Washington Crossing the Delaware

Genealogy for the Heath family's of Saffordshire and surrounding areas.

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Postby Donna Tunison » Sun Mar 17, 2019 12:38 pm

1851 Washington Crossing the Delaware.jpg
Leutze 1851 Painting - Washington Crossing the Delaware
1851 Washington Crossing the Delaware.jpg (150.38 KiB) Viewed 6545 times

My grandmother, Louis Heath Tunison, believed her great-great grandfather Richard Heath was on the boat with George Washington that fateful Christmas night in 1776. She had researched the Heath Family of Hunterdon County in the 1960s and 70s, while working at the statehouse in Trenton. Her house/property butted against Washington Crossing State Park, so our visits would take us to the park (in 1964) or drive by it when going to New Jersey. Visiting the area several times and other locations involving that event, n my youth led to a life time interest in the American Revolutionary period. My last trip to her house in 1971, she aske my father to take her up to Baptistown to try to locate Richard and Catherine Rittenhouse Heath's grave. Gram has a good idea where it was, and at that time it was not obvious to the naked eye, as the cemetery had been so neglected that it was overgrown with weeds and brambles, and they were successful at locating it.

Six years ago, while researching one of my paternal great-grandmother Jane Terhune Tunison's family, I came across a distant cousin Albert Payson Terhune (1872-1942), an early 20th century journalist, author and breeder. He was well known for his articles and books revolving around collies, which were bred at his famous kennel Sunnybank in Wayne, New Jersey. About nineteen silent films between 1915 to 1927 were made from his stories and three sound films, 1934, 1937, and 1962.

Albert wrote an article regarding his great- grandather Abram, (one of George Washington's body guards during the American Revolution) revolving around an interview by Rev. Ezra Fisk and recorded in 1847.

The Terhunes (ter Huin), like the Tunisons (de Nyse) were Huguenots who fled France to Holland, possibly following the Saint Batholomew massacre in 1572. Albertse migrated to the new world in the 1650s, as Teunis Nyssen de Nyse ten years earlier where both were employed by the Dutch West Indies Company in New Amsterdam. The Dutch West Indies was begun in New Amsterdam in 1624. The English took over New Amsterdam 08 Sep 1664, when Governor Peter Stuvyesant surrendered to the British. Some of the second generation, including my ancestors migrated to New Jersey where some descendants lived well into the 20th century and as well as today.

The George Washington My Great-Grandfather Knew
Albert Payson Terhune

In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, hangs the giant painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware. Throughout the country there are thousands of its copies. The bow oar nearest the spectator is manned by a big blond lad, wide of face, blue of eye.

He was Abram Terhune, my great-grandfather.

The historic picture’s painter visited Abram Terhune at his home in Cherry Valley, near Princeton, and gleaned from him the details needed for the work. My great-grandfather posed also for his own portrait, tugging at the boat oar of the Washington boat, the artist reconstructing from imagination the boyish look that the oarsman had worn at that far earlier date.

To my father and to the Rev. Ezra Fisk and to many another eager inquirer, Abram Terhune told of his intimate George Washington memories. He was with Washington for the greater part of the Revolutionary War.

I am going to repeat some of these recollections, as well as, personal accounts of Washington, the man, handed down by Major Morton to my mother, who was his grandniece, and by her to me.

Ezra Fisk’s are the more vivid, perhaps, for he visited Abram Terhune several times at Cherry Valley, in 1847, and straightway wrote out full accounts of the interviews. Unlike much other of Fisk’s first-hand historical information, these interviews never have been printed. I got hold of a verbatim copy of the material through his friend, George E. Black, of Greencastle, Indiana; and I checked up on the material from my memory of family letters and of family anecdotes.

I am going to quote direct from this copy of the Fisk manuscripts. It begins:

“One of the greatest pleasures of my student days at Princeton, during 1847, ’48, and ’49, was to go out into the near-by country and talk with men had interesting things to tell of early American history. Probably the most vividly remembered of all these was Lieut. Abram Terhune, who his friends in later years commonly addressed as ‘Colonel.’ I found his home, at Cherry Valley, nine miles from Princeton, one of the most interesting in New Jersey.

“Although ‘Colonel’ Terhune was then long past eighty years of age, he was imposing in appearance. Straight and lean, his six-feet-two-inches of perpendicularity were seemingly more. His hair was white. His wide but noble fore-head jutted out over his keen blue eyes, and he had a great curve beak of a nose and small, determined-looking mouth.

“Sometimes, while talking, he would leap to his feet and stride backward and forward, mentally living over again the stirring days he saw under Washington. He was just such a man as I had as a Revolutionary hero.

“In our conversations he made no effort to idealize Washington, but spoke of his qualities, good and bad, with a familiarity that was justified by his years of association with that leader. On my first visit to his home he replied most vigorously to a question of mine”

“‘Did I know Washington? I was with him almost constantly for six years, in what was known as his bodyguard.

“I was an orphan and I had been married but four weeks and settled on my fine farm to the southeast of New Brunswick, New Jersey, when Cornwallis obtained command of the Jerseys and split the state in two, diagonally, by a chain of forts from New York to Trenton on the Delaware, driving Washington out before him into Pennsylvania. He drove me from my home, as well as hundreds of others. My wife went among her relations in Northern New Jersey. It was long before I saw her again.

“‘I went with Washington’s forces, as a camp follower, into Pennsylvania. I first entered actual service on fatigue duty. I was one of those detailed in setting Washington and his troops across the Delaware River, the first step preceding his capture of the Hessians at Trenton. That occurred the night of Christmas of 1776.

“‘I was in the same boat with General Washington. I handled the first oar, between General Washington, who was standing, and the bow of the boat.’”

FISK: Is that fact generally known, Colonel?

TERHUNE: I suppose it is, for I gave the information to the artist who painted the picture of Washington Crossing the Delaware–stating to him the kind of boat, the men that were in it and all that pertain4ed.

FISK: Who were in the boat?

TERHUNE: Lieutenant Brewster sat in the bow of the boat with a pike pole in his hands to push the ice away. Washington, instead of sitting down upon the seat which had been provided for him, stood with one foot in the bottom of the boat and the other foot on the bench which was to have been his seat. A heavy iron-scabbarded claymore was at his side. He had field glasses in his hands and he looked intently to the farther bank, where the troops were landing. I sat, with an oar, between Washington and Lieutenant Brewster.

FISK: Colonel, the people of the United States credit Washington with great ability. Yet I pass over our country and inquire within his great ability lay, and they fail to answer. I have come to you to gain if possible some information about him. But first let me ask you of his aspect. Was he a fine-looking man?

TERHUNE: No, sir, he was not. There were finer-looking men about him, all the time.

FISK: As you looked at him immediately in the fact, what would strike your notice first?

TERHUNE: That his eyes were wide apart, like those of a horse; out upon the corners of his head. Then, his nose, big and thick and in chilly weather as red as a beet. But he had a countenance that all liked.

FISK: But, Colonel, he had a fine figure, had he not?

TERHUNE: No, sir, he had not. He was narrow-shouldered and flat-chested. But in a procession he was an imposing man, as he was some six feet and two inches in height and weighing commonly two-hundred-ten pounds and of an impressive dignity.

FISK: Was he graceful?

TERHUNE: No, sir, nor was he awkward. In his presence, whatever he might do, you would not think of gracefulness nor awkwardness. He had nothing of the flippant grace about him, for his extremities were too large. His common footwear was Thirteen Size. His hands were correspondingly large; his fingers each seemed nearly large enough for a rolling pin. But the size of his hands was concealed in part by his wearing long coat sleeves with ruffled wristbands. From his waist down he was the most powerful man I have seen. He had a strength and vigor in his lower limbs that I never knew a human being to possess, besides him. Hence his ability to leap or hop. If a group of us were passing along and came to a stream of water, to cross which would make the rest of us look for a pole or a rail or stones to step on, the General would deliberately and calmly leap across it at one step, and seemingly without effort. And I do not believe this race ever possessed his superior as a horseman.

FISK: I understand, Colonel, that Washington ridiculed the idea that any horse could unseat him.

TERHUNE: That is true. He could wrap his powerful legs around a horse and squeeze it until it could not breathe. No horse could loosen the power of his grip.

FISK: Had he a favorite horse?

TERHUNE: The General prided himself upon a horse he rode at the Battle of Monmouth and elsewhere. It was white, with black stripes somewhat like a zebra’s. I once saw General Washington fill a gallon bowl with water, give his horse a drink from it, then drink from it himself.

FISK: He was a noted conversationalist, was he not?

TERHUNE: He talked only occasionally. But he was the most interested listener a talker ever had. His countenance wore that beaming and invited look of inquiry which coaxed others to tell him all they knew, while he said little. I have known him to spend a social evening; and when the company broke up the comment would be: “What a sociable man the General is!” Yet he actually had said next to nothing.

FISK: If you were asked what was the first and most striking feature of General Washington’s ability, what reply would you make

TERHUNE: His practical an accurate common sense on every subject which could be presented to him.

FISK: Was his mind always quick at reaching conclusions?

TERHUNE: Always moderately so. Sometimes wonderfully quick and active. Another peculiarity of his ability was his accurate and discriminating notice. We used to say the General could see farther into a millstone than any other man. His active discernment of human character was beyond that of anyone else known to me. No man ever succeeded in deceiving the General until first he had won the General’s confidence and then betrayed it–as did Benedict Arnold, for example. The General never would do, nor could h be induced to do, anything he thought should not be done. For instance, when he could not command advantages that would over-balance disparity of numbers and of equipment, he would refuse to fight battles his advisers believed should be fought. This, often to the disappointment of the men under his command.

FISK: Do you think that was the reason he was often charged with lack of energy?

TERHUNE: Doubtless it was. Yet, when circumstances were favorable, he showed the most marvelous energy and executive ability any general ever possessed.

To prove Washington’s strangely brilliant diplomacy, my great-grandfather told Doctor Fisk the following story, which I have heard in more concise form through my father. I quote Abram Terhune’s account of it as set down by Doctor Fisk: “During that hard winter we were in camp at Morristown the army was reduced by the expiration of terms of service of the men and by smallpox. One bright morning, a number of us were on the parade ground with the Commander in Chief, when he saw a man crossing the parade ground some distance away. General Washington looked at him a moment or two; then, turning back to us, he said:

“‘Do you see that gentleman yonder? Well, he is a British colonel.’

“‘Oh, no, Your Excellency,’ one of the staff replied. ‘They would not dare send a man down here.’
“‘ That is what he is. Depend upon it,’ said General Washington.

“Then we proposed immediately that he be arrested as a spy, but the General said we could make more out of him than that. Leaving us, he returned to his tent. But he sent immediately for the inspector-general. To the latter, Washington gave his instructions:

“‘That British officer will probably represent himself as a gentleman from the country who has been prevented from visiting the army by sickness or embarrassing circumstances in business, or some such reason, and he regrets that he could not come before this. You will probably find him too patriotic for comfort and deeply interested in freeing this country from the British.

“‘Take him at his word. As soon as the troops can be got together–for surely as the troops can be got together–for surely we have enough to make one good regiment–we will have them marched out for a review. As soon as that can be done I will send you an order to review a certain regiment of the line. You will have him go with you. He wants to find out our number of men so that Clinton can attack us.”

“The inspector-general left headquarters and introduced himself to the visitor. He soon found that Washington had discerned the man in every particular. While they were in conversation, there came an order from headquarters to inspect the Seventeenth Regiment of the line. On receiving that order the inspector-general said:

“‘I am glad the General has decided to have the army inspected today. Will you go with me?’

“The country gentleman accompanied the inspector-general, and, going a short distance out on a certain road, there they found drawn up a regiment in fine order, in splendid condition and well equipped–much to the surprise of the visitor.

“‘How many such regiments have you?’ he inquired.

“‘I will tell you what is not commonly known and what we are trying to keep from the peasantry of the surrounding country,’ replied the inspector-general. ‘But we have not disposition to keep the information from a gentleman of your intelligence and patriotism. We are trying to make an impression on General Clinton that we have no army, that men have left by expiration of time of service and by reason of sickness, and that most of what are left in camp are sick. For we want to coax Clinton out to attack us here. Let me tell you, my friend, that when he comes he will marry rich. We have our troops away in corners and we let each detachment think it is the only one we have.’

“Another order came from headquarters: ‘Inspect the Ninth Regiment.’ Roads extended out from Morristown like the spokes from the hub of a wheel, and troops could be marched from one road to another, across country, without coming through the town. This Ninth Regiment they found out of the Hackensack road. It was the same body of men they had inspected before, but its officers had been changed, the flags changed, and there it stood as the Ninth.

“The visitor was very plainly surprised. His astonishment grew as he viewed regiment after regiment that day, each one a new one, as he thought, but the same body of men each time.

“‘We had thought of attacking Clinton in New York,’ said the inspector-general, ‘but fortifications are troublesome, if you can do otherwise.’”

The Quarrel With Lee
“Near evening the inspector-general stated they were done for the day, but urged the visitor to stay and see the remaining regiments in the morning. The country gentleman replied that he could not possible remain, that his family would be distressed if he did not return. So he withdrew.

“About three days later word reached the American headquarters, from friends in New York City, that Colonel––, of a regiment of grenadiers, had visited Washington’s camp in disguised, had become acquainted with some of Washington’s officers, saw and inspected many regiments of the army and had reported to Clinton.

“‘You talk of attacking Washington in camp,’ he said to Clinton, ‘but that is what he is arranging, planning, hoping and is prepared for. He has divided and secreted his force to make it appear that his army is gone. I inspected nine regiments of the best troops on Continental soil. Washington will attack you in your forts before spring.’

“History commonly notices the event about like this:

“General Clinton contemplated attacking Washington in camp; but instead spent the winter in strengthening fortifications of the city.”

My great-grandfather described in some detail the Battle of Monmouth, in his talks with Doctor Fisk, and his account of the hot quarrel between Washington and Gen. Charles Lee is worth recording.

Lee, it will be remembered, asked to be relieved of command just before that battle, as he approved of Washington’s campaign plans. Lafayette was appointed in his stead. Then at the eleventh hour, Lee asked to be reinstated and Washington acceded to the plea. Let us pick up Abram Terhune’s account of it:

“Lee ordered a cessation of firing and the troops to fall back. The Marquis of Lafayette sent this message by a courier to General Washington:

“‘Your presence urgently needed on field.’

“Washington, upon receiving Lafayette’s note, dispatched portions of his troops and moved forward rapidly at once. Meeting Lee’s troops retreating in disorder, he stopped them. Lee came up and Washington rode to meet him, demanding with warmth:

“‘What does this mean?’

“‘It means,’ replied General Lee, ‘what any damned fool ought to have known and what I told you yesterday.’

“I was partly between General Washington and General Lee. General Washington raised himself in his stirrups and poured out upon General Lee the most concentrated epithets, the most awful profanity I ever heard, closing with ordering Lee off the field.”

The Human Side
My mother’s great-uncle, Maj. James Morton, of High Hill, Cumberland County, Virginia, gave my mother a slightly different version of the quarrel of which, like Abram Terhune, was a witness. It is agrees with my great-grandfather’s up the point where the two generals met. Then, according to Morton, Washington shouted to the retreating Lee:

“In God’s name, General Lee, what means this ill-timed prudence”

“I know of no man who possesses more of that damnable virtue than Your Excellency!” retorted Lee.

Then began the avalanche of lurid rebuke, on which both witnesses seem agreed.

Major Morton’s takes of his adored chief contain a human element lacked by Abram Terhune’s. He told my mother:

“They say General Washington never laughed. That is an absurd libel. I do not deny he was one of the gravest of men. But often he smiled and often he laughed. No man could laugh so heartily when indeed there was a just cause for mirth.

“At Valley Forge, of an icy morning, officers of his staff amused themselves by leaping in air and trying to crack their heels together twice before they should touch the earth again.

“Gen. Nathaniel Greene essayed this, and he fell upon his face in the snow. General Washington had come up unobserved and he had stood watching the sport. Now he burst into a great laugh, until the tears poured out upon his face. He fairly held his sides as he guffawed:

“‘Oh, Greene, you were ever a lubberly fellow!”

I like to think that Abram Terhune’s description to the inquiring artist, as to the crossing of the Delaware, did not include two utter ridiculous blunders which occur in that immortal picture and which no critic seems to have discovered.

The first of these is the presence of the American flag, floating over Washington’s boat–stars and stripes and all. Washington crossed the Delaware in December of 1776. The American flag was not designed by Betsy Ross until June of 1777. If any flag was carried that December night it was not the then unborn Old Glory.

The second blunder is in depicting the drift ice rising from the water almost as high as the boat’s gunwale. As about nine-tenths of an ice cake is below water, this would have implied that the Delaware River on Christmas night was choked with ice from fifteen to eighteen feet thick.

History in general has sought to make Washington impersonal. The loving reminiscences of fold who in their youth lived and fought with him make him gloriously real. Too seldom does modern America gain a glimpse of that human side of the greatest man our nation has produced.
Donna Tunison
Posts: 47
Joined: Tue Dec 20, 2016 7:12 pm

Re: Washington Crossing the Delaware

Postby Peter Dzik » Sun Apr 19, 2020 9:16 pm

I find it an interesting story by Donna on the personality details (especially George Washington) behind such an important event in the American Revolution and the participation of two of Donna's ancestors in it. I'm adding a few points to help those of us who are not familiar with the immediate geography and events occurring that winter. That includes Heath Creek and the ferries near Trenton. Secondly I will briefly refer to Washington's ancestry, as it stirred my curiosity initially way back because there were two Washington neighbours of Quaker William Yardley's family and the Heaths in Horton parish, Staffordshire in the later 1600's, before they emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1682.

1). In late December 1776 George Washington planned to attack the forward base of the British army at Trenton, New Jersey, on the east bank of the Delaware river. He was partly forced to because the enlistment date of many of his troops expired on New Years day. He organised the colonials in Bucks County to cross at three points across the Delaware to overcome the smaller force of c.1400 Hessian mercenaries in Trenton town. Intelligence had informed him that major British forces had landed further north and were moving south to occupy key towns.

General Washington was to lead by ferry the northernmost force at McCorkneys Crossing. The Delaware is about 300 yards wide here and Donna refers to memory of much ice in the river at the time. Great benefit was gained by also bringing across 18 cannon in the heavy trade boats, these being up to sixty feet long. These cannon had been captured by the colonials a year earlier in the capture of fort Ticonderoga. Not sure how much of a tourist centre McCorkneys now is. This was 10 miles north west of Trenton by road and it took several hours for the American forces (including wagons) to march in icy conditions, presumably skirting the edge of Andrew Heath's farm. Unfortunately conditions were too bad for the other two groups to cross the Delaware and support Washington's 2400 men until the later days of December.
The late night march crossed Heath Creek some two and a half miles out of the then Trenton boundaries. The creek ran south east to the Delaware through the lower part of Andrew Heath's original 400 acres. Do not know if the land was still in his descendants hands at this time. As we know the Americans were successful, partly due to the arrogance of the Hessian commander, and the American artillery.

Once the other two colonial groups crossed the Delaware they all moved towards Princetown where English troops were garrisoned. On January 3rd they ambushed three English regiments leaving there to attack Trenton. The casualties inflicted caused the English to vacate New Jersey. The victories gave the rebels greater belief in their cause after a bad year. It encouraged the French and Spanish to supply much weaponry to the colonists and eventually French naval forces and thousands of French troops.

2). Surprisingly, the Secretary of State for the Colonies in the then British Government, the 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, before and during early Revolutionary events, was a distant relative of Washington, dating back to the time of the English Civil war. Much of his Government records are available, and he was partially resident in Staffordshire. In a number of letters from and to him there are references to the "American rebels", and the fact that there was some support for the colonists in Britain. Some of Washington's ancestors had been active soldiers/organisers on the side of the King in the Civil War.
General George's four times grandfather was one of seventeen children of Lawrence Washington , himself being one of eleven children. So there are a lot of relatives around to match George's immediate relatives DNA to. His direct ancestors came down from Lancashire to Northamptonshire. In the 20th century I have so far found four marriages of Washingtons to Heaths in North Staffordshire.

3). But surprisingly there are many Washingtons in the Cheshire/North Staffordshire area, and there have been many christened George over the last two hundred years. There are some early records which strongly point to the North Staffordshire link with those early main Washington lines.
Although Washington town in Durham is a major U.S. tourist point now, the Washington family actually left there in the mid 1300's. The current Washington Hall and furniture are of much later date.
bye pete
Peter Dzik
Posts: 27
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 2:12 pm

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