Written by NJ Historian
New Jersey is known as the Crossroads of the American Revolution. The Battles at Trenton and Monmouth are two of the most well-known to New Jerseyites. Most however, often overlook the Battle of Princeton, another important victory for the Continentals.
In the aftermath of the victory at the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776, General George Washington decided to move the Continental Army northward. After dodging the British at the second Battle of Trenton on January 2, 1777, the troops made a night march to the outskirts of Princeton. Early on the morning of January 3, they encountered a British brigade moving south under the command of Lt. Col. Charles Mawhood. A skirmish ensued in an orchard between Mawhood’s troops and the troops under General Hugh Mercer. General Mercer was struck with seven bayonet wounds during the battle and sent to the Thomas Clarke house, which was set up as a field hospital. General Mercer died in the home nine days later tended by Major George Lewis, George Washington’s nephew.
The retreating British suffered additional attacks from troops commanded by General John Sullivan. The British retreated back toward Princeton and Nassau Hall, which they were utilizing as a makeshift headquarters. Captain Alexander Hamilton and an artillery battery under his command dislodged the remaining troops from Nassau Hall. The casualties at Princeton number forty Americans and 86 British killed or wounded. The British also had 187 missing. This American victory, coupled with the successes at Trenton, helped to keep the Revolutionary cause alive at a time when support was waning.
Thomas Clarke House
In 1772, Thomas Clarke, a Quaker farmer, purchased 200 acres of land from his brother William. The land, then part of West Windsor, had been in the Clarke family since 1696. Thomas replaced an existing structure with the two and a half story Georgian structure that still stands today.
It has been documented that he lived there with at least two of his sisters, Hannah and Sarah, until his death in 1802. They were members of the nearby Stony Brook Friends Meeting. Sarah inherited the house and lived in it until her death in 1840. Her nephew, John H. Clarke, enlarged the east wing which included a new kitchen. The house was sold in 1863 to Henry E. Hale and again in 1944 to Blackwell Smith. The State of New Jersey purchased the property in 1946 and established the Clarke House Museum in 1976.
|The Clarke House, circa 1860|
The fabled Mercer Oak stood on the battlefield site for roughly 300 years. The Mercer Oak was named after General Hugh Mercer. During the battle, Mercer was stabbed by a bayonet. According to legend, he was unwilling to abandon his troops, and rested on the tree's trunk while they stood their ground. After the battle, Mercer was taken to the Clarke House where he died from his injuries nine days later.
|The Mercer Oak which stood for roughly 300 years.|
On March 3, 2000, a wind storm felled the oak's last four branches. For public safety reasons, arborists cut off the remnants of the trunk the day after the tree fell. Following the tree's death, several scions from the tree were planted around the battlefield. In May 2000, an 8-foot sapling grown from a Mercer Oak acorn was planted at the site of the former tree as a memorial to the historic tree which today graces the emblems for Princeton Township and Mercer County.
Additional photos of my trip to Princeton Battlefield on Pinterest