August 27, 2014

“First Capital Princeton” Tour Explores Town’s Historic Role

Most Princetonians with only a passing knowledge of American history know about the importance of the Battle of Princeton in the Revolutionary War. But how many locals are aware that their hometown can claim to have been the site of the first capital of the United States?

Not many, figures Mimi Omiecinski, who owns Princeton Tour Company and has been leading historically-themed tours of the town for the past seven years. Ms. Omiecinski is out to further educate the public with a free, family-friendly tour on Saturday, September 6 at 1 p.m. “First Capital Princeton,” to be led by Ms. Omiecinski and Rutgers graduate Tom Murphy, starts at Morven and ends 90 minutes later at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room, where George Washington toasted the birth of the nation in 1783.

“People are going to learn about the diverse group of characters, famous and not, who were instrumental in this period,” Ms. Omiecinski said. “We want to spark an appreciation and curiosity, among adults and children.”

Even though she is descended from 12 different veterans of the Revolutionary War and has been a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) since her teens, Ms. Omiecinski wasn’t especially interested in that period of history until she moved to Princeton from her native Tennessee in 2006.

“My grandmother Alice Ross was state regent for Tennessee for over 12 years, and I was really close to her,” Ms. Omiecinski said. “And my grandfather was an active member of the Sons of the American Revolution. On his side, I’m related to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, George Ross. But I never really appreciated all of this until I came here and started learning about Princeton’s significance in the Revolutionary War. It made me realize that legacy is really important.”

After attending the Princeton chapter of the DAR, and bringing her grandmother to a meeting (“She was thrilled”), Ms. Omiecinski started learning about local history and leading tours. “I saw right away that Princeton had a lot more history than just the Battlefield,” she said. “It was home to three signers of the Declaration of Independence. And it was home to the first capital of the United States.”

When Ms. Omiecinski learned that in 1783, Congress met at Nassau Hall after fleeing to Princeton from near-mutinous troops in Philadelphia, she was hooked. “Since October 1781 when Cornwallis had surrendered his army at Yorktown, Americans had been waiting impatiently for the signing of a peace treaty with Britain,” she said. “As the months passed and the peace negotiations dragged on, the army became increasingly restless, weary of the long war, and impatient with the unfulfilled promises of Congress for back pay. On June 20, troops surrounded the statehouse in Philadelphia, where Congress was meeting in an attempt to satisfy their grievances.”

There were no violent incidents and the mutiny subsided, but Congress felt insulted by the event and unsupported by the government of Pennsylvania, the story continues. A resolution directing Congress to meet in “Trenton Princeton” was passed. Princeton was soon chosen as the location by the President of Congress, Elias Boudinot.

Ms. Omiecinski’s research revealed that Princeton may have been chosen because Boudinot was a Princeton native from a prominent family, he was a trustee of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), and Nassau Hall was large enough to accommodate the Congress. All of this will be explained and examined in detail during the tour.

“They received the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783, in Nassau Hall,” Ms. Omiecinski said. “That makes it the first capitol [building], while Princeton becomes the first capital.”

Registration is mandatory for the tour, though admission is free. There will be surprises along the way. Since it is designed for families, the tour is being held on Saturday, September 6 rather than September 3, which would be the actual anniversary of the Treaty of Paris.

“We’ll be doing this the first Saturday of every September as long as the town will let us,” Ms. Omiecinski said. The whole idea is to delight and inspire.”

Email to register or call (855) 743-1415 to learn more.