German Patriots
in the
Revolutionary War

Revolutionary War
Lexington Green | Preparation for Battle | Virginia & Maryland Volunteers
Lancaster County Patriots | Early Encounters with the British | 1776-1781

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Quotes from two German-American patriots

"There is a time to pray and a time to fight, and this is the time to fight."
Rev. Peter Muhlenberg, January 21, 1776,
- from his sermon in Woodstock, Virginia.

"I am giving my means and am willing to give my life to my beloved country and the liberty of my brethren."
from the diary of Bernard Hubley,
- a friend of the three May brothers in Lancaster, PA.

The origins of the Revolutionary War can be traced directly to the British expenditures on the costly French and Indian War, which almost doubled the British national debt by the time it concluded in 1763. The ensuing peace was also expensive with construction and provisioning of frontier forts, which was aimed at protecting the colonist from Indians, supervising trade and repelling any possible attacks on the western borders by the Spanish. Parliament decided on a series of taxes to raise the necessary funds, but the colonists reacted with anger. The majority of the populace felt little need for frontier posts and regarded the taxes as a tribute to England. First came the Sugar Act of 1764, which lowered the tax on molasses but raised the levy on sugar and other goods of British manufacture. A year later came the hated Stamp Act, which placed a tax on all types of printed matter. The existing Navigation Acts were enforced to regulate trade between England and the Colonies, requiring all exports from America to go to or through English ports. The Mutiny Act in 1765 compelled the colonists to provide quarters and supplies for British troops in their cities and the Townshend Acts in 1767 imposed a tax on tea and other products. Political leaders throughout the Colonies objected loudly that they were being subjected to "taxation without representation."

In 1774, trouble erupted again on the western frontier with Shawnees who lived along the Ohio River. Five hundred volunteers from Berkeley County participated in these skirmishes, known as "Lord Dunmore's War," under the command of Colonel Adam Stephen of Martinsburg. On October 10, 1774, a brief but decisive victory was won over the Shawnees, who were led by "Chief Cornstalk," at the Battle of Point Pleasant. Ironically, Lord Dunmore, the British Governor of Virginia, had been successful in stabilizing the frontier for a number of years, enabling Americans to consolidate their resistance against English taxes. Dunmore was later driven from the Colonies and was succeeded in July of 1776 by Patrick Henry, whose eloquent speeches as a Virginia assemblyman "lit the torch of American Liberty."

The Lexington Green
In the spring of 1775 Congress got war preparations under way in New England. During September British troops from Boston moved on Charlestown and Cambridge and seized cannon and powder belonging to the province of Massachusetts. Thousands of minutemen gathered in Cambridge, and John Hancock was named to head a Committee of Safety. On April 18, 1775 the minutemen on the Lexington Green faced British troops in a brief encounter and suffered casualties of eight dead and nine wounded. This famous event later became known as the "shot heard 'round the world." At Concord's North Bridge sixty-two men were killed and wounded. To the great surprise of the British regulars, the militia of farmers and townspeople armed with muskets drove their troops back towards Boston. By the time the dazed redcoats finally arrived in camp on Bunker Hill they had suffered 73 dead, 174 wounded and 26 missing. Among the slain were 18 officers.

The cry of blood from the field of Lexington went throughout the land. Lord Dunmore had just issued a general order to seize the military munitions of Virginia and the cry for liberty was heard in every county. George Washington was at Mount Vernon, preparing to journey to Philadelphia for the second session of Congress when he heard the news of Lexington. Congress assembled on May 10th and John Hancock was chosen as chairman.

On May 25th more British ships arrived in Boston Harbor and Gen. John Burgoyne was shown the position of a "rebel camp" with its ten thousand yeomen who denied the city fresh provisions from the countryside. Volunteers from Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire had joined their Massachusetts neighbors to swell the colonists' ranks. The assembled troops were primarily armed with muskets and lacked military dress or accoutrements.

Preparation for Battle
On June 3, 1775 Congress named a committee to borrow £6,000 to buy gunpowder to attack the "King's soldiers." On June 14th they directed that ten companies of expert riflemen be raised immediately, six in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland and two in Virginia. But so many men volunteered from Pennsylvania that Congress changed the plan and the province was to have an entire battalion of eight companies. Nine were actually formed, with two of them coming from Lancaster County. At this same session, Congress appointed George Washington as "General . . . to command all the continental forces . . . for the defense of American Liberty." In August the Lancaster riflemen marched out of the county on their way to the heights of Boston, anticipating their first confrontation with British troops. Observers noted;
"In addition to their rifles, many carried a tomahawk and scalping knife and wore leggings and moccasins in imitation of Indian dress."

The Lancaster volunteers, however, weren't the first to march north. Captain George Nagel, a Pennsylvania-German from Berks County, and his company from Reading, Pennsylvania have been called the "First defenders of the Revolution" to come from colonies remote from New England. A letter dated "Camp at Cambridge, July 24, 1775," says:
     "The Reading company of rifles got into camp last Tuesday [18th]; and rest are hourly        expected and much wanted."
This was only 34 days after Congress had first authorized the formation of the Pennsylvania battalion, an incredibly short period for this critical period in our history.

An entry in a "Military Journal of the Revolution" describes the German and Scotch-Irish volunteers of the Pennsylvania battalion:

"They are remarkably stout and hardy men; many of them exceeding six feet in height. They are dressed in white frocks or rifle shirts and round hats. These men are remarkable for the accuracy of their aim; striking a mark with great certainty at two hundred yards distance. At a review, a company of them, while on a quick advance, fired their balls into objects of seven inches diameter, at the distance of two hundred and fifty yards. They are now stationed in our line, and their shot have frequently proved fatal to British officers and soldiers who expose themselves to view, even at a more than double the distance of common musket shot."
Note: Muskets carried by most British and American soldiers could fire only about 100 yards and were notoriously inaccurate.

Virginia & Maryland Volunteers
When the Continental Congress ordered two companies of riflemen to be raised in Virginia for a year of service in the Continental Army, General Washington had Daniel Morgan of Frederick County and Hugh Stevenson of Berkeley County commissioned to lead the Virginians. Stevenson had served in Dunmore's War, attaining the rank of senior captain. Their troops became the first south of the Potomac to join Washington.

Stevenson's company --a large percentage with German roots-- self-styled themselves as "The Border Riflemen of Virginia" when they volunteered for one year's service. On July 17, 1775, after a sermon and a barbecue, they crossed the Potomac at Mecklenburg, and "struck a bee line" for Boston. Their banner was emblazoned with a coiled rattlesnake over the motto: "Don't Tread on Me." During their march --averaging over thirty miles a day-- they covered about 600 miles, and arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the 11th of August. Troops raised from Berkeley County saw service on nearly every battlefield of the war. In eight of the ten calls for troops and equipment issued by the Virginia House of Burgesses, Berkeley County sent her full quota of men and arms. In two more calls, men were being mustered for service against the Indians on the Ohio.

A diary of one of the Berkeley volunteers gives a description of the men and how they were equipped for service:

"None were received but young men of character, and of sufficient property to clothe themselves completely, find their own arms, and accoutrements, that is; an approved rifle, a handsome shot pouch and powder horn, blanket, and knapsack." For their uniforms they adopted "hunting jackets made of lindsey-woolsey fringed on every edge, leather leggings, and moccasins and each wore a buck-tail in his round hat, and had a tomahawk, scalping knife, and powder horn in his belt."

The two Maryland companies were enlisted from Frederick County, located across the Potomac River from Loudoun County, Virginia. These counties were settled almost exclusively by German families that had migrated from Pennsylvania during the previous fifty years.

On September 16, 1776, Congress overcame its "jealousy of a standing army" and agreed to establish a "Continental Line." To encourage enlistments, each soldier was to receive a bounty of twenty dollars, besides his wages and rations, and one hundred acres of land after his service in the war. Officers were to receive from two hundred to five hundred acres. The monthly pay for a private was set at $6.67 Continental dollars.

Lancaster County Patriots
Charles Kessler, staff writer for "The Lancaster New Era" newspaper, summarized the role of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania during the Revolution in a Bicentennial book:

In May of 1775, a fiery declaration from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, sparked the resistance of the "back country" to Great Britain. The resolution called the edicts of British Parliament "unjust, tyrannical and cruel." The people vowed they would not "become the prey or tamely submit and bend our necks to the yoke prepared for us," and they agreed to "use our utmost diligence to acquaint ourselves with military discipline and the art of war."

To Lancaster, the largest inland city of the Colonial period and gateway to the West, came many of the responsibilities and hardships of the War of the American Revolution. In the darkest months of the conflict, when British troops occupied Philadelphia and Washington's army suffered at Valley Forge, Lancaster provided a haven for hundreds of refugees. The Continental Congress paused in its flight west from Philadelphia to hold one session in Lancaster.

Unusually large numbers of men joined the Continental Army and the Pennsylvania Militia, fighting and dying in most of the battles of the Revolution. Two men in particular, General Edward Hand, a doctor who commanded a famous rifle battalion, and George Ross, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, distinguished themselves in the pages of history.

Lancaster County provided medical care for sick and wounded soldiers, became a prisoner-of-war center for British and Hessians, and produced for the Continental Army the sinews of war: shoes, blankets, saddlery, wagons, uniforms and the deadly accurate Pennsylvania Rifle.

Lancaster County --from which many other counties have subsequently been formed-- serves as a prime example of how German immigrants and their descendants supported and defended the cause of the Revolutionary War. The population of the county was 40,000 and its seat of government was the Borough of Lancaster, with 3,500 residents. Traders used Lancaster as a shipping point and supply center, so the borough had an unusually large number of stores, shops, inns and stables. The primary ethnic groups in the town were English, Scotch-Irish and German, and all of them were well represented in elected offices. A large contingent of its English citizens was Quakers, but many of the leading political figures were Episcopalian. Among churches of seven religious denominations in Lancaster, the two largest were Lutheran and German Reformed. The Reformed Church operated the "School House for the High Dutch Reformed Congregation" and children of all faiths were welcome to attend. German residents, however, were the most insistent that their children be educated, so they could read the German Bible. Throughout the county there were no less than twelve Reformed Churches.

With few exceptions, most English representatives in local government were Quakers. Due to their fundamentalist religious beliefs, there was a strong Quaker-German alliance in the community. Burgesses were almost equally chosen from professional men, businessmen and artisans. On the whole, the British and Germans shared the town's highest leadership positions. For fifty years, beginning in 1742, there typically was one burgess from each group.

A Lancaster attorney, George Ross, was one of seven men selected to represent Pennsylvania in a session of the First Continental Congress, which opened on September 5, 1774 in Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia. A main topic on the agenda was how to react to the closing of the port in Boston by the British in retaliation for the famous Boston Tea Party. The newly appointed British Governor of Massachusetts was Lt. General Thomas Gage, who had commanded along with George Washington during the French & Indian War. Ross was among the group that became known as the "radicals," who succeeded in rejecting a plan of conciliation with Britain, proclaimed its "Declaration of Colonial Rights and Grievances," and called on Parliament to repeal the various Acts that so enraged the Colonial populace. These Rights contended that the colonists, as British subjects, were bound by no law to which they had not consented through their chosen representatives.

Lancaster County's Committee of Observation --soon to become the local revolutionary government headed by George Ross-- met in January 14, 1775 to appoint seven delegates to a state convention in Philadelphia. There was a strong need to assure that the "back country" populace supported actions being considered against the British. Five of the men chosen were of German descent, led by Dr. Adam Simon Kuhn, a wealthy physician and leader of the German-speaking community. When the first call came for volunteers from Lancaster in 1775, Ross' 23 year old son, James, was captain of one of the companies that was formed.

The Hubley family deserves special attention for their laudable roles throughout the war. Bernard Hubley --spelled Bernhardt Hubele in the records of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster-- made large financial donations to the Philadelphia Committee of Safety and donated merchandise from his shop to the Continental Army. He was a merchant and tanner who had served four annual terms between 1750 and 1767 as a burgess of the Borough of Lancaster. Bernard and his brother, Michael, became responsible over the confinement of prisoners of war. Michael's 29 year old son, John, was appointed to become a virtual one-man government in Lancaster County --prothonotary, clerk of the orphan's court, clerk of quarter sessions court and recorder of deeds. He was given the rank of major from the state and was appointed Lancaster County's Commissary of Supplies for both Pennsylvania and the Continental Army. Bernard's son, Adam, led a company of a hundred German-American volunteers from Lancaster County. Two other young Hubley men, George and Bernard, served as captains in the "German Regiment" of the Pennsylvania Line.

Early Encounters with the British
Under Washington's direct orders to take some prisoners for questioning, an early encounter with the British was made at an advanced post on Charlestown Neck by the York County company under the command of another Pennsylvania-German, Captain Michael Doudel. He and 39 of his men filed off to the right of Bunker's Hill, while 40 men under Lt. Miller went to the left and encircled the enemy's sentries, "lying on the ground in an Indian file." After a brief exchange of fire, Doudel returned with two prisoners.

Congress became deeply concerned about reports that the British planned for General Sir Guy Carleton to form an army and march south from Canada against the rebellious colonies. Its answer was a two-pronged march under Col. Benedict Arnold and Gen. Richard Montgomery into Canada to capture Montreal and then Quebec. Dr. Edward Hand --an Irish immigrant from Lancaster who rose to the rank of General during the war-- wrote in September of 1775 that three rifle companies were assigned to march north with Arnold through the Maine wilderness to the St. Lawrence River and join Montgomery at Quebec. Arnold's expeditionary force consisted of some 1,100 men --two companies of Pennsylvania riflemen from Lancaster and Cumberland Counties, one company of Virginia riflemen under Captain Daniel Morgan, and the ten companies of New England "musqueteers." The riflemen, well represented by young German men, constituted the division that took the point position for Arnold's forces. The Siege of Quebec began in November, but Morgan had to assume command after Benedict Arnold was wounded and Montgomery was killed in battle on December 30th. Subsequently, Morgan was captured as his forces were overwhelmed by the British in their well-fortified city. Arnold, despite his wound and his depleted forces, refused to retreat, erected defensive works, and remained near the city until April of 1776.

When the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed in Philadelphia in July of 1776, John Handcock boldly signed his name over the names of fifty-five other patriots from all thirteen Colonies. This document formally committed the federation of Colonies to persevere in a long and difficult war with the disciplined troops of King George III. Battles extending from Canada to the Western wilderness to South Carolina were yet to be fought by a volunteer army with limited resources over the next five years, leading to the eventual surrender of British forces by Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781. Following a number of major defeats early in the war, General Washington faced many challenges leading an untrained army of farmers, artisans, shopkeepers and backwoodsmen. Congress was reluctant --in fact unable-- to provide many of his requests for funds, and recruitment efforts were very difficult under the circumstances. However, the populace responded to subsequent calls for volunteers to protect their newly-declared country. Throughout these turbulent years many men fought and many died on battlefields near and far from their homes. The blood of many ethnic groups paid for the freedom we continue to enjoy. No American citizens were better represented in this sacrifice than those of German descent.

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