Case 1

The Battle of Trenton mythologized for many Americans—both today and in the past—the figure of George Washington. I am referring of course to the iconic image of Washington crossing the Delaware River. This image symbolizes for many Americans who George Washington was: a courageous leader, an honorable citizen, and a victorious general. The weight of this image comes from the variety of permutations it has seen over the years in literature and art.

The story of the Battle of Trenton is this: Washington retreats across New Jersey to Pennsylvania with the British army on his heels. While in Pennsylvania, Washington rallies his troops for an attack on the Hessian forces stationed in Trenton on Christmas day to catch them off guard. The troops navigate across the river and defeat the Hessians. Because the Americans would go on to win the war, there is rarely any mention of the battle itself—just Washington crossing the Delaware toward victory. There is rarely a mention of New Jersey, or Washington’s retreat prior, or indeed the words “The Battle of Trenton” in connection with this image, and this is because of the power of literature and art to shape the way the public thinks.

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In George Washington’s Smallest Army, Washington finds his courage to make the crossing after witnessing the wiles of an owl, a mouse, and the multilingual frog that brought them all together. The Young Continentals at Trenton culminates in two homesick boys following Washington’s army to victory in their hometown of Trenton. Washington’s courage is now also a children’s song in the book Row, Row, Row the Boats. The constant in all of these books is the subject of Washington’s courage, and, because of the eventual victory in the Revolutionary War, this courage is that of all Americans as well.

Carter, Russel Gordon. A Patriot Lad of Old Trenton. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing, 1926.

Dahl, Michael. Row, Row, Row the Boats: A Fun Song About George Washington Crossing the Delaware. Picture Window Books, 2004.

McIntyre, John T. The Young Continentals at Trenton. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing, 1911.

Middlemist, Dennis R. (Grandpa Dennis). George Washington’s Smallest Army. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2009.

Stryker, William S. The Battles of Trenton and Princeton. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1898.

Taylor, David. Lights Across the Delaware. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1954.