As we settle in our homes and begin to enjoy the Christmas season let’s remember the happening two hundred forty-three years ago. A night that will be etched in the alcoves of history; it was the night that citizen-soldiers answered the call and endured. It was Christmas Eve and General George Washington had set up camp on the banks of the Delaware River, pondering his next move. The thoughts of soldiers being home with their family, on this blessed eve could have been on Washington’s mind. It was turning into a long winter and the British were worthy opponents and victory was not so easy in the past months. The fate of the continental army and independence was at stake in that crucial time in history. Washington hatched a plan and decided to strike the enemy on his terms and determination. So he put into motion his plan and the wheels of freedom started and victory was within grasp.
The pages of history will never forget that night when “General George Washington’s commitment to cross the Delaware River on Christmas 1776 foreshadowed the many hardships faced as well as the eventual victory of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. At first glance, the decision to transport 2,400 Continental soldiers across an icy river in one night, directly into a severe winter storm of sleet and snow seems irrational. Washington’s decision was based on strategic motivation, understanding that the Continental Army desperately needed a victory after months of intense fighting with several significant defeats and no major victories. Washington also understood that the element of surprise was the only way that he and his army stood a chance of defeating the highly trained Hessian mercenaries. On the morning of December 25, 1776, Continental soldiers woke up in their camps along the Delaware River to a frozen, snowy covered ground. Weather conditions worsened and temperatures continued to drop throughout the day. Late in the afternoon, the Continentals left their tents and began to form along the river in anticipation of the night’s events. Washington kept almost all of the details of the crossing a secret; as a result, none of the soldiers knew anything about their upcoming mission. Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, allowed his army to strike the Hessians at Trenton the next morning.“ (mountvernon.org)
So it was that Christmas day in 1776, brave men with a love of family and country – forging a nation based on freedom. Portsmouth, Ohio was just a splotch on a map as the war was being waged. But, soon those men and women, who gave their all for the freedom we savor today, would head west to Ohio. The Continental Congress acted and, “the act of the General Assembly passed on June 22, 1779, which established the Virginia Land Office, also provided for the awarding of bounty lands for specified Revolutionary War military service. The purpose of the bounty land system was to encourage longer military service. In order to qualify for bounty land, a soldier or sailor had to serve at least three (3) years continuously in the State or Continental Line or State Navy. Militia service did not count. The process of obtaining bounty lands was lengthy, and, in many cases, land speculators acquired the right to the land from the veteran or his heirs. Servicemen submitted various documents such as affidavits of commanding officers and fellow soldiers and discharge papers in order to substantiate their service record. The Governor’s Office reviewed and approved or disapproved the applications. The accumulated papers used to verify service are called “Bounty Warrants” if the claim was approved and “Rejected Claims” if the claim was disapproved. If a soldier or sailor died while in service, his heirs were required to submit documentation verifying their status as legal heirs in addition to proof of the veteran’s military service.” (The Library of Virginia Archives)
Families from New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and all along the eastern seaboard came and laid down roots. They came by wagon, boat and some even walked. The country grew and pioneers settled in the soon to be named Scioto County – with Portsmouth becoming the county seat. As we gather with family and friends in homes throughout the county, remember those brave soldiers of 1776. Think about what they did in order for us to live in this great country. Those men and women put aside all differences and fought side by side for a common good. Other wars would come as would Christmas and the nation would unite. Hope is… that Washington, D.C. – take note of that Christmas day in 1776
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org