This afternoon for the first time ever, according to Algernon Ward, an African American re-enactment group hosted an event in a New Jersey Park. Ward is the President of the First Rhode Island Regiment of Foot, a group who portray what was known as the “Black Regiment” during the Revolutionary War.
The event also was the first ever Landing event to describe “the rest of the story,” about what happened once George Washington’s troops landed on the Jersey side on that stormy Christmas night in 1776. But the Washington Crossing Park Association (WCPA), which is the friends group supporting the state park, is certain that this is only the first of many.
Washington Crossing Park in Pennsylvania has long produced Washington’s Crossing on Christmas Day. In Pennsylvania, there are speeches and programs that now have become tradition for many to visit after opening presents on Christmas. As time has gone by, the rehearsal crossing, traditionally held two Sundays before Christmas, has become popular in its own right
Ward and his regiment have been part of the Pennsylvania celebration for years but Ward said he always thought more could be done to explain what happened next. Ward and Chuck Monroe, who is a board member of both the First Rhode Island and the WCPA got together with WCPA Executive Director Annette Earling, President Tim West and Education Committee Chair Ken Ritchey as well as State Park Resource Interpretive Specialists Mark Sirak and Clay Craighead to hatch a plan to start to tell that story.
What emerged was an event hosted by WCPA, First Rhode Island, and the New Jersey Washington Crossing State Park describing to the public what it must have been like for both soldiers and camp followers to live outside, cooking food over an open fire and fighting off the elements. Held today, in concert with the Pennsylvania rehearsal crossing, the New Jersey event complemented the Pennsylvania park’s effort and provided a destination for visitors once George and his troops had made it safely to the Jersey side of the river.
Despite cold temperatures and unyielding rain, well over 1,000 visitors thronged the shore to greet the actors portraying Washington and his troops as they landed. Visitors also were treated to talks by local historians, interpretation by several reenactment groups, activities for kids, and hot cider and donuts to ward off the chill.
Photos below by Mike Chipowsky and Amie Rukenstein
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