Green | Preparation for Battle | Virginia & Maryland Volunteers
County Patriots | Early Encounters with
the British | 1776-1781
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two German-American patriots
is a time to pray and a time to fight, and this is the time to
Rev. Peter Muhlenberg, January 21, 1776,
- from his sermon in Woodstock, Virginia.
am giving my means and am willing to give my life to my beloved country and the liberty of
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."
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.
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
"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
"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.
& 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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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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