An American-based coalition, dedicated to preserving a Revolutionary War battlefield, secures a pair of unlikely allies from across the pond.
You might not expect Brits and Americans to agree about anything concerning the Revolutionary War. After all, the Redcoats and the Patriots fought each other bitterly during the late 1700s for control of the New World. Nearly 240 years later, the United Kingdom and the United States are still arguing over land, but this time they’re fighting on the same side.
Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study is moving forward on plans to build 15 faculty houses on Maxwell’s Field, a privately owned part of a Revolutionary War battlefield that sits beside Princeton Battlefield State Park. The grassy knoll is believed to have been the setting of the January 3, 1777, Battle of Princeton, where the Continental Army, led by George Washington, launched a surprise attack that proved decisive. More than 500 soldiers from both sides of the conflict were killed, wounded, or captured.
“This is not your run-of-the-mill historic site, but where the charge that decided the battle was both launched and struck the British lines,” Jim Campi, communications director for the Civil War Trust, told the Associated Press back in 2015. “This property is—without exaggeration—where the battle that arguably saved the Revolution was decided.”
The modern-day fight over the plot of historic land has raged since the 1970s when the Institute refused to sell it as the Princeton Battlefield State Park was established. Back in 2000, when the Institute put its housing development proposal forward, it was met with enormous pushback from groups like the Princeton Battlefield Society. Combative board meetings and court cases also followed. In 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation even put the site on its list of the most endangered historic places in America.
But the preservationists’ plight has steadily garnered the support of other groups like the Royal Leicestershire Regiment Association and the National Parks Conservation Association. Two British groups—The Royal Tigers’ Association and the Battlefields Trust—are the latest to join the fray.
“Both groups want to see the battlefield preserved as a perpetual memorial to the British and American soldiers who fought there,” Campi wrote in an email. “Because the graves are unmarked, few people realize both British and American soldiers are still buried there.”
In a letter to the Institute, Tony Pollard, a trustee of The Royal Tigers’ Association, wrote: “The Princeton Battlefield is inextricably bound in our shared history, its ground hallowed by British and American blood. We implore the Institute to work with the Save Princeton Coalition to preserve this historic treasure.”
Howard Simmons, chairman of the Battlefields Trust, also recommends that the Institute surrender its development plans, writing in a letter: “The Battlefields Trust is therefore disappointed that an organisation which cherishes its own history is acting in a way that seemingly ignores the unique historic value of a battlefield site in which it acts as custodian for the people of the US and UK.”
According to the Times of Trenton, the Institute has remained steadfast in its need for affordable faculty housing nearby the Institute.
Both of the British groups will join the Save Princeton Coalition, a collection of organizations dedicated to preserving the battlefield. The American Association for State and Local Historyand the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club are among a handful of other history and conservation groups supporting the cause.