Pennsylvania in the Revolution

I became a Life Member of the Sons of the American Revolution earlier this month, and I spent some time searching for historical materials that might shed some light on any ancestor members.

This led me to Amazon, where I picked up a $14 copy of “The 1955 Year Book of the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the American Revolution” in great condition. It includes information on Nicholas Alleman, my ancestor who served as a Private in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania Militia. Nicholas’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Henry Shakely and more than eight generations of the family have grown up in Pennsylvania, with branches settling in Ohio, Oklahoma, Colorado, California, and Texas most recently.

Anyway, the book contains a good refresher on Pennsylvania’s role in the American Revolution. Excerpting:

Pennsylvania in the Revolution

By Lewis E. Theiss, Past Historian, SAR Pennsylvania Society

Not only was Pennsylvania the geographical keystone in the arch of the American colonies, but she was also the keystone in the revolutionary effort. In many ways she contributed decisively to the progress and success of the war. Actually, the political business of the Revolution was performed almost wholly within the Keystone State.

Probably no colony contributed more in the military way. Not only were Pennsylvania battles fought in the effort to keep the British out of the Philadelphia harbor, but the struggles at the Brandywine and at Germantown were among the major contests of the entire war. And that at Germantown proved to be a big factor in convincing the soldiers that they really could fight, for at one point they had the British on the run. This battle also awoke foreign military powers to the fact that this new and as yet really undisciplined army was something that would have to be reckoned with. Europe knew little or nothing of an army of volunteers … foreign military men had no faith in volunteers.

Actually, it was in Pennsylvania that the patriot army really came into being—at Valley Forge. A main contributing factor in the loss of the battle of the Brandywine was the inability of the raw American troops to maneuver rapidly and in complete unison. Attacked in an unexpected quarter, they were simply not able to form another battle line quickly and completely in a new position. But Valley Forge turned this raw aggregation into a disciplined army. Always we have stressed the sufferings at Valley Forge. There is no question about those sufferings—as unnecessary as they were real. Had the regional farmers had one tenth the patriotism that those freezing, starving soldiers at Valley Forge possessed, that camp would have been weighted down with provisions. The food was there—near at hand. What was lacking was the spirit of devotion to the cause. But in the camp itself the situation was the exact opposite. Day after day, relentlessly and endlessly, under the unswerving admonitions of the determined Von Steuben, the American recruits drilled in the cold and the snow. Before spring came, Washington’s men had become an army.

So far as provisions went, Pennsylvania again proved to be the keystone of the Revolution. Without the supplies that came from Penn’s Woods, the revolution would almost surely have collapsed. …

[At the battle of Monmouth], the first contest after Valley Forge … after [General Charles] Lee had demoralized the American troops by ordering the leading a retreat, Washington dashed up, ordered Lee from the field, reformed the troops—only displayed troops could have accomplished that—and drove back the British, who were so thoroughly beaten that they stole away in fear in the dead of night.

Nothing contributed more toward the success of the war than the creation of the Rifle Corps. The idea was Washington’s. Congress backed him up by creating eight companies of riflemen. Few persons today grasp the significance of this step. The rifle was utterly unknown in New England and but little seen in New York. Minute men and militia at Lexington and Bunker Hill were armed entirely with muskets and fowling pieces. The rifle was a Pennsylvania development, an improvement on the cumbersome, almost-useless rifle brought into the Keystone State by German immigrants. Pennsylvania gunsmiths developed and improved it, until it became the finest weapon in existence. It carried a bullet with unerring accuracy. It did effective execution at twice the range of a musket. … We should never forget that it was Timothy Murphy, who, at the express command of Col. Morgan and on the suggestion of Benedict Arnold, shot British General Frazier out of his saddle and turned the tide of battle at Saratoga—the battle that brought us recognition and added help from France. …

From the the rich grain fields of the Lancaster, Lebanon, and Cumberland Valleys and the frontier farms along the Susquehanna, food came pouring in to the army. Even distant Wyoming, that was destined for such a horrible end, sent thousands of bushels of wheat to the army. From every little frontier clearing additional bushels of grain came pouring in, and the army was feed.

In Carlisle, in the Cumberland Valley, the patriots created an armory, where guns large and small, ammunition, and other equipment could be stored in supposed safety. Here Hessian prisoners erected barracks that is used to this day. Thither Pennsylvania furnaces and iron works sent materials they had fashioned for the army.

Again disaster came close. After Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga, the British lacked sufficient military forces to press the war effectively. What did they do? They offered the Indians generous sums for scalps, and turned the Six Nations loose against the colonists at Wyoming, to commit the most horrible massacre in our history. Butler, the Tory leader at that massacre, reported that his Indians took 227 scalps at Wyoming. Many additional persons lost their lives, unrecorded and unnoticed, when women and children fled through the awful swamps toward distant Easton, many of them dying of hunger or exhaustion… A few days later the West Branch of the Susquehanna was in the same state, when other Indian invaders swept down that branch of the Susquehanna and drove out the last white defender.

This was bad enough. Seemingly the situation couldn’t be worse. But it was. Just to the eastward lay the grain fields already mentioned. Now there was nothing to prevent another Indian incursion, which could now sweep on down the Susquehanna and devastate these grain fields in the Cumberland, the Lebanon, and even the Lancaster valleys. There were no settlers left to stop them. Had that occurred, what would have happened to the Revolution? Probably it would have collapsed, starved to death.

But now America had some disciplined troops. And from distant points they came surging into the stricken Susquehanna lands … carrying the war into the enemy’s own country…

There is more—much more—that could be said about the part that Pennsylvania played in the Revolution. These things merely are highlights, but from beginning to end, the folks in Penn’s Woods—despite the great number of Tories among them—did put their shoulders to the wheel, did step into the breach, and did labor unceasingly to win the war. Truly we do well to call this Commonwealth the Keystone State. It was just that.