This oft-forgotten N.J. battlefield played a crucial role in the Revolutionary War

A crowd sits on green grass, with some trees and a building in the background.

About 100 people gathered at Princeton Battlefield, the site of a pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War, to commemorate Independence Day. (Tennsyon Donyéa/WHYY News)

On January 3, 1777, the Princeton Battlefield played a pivotal role in turning the tide of the Revolutionary War in New Jersey.

On Monday, nearly 250 years later, about 100 people commemorated Independence Day at a ceremony held on the historic grounds.

Tom Pyle, who also celebrated his 70th birthday, gave an impassioned reading of the Declaration of Independence to open the program.

Two men stand in the middle of a field, one reading from a document, the other holding a microphone for him.
Tom Pyle reads the Declaration of Independence at Princeton Battlefield for a gathering on July 4, 2022. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY News)

He prefaced his reading by acknowledging that the U.S. founding fathers were not inclusive of all people when they wrote the document.

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“I will read this as exactly as it was written. And of course we’ve evolved as a citizenry and as a nation, and indeed, as a concept,” Pyle told the crowd. “So, of course, we all know that when we ‘say all men are created equal,’ we’re talking about all people today. We also know that the reference to so-called ‘merciless Indian savages’ is a reference in time to a specific place, but not pertinent today.”

“And we also know of course, when we declare independence, we do so in the evolving nature of independence for this great country. Not all people were independent at the time of this declaration,” he added.

Hightstown’s Krista Hastings sang an opera rendition of “God Bless America”.

“[Princeton Battlefield] is just a beautiful space that I hope will always remain the way it is: free and remembered for what’s happened here and the people that fought for our freedom… hopefully everyone becomes more and more free,” Hastings said.

A woman stands in the middle of a field, singing.
Krista Hastings sings an opera rendition of “God Bless America” at the Princeton Battlefield on July 4, 2022. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY News)

“It’s really important, especially these days, and I’m honored as a woman to be able to do what I love and perform,” Hastings added. “And I hope that many other people of America continue to obtain their freedoms.”

The 18th-century battlefield played host to the culminating battle in what historians call the “10 crucial days” of the Revolutionary War, when future president, General George Washington led a vastly outmatched Continental Army across the Delaware River into a series of battles in and around Trenton beginning on Christmas Day in 1776.

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Two people stand in a field.
Tom Pyle (right) stands next to another attendee of the Independence Day celebration at Princeton Battlefield (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY News)

After British troops surrendered to U.S. forces at the Battle of Princeton, Britain never regained full control of New Jersey for the duration of the war, according to Princeton Battlefield Society President Michael Russell.

Princeton Battlefield Society organized Monday’s event.

“The biggest thing is to educate, let the people know what happened here. Not just with the battle, but before the battle, during the battle, after the battle, through the American Revolution, historically, culturally,” Russell said.

Russell said the Princeton Battlefield Society, the officially recognized “Friends of” organization of Princeton Battlefield State Park, is seeking to upgrade the grounds by July 2026, the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Currently there are a few landmarks that sit on and along the battlefield, including a stone marker commemorating the death of General Hugh Mercer (for whom Mercer County was named) and a Quaker house, but most aren’t marked in a way that is digestible to tourists.

An upclose image of an American flag worn by someone in their jacket.
A person wears an American flag in their jacket at the Princeton Battlefield on July 4, 2022. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY News)

The organization hopes to build a visitor’s education center which Russell said would cost about $10 million.

“That’s something we really need support for. We need people to advocate for something like this, because you go to Monmouth Battlefield, they have a beautiful museum,” Russell said. “You go to Washington Crossing State Park, they’re having a visitor center constructed.

“When we talked about the scope and importance of the Battle of Princeton, in the formation of the United States of America, it’s not unreasonable to say, ‘Hey, you know, we could use an education center here as well.’”

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