Virginia was described as the the "most English" of the colonies. It had been consistently loyal to the Crown, even during the era of Parliamentary rule under Oliver Cromwell. The Church of England was integrated into the local government.
Virginia's frontier territories were different. When the Revolutionary War started, the Virginia Conventioned designated the 8th Virginia to be a "German" regiment. Thousands of Pennsylvania Germans had settled in the Shenandoah Valley.
On September 12, Gabe Neville spoke at Virginia's Germanna Foundation to explore the question: "Just how German was the regiment in reality?"
Learn more at the Germanna Foundation website.
A newly-created map of the 8th Virginia's recruiting counties shows that the regiment was largely composed of frontiersmen and pioneers. It is helpful to visualize how the regiment raised its ten companies in the westernmost settled areas of the province (Virginia wasn't a state, yet). This made the regiment unique in several ways. They were ethnically and religiously different from the rest of Virginia. Soldiers, some of whom were subsistence hunters, were typically better marksmen than the average soldier. Their motives for fighting were less focused on taxes and trade and more focused on their desires to head west--something the King had forbidden.
Political geography has changed. All of these counties have been divided, some within months of the regiment's formation. West Virginia, which is not shown, was created in 1863 and would occupy the left-center of the map. The disputed northeast part of the Augusta District is now southwest Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh. Western Fincastle County became Kentucky County in 1776 and the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1792. Most Americans are unaware that beginning in 1774, Ohio and lands west of it were part of the Province of Quebec. This, technically at least, extended holdover French civil institutions to the border of settled Virginia. Quebec had no elected legislature and had been allowed to keep its Catholic institutions. Both facts were seen by Virginians as sure signs of creeping tyranny.
The Soldiers Page lists the various companies and the counties from which they came. In brief: the West Augusta District and Dunmore County each raised two companies. Augusta, Berkeley, Culpeper, Fincastle, Frederick, and Hampshire counties each contributed one. Initially called the "German Regiment" and long remembered that way, the map also shows how wide-ranging and diverse the zone of recruitment was. The lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley counties of Berkeley, Frederick, and Dunmore had significant populations and all three field officers were from that area. Culpeper, the only Piedmont county, had a smaller German population that descended from the Germanna Colony. The other counties were predominantly Scotch-Irish and English.
“The men are to be excused from carrying their Camp Kettles tomorrow,” announced General Washington in his general orders on August 23, 1777. The heavy cast-iron kettles were hated objects that often served only to mock hungry soldiers who had nothing to cook in them. They also did not add to the air of martial precision that Washington wanted his army to convey as it prepared to march through Philadelphia the next day.
Congress would be watching, and Washington wanted his army to be impressive. A show of strength was also important for the city’s many loyalist, pacifist, and vacillating eyes.
The men were ordered to go to bed early. No passes to leave camp were to be allowed except for urgent business. In the morning, “great attention” was to be paid by officers to ensure “that the men carry their arms well, and are made to appear as decent as circumstances will admit.”
The army was ordered to be up and ready to march at four o’clock sharp. The commander in chief played choreographer, specifically arranging the units of his army. He wanted no “strollers,” but rather “strongly and earnestly enjoined” his officers to “make all their men who are able to bear arms…march in the ranks” in order to project the very best order and discipline. “There is to be no greater space between the divisions, brigades and regiments, than is taken up by the Artillery, and is sufficient to distinguish them.”
The order of march was precisely arranged. Leading the parade was a subaltern officer with twelve light horsemen, followed two hundred yards behind by a complete troop of cavalry. After another hundred yards came a company of pioneers carrying their axes and shovels in proper order. Four divisions of infantry followed. Leading the way, from Green’s division, was one regiment from General Muhlenberg’s brigade. Then came the rest of Muhlenberg’s brigade followed by General Weedon’s. Adam Stephen’s division followed: Woodford’s brigade first and then Charles Scott’s. Each of these brigades was preceded by its field artillery. Col. Abraham Bowman’s 8th Virginia men, now in their second year of service, were in Scott's brigade.
Behind Scott, in the center of the procession, came the artillery park and its artificers. Then Benjamin Lincoln’s division, now commanded by Anthony Wayne, and most of Lord Stirling’s division. These latter brigades were each followed by their field artillery. William Maxwell’s New Jersey brigade, from Stirling’s division, completed the procession of foot soldiers followed by the final two troops of cavalry.
As they marched, drums and fifes were arranged in each brigade’s center. Washington ordered “a tune for the quick step played, but with such moderation, that the men may step to it with ease; and without dancing along, or totally disregarding the music, as too often has been the case.” The single-column parade entered the city from the north on Front Street, along the Delaware River, and then turned west on Chestnut Street where it passed the State House (Independence Hall) and the critical gaze of Congress. The soldiers continued on, exited the city, and crossed the Schuylkill River at Middle Ferry where they reunited with the baggage wagons and their cast iron camp kettles.
John Adams, after watching the parade, wrote home to Abigail. “The Army, upon an accurate Inspection of it, I find to be extreamly well armed, pretty well cloathed, and tolerably disciplined. … Much remains yet to be done. Our soldiers have not yet, quite the Air of Soldiers. They don’t step exactly in Time. They don’t hold up their Heads, quite erect, nor turn out their Toes, so exactly as they ought. They don’t all of them cock their Hats -- and such as do, don’t all wear them the same Way.”
Pondering what he saw, Adams observed, “Discipline in an Army is like the Laws in civil Society. There can be no Liberty, in a Commonwealth, where the Laws are not revered, and most sacredly observed, nor can there be Happiness or Safety in an Army, for a single Hour, where the Discipline is not observed. Obedience is the only Thing wanting now for our Salvation -- Obedience to the Laws, in the States, and Obedience to Officers, in the Army.”
The 8th Virginia’s Captain Jonathan Clark made a much more concise record of the day’s activities: “Rain. Marched thro Philadelphia, cross’d Schuylkill and march’d to Derby & encamped.”
On June 1, 1778, Christopher Moyer and Philip Huffman escaped from the enemy. They had both been captured at the Battle of Germantown. Now free, they rejoined the 8thVirginia Regiment and continued the fight.
The Virginia Convention had intended the 8thVirginia to be a German regiment, recruited on the frontier and led by German field officers: Col. Peter Muhlenberg, Lt. Col. Abraham Bowman and Maj. Peter Helphenstine. The regiment was never purely German, but the lower Shenandoah Valley (where several companies were raised) were indeed heavily German.
Moyer and Huffman were from Culpeper County, adjacent to an older settlement of Germans who had come by a different Route: Germanna. Was the 8thVirginia’s Culpeper company, led by Culpeper Minutemen veteran George Slaughter, assigned to the regiment because of the Germanna settlement? Moyer was a Germanna descendent. Hufman was probably not. Slaughter might have been.
Gabe Neville will tell the fascinating story of the 8thVirginia and ask “Just how German was it?” in a presentation at the Germanna Foundation’s Hitt Archeology Center on Thursday, September 12, 2019. The event is free and open to the public.
From the Foundation:
Mr. Gabe Neville will present on George Slaughter, a Captain of the Culpeper company of the 8th Virginia Regiment. The 8th Virginia was originally designated “the German Regiment” by the Virginia Convention. Though the 8th Virginia did not develop into a uniformly German regiment, the Convention’s intent may explain Culpeper’s inclusion in the regiment’s recruitment area and Slaughter’s commission as a captain. He will mention other Culpeper soldiers with Germanna connections and complete their stories by following them into the Tennessee and Kentucky post-war frontiers.
Gabe Neville has been researching the history of the Revolutionary War’s 8th Virginia Regiment for more than 20 years. Working toward an eventual published history, he gives speeches, maintains a blog at 8thVirginia.com, and publishes essays on related subjects. He also writes occasionally on public policy issues. A former journalist and congressional staffer, he is now Senior Advisor at Covington & Burling, a Washington-based international law firm. Originally from Pennsylvania, he lives with his family in Fairfax County, Virginia.
This event is FREE and open to the public and will take place in the Hitt Archaeology Center, located next to the Fort Germanna Visitor Center. There will be time available for questions after the presentation
It wasn’t really their fault, they said. Slavery, men of the founding generation liked to argue, was brought to the colonies by Britain. It came via Barbados and the other sugar islands of the Caribbean. Thomas Jefferson and Henry Laurens both blamed Britain and wished the colonies could free themselves of the practice. It was ironic, therefore, that American slavery not only outlasted the War for Independence but also outlasted slavery in the British Empire. In truth it was more than ironic: it was a tragedy that led to additional decades of forced labor and the deaths of well over half a million Americans in the Civil War.
Could the abolition of American slavery have come sooner? Maybe. Slavery never existed in the New World without someone also speaking out against it, and antislavery views took a demonstrably large leap forward during the founding era. Christianity, social contract theory, and the very spirit of the Revolution led many Americans to the same conclusion. Even many slaveowners understood it was wrong. “I can only say,” wrote George Washington about slavery in 1786, “that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.”
....continue to the Journal of the American Revolution
With no actionable intelligence, General Washington had to guess where British Maj. Gen. William Howe was taking his army. So in July 1777, he led the Continental Army north from New Jersey into what was then a rough, dangerous, and little-known pass through New York’s Ramapo Mountains. He had guessed incorrectly, however, and they were soon racing south again. Two hundred and forty-two years later, one of the last vestiges of this frantic Revolutionary detour may fall to a bulldozer.
After wasting much of the spring of 1777 trying to lure Washington’s army out of the Watchung Mountains, General Howe moved his army out of New Jersey and back to Staten Island. The preceding twelve months included the battles of Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, Trenton, Assunpink Creek, Princeton, and Short Hills, but Howe was now literally back where he had begun. Together, the eight battles had earned the British little more than possession of Manhattan.
In July, Howe’s soldiers began to board ships. This was big news, but not actionable intelligence. Washington needed to know where the enemy planned to go. Howe’s ships could take the Crown troops any place near navigable water. The Continentals, on the other hand, would have to race on foot to meet Howe’s Anglo-German army, planning their first movements on nothing more than an educated guess. This was an extreme disadvantage for the Americans. Washington reported to congressional President John Hancock, “The amazing advantage the Enemy derive from their Ships and the Command of the Water, keeps us in a State of constant perplexity and the most anxious conjecture.”
Conjecture focused on two primary possibilities: Howe might move up the Hudson River and seize the Hudson Highlands, a strategic choke point on the river next to the site where the United States Military Academy was later built and sixty miles upriver from New York City. With Gen. John Burgoyne’s forces moving south from Canada, this maneuver would complete the British plan of achieving control of the critically important Hudson-Lake Champlain corridor. The other scenario was an attack on Philadelphia, the target Howe had seemed intent on taking through the spring. If the seat of Congress was in fact his target, a landing on the west bank of the Delaware River now seemed most likely.
...continue to Journal of the American Revolution
In 1775, the North American colonies had no professional armies and few leaders with significant military training. What possessed them, then, to believe they could take on the mighty British Empire? Politics and principles aside, two experiences led the Americans to believe they could stand up to the British: the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg and the 1755 Battle of Monongahela. The first dispelled any notion that they were powerless against professional forces. The second dispelled the notion of British invincibility.
In the 1740s, the maritime French colony of Île-Royale and its fortress at Louisbourg guarded the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Today, the two main islands of Île-Royale are known as Prince Edward Island (Canada’s smallest province) and Cape Breton Island (part of Nova Scotia). The French and the Wabanaki Indians were a constant threat to New England. Multiple engagements had occurred during little-remembered wars such as King William's War, Queen Anne’s War, and Father Rale’s War. Louisbourg was (and is) positioned on the east coast of Cape Breton and directly east of the modern state of Maine, which was then part of Massachusetts. Louisbourg itself was a threat to New England: it was a center for privateering and well positioned to interfere with New England’s economically crucial fishing industry.
At the start of King George’s War (known in Europe as the War of Austrian Succession) in 1744, a Franco-Indian force raided and destroyed the British fishing village at Canso, in nearby Nova Scotia. In 1745, Massachusetts Governor William Shirley organized a response. Militia from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, set off on an expedition supported with funds and supplies from Rhode Island, New York, and Pennsylvania. While there were no professional soldiers involved, they did have support from the British Navy.
The Fortress of Louisbourg was thought to be impenetrable from the sea. A land approach, however, provided hilly terrain that allowed for the erection of siege batteries. After a siege of several weeks and a number of raids and skirmishes, the fortress surrendered on June 27, 1745. While the French forces had suffered from poor morale and other issues, the stark fact remained that American militia had taken on and defeated a professional army sheltered in a major fortification.
A decade later, early in the French and Indian War, General Edward Braddock suffered his better-remembered defeat near the banks of the Monongahela. The lesson here was that British redcoats were not invincible. In a report to his mother, Washington wrote, “The Virginia troops showed a good deal of bravery, and were near all killed; for I believe out of three companies that were there, there are scarce 30 men left alive. … In short, the dastardly behavior of those they call regulars exposed all others that were inclined to do their duty to almost certain death; and, at last, in despite of all the efforts of the officers to the contrary, they broke and ran as sheep pursued by dogs; and it was impossible to rally them.”
While the British army was humiliated, Washington’s own reputation for heroism was bolstered, in part because of his own reports. “I luckily escaped without a wound,” he wrote, “though I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me.”
Louisbourg (1745), Monongahela (1755), and the outbreak of the Revolution itself in 1775 are milestones in the colonists’ increasing confidence in their own military capabilities. Though Louisbourg was remote from Virginia, it was not remote from those who began the war in Massachusetts. Braddocks’ defeat was very much front-of-mind to all Virginians at the start of the war. This must have been especially true for men like the 8th Virginia's Maj. Peter Helphenstine and Capt. Thomas Berry of Winchester (Washington's headquarters during the French and Indian War) and Captains John Stephenson and William Croghan who filled their companies with men from the settlements near the site of the general’s failure.
Twenty years after Monongahela, Massachusets’ 1775-1776 experiences at Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, and the Siege of Boston reinforced New England’s view that militia could take on professional troops. Victories won by militia and green provincial troops at Great Bridge and Sullivans Island indicated the same to Virginia and the south.
This elevated view of their militias’ capabilities must be viewed as an important factor in the colonists’ decision to take up arms against the Crown. It is even more important in view of the prevalent Anglo-American dislike of standing or “regular” armies. Oliver Cromwell had used his “New Model” army to rule by martial law. King James II had attempted to use a standing, professional army to restore the monarchy’s supremacy over parliament. For this is he was deposed and replaced by William and Mary, who accepted a Declaration of Rights (enacted as a “Bill of Rights” in 1689) that specifically forbade standing armies on British soil in peace time.
When Britain decided to leave a standing army in America after the French and Indian War, the colonists reacted in a way that should have been predictable. Peace-time standing armies had been illegal in Britain for nearly a century, universally seen as a threat to the “rights of Englishmen.” And yet there they were, posted in the colonies and quartered in private homes. Colonial charters had guaranteed the rights of Englishmen to the colonists. This was a clear violation. Virginia’s 1606 charter read, for example:
"Also we do ... DECLARE ... that all and every the Persons being our Subjects, which shall dwell and inhabit within every or any of the said several Colonies and Plantations, and every of their children, which shall happen to be born within any of the Limits and Precincts of the said several Colonies and Plantations, shall HAVE and enjoy all Liberties, Franchises, and Immunities, within any of our other Dominions, to all Intents and Purposes, as if they had been abiding and born, within this our Realm of England, or any other of our said Dominions."
Among the 27 indictments against the King in the Declaration of Independence was the charge that “He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.” When the war began, it was a war between American militia and British regulars. While some might have seen this as an uneven fight, many more saw it as proof of the justice and moral superiority of the American cause.
The British Army was the most powerful in the world, and there may have been a time when the colonists would not have dared to fight them. In 1775, after the Siege of Louisville, after Braddocks defeat, and with God and Justice on their side, the Americans believed they could win. And they did win, but not until the Continentals themselves were professionalized. Still, consistent with principle, the Continental Army was disbanded at the end of the war.
Read more: "A Campaign of Amateurs: The Siege of Louisbourg, 1745" by Raymond F. Baker.
The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road should be as famous as the Oregon Trail. For a century, it was the primary immigration artery to the American interior, and shaped the culture that still defines the “frontier.” Adapting to American ways, most immigrants’ first home was a log house. Much like toy Lincoln Logs, these structures were relatively quick to build, durable, and even transportable. An amazing number of very old log structures remain, but many are unrecognized.
Philadelphia and the nearby towns of Lewes and New Castle, Delaware were collectively the “Ellis Island” of the 18thCentury. Shiploads of German and Scotch-Irish immigrants docked at these towns. Under the care of Lutheran, Reformed, and Presbyterian churches the immigrants headed west through Downingtown, Lancaster and York on the road that is now U.S. Route 30 in most places. It was typically in Lancaster, along the Conestoga Creek, that they were outfitted for the long trip. Lancaster’s German craftsmen provided “Conestoga” wagons and “Pennsylvania” rifles along with other supplies.
After Carlisle, the road turned south into the Cumberland Valley, through Western Maryland and into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. From there it continued south through North and South Carolina before terminating at Augusta, Georgia. The Great Wagon Road connected at Carlisle with the Forbes Road, a French and Indian War military road that led to Pittsburgh. Above Winchester, the Wagon Road intersected with Braddock’s Road, another vestige of the French and Indian War that connected Alexandria, Virginia with Pittsburgh. Where Virginia met North Carolina (later Tennessee), the Wilderness Road turned west through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky (originally party of Virginia).
The settlers brought more than Conestoga wagons and Pennsylvania rifles with them. Perhaps the most enduring symbol of frontier life is the log cabin. This architectural marvel was first brought to America by the settlers of New Sweden—the short-lived colony of the Swedish Empire that preceded William Penn’s Quakers along the lower Delaware River. Many of the colonists were Finns—Finland was part of Sweden for centuries—who had grown up in log houses in the forests of Scandinavia. They were more comfortable in the forest than other New World colonists and were among the first to venture inland. The log house is their contribution to American culture.
Surprisingly, a large number of 17thand 18thcentury log houses remain standing along the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road corridor and the connecting western immigration routes. Many are hidden under ancient clapboard or modern vinyl siding. Others have been magnificently restored. The document embedded below is an effort to compile a list of these important but often ignored historic structures. Please contribute to it by emailing gabeneville@8thVirginia.com.
Read more: "A Frontier Cabin Restored" (8/15/17)
All ten companies of the 8th Virginia hadn’t even arrived yet when Maj. Gen. Charles Lee took the regiment south to face the enemy. Suffolk, Virginia was the designated place of rendezvous. The ten companies came from all but one of the counties along Virginia’s 350-mile frontier, stretching from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh. They traveled to the rendezvous on foot, stopping in Williamsburg to collect company officers’ commissions. Col. Peter Muhlenberg and the early-arrived companies were posted at Kemp’s Landing, near Norfolk.
British Gen. Henry Clinton was sailing south with a significant force to meet with Gen. Charles Cornwallis, who was sailing from Britain with a fleet of warships and still more men. North Carolina was their target and a Tory uprising was their goal. On May 11, Lee impatiently wrote to the post commander at Kemp’s landing, inquiring, “[H]ave you order’d Muhlenberg’s Regiment to march to Halifax? I hope to God you have, for no time is to be lost, as we have certain news of the Enemy’s arrival in the River Cape Fear.”
Lee wrote to John Hancock, “As the Enemy’s advanced Guard…is actually arrived—I must, I cannot avoid detaching the strongest Battalion we have to [North Carolina’s] assistance; but I own, I tremble at the same time, at the thoughts of stripping this Province of any part of its inadequate force.” Battalions and regiments were essentially synonymous at this time. Lee was, in fact, calling the 8th Virginia the “strongest” of the province’s nine regiments. He would later confirm this assessment when he wrote to Muhlenberg, “You were ordered not because I was better acquainted with your Regiment than the rest--but because you were the most compleat, the best arm’d, and in all respects the best furnish’d for service.” To Congress he reported, “Muhlenberg’ s regiment wanted only forty at most. It was the strength and good condition of the regiment that induced me to order it out of its own Province in preference to any other.”
This was evidently true despite the absence of two complete companies. Lee may have extrapolated to account for the absent companies. Alternately, at least one of the present companies (Captain Jonathan Clark’s) appears to have enlisted numbers beyond its quota. When Muhlenberg set off on May 13, Capt. James Knox’s southwest (Fincastle County) company had not yet arrived. It was close, though—probably at Williamsburg. Or perhaps it had just arrived and needed to rest. Lee wrote, “Capt[ai]n Knox will follow the Regiment, so the Colonel must not wait for him.” Capt. William Croghan’s Pittsburgh (West August District) company, however, was even farther behind. Lee took the regiment anyway. There was no time to spare. Consequently, it would be an entire year until Croghan’s men joined the regiment.
The other nine companies marched for Cape Fear via Halifax, North Carolina, joined by a North Carolina Regiment that had come north to Virginia’s aid. Unlike every other Virginia regiment, the 8th Virginia men all carried rifles. No muskets also meant no bayonets, which were—at the end of the day—often the real implements of war. Lee compensated for this by issuing pikes (he called them “spears”) to some of the men. “I have formed two companies of grenadiers to each regiment; and with spears of thirteen feet long, their rifles (for they are all riflemen) slung over their shoulders, their appearance is formidable, and the men are conciliated to the weapon.”
Meanwhile, the British commanders were learning that the Patriot victory at Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge had quelled their hoped-for Tory uprising. They opted, therefore, for an alternate target. Just as the 8th Virginia arrived at Cape Fear, the enemy was sailing off for Charleston, South Carolina. Muhlenberg’s men continued the chase, now at a forced-march pace. A very difficult and deadly summer lay ahead of them.
The soldiers of the 8th Virginia were, typically, Presbyterian or Lutheran--that is to say Irish or German. There were others, including Anglicans, German Reformed, Baptists, and a Jew. There were probably no Catholics, though they would serve under one (the Marquis de Lafayette) and by "Irish" we have to say "Scotch-Irish," "Irish Protestant," or "Ulster Irish" to distinguish these men from later Irish Catholic immigrants. At the time, though, they were usually just called "Irish," despite the Scotch heritage many of them had.
When these soldiers or their parents first settled in the parts of today's Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania that then made up the Virginia frontier, their respective churches helped them in their travels and new settlements. The "Great Philadelphia Wagon Road" was the "Oregon Trail" of the colonial era--immigrants arrived in boats at Philadelphia or the nearby Delaware ports of New Castle or Lewes and then, often with church support, headed west along a road that stretched through Lancaster and York into Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley. That valley continues south to become the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. The Wagon Road followed it and continued on, eventually all the way to Georgia. After the French and Indian War, the Forbes Road could be followed from the Cumberland Valley as far as Pittsburgh, though that wasn't strictly legal. In the 1770s, other settlers took another branch through the Cumberland Gap in southwest Virginia to Kentucky. (The Cumberland Valley and the Cumberland Gap are far from each other, but both are named for Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland--the youngest son of George II and the victor of the Battle of Culloden in 1746.)
The Derry Church in what is now Hershey, Pennsylvania supported Scotch-Irish Presbyterian settlers as they headed west and seeded new churches for them as new communities formed. These new churches were often just log houses, but a number of them survive. It was precisely the same pattern of activity in the Lutheran Church that brought Peter Muhlenberg down the Wagon Road to Woodstock, Virginia in 1772. When he arrived, the Woodstock church was a simple log chapel in the middle of the central intersection. In 1774, land was given to build a new log church at the Southeast corner of the intersection--a project that was overseen by the young rector. It was from that new church that he gave his famous recruiting sermon in 1776.
The central role of religion in history is sometimes overlooked or disregarded, especially by elite historians who look too cynically at it. Religious leaders, like Muhlenberg, were not just pastors but also pioneers, political leaders, and soldiers as well. That might seem strange to some people today, but it wasn't strange at all in the 18th and 19th centuries.
is researching the history of the Revolutionary War's 8th Virginia Regiment. Its ten companies formed on the frontier, from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh.
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