The National Park Service recently awarded $61,995 to the Friends of Washington Crossing Park as part of the Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grant program. This program funds preservation projects and efforts of sites tied to the struggle of African Americans to gain equal rights. The Friends were one of only 37 projects nationally to be funded.
The Friends’ grant will support in-depth research by a dedicated research fellow on African Americans who participated in and supported the Continental Army’s crossing of the Delaware River on December 25, 1776.
This research will examine the “Ten Crucial Days” campaign, which includes the subsequent battles of Trenton and Princeton; soldiers and camp followers of the Bucks County winter encampment; and free and enslaved people living and working nearby. Once completed, the fellow’s research will be incorporated into a variety of interpretive programming at the park.
The roots of the Civil Rights movement connect directly to the thousands of African Americans involved in the American Revolution, voluntarily and involuntarily. African American activists looked to the contributions of earlier generations for inspiration during their struggle for equality in the years leading to the Civil Rights movement. This project will identify these individuals and their stories for inclusion in the park’s public interpretation, including living history programs, lectures, school programs, exhibits, website content, and newsletter stories.
“The park’s visitors, including thousands of school students, will benefit from this project,” said Jennifer Martin, Executive Director of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park. “Sharing previously untold stories of underrepresented people is a priority as the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution approaches in 2026. Sharing these stories helps us connect with new audiences and encourage repeat visitation.”
“The National Park Service is proud to award this grant funding to our state and local government, and nonprofit partners to help them recognize places and stories related to the African American experience,” said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams. “Since 2016, the African American Civil Rights program has provided over $100 million to document, protect, and celebrate the places, people and stories of one of the greatest struggles in American history.”
The victories won by the Continental Army during the Ten Crucial Days, which began with the crossing of the Delaware River, re-ignited the patriot cause and gave new life to the American Revolution. But for the half-million African Americans living in the colonies, these were uncertain times.
Talk of liberty drove revolutionary fervor but it became clear that “liberty” did not include enslaved African Americans. Although they were excluded from the Declaration of Independence and the Continental Congress forbade the enlistment of African American soldiers, many were still willing to fight.
As state regiments were unable to fulfill their quotas, policies changed and the enlistment of thousands of African Americans commenced, particularly in New England. Some of those regiments participated in the crossing. Some of these people were free, others enslaved. Some served voluntarily, others were sent as substitutes for their enslavers. Some were soldiers, others offered support directly as camp followers and indirectly in roles as wagoners, craftsmen, or ferrymen.
“To fully comprehend why African American soldiers joined the fight for independence, research is needed to uncover their personal stories,” Martin says. “This information will offer critical context to who was fighting, why, and how the impact of their stories rippled through succeeding generations to the Civil Rights movement.”