What did Peter Muhlenberg look like? The most frequently-seen image of the General is the oil-on-canvas portrait in the collection of the Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The gallery, however, identifies this portrait as the work of an unknown artist, created on an unknown date: “circa 1800-1900.” Judging purely from that date range, there is a good chance that this familiar portrait was not made from life. Muhlenberg died in 1807.
The second-most commonly-seen image is the statue that stands in the United States Capitol, one of two statues representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This statue, which was created in 1889 by Blanche Nevin, hardly resembles the Martin Gallery portrait, though it is possible to imagine similarities. It depicts Muhlenberg as the new colonel of the 8th Virginia Regiment, removing his pastor’s robe to reveal a military uniform. (Muhlenberg was made a general after serving as the regiment's colonel for about a year.)
Directly upstairs from that statue, in the Capitol Rotunda, there is another image of Muhlenberg which may be the most reliable. It is a partially-obscured side image of General Muhlenberg in John Trumbull’s grand depiction of The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. According to the Architect of the Capitol, Trumbull created this giant painting “between 1819 and 1820, basing it upon a small painting … that he had first envisioned in 1785…. In 1787 he made preliminary drawings for the small painting. Although he struggled for a time with the arrangement of the figures, he had settled upon a composition by 1788.”
Trumbull worked hard to make his depiction of the people in his history paintings as accurate as possible. He wrote that “to transmit to their descendants, the personal resemblance of those who have been the great actors in those illustrious scenes” was one of the goals of his patriotic painting. A war veteran from a prominent Connecticut family, Trumbull knew many of his subjects personally.
“To create portraits from life of the people depicted in this and other paintings," the Capitol architect's website says, "Trumbull traveled extensively. He obtained sittings with numerous individuals in Paris (including French officers at Thomas Jefferson’s house) and in New York. In 1791 he was at Yorktown and sketched the site of the British surrender. He continued to work on the small painting during the following years but did not [immediately] complete it; nevertheless, in January 1817 he showed it and other works in Washington, D.C., and was given a commission to create four monumental history paintings for the Capitol. Surrender of Lord Cornwallis was the second of these large paintings that he completed. He exhibited it in New York City, Boston, and Baltimore before delivering it to the United States Capitol in late 1820. He completed the small painting around 1828; it is now part of the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.”
If he even needed a sitting, Muhlenberg would not have been a hard man for Trumbull to find. The retired general served in Congress and as vice president and de-facto governor of Pennsylvania during the earlier years of Trumbull’s project. Though Trumbull’s portrait should be considered the most reliable, it is worth taking a moment to compare the Trumbull side-image to the anonymous portrait at Muhlenberg College. They are quite similar. In both depictions he has a long nose, slightly angled eyes, and slightly jowly cheeks. If the college has not made an effort to research the origin of the portrait in its collection, it should.
At the start of September, 1777, Washington was doing all he could to block the British advance on Philadelphia. He had four natural barriers to work with: the Christina River/White Clay Creek, the Red Clay Creek, the Brandywine River, and the Schuylkill River. Washington tried to use each of these barriers to block General Howe’s Army.
The first effort was at the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, where William Maxwell’s light infantry (an elite, but temporary unit) engaged a much larger Hessian and and British advance guard. The 8th Virginia’s Captain William Darke led a contingent of men from General Charles Scott’s Brigade (including 28 men from the 8th Virginia). One of his men, William Walker, later complained that “no historian” had noticed the “very bloody conflict,” and declared, “For myself I can say that this detachment on that day deserved well of their country.”
Cooch’s Bridge is still not well remembered. But for those who are interested, the site is well-marked and reasonably intact. The Cooch family has preserved much of the surrounding land for more than two centuries. The folks at the Pencader Heritage Are Association are doing a great job making sure the story is remembered and told. Their ten-year old museum, the Pencader Heritage Museum, has excellent displays and is staffed by volunteers who are eager to tell the story of the September 3, 1777 battle and other events in local history.
Admission is free, but the museum is only open on the first and third Saturdays of each month. It is a very easy stop off of I-95 if you ever happen to be traveling that way on the right Saturday. Outdoor markers by the museum and battle site are worth the visit even if the museum is closed. The museum gets absolutely no government support—so think about lending it some of yours!
Yes indeed he did.
As I research the career of the 8th Virginia Regiment, I am frequently reminded of the close historic relationship the Shenandoah Valley has with southeastern Pennsylvania. I have lived in Virginia for many years, but I grew up in Chester County, Pennsylvania and later lived just to the west in Lancaster. The vast majority of the Shenandoah Valley’s early settlers traveled from Philadelphia and nearby ports through both of these counties along the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, which is now U.S. Route 30 in Pennsylvania and U.S. Route 11 in Virginia. The ten companies of the 8th Virginia were raised in the Shenandoah Valley and other parts of the Virginia frontier. Many of the men were born in Pennsylvania or raised by parents who had lived in or traveled through it. There remain many ethnic, religious, and even architectural ties between the two regions.
My interest in the Revolutionary War was probably first sparked by a tiny cemetery near my childhood home. It was the final resting place of twenty-two soldiers who died during the encampment at Valley Forge, a few miles to the east. The church across Ridge Road from the cemetery, used as a hospital for those men, is where I received my first Bible when I was about six years old. It has always felt like hallowed ground for me.
In my studies I’ve looked at the French and Indian War and at Dunmore’s War, the conflicts in which many 8th Virginia men first experienced combat. I’ve looked at Peter Muhlenberg’s famous 1776 sermon in Woodstock, Virginia, to see if I can figure out what is fact and what is legend. I’ve followed the regiment’s travels south to Williamsburg, the Carolinas, and Georgia. (Their planned invasion of Florida was called off.) I’ve followed them north into Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York where the regiment (or a large detachment from it) fought at White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine and the “Battle of the Clouds.” Brandywine and the “Battle of the Clouds” were both fought in Chester County, but not the part I come from.
From the Battle of the Clouds, it took the Continentals fourteen hours to retreat just six miles to the village of Yellow Springs in a torrential downpour. One soldier (not from the 8th) declared the nighttime trek to be “one of the Hardest Marches known by any Soldiers in our army.” (I worked in Yellow Springs as a landscaper one summer when I was in college, knowing little of its history.) From there, seeking the only bridge across French Creek (which I used to swim in) the soldiers marched north on what is now Kimberton Road. (I graduated from the Kimberton Farms School.) The army (after passing my old Little League fields) reached what is now State Route 23 and took a left across the creek. (For nearly two centuries, the General Pike Inn stood on the left at that intersection, built in 1808. I bought a beer there shorlty after turning 21. It was torn down in 1994 to make way for a Rite Aid pharmacy. For a somewhat briefer time there was a Hardee’s on the far side of that intersection. It has also been replaced—by a McDonald’s.)
After crossing the creek, Washington took the army farther west (past the little cemetery and the church where I received my first Bible) and on into the northwest Chester County iron country. Iron extraction, furnacing, and forging were big business there as early as 1717 at places like Coventry and Warwick. (For three years I rented a converted outbuilding at the Coventry Forge iron master’s house).
The exhausted and sometimes barefoot patriots’ long march of more than thirty miles from Yellow Springs to Reading Furnace occurred on September 18, 1777. The next day, they retraced their steps and crossing the Schuylkill river at Parker's Ford (where I once had a post office box).
The 8th Virginia and the Continental Army went on to bitter defeat at Germantown, a cold winter at Valley Forge, and (for new and re-enlistees) an encouraging standoff at Monmouth Courthouse. For me, however, the two days they spent trudging along the roads of northern Chester County will always be the most personally relevant and meaningful part of the war.
In the largest battle ever fought between Native Americans and European Americans, the “whites” lost—miserably. At the Battle of Wabash, in 1791, more than a thousand Americans were killed or wounded. (This puts the much more famous Battle of Little Big Horn--“Custer’s Last Stand”, where about 270 U.S. soldiers died--into context.) Reputations were ruined, too. The only reputation that seems to have survived intact was that of Lt. Colonel William Darke, a veteran of the 8th Virginia Regiment of Foot. During the battle, Darke saw his own son take a wound that would kill him after several days of agony.
Darke is a poorly remembered hero of the American frontier. He served in virtually every frontier conflict from the French and Indian War to the Whiskey Rebellion. He was among the first captains to recruit a company for the 8th Virginia in 1776 and was captured at the Battle of Germantown a year-and-a-half later. After a prisoner exchange he immediately recruited a regiment of frontier militia and was present for the victory at Yorktown. An Ohio county and a West Virginia town are named after him. He was well-known to George Washington, who personally asked him to serve in General Arthur St. Clair’s army of 1791.
Washington clearly knew Darke and respected him. They may have served together in General Braddock’s army in 1755—though this is unproven and seems unlikely. If they served together in the French and Indian War it was more likely during the less well-known frontier conflicts that followed, when Darke served as a ranger. After the revolution, they had a business relationship though the Potomac Company, formed by Washington and others to make that river navigable. Darke Visited Mount Vernon in 1786 and 1787. Washington visited with Darke near the latter’s home close to Harper’s Ferry in 1790. In 1791, Washington wrote to Darke asking him to recruit officers for St. Clair’s army in advance of the campaign to pacify the Indians in Ohio. In that letter Washington bluntly and unapologetically told Darke that he was his third choice to command a regiment—pending a reply from his second choice (his first choice was “Light Horse Harry” Lee, who declined).
Intriguingly, what may be the best evidence of a close (but certainly unequal) relationship between Darke and Washington is a gift. According to longstanding tradition—apparently perpetuated by descendants of Washington’s nephew—Darke presented Washington with a sword. The date of the presentation is unknown, but it is believed by at least one researcher to have been worn by Washington at his presidential inauguration. The sword itself is real—it is on display at the Washington’s Headquarters Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.
The 1776 flag of the 8th Virginia Regiment survives in private hands, one of very few surviving Revolutionary War flags. It was kept by the Muhlenberg family for many years, on display as late as the 1840s. It was later owned by the late Bernard Goetz, who kept it behind plain glass in a frame. Over the years, the exposed part of the flag faded, resulting in a discolored rectangle in its central portion. Nevertheless, the flag survives, and in better condition than most other surviving banners.
Part of the key to the flag's survival is its construction from "unweighted silk." According to RareFlags.com, "One of the most luxurious and expensive of all fabrics, the use of silk in American flags is typically reserved for the finest quality flags, most often for military or official use. Several qualities of silk make it an exceptionally good fabric for use in flags. The material is light-weight, exceptionally strong, tightly woven and weathers well. Its shimmering appearance is beautiful and impressive. For military standards, silk allows for large flags that are light and which dry quickly. The fineness of the material allows for the application of painted decorations, as is often seen in the painted stars and decorative cantons of flags produced for wartime use, especially those of the American Civil War.
"One unfortunate problem with antique silk flags is that large numbers of them, including many Civil War era battle standards, were made of "weighted silk". Sold for centuries by length, merchants shifted from selling silk by length to selling it by weight, beginning in the early 19th century (circa 1820-1830). In order to earn more money for their silk, merchants frequently soaked the silk in water laden with mineral salts. Once dried, the mineral salts remained in the silk fibers and added weight to the silk, thus bringing the merchant more money. Unfortunately, these mineral salts proved to be caustic and caused severe breakdown in the silk fibers over time. Many flags made of weighted silk are very brittle, often deteriorating under their own weight. Yet flags made of unweighted silk, some of which are decades older than later weighted silk flags, remain in a remarkable state of preservation."
Thank goodness the dishonest practice of weighting hadn't begun when this flag was made!
"Their pickets stormed; the alarm was spread
The rebels, risen from the dead,
Were marching into town."
On Christmas Day in 1776 the 8th Virginia was dispersed across the east coast. The main group, with Colonel Muhlenberg, had just returned to Virginia after their long ordeal in South Carolina and Georgia. A large group remained behind--dead in the ground or too sick from the effects of malaria to march home. On the west bank of the Delaware River, Pittsburgh's Captain William Croghan was preparing to lead his detachment of sick, hungry, and frostbitten soldiers across the icy river from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.
Croghan commanded the remnants of a 140-man detachment that included his own company from Pittsburgh, and another seventy 8th Virginia soldiers who had missed the spring rendezvous at Suffolk, Virginia. For the year, Croghan's men were attached to the 1st Virginia Regiment. That regiment's field officers (colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major) were all sick or wounded, so a man of Croghan's own rank was in command: Captain John Fleming from Goochland, Virginia. In a week, even Fleming would be dead.
The arduous crossing and the all-night march to Trenton were followed by a victory over the Hessians that revived the American cause. “[B]eat the damn Hessians and took 700 and odd prisoners,” wrote Sergeant McCarty in his diary. The march back was even worse than the approach. The bloody footprints in the snow we learned about in school were very real. Men who sat too long on the way to Trenton froze to death. A week later, at the battle of Princeton, only a handful of Captain Croghan's men were fit for service.
At Trenton, Croghan's men fired on the enemy just yards in front of General Washington and alongside the soldiers of Colonel George Weedon's 3rd Virginia. Their victory, though small in military terms, revived a dying cause. Afterward, the overconfident British became more cautious and Washington found a tactical model for victory against an enemy that was better trained and equipped.
Thereafter, Christmas would always carry a special meaning for those who were there. After the war George Weedon wrote a song that was sung at a large party he held each year at his home in Virginia. The song was remembered by the orphaned son of General Hugh Mercer, who knew Weedon as his “uncle and second father.” He recalled that for “many years after the Revolution my uncle celebrated at ‘The Sentry Box’ (his residence, and now mine) the capture of the Hessians, by a great festival—a jubilee dinner, if I may so express myself—at which the Revolutionary officers then living here and in our vicinity, besides others of our friends, were always present. It was an annual feast, a day or so after Christmas Day, and the same guests always attended. …I was young, and a little fellow, and was always drawn up at the table to sing ‘Christmas Day in ’76'…. It was always a joyous holiday at ‘The Sentry Box.’”
Christmas Day in '76
On Christmas Day in seventy-six
Our ragged troops, with bayonets fixed,
For Trenton marched away.
The Delaware ice, the boats below,
The light obscured by hail and snow,
But no signs of dismay.
Our object was the Hessian band
That dare invade fair Freedom’s land,
At quarter in that place.
Great Washington, he led us on,
With ensigns streaming with renown,
Which ne’er had known disgrace.
In silent march we spent the night,
Each soldier panting for the fight,
Though quite benumbed with frost.
Green on the left at six began,
The right was with brave Sullivan,
Who in battle no time lost.
Their pickets stormed; the alarm was spread
The rebels, risen from the dead,
Were marching into town.
Some scampered here, some scampered there,
And some for action did prepare;
But soon their arms laid down.
Twelve hundred servile miscreants,
With all their colors, guns, and tents,
Were trophies of the day.
The frolic o’er, the bright canteen
In center, front, and rear, was seen,
Driving fatigue away.
And, brothers of the cause, let’s sing
Our safe deliverance from a king
Who strove to extend his sway.
And life, you know, is but a span;
Let’s touch the tankard while we can,
In memory of the day.
When he was 18, Marylander Abraham Kirkpatrick killed a man in a fight and fled to Pittsburgh, which was the "Dodge City" of the original wild west. He had some family money, which he used to buy property and establish himself there. When the war broke out he was commissioned the 1st lieutenant of Captain William Croghan’s company of the 8th Virginia. He served the length of the war, and rose to the rank of major. He never shied away from a fight. He was wounded at the Battle of Princeton and carried off the field by Private Jonathan Grant. He permanently maimed a fellow officer in a 1779 duel. Later that year he was shot in the eye by a jealous husband. In the 1790s, he played a central role in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion, famously defending General John Neville’s home from an angry mob.
Despite his very rough edges, Kirkpatrick became part of the post-war Pittsburgh elite. He co-founded the Bank of Pittsburgh and ran an early steel mill. His grandson Abraham Kirkpatrick Lewis was a pioneer in the Pittsburgh coal business, shipping coal on flat boats all the way to new Orleans.
In 1794, George Washington sent Abraham Kirkpatrick several bottles of imported wine to thank him for his service putting down the Whiskey Rebellion. One bottle (its contents now evaporated into a dry sediment) survives, having been kept by the family for over two centuries. It was put up for auction a few years ago but didn’t sell. Details about the object, including a high-definition image, are can be seen at the Skinner auction house website.
In my October 29 post about William Eagle, I wrote that he "enlisted in the 8th Virginia on Christmas Eve, 1776" and that he "was one of the first to sign up when the regiment came limping back to Virginia from its encounters with redcoats and ... malaria in South Carolina and Georgia." I gave him credit for being "one of the few who enlisted during the Revolution’s darkest hour."
Well, it's not true. His pension says it's true and the West Virginia historic marker that stands next to his grave says it's true. But they are both wrong.
First, His name appears nowhere in the muster or pay rolls for 1777, and the "commencement of pay" date for on his first pay roll entry is February 1, 1778.
Second, His pension affidavit claims that he "enlisted for the term of three years, on or about the 24th day of December in the year 1776, in the state of Virginia in the Company commanded by Captain Stead or Sted or Steed, in the Regiment commanded by Colonel Nevil or Neville." Colonel John Neville (no known relation to me) commanded the regiment after it was folded into the 4th Virginia in the fall of 1778. Had Eagle enlisted in the regiment in December of 1776 and joined it in January of 1777 he would certainly have mentioned Colonel Abraham Bowman, who became a "supernumerary" officer when the regiment was folded into others in the summer of 1778 and released from service in the fall. Eagle served under Bowman only for a little while and, consequently, did not mention him. Eagle got the names right (Neville and Steed), but the year wrong.
Third, the term of his enlistment is consistently recorded as for 3 years or the length of the war (which ever was shorter). Soldiers who enlisted in 1777 or later enlisted under these terms. Virginia soldiers who enlisted in 1776 signed up for two years. (Someone might argue that a date so late in the year might have been treated differently, but I'm not aware of any examples of this.)
The date of his enlistment is not recorded anywhere in the surviving official records. From the evidence, however, it seems certain that he in fact enlisted "on or about the 24th day of December" in the year of 1777 (not 1776), and joined the regiment at Valley Forge about a month later.
Eagle is not the only veteran who got the dates of his service wrong when applying decades later for a pension. It is an understandable error. The State of West Virginia might, however, want to invest in an updated marker.
Abraham Bowman whiskey, which is produced in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is named for the only field officer who commanded the 8th Virginia for its entire two-year existence. Originally distilled by his descendants, the whiskey is an excellent tribute.
Americans drank rum in colonial times. After the Revolution, however, they drank whiskey. Rum was made from Caribbean molasses, but whiskey was purely home-grown. “The Revolution meant the decline of rum and the ascendancy of whiskey in America,” writes Mary Miley Theobald. “When the British blockade of American ports cut off the molasses trade, most New England rum distillers converted to whiskey. Whiskey had a patriotic flavor. It was an all-American drink, made in America by Americans from American grain.”
Nowhere was whiskey more popular than on the Virginia frontier. Whiskey came to America with the “Scotch Irish” who settled the frontier of Virginia, the same areas that produced the 8th Virginia Regiment. After the war, many 8th Virginia men led their families and neighbors into the woods of Kentucky. Abraham Bowman was among the very first to go. They began making whiskey out of corn, aging it in charred oak barrels, and (eventually) calling it "Bourbon."
Abraham Bowman was commissioned in 1776 to be the 8th Virginia’s original lieutenant colonel. A year later he was promoted to colonel to replace Peter Muhlenberg, who became a general. The Bowmans were not Scotch-Irish; they were German. Abraham was a third-generation American, however, and by his time or soon after there wasn’t much difference. After a few more generations, the Bowmans were back in the Old Dominion, and opened a whiskey distillery the day after Prohibition ended. For many years it was the only legal whiskey distillery in Virginia.
The historical label is “Virginia Gentleman,” a serviceable bottom-shelf whiskey that is aged for just a few year. A. Smith Bowman Distillery, which was sold by the family to the Sazerac Company in 2003, also has a line of award-winning top-shelf whiskeys named after members of the family’s Revolutionary War generation: Bowman Brothers, Isaac Bowman, and John J. Bowman. These are the labels for the company’s small batch, port barrel finished, and single barrel labels.
The Abraham Bowman label is reserved for experimental whiskeys that are released once or twice a year in small quantities. There have been cider finished, “double barrel,” wheat bourbon, vanilla bean infused, coffee finished, and port wine finished versions. The port finished bourbon won a “world’s best bourbon” award in 2016 and became a regular product under the Isaac Bowman label. Since then, a bottle of Abraham Bowman whiskey has become very hard to acquire. To get one, a person has to stand in line at the distillery on the day of release or win a lottery conducted by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.
If you live in Virginia or are ever driving through the state on Interstate 95, can stop in and take a tour of the distillery. You can go home with a bottle of good whiskey, but don’t count on a bottle of Abraham Bowman. It’s a safe bet they’ll be sold out.
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.
© 2015-2020 Gabriel Neville