History of Trenton, New Jersey

Known as the site of George Washington’s first victory over the Redcoats in the War of Independence, Trenton, New Jersey, still maintains some of its colonial charm. The city is the state capital and is the namesake of William Trent, one of its leading landowners.

First called “Trent-towne,” the name was later shortened to Trenton after the man who purchased much of the surrounding land from original owner Quaker Mahlon Stacy, who had settled the area in 1679. Trent’s home today stands as a National Historic Landmark and offers interpretive programs and tours.

War for Independence

During the War for Independence, many important battles were fought in New Jersey, including Trenton where George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night, in 1776. Washington surprised the Redcoats in a battle which resulted in a badly needed victory that boosted the fledgling country’s confidence.

Although the skirmish occurred during early daylight hours, it was still a surprise due to a successful intelligence mission performed by American spy John Honeyman. Convinced that the colonists were completely demoralized and incapable of mounting an attack, Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall and his Hessian mercenary forces were unprepared for the conflict, which resulted in 100 casualties and 900 Hessian soldiers captured.

Briefly after the war, Trenton served as the capital of the new United States of America, during November and December 1784. Due to a compromise negotiated between northern and southern states, the new country’s capital was built on the Potomac River instead of the Delaware. In December 1787, representatives from all over the state met in Trenton and unanimously approved the newly drafted Constitution of the United States.

Although Trenton became the state capital in 1790, the state legislature often met there the prior year. The town was later incorporated as a city in 1792.

Major manufacturing center

During the 1800s and early 1900s, Trenton was a major manufacturing center in the country. The city produced steel, rubber, wire, rope, linoleum, and ceramics. Adopting the slogan “Trenton Makes, the World Takes” in the 1920s, the river city placed its slogan on billboards attached to the Lower Free Bridge, just north of the Trenton-Morrisville Toll Bridge. The bridge became known as the “Trenton Makes Bridge.”

Living below the poverty line

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the median household income in Trenton is $31,074, but with 21.1 percent of the population overall and 17.6 percent of families living below the poverty line. With a population of 85,000 people, the median age was 32.

Museums with a history

Celebrating its significance during the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and other periods in U.S. history, Trenton proudly displays its past in such museums as the Trenton City Museum, Old Barracks Museum, the National Guard Militia Museum, and the New Jersey State Museum, which serves as the gateway to some historical sites in Trenton. The State Museum also contains a planetarium that offers pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope and has historical artifacts dating to the 1800s.

Located in the old Ellarslie mansion, the Trenton City Museum offers 19th- and 20th-century collections of tableware, sanitary ware and art ware produced during Trenton’s ceramic production heyday.

The Old Barracks Museum is housed in a structure built during the French and Indian War, for the British and Hessian mercenaries. It was also used by the Americans after George Washington regained the territory as a result of the Battle of Trenton.

Colleges and universities

Short on colleges and universities, Trenton does offer Thomas Edison State College and Saint Francis Medical Center Nursing School, among others.

Thomas Edison State College, founded in 1972, is the namesake of New Jersey-born inventor Thomas Alva Edison, who applied the principles of mass production to invention development. He also is said to have developed the first industrial research center in the nation.

In addition, Rider University, which got its start in Trenton just after the Civil War, relocated about half way between Trenton and Princeton in Lawrenceville, in the early 1960s.

Likewise, the College of New Jersey, aka Trenton State College and New Jersey State Normal School, was established in Trenton, before moving to the suburb of Ewing, in the 1930s.

Sports teams

Although no major leasgue professional sports teams are currently located in Trenton, sports fans can take in a Trenton Thunder (EL) baseball game or a Trenton Titans Hockey Club (ECHL) game.

The Thunder, which serve as a AA farm team of the New York Yankees, play at Mercer County Waterfront Park, and the Trenton Titans, of the East Coast Hockey League, play their games at the Mercer County Sovereign Bank Arena.

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Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer.
General Washington's crossing of the Delaware River after darkness had fallen on Christmas Day, 1776, leading to his surprise attack and defeat of the...