation. It was where the Continental Congress was meeting at the time.
An attack on Philadelphia and the possible capture of the delegates to the Continental Congress at that vulnerable point could have caused a stunning, perhaps fatal setback to the American experiment in self government,* which had only been proudly proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence just five and a half months earlier. "These are the times that try men's souls . . ." wrote Thomas Paine, while accompanying Washington's army during much of that harried retreat, and who wrote those words to describe the plight of the patriot army. He eventually went ahead to Philadelphia, where his pamphlet was printed and widely distributed. It was even reportedly read to Washington's troops for inspiration, just before the Christmas Crossing.
During the 1776 retreat from New York, the advance unit gathered all those boats from up into the Lehigh River and down into Delaware Bay. From those that were garnered, a small but critical fleet of them, including many of the famed Durham boats, were hidden behind Malta Island, which hugged the Pennsylvania shore just south of Coryell's Crossing -- literally within shouting distance. A long "race," or passage, known at the time as the "horserace" ran behind that heavily wooded island, as it swiftly around the very treacherous rapids known as Wells Falls.
In very early December, when the remaining contingent of Washington's troops reached Trenton, they accomplished their objective of crossing over the Delaware to safety into Pennsylvania, taking the boats with them. The Continental Army under his command and various supporting militia units thereupon fanned out along the river banks in the countryside, mostly north of there, setting up pickets and guns to defend against any attempt by the British troops to cross. They succeeded, and the British and their Hessian mercenaries settled into a series of cantonments across New Jersey for the winter, including the cantonment in Trenton which was populated largely by Hessians.
Local legend holds that during the subsequent run-up to the famous 1776 Christmas Crossing at and the Battle of Trenton that General George Washington, whose Headquarters were at the Keith Farm in Brownsburg, over in Pennsylvania, travelled the short distance up to Coryell's Ferry and secretly crossed over onto the New Jersey side, where he was escorted to the top of Smith's Mountain (now known as Goat Hill) by Cornelius Coryell, a local patriot whose family members were the operators of the crossing. From there it was said that Washington was able to see to his own satisfaction that any British troops reconnoitering in the area would be unable to see the boats he had ordered hidden behind Malta Island.
The story was that Washington stood atop a promontory formation on that steep hillside where he was able to get the best possible view of the island and the Pennsylvania banks of the river. It has since been known as Washington's Rock. Here you can see it today, showing in the background what are now the remains of Malta Island. The rock is located a mere hundred yards or so from the Goat Hill Overlook.
British troops under the command of General Charles Cornwallis did indeed reconnoiter in the area between the 9th and the 14th of that December in 1776, and they were very much looking for boats. Few doubt they must have located that exact prominent hillside location as well in their search for boats.
In fact, a newspaper story printed in the Irish Gazette in very early January of 1777 reported on the Cornwallis mission. Of course, the story was printed before the news had reached across the ocean of the stunning military turnabout at the Battle of Trenton, and then a week later at Trenton II, and the Battle of Princeton. A hand-drawn map printed with the article showed the route Cornwallis had travelled, and even declaratively stated in a note written on the Pennsylvania side of that map of the immediate area, "Where the boats were destroyed." William Howe, the Commander in Chief of the British Army in America, had written a letter to the British Secretary of State for America, George Germain, on December 20, 1776, informing him of the search for the boats, and stated in a key paragraph:
A year and a half later, at the beginning of summer, Coryell's Crossing again figured prominently in the strategic movement of the American patriot army. General Washington, marching up from Valley Forge, crossed at Coryell's and stayed between June 20th and 22d on the New Jersey side of the river, before marching out to engage the British troops on June 28th at the. General Washington stayed at the north end of present day Lambertville, NJ, while the bulk of his troops camped in an orchard located in what is now the downtown business section of the City of Lambertville.
Below is what General Charles Cornwallis himself is reputed to have acknowledged to General Washington, five years hence, in the fall of 1781. He reportedly made the remark, just after the siege and complete surrender of his troops to the Continental Army after the Battle of Yorktown, on the Chesapeake.
The indented paragraph is on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of General Washington taking command of the Continental Army.
It is recorded that a few evenings after the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown a banquet was given by Washington and his staff to the British commander and his staff. One likes to contemplate the sportsmanship of that function. Amiabilities and good wishes were duly exchanged, and finally Lord Cornwallis rose to present his compliments to Washington. There had been much talk of past campaigning experiences, and Cornwallis, turning to Washington, expressed the judgment that when history's verdict was made up "the brightest garlands for your Excellency will be gathered not from the shores of the Chesapeake but from the banks of the Delaware." We may fairly assume that Cornwallis, in the fullness of a very personal experience, was qualified to judge. Washington had outgeneraled and defeated him both on the banks of the Delaware and the shores of the Chesapeake. In giving the laurels to the Trenton-Princeton campaign he expressed not only his own judgment but the estimate which was afterwards pronounced by Frederick the Great, who declared that the Trenton-Princeton campaign was the most brilliant military performance of the century. For myself, without pretense of military wisdom, the lightning like stroke of Trenton and Princeton in its supreme audacity and ideal execution has always seemed the most perfectly timed combination of military genius and political wisdom that we find in the records of warfare.
An honor for the ages, to be sure!
* Though the British did eventually take Philadelphia during the following September of 1777, other British forces under General Burgoyne were simultaneously being badly beaten in upstate New York, culminating in the complete capitulation of his forces in mid-October, which defeat was followed by the entry of France on the American side.
Eventually, the circumstances caused the British to entirely give up their occupation of Philadelphia, and to retreat with their forces back into New York City by the early summer of 1778. It was then when Washington led the American forces across the Delaware at Coryell's Crossing, and out to intercept the retreating British at the Battle of Monmouth.