Happy New Year! Below is an excerpt from my history-mystery book, War of Lies: When George Washington Was the Target and Propaganda Was the Crime.
Thomas Greene in New Haven, Connecticut, had already started printing his January 1, 1777, issue of The Connecticut Journal when he received an express letter from New Jersey. This newspaper publisher was far from green when it came to his craft. A descendant of a line of colonial printers, Greene had thirteen years of publishing experience at the time he received this express. By this point, he knew how to assess the value of a report. This report was gold.
Filled with relief at finally receiving good news and a desire to immediately notify his readers, he removed a portion of one of his articles on page two. He then typeset a new block quoting an extract from the letter he’d received, but left the other article dangling and incomplete. This new story was so important that Greene was willing to leave another article incomplete so he could get the news from Trenton to his readers.
“That early on the 26th of December General Washington with about 3,000 men crossed the Delaware, and at 8 in the morning engaged the enemy at Trenton, who were about 1,600 in number, and in about 35 minutes routed the whole, taking 919 prisoners, exclusive of killed and wounded,” Greene joyfully published.
Washington’s men had attacked the British position at Trenton, which was held by Hessians. Expecting them to have been drinking and enjoying the Christmas holiday, Washington tapped the element of surprise and caught them off guard and inebriated. The article then listed the number of officers and soldiers captured by rank along with the types of artillery and ammunition that they captured.
Greene added an explanation for interrupting the article with this insert.
“We had printed off a number of papers before the above came to hand.” Receiving a letter from an officer in the American army in Newtown, Pennsylvania, Greene published additional details eight days later.
“I have the pleasure of giving you an account of an advantageous victory obtained over the Hessians yesterday,” this officer explained of why Washington had attacked. “Something was necessary to check the progress of the enemy; it was therefore resolved by his Excellency to attack the Hessian Army at Trenton; for which purpose everything was in readiness.”
Giving additional details, this officer provided another first draft of this historic event.
“And on Christmas night we marched down to the river with upwards of 2,000 men and 12 pieces of artillery, at M. Conkey’s Ferry, Delaware River, and at half after 3 began our march to Trenton.”
Emotions followed facts.
“A colder or icier season I’ve never felt. Rain and hail, with high winds -- but no difficulties were too much for our worthy commander to surmount at this important crisis,” he wrote of his personal experience while praising Washington.
The officers had divided their men into columns and began their attack at eight in the morning.
“His Excellency commanded in person, and in about three quarters of an hour they surrendered.” Only four Americans died and eight were wounded. “We intended the attack should have been before daylight but the fatigue of marching and trouble of crossing the Delaware detained us.”
The Hessians had been preparing for a retreat but took their time because “the extremity of the weather made them conclude we were not coming (as they had information) and so all . . . thought themselves quite secure.”
The officer exalted his fellow soldiers and General Washington.
“Too much praise cannot be given to our brave troops, his Excellency was pleased at their undoubted courage; not a soul was found cowardly skulking, but was fierce for the battle.”