Trenton is partying like it’s almost 1777 and serial loser George Washington is on the brink of Revolutionary War superstardom.
For more than two decades — long before Lin-Manuel Miranda and “Hamilton” mania captured the nation’s attention — the Trenton Downtown Association has used the final week of the year to celebrate what it calls Patriots Week.
Battle reenactments, bar crawls, and puppet shows highlight a 10-day period in 1776 and 1777 that was critical to changing the tide of the war.
“The Revolutionary War was about to end before this battle took place,” said Tom Tucker, who has co-directed an interactive Battle of Trenton puppet show with wife Marianne for the past 12 years.
On Saturday, the Tuckers guided more than 50 adults and children through the historic battle that took place not far from where they stood.
Washington seemed to be coming with nothing but bad news, Marianne Walker told the crowd.
“Boston: bad news. New York: bad news. The Amboys: bad news. The Jerseys: bad news,” she said.
The general had to do something drastic to improve the troops’ morale before Dec. 31, the couple said.
“Washington was about to lose all his men because their enlistments were up,” said Tom Tucker. “Congress was getting very hesitant to give him any more money to fight this battle because all he had done was lose, lose, lose, lose, lose.”
That drastic plan involved a sneak attack in Trenton on the Hessians, the German mercenaries fighting for the British crown.
To help the audience visualize the attack and the two-hour battle, the Tuckers assigned more than a dozen children and adults stick puppets and marionettes representing the soldiers on both sides and their key leaders.
Nine-year-old Yosef Hailemichael of Trenton got to play a group of Continental soldiers who were going to spend their Christmas fighting.
“My favorite part was when they start crossing the water,” said Yosef, who enjoyed seeing small boat replicas loaded with tiny cannons cross a section of concrete labeled Delaware.
He moved his soldiers along a circular map of Trenton etched in the concrete of Warren Street Plaza roughly 50 feet in diameter as the Tuckers explained the invasion.
Parents such as Soyoun Choi, who came from New York, said the puppet approach was a fun way for her two sons to learn about history, even if they can’t quite piece it all together now.
“Just to have a visual of the history versus like a dry textbook story, having a visual aid is helpful to keep the memory,” she said. “Later on, when they learn the story in school, they’ll remember, ‘Oh yeah, we were in Trenton, we saw the reenactment.’ I think it will make it come alive more.”
Choi’s son Ethan, 10, played Col. John Glover of the Continental Army.
Ethan and Yosef got in position to capture Hessian soldiers, and one by one they conquered their foes.
A common misconception is that the Hessians lost because they were partying that Christmas, the Tuckers said, but in reality, they were disciplined soldiers who were just caught off guard.
“It was a total surprise for the Hessians in Trenton,” said Marianne Tucker. “They thought because the weather was so bad and because it was Christmas, no one in their right mind would stage an attack. So they were not at all ready for it.”
The reenactment ended with Washington and his troops capturing months of supplies and crossing the Delaware River into Pennsylvania once again.
The puppet deployments are over for 2019, but the Tuckers plan to return next year. In the meantime, there are plenty of other opportunities to get a taste for Trenton’s role in the Revolution through Tuesday, including musket demonstrations.
“There’s a lot of history in Trenton,” said Yosef’s father, Eric McRoy, one of the 10,000 spectators organizers expect. “A lot of times, it gets overlooked with a lot of the negative publicity Trenton gets. It’s something positive people can do.”