Philadelphia County Militias

In this blog post, in dedication to America's Independence on July 4th, 1776, I will discuss about the Wisshickon Valley's role during the American Revolutionary War.


To kick things off, I will discuss below the history of how Pennsylvania's militia was established, and how Wissahickon Valley played a role in fighting for America's liberty and freedom.

History of Pennsylvania's Militia


Pennsylvania, before the American Revolutionary War, did not have long-term, permanent Militia Laws. In 1755, the PA Provincial Assembly, past a short-term Militia Law during the height of the French and Indian War that cost 200 settlers dead and over 50 homesteads burnt.


As a result of this catastrophe, Benjamin Franklin formed the Philadelphia Military Association in 1747, modeled after the London’s Military Association.


Fun Fact #1: Associators were NOT militias. They were not loyal to the Provincial Government or to the Colony of Pennsylvania.


The Association's rise caused the Continental Congress to place them under the Committee of Safety. They then revised the Article of Association. The original Article of Association was agreed upon the association: the Provincial Assembly had little control over them, and the association can march whenever and wherever they want.


The Committee of Safety had more control over the association, mainly through the commissioning officers. The Continental Congress made it clear that the association was not under the control of the state, but rather under the control of the Committee of Safety ran by the Continental Congress.


In 1775, Associators were wondering about their roles in the war. They ended up pressuring the Provincial Assembly to force every Pennsylvanian to have their fair share in fighting for the cause.

"On November 25, 1775, the Assembly caved to their pressure, issuing a light fine (in the form of a tax) on all men between 16 and 50 who did not Associate, and offered a small bonus to those who chose to Associate. Most settlers on the frontier had the £2-10s needed to pay the tax, so recruitment efforts failed. The meager 2 shillings and 6 pence (it takes 20 shillings to equal £1) offered as an enlistment bonus was just not appetizing enough. After incessant complaining that this fine wasn’t doing the job, the best the Assembly could do was raise the fine to £3-10s and the bonus to an even 3 shillings, which had the same effect as repeatedly banging ones head against a wall to cure a headache."

- Verenne, "Explaining Pennsylvania's Militia"


Unfortunately this got worse when the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention in 1776 passed a stricter resolution against the non-Associating citizen.

"They demanded that any non-Associating citizen between the ages of 16 and 50 would have to pay £20 every month that he refused to Associate, and those over the age of 21 were taxed an additional 4 shillings to the pound on the total value of their property."

- Verenne, "Explaining Pennsylvania's Militia"


The PA Provincial Assembly challenged their new resolution, deeming it was illegal. As a result, the PA Convention ratified the new Constitution in September 1776; the Provincial Assembly was replaced with the General Assembly, the Committee of Safety was renamed to the Council of Safety, and the Supreme Executive Council was added.


The control under the military was now under Supreme Executive Council, causing the Council of Safety to dissolve. The SEC passed the first-ever Militia Law in Pennsylvania on March 17, 1777, and any male between 18 and 53 were automatically enrolled in the militia. As a result, the Associators was disbanded.

The Whitpain Militia


Whitpain, along with Whitemarsh, Plymouth, Norrington, Worcester, and New Providence, were all under the 5th Battalion of the Philadelphia County Militia. Overall, the 5th Battalion was commanded under Captain John Edwards. Colonel John Bull became the colonel of the battalion on December 10, 1776. In 1777, Robert Curry was colonel, Archibald Thomson was lieutenant colonel, and John Edwards, Jr. was major.


Fun Fact #2: The Associator Companies of Providence, Worcester, and Limerick townships were among the "Flying Camp" Companies who fought with George Washington on the battlefield. Whitpain was not one the companies in the 5th Battalions to join the "Flying Camp."


In 1780, the battalions were reorganized, and the 5th Battalion became the 6th Battalion. This time, Robert Curry as lieutenant colonel and John Edwards, Jr. still as major.


Whitpain was in the 2nd Company in the 6th Battalion under Abraham Wentz as captain, John Van Pelt as lieutenant, and George Pluck as ensign. Those who listed as "not commissioned" were the sergeants, drummer, fife, clerk, and the privates with 8 classes.


Sergeants

  • John Markee

  • Andrew Dill (not called)

  • Jacob Shoemaker

Drummer - Jacob Walter

Fife- Simon Treese

Clerk- John Rusher


Fun Fact #3: The war was not popular among the people at Whitpain: fences were broken down from people's houses for firewood, horses and cattle were stolen as well as food and grains. Despite the war not being popular among the people at Whitpain, the spirt in support of American independence was strong.

The Gwynedd Militias


Before the PA Militia Law 1775, none of the men in Gwynedd entered the revolutionary service. Ever since the law was enacted, everyone between the age limits were mustered into the service, no matter what.


As a reminder, Gywnedd was one whole township before the 1891 spilt. In that case, Gwynedd was divided into the lower and upper divisions within the 4th Battalion Philadelphia County Associators. The captains of the lower division were Christian Dull (1777) and John Shelmire (1780) while the captain of the upper division was Stephen Bloom.


In 1777, the 4th Battalion Philadelphia County Associators was commanded by William Dean as colonel, Robert Soller as lieutenant colonel, and George Right as major.


In 1780, the 4th Battalion was reorganized, and it became the 1st Battalion Philadelphia County Militia. The leadership of the battalion changed: George Smith was lieutenant colonel and Josiah Hart was a major.

NOTE: If you're wondering, Montgomery County was established in 1784, a year after the Revolutionary War ended. Whitpain and Gwynedd were part of Philadelphia County before 1784.

Bibliography


Bartleson. William V. "Militia." The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. 2017. https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/militia/.


Jenkins, Howard Malcolm. Historical collections relating to Gwynedd, a township of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, settled, 1696, by immigrants from Wales, with some data referring to the adjoining township, of Montgomery, also settled by Welsh. (Philadelphia: Howard Malcolm Jenkins, 1897): 354-356.


Montgomery, Thomas Lynch. Pennsylvania Archives, Sixth Series, Volume 1. (Harrisburg: Harrisburg Publishing Company, 1906): 630-631, 749, 808, 814, 889-891.


"Philadelphia County Revolutionary War Militia." Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Accessed February 1, 2021. https://www.phmc.pa.gov/Archives/Research-Online/Pages/Revolutionary-War-Militia-Philadelphia-County.aspx.


Verenna, Thomas. "Explaining Pennsylvania's Militia." Journal of the American Revolution. Last modified June 17, 2014. https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/06/explaining-pennsylvanias-militia/.


Wentz, Barbara. "Revolutionary War Muster Rolls and Service: Some St. James Familes and their Friends." USGenWeb Archives Pennsylvania. 2005. http://www.usgwarchives.net/pa/montgomery/stjamesperkiomen/revw.html.


Whitpain... Crossroads in Time. (Montgomery County, PA: Whitpain Township Bicentennial Commission, 1977): 62-63.


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