The narrative that was submitted with veteran James Johnston’s 1832 pension application provides a uniquely clear summary of the 8th Virginia Regiment’s service. The text of it, as transcribed by C. Leon Harris, is presented below with the Harris annotations removed and new explanatory notes by Gabe Neville inserted in italics. New paragraph breaks have been introduced along with a handful of changes to capitalization and punctuation for clarity. Otherwise, the complete text is presented unaltered.
Pension Application of James Johnston
State of Virginia
Giles County Ss.
That he enlisted in the County of Culpepper and State of Virginia with Lieutenant Henry Fields and belonged to the Company Commanded by Capt George Slaughter. Each company officer had an enlistment quota to meet in order to get his commission. Family and friends made the best prospects. Lt. Field was Capt. Slaughter’s wife’s cousin. Her brother and two other cousins were also in the regiment, as was Capt. Slaughter’s nephew, Lawrence Slaughter. The five men from the Abbott family who enlisted in the company were probably Johnston’s cousins.
That the Company marched to the town of Suffolk in the County of ______. He was there attached to the Battallion Commanded by Maj’r Peter Helverson and the Regiment commanded by Col Mulenburg at which place he with The Regiment remained for some weeks. Suffolk, a little west of Norfolk, was the designated rendezvous point for the regiment. Suffolk was then in Nansemond County. Battalions were sometimes divisions of regiments, but in the Continental Army were almost always functionally synonymous with regiments. Johnston was detached at least once with Helphenstine, which probably explains his characterization.
From thence they marched to Charleston in South Carolina. From Charleston they were conveyed to Hattens point opposite Fort Sullivan—and at the time and on the day the attack was made on Fort Sullivan, he was marched to the lower point of Sullivans island. He together with the detachment then commanded by Maj’r Helverson threw up small breast works for the purpose of preventing the British from Landing at that point. A small skirmish then ensued between us and we prevented the greater part of the British from Landing. Some of them, however, succeeded but were soon driven back to their boats. And after lying several days on the lower end of Sullivans island we returned to Hattens point and joined the remainder of our Regiment which we had left at the place. The regiment left with Maj. Gen. Charles Lee for South Carolina in May, arriving in June. “Hattens Point” is Haddrell’s Point between Charleston and Sullivan’s Island. A number of 8th Virginia men reinforced South Carolina troops on the north end of Sullivan’s Island to fend off an enemy crossing of the “Breach Inlet” while enemy warships bombarded Fort Sullivan (later Fort Moultrie) on the south end. Most accounts discount the action at the Breach Inlet as insignificant, summarizing that the British had misgauged the depth of the water and failed to cross. Johnston, however, indicates that the enemy made a concerted effort to cross and that some succeeded before being driven back.
About the time Col Mulenburg was promoted to the command of General, and we were then Commanded by Col Boman We were then march back to Fredericksburg in Virginia and stayed there a few days then marched to Winchester in Virginia. Col. Peter Muhlenberg was promoted to brigadier general in February 1777, after which Lt. Col. Abraham Bowman was promoted to colonel. The return to Winchester allowed most of the soldiers an opportunity to visit their families.
From Winchester we were marched to Philadelphia (and a part of the detachment who was inoculated for the small pox remained there till sometime in May). The entire Continental Army was inoculated early in 1777. Soldiers who had previously had the disease were exempt.
We were then marched to Bonbrook or Middlebrook not recollected which in New Jersey and was attached to Gen’. Scotts brigade, and continued with the Main Army commanded by Gen’l Washington for some time. The regiment began collecting together at Boundbrook, N.J. in April and then moved to the camp at Middlebrook on May 25. It was assigned to Brig. Gen. Charles Scott’s brigade, along with the 4th Virginia, the 12th Virginia, Grayson’s Additional, and Patton’s Additional regiments. Scott’s brigade was one of two that made up Maj. Gen. Adam Stephen’s division.
I was then attached to a Company of Light infantry and sent to the Iron hills near the head of Elk under the Command of Genl. Sullivan we had a small skirmish with the British. We then returned to the main army and I joined my own regiment on the Evening before the battle of Brandywine. I fought in the battle of Brandywine which took place some time in September. On August 28, each brigade sent picked men to form a light infantry battalion under Brig. Gen. William Maxwell, who Johnston misidentifies as John Sullivan. Maxwell’s Light Infantry existed for one month and fought in Delaware at Cooch’s Bridge (Iron Hill) on Sept. 3 and Brandywine in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11. “Head of Elk” is now Elkton, Maryland. Johnston reports that he returned to Capt. Slaughter’s company before Brandywine, but does not state the reason.
We were then marched to Philadelphia and stayed there about two days – then marched to Riding furnace in Pennsylvania and was continued marching in different directions through the country near Philadelphia til about the first of October. After Brandywine, the army retreated to Chester, Pa. and then crossed the Schuylkill to Philadelphia before heading west along the river to block the enemy from crossing it. The Schuylkill was the last natural barrier between the British and Philadelphia, the seat of Congress. After the “Battle of the Clouds” ended in a torrential downpour, Washington’s army was rested and re-equipped at Reading Furnace, in northwest Chester County (not to be confused with the city of Reading, which is twenty miles to the north). After a feint, the British made it across and took Philadelphia.
We were then marched to Germantown and I fought in the battle of German town. The Battle of Germantown occurred on October 4. A chance for victory was ruined in part because of a friendly fire incident between General Scott’s brigade and Anthony Wayne’s Pennsylvania brigade. Maj. Gen. Adam Stephen was blamed for it. Stephen was cashiered and replaced with the Marquis de Lafayette.
We were then marched in different directions through the country near Germantown and Philadelphia watching the movements of the enemy til sometime about the last of November or first of Dec’r and then took up our Winter quarters at the Vally forge in the state of Pennsylvania until I was discharged by Brigadier Gen’l Scott about the Latter part of January or first of February 1778. having served a few days more than two years. After Germantown, the army camped at three different places northwest of Philadelphia before a series skirmishes known as the Battle of Whitemarsh early in December. The army then went into winter encampment at Valley Forge on December 19. Johnston’s two-year enlistment expired on January 26, 1778 but he reports remaining a little longer.
He hereby relinquishes every claim whatever to a pension or an annuity except the present and he declares that his name is not on the pension roll of an agency of any state.
Except for those who had reenlisted, all of the remaining original 1776 recruits left the regiment during the Valley Forge encampment. Efforts to recruit back to full strength after the southern expedition had fallen short and the regiment was never again back to even half strength. The three Virginia regiments in Scott’s brigade were merged into one unit known as the “4th-8th-12th Regiment” for the Battle of Monmouth in June, 1778. In September, the regiment was folded into the 4th Virginia and ceased to exist. The 12th Virginia was then renumbered and became the “new” 8th Virginia, which causes confusion for genealogists, particularly because many of the men came from the same parts of Virginia.
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GOOD NEWS: As reported in the comment below by Gary Tunget, the Findagrave.com images that formed the basis for this post were are inaccurate. "The Muhlenburg County History group visited the Craig Cemetery This afternoon March 27th with the property owners and two members of the SAR the photo above is not the Craig Cemetery Capt. Craig's grave stone is still standing. and not trampled by cattle . The group is going to clean the cemetery and fence the property and afterwards the Local DAR and SAR will host a Patriot Grave marking ceremony." Apologies are due, particularly to the property owner, for repeating bad information. The Findagrave.com page appears to have been corrected. --Gabe Neville
James Craig deserves better. He was a Continental officer who signed on early for the Revolutionary cause and took part in its first major victory. Despite this important service to his country his grave site is now a shambles.
Even before there were any Virginia Continental regiments, Craig signed on to help lead one of the Old Dominion’s independent frontier companies. He was a lieutenant under Capt. William Russell in a company that ranged the southwest Virginia frontier from 1775 to 1776. In 1776 he joined Capt. James Knox in forming a Fincastle County company assigned to the 8th Virginia Regiment. After a year serving in the south, he and Knox were selected to lead a company in Daniel Morgan’s elite rifle battalion. With Morgan and Knox, he played a key role in the defeat of Gen. John Burgoyne at Saratoga—the first major American victory and the event that persuaded the French to openly support the cause.
After the war Craig settled in Kentucky like thousands of other veterans. He was appointed by the Commonwealth to be one of the first justices of Muhlenberg County, when it was created in 1799. The county, of course, was named in honor of Peter Muhlenberg, under whom Craig had served in the war.
Though never famous on the national stage, Craig led a consequential and locally important life. He died in 1816 at the age of 81 after marrying twice and having many children. He is buried in Craig Cemetery in Rosewood, a rural Muhlenberg County community about forty miles west of Bowling Green. According to a Find-a-Grave page maintained by Liz Gossett, Craig’s headstone is in “very bad shape.” The featured image of it appears to be an old one taken from a newspaper. Three pictures of the Cemetery show a progressive decline. The first image, said to be from the late 19th century, shows a tidy, well-kept site. The second, from 2004, shows fallen headstones interspersed with clumps of weeds. A third photo (the first one shown above) shows cattle roaming among the fallen markers, the dirt churned up by their hooves.
Ms. Gossett indicates that the cemetery was maintained by descendant Luther Craig until his death in 1960 and has since been abandoned. Someone—the DAR, the SAR, the property owner, or descendants—should restore this cemetery and see to it that James Craig and those buried around him can rest with the dignity they deserve.
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The Old Dominion’s leaders remained anxious about the frontier as Indian tensions persisted. John Connolly, once the leading political and military figure at Fort Pitt, had been exposed as a scheming Loyalist. The dispute between Virginia and Pennsylvania faded when the two states’ Congressional delegations sent a joint letter to local leaders urging that “for the defence of the liberties of America” the territorial dispute be put on hold. Among the signers were Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. The appeal was heeded, though imperfectly.
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In July 1775, Virginia created two full-time provincial regiments and a network of regional minute battalions to supplement the militia system. Seven more regiments were authorized in December. These regiments were intended for service in the east opposing the Crown and were taken into the Continental Army in 1776.
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Lord de la Warr’s name appears frequently in Mr. Sterner’s story. His name was given to the Delaware River, which in turn lent its name to the Lenape people who have long been known to English speakers as the Delaware Tribe. Mr. Sterner has provided the definitive account of the worst atrocity of the Revolutionary War. In 1782 more than eighty white settlers clubbed, killed, and scalped ninety-six peaceful, Christian Indians as they prayed and sang hymns. The attack on the Moravian mission town of Gnadenhutten (Ohio) was intended as both a punitive and preemptive strike, conducted by settlers whose families and farms had been targeted by other Indians acting as proxies of the British. It is a horrific story that has defied understanding until now.
...continue to Emerging Revolutionary War Era.
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Washington was born on February 11, 1731…under the Julian Calendar. This was the old calendar established under Julius Caesar. Pope Gregory moved the Catholic world to a more accurate calendar in 1582, but Protestant England, under Queen Elizabeth, wasn’t bound by the change. Leap year differences put Britain and the America colonies eleven days behind the rest of the western world. Moreover, New Year’s Day was March 25 under the old calendar, not January 1. Consequently, when the British Empire finally changed to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, Washington’s birthday changed from February 11, 1731 to February 22, 1732. Both dates are correct, but the proper way to note the Julian date is “February 11, 1731 (O.S.).” The abbreviation stand for “old style.”
Washington’s Birthday was declared a holiday by Congress in 1879. Many people don’t realize that Congress has no authority to declare holidays (days off) for anyone other than federal employees and residents of the District of Columbia. States, however, followed the federal government’s lead and Washington’s Birthday was celebrated for decades on February 22. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was never a federal holiday, but was celebrated by many states on February 12—just ten days before Washington’s birthday. In the 1950s, there was an effort to establish a third holiday, President’s Day, to honor “the office of the presidency” on March 4 – the original day of quadrennial inaugurations. Though some states adopted the new holiday, Congress declined to in the belief that three holidays in rapid succession were too many.
Under our present Constitution, the United States has had forty-five presidents. Some have been great and some have not. Reputations have waxed and waned as attitudes change and new biographies are written. Celebrating “President’s Day” seems to make no more sense that celebrating “Congress Day” or “Supreme Court Day.” In the fact, the notion of a “President’s Day” has vaguely monarchist overtones. Surely, we can all think of several presidents who don’t deserve the honor. Washington, however, stands high above the rest. He is rightly known as the father of the country. He effectuated a great break with the past, establishing durable and free government in part by repeatedly declining to cling to power. Only one other president rivals his claim to greatness.
Holidays have always been the subject of civic activism. Veterans Day was moved back to November 11 in 1975 to align with the World War I armistice. Columbus Day has been replaced by “Indigenous People’s Day” in Florida, Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Maine. If you live in a place (such as, believe it or not, Washington State) that celebrates “President’s Day,” you might want to call your state legislator and point out that Chester Arthur doesn’t belong on the same holiday stage as George Washington.
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“In a place like Salisbury,” writes Andrew Waters of the North Carolina town that witnessed the 1781 Race to the Dan, “you can live among its ghosts and still not know it’s there.” Enthusiasts know that this is true of many Revolutionary War sites, including some of real importance. Mr. Waters complains in his book To the End of the World: Nathanael Greene, Charles Cornwallis, and the Race to the Dan of the simplified understanding most Americans have of the Revolutionary War. “For most of us, the story of the American Revolution is of George Washington and the minutemen, Valley Forge and Yorktown.” In our Cliffs Notes version of history, many places, heroes, and even whole campaigns are left out.
Like most of the war in the south, the Race to the Dan is overshadowed by Yorktown. The mere fact that George Washington was not a participant relegates the story to a second-tier status. The Race, however, holds unique challenges for the historian and the storyteller. It occurred over more than two hundred miles, depending on how you count it, rather than at one identifiable spot. Nathanael Greene’s genius is to be found in his mastery of logistics and strategy, which are subjects that make many people’s eyes glaze over. Though heroic and difficult, it was still a retreat and retreats don’t lend themselves to celebration. Its significance is not so much in what it achieved but rather in what it made possible, which requires detailed explanation.
Consequently, the Race to the Dan has been given short shrift for more than two centuries. It is mentioned in the war’s histories, but almost never in detail. In writing this book, Mr. Waters was determined to correct that and he has succeeded. One can’t resist noting the appropriateness his name: the waterways of the Carolinas play a central role in the story. He makes plain from the beginning that the story is personal to him. He is a conservationist and doctoral candidate in South Carolina who has made a career of conserving the Palmetto State’s watersheds. “Rivers are my business,” he says at the very beginning of the book. He also plainly declares, “We all need heroes, and . . . Greene has become one of mine.”
...Continue to The Journal of the American Revolution.
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Death came often for the soldiers of the 8th Virginia. Some died in battle, but most often it came in the form of diseases that were still poorly understood and for which there were no cures. Malaria was the number-one killer. All told, 121 8th Virginia soldiers are known to have died while in service--a number almost equal to two entire companies. The real number is higher than that.
Capt. Thomas Berry's Company:
1st Lieut. John Jolliffe, April 6, 1777
Ens. William Mead, Nov. 20, 1776
Sgt. Reese Bowen, Sept. 6, 1776
Pvt. William Buckley, Sept. 16, 1776
Pvt. Hugh Burns, Oct. 21, 1776
Pvt. Jesse Chamblin, Oct. 31, 1776
Pvt. Peter Fletcher, Nov. 10, 1776
Pvt. Thomas Hankins, Nov. 29, 1776
Pvt. Joseph Hickman, May 18, 1777
Pvt. Luke Hines, Nov. 10, 1776
Pvt. Dennis Kingore, Sept. 8, 1776
Pvt. Neil McDade, Nov. 25, 1776
Pvt. Thomas McVay, Oct. 1, 1776
Pvt. Louis Routt, Nov. 10, 1776
Pvt. Garett Trotter, Oct. 19, 1776
Pvt. Peter Vandevourt, Dec. 31, 1776
Capt. Richard Campbell's Company:
Lt. Col. Richard Campbell, Sept. 8, 1781 (Eutaw Springs)
Sgt. John Bowman, Aug. 19, 1779
Pvt. William Davis, Sept. or Oct., 1777 (Brandywine or Germantown)
Pvt. Frederick Long, Sept. or Oct., 1777 (Brandywine or Germantown)
Capt. Jonathan Clark's Company
Sgt. Maj. John Hoy, Dec. 3, 1776
Sgt. George Parrott, Nov. 6, 1776
Sgt. Humphrey Price, Nov. 24, 1776
Cpl. William Brown, March 30, 1777
Cpl. Mathew Toomey, Dec. 20, 1776
Pvt. Nicholas Bowder, June 13, 1776
Pvt. Nathan Brittain, Oct 17, 1776
Pvt. Thomas Brittain, Sept. 29, 1776
Pvt. Isaac Dent, Nov. 3, 1776
Pvt. Mathias Funk, Dec. 20, 1776
Pvt. Martin Honey, Sept. 20, 1776
Pvt. John Maxwell, Dec. 25, 1776
Pvt. Henry Moore, Sept. or Oct., 1777 (Brandywine or Germantown)
Pvt. Isaac Pemberton, Jan. 12, 1778
Pvt. Meredith Price, Jan. 3, 1777
Pvt. Simon Siron, unknown date (left in Georgia)
Pvt. Michael Wall, unknown date (before June 13, 1777)
Pt. Walter Warner, Oct. 4, 1776
Capt. William Croghan's Company
Sgt. John McDoran, Jan. 30, 1777
Cpl. Michael Kelly, Sept. 11, 1777 (Brandywine)
Cpl. William Penny, before May 18, 1777
Cpl. James Tucker, Dec. 27, 1776
Drummer Francis Prush, before May 18, 1777
Fifer Gabriel Christy, before April 1777
Pvt. John Brock, March 18 or 25, 1776
Pvt. John Brown, before April 1777
Pvt. William Cochran, before April 1777
Pvt. Robert Cochran, Sept. 1776
Pvt. Philip Cole, Jan. 30, 1777
Pvt. John Donnally, April 14, 1777
Pvt. Nicholas Doran, April 13, 1777
Pvt. William Gaddis March 15, 1777
Pvt. Patrick Garry, Nov. 11, 1776
Pvt. Joseph Gonsley, Feb. 1777
Pvt. William Goodman, before April 1777
Pvt. James Gorwin, Feb. 8, 1777
Pvt. Patrick Hall, ca. Jan. 1, 1777
Pvt. David Hanson, before April 1777
Pvt. Lewis Henry, Nov. 1776
Pvt. John Hinds, Aug. 14, 1776
Pvt. Nathaniel Hosier, before April 1777
Pvt. John James, ca. March 1, 1777
Pvt. Jesse Job, before April 1777
Pvt. Able Levesque, March 17, 1777
Pvt. George Martin, Feb. 1777
Pvt. Michael Martin, Feb. 1777
Pvt. Moses Martin, Feb. 1777
Pvt. Thomas Owens, Sept. 11, 1777 (Brandywine)
Pvt. Thomas Ryan, before May 18, 1777
Pvt. Henry Saltsman, Oct. 4, 1777 (Germantown)
Pvt. James Smyth, Oct. 19, 1776
Pvt. John Tuck, before April 1777
Pvt. Daniel Viers, March 3, 1777
Capt. William Darke's Company
Pvt. Daniel Cameron, Jan. 15, 1777
Pvt. WilliamEngle, ca. March 1776
Pvt. Jonathan Herrin, Dec. 1776
Pvt. Jeremiah Humphreys, Oct. 27, 1776
Pvt. George Ketcher, Oct. 24, 1776
Pvt. William Pingle, Dec. 1, 1776
Pvt. John Polson, Oct. 26, 1776
Pvt. George Pritty, Dec. 1, 1776
Pvt. George Smith, Oct. 11, 1776
Pvt. Samuel Watson, Dec. 8, 1776
Captain Robert Higgins' Company
Pvt. Zachariah DeLong, Feb. 1778 (POW)
Capt. James Knox's Company
Pvt. James Carr, Nov. 20, 1776
Pvt. Charles Carter, Dec. 24, 1776
Pvt. John Vance, Sept. 16, 1776
Pvt. Henry Wallis, Dec. 1776
Pvt. John Wilson, Nov. 8, 1776
Capt. George Slaughter's Company
Lt. Philip Huffman, March 15, 1781 (Guilford Courthouse)
Sgt. James Newman, in Georgia, 1776
Cpl. Barnett McGinnis, Nov. 25, 1776
Cpl. Cornelius Mershon, Aug 4, 1776
Fifer Henry Clatterbuck, July or Aug. 1776
Pvt. Thomas Abbett, before Feb. 3, 1777
Pvt. William Abbett, before Feb. 3, 1777
Pvt. Edward Abbott, Oct. 19, 1776
Pvt. John Abbott, Oct. 29, 1776
Pvt. William Cabbage, Nov. 24, 1776
Pvt. William Corbin, Dec. 10, 1776
Pvt. Abraham Field, Aug. 6, 1776
Pvt. Bozel Freeman, Nov. 15, 1776
Pvt. Reuben Hollaway, Aug. 3, 1776
Pvt. Utey Jackson, Aug. 20, 1776
Pvt. John Jinkins, Jan. 13 or 15, 1777
Pvt. Joseph Jones, May 6, 1777
Pvt. Edward Kennedy, Dec. 3, 1776
Pvt. Thomas Newman, in Georgia, 1776
Captain David Stephenson
No fatalities recorded.
Captain John Stephenson
No data available.
Capt. Abel Westfall's Company
Fifer Patrick Callihan, Sept. 25, 1776
Pvt. Joseph Edwards, June 13, 1776
Pvt. James Galloway, Jan. 1777
Pvt. John Haggen, March 15, 1778
Pvt. John Huff, Sept. 15, 1776
Pvt. Moses Johns, May 20, 1778
Pvt. William Kynets, Sept. 26, 1776
Pvt. Hugh Lewis, Oct. 16, 1776
Pvt. William McCormick, Dec. 28, 1776
Pvt. Zachariah Pigman, Feb. 1778 (POW)
Pvt. Philip Sanders, March 9, 1777
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Several histories have appeared in this century that have broken significant new ground in this regard. In The 10 Key Campaigns of the American Revolution, Lengel pulls together a Dream Team of these writers to provide a fresh, top-level overview of the war. Each of the ten authors takes a chapter, providing an authoritative and readable account of a campaign.
For those already steeped in the subject matter, the book offers an opportunity to step back from the trees and look again at the forest. For those who are new to the military history of the founding era, it is an excellent primer. Best of all, it is a book filled with good stories. Who doesn’t love the drama of the Ten Crucial Days and King’s Mountain? Admittedly, there is something odd about writers who know so much about their subjects writing so briefly on them. How on Earth, one must ask, did Michael Harris manage to tell the story of Brandywine and Germantown in a mere eighteen pages? Yet, each of them does it quite well: providing very readable narratives that feature new or recent insights and well-colored characters. Some of the contributors ask and answer difficult questions. Washington and Lafayette, two of the war’s great heroes, are brought down a peg. History has been kinder to Benedict Arnold for some time. Now Charles Lee and Philip Schuyler are also given more sympathetic treatments.
Continue to ...The Journal of the American Revolution
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The Old Dominion’s most influential colonial governor, William Berkeley (1642-1652 and 1660-1677) was “bitterly hostile” to religious nonconformists, especially Puritans and Quakers. A law was enacted under his leadership to “preserve the Established Church’s Unity and purity of doctrine” by punishing any dissenting minister who attempted to preach in Virginia. During the reign of William and Mary, the Toleration Act of 1688 allowed non-Catholic ministers to preach under certain conditions, a change that applied to Virginia. When the Revolution broke out nearly a century later, however, religious dissenters in the colony still hadn’t gained much beyond being tolerated.
The selection of Peter Muhlenberg as colonel of the 8th Virginia was clearly an effort to gain the support of the valley’s Germans for the cause. So too was the selection of Abraham Bowman for lieutenant colonel: he was the grandson of Jost Hite, who had led one of the first groups of German settlers to Virginia from Pennsylvania. Major Peter Helphenstine, the oldest but most junior of the three field officers, had immigrated to the valley from Germany as an adult. As residents of Woodstock, Strasburg, and Winchester, respectively, the three men also covered the geography of the heavily German lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley. Settlers in the upper (southern) Shenandoah Valley; the New and Holston river valleys of southwest Virginia; and the region around Fort Pitt in what is now southwestern Pennsylvania were also recruited for the regiment. Scotch-Irish Presbyterians predominated in these areas and were, at least by reputation, already willing to fight.
On August 16, 1775, several months before the 8th Virginia was authorized, the Third Virginia Convention adopted a resolution offered by Patrick Henry to grant the Baptists’ request to have their own military chaplains and excuse Baptist soldiers from attending Anglican services. The following summer, while the 8th was serving in the Carolinas, the Fifth Virginia Convention adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights. This precursor to both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights proclaimed that “all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”
The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was drafted in 1777 by Thomas Jefferson and enacted into law in 1786, formally disestablishing the Church of England (known thereafter as the Episcopal Church). Massachusetts was the last state to disestablish its state church, a predecessor of today’s United Church of Christ, in 1833.
The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
[Drafted 1777, Enacted 1786]
Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;
That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,
That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;
That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;
That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;
That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,
That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,
That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;
That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;
That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;
That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;
And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:
Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.
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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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