George Washington knew how to bite his tongue. His response to insubordination and criticism was usually a dignified silence. Like most people, he was most open when communicating with family. And so, we see his unvarnished opinion about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in a letter to John Augustine Washington, written October 18, 1777. “[W]ith truth,” he wrote, “…it may be said, that this State acts most infamously, the People of it I mean, as we derive little or no assistance from them. In short they are, in a manner, totally, disaffected, or in a kind of Lethargy.”
He wrote this two weeks after the Battle of Germantown. It is a revealing quote in many respects. It shows a normally very careful Washington speaking his mind to a trusted confidant. At the same time, it is an informed assessment. At Germantown and Brandywine before it, he had suffered from poor local intelligence, bad guides, and incompetent local militia support. In addition to the usual proportion of Tories and loyalists (generally a third, according to John Adams), a large number of Pennsylvanians were pacifists—Quakers, Amish, and Mennonites—and unwilling to resist established authority. Many more simply had little faith in the cause. Washington had, after all, just lost three battles in a row.
Even though Philadelphia was the seat of the Congress for most of the war, eastern Pennsylvania was never a hotbed of revolutionary fervor. Some of the city’s most prominent citizens remained openly loyal to the crown. The war’s most fervent revolutionary patriots came from New England and the mostly Scotch-Irish settlements of the western frontier. Many observers, then and now, have ascribed this to the one thing New England and the Appalachian settlements had in common: Reformed (Congregational and Presbyterian) Christianity. Washington himself belonged to the Church of England, proving that things were not that simple.
On September 22, 1776, William Croghan’s detachment of men from the 8th Virginia arrived at Fort Constitution, high on a cliff looking over the Hudson River and the island of Manhattan. Very soon, they would be part of the most famous campaign of the war.
Months earlier, when the 8th Virginia first formed, its ten companies were ordered to rendezvous at Suffolk, Virginia—south and across the James River from the provincial capital at Williamsburg. Those from the far frontier were the last to arrive. Captain James Knox’s company from Fincastle County (now the state of Kentucky and parts of far southwest Virginia) arrived just in time to join the Regiment as it headed south to with General Charles Lee to defend Charleston.
Captain William Croghan’s company from Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh, now in Pennsylvania) came too late. His company and several dozen stragglers from other companies were attached for the season to the 1st Virginia and sent north to reinforce Washington at New York. After a march that took more than a month, the 1st Virginia arrived at the fort overlooking the Hudson. It was commanded by Nathanael Greene and was charged with maintaining patriot control of the strategically critical waterway. It was called Fort Constitution, but was soon renamed Fort Lee after General Lee got (partially deserved) credit for the glorious June 28 victory at Charleston.
Sergeant William McCarty recorded their arrival. After ferrying across the Passaic River they “marched to the fort, which we came by several camping places and camps on top of a high hill by the North [Hudson] River.” They “halted in sight of the fort and river till Colonel [James] Read [of the 1st Virginia] went to speak to General Greene.” He “returned shortly” and “ordered us to march back up the hill a piece, where it was late when we pitched camp.”
For the next few days, the roughly 140 8th Virginia men detached under Captain Croghan rested and celebrated after their long march. They were issued flour, beef and rum. They got paid for the first time. On the third day there, McCarty wrote “We lay there and our men drunk very hard as they had plenty of money.”
Things soon turned serious, however. The day after their arrival, soldiers across the river were assembled to witness the execution of a man—bound, blind-folded, and kneeling—for cowardice (Washington gave him a last-minute reprieve). Croghan’s men must also have soon learned that the Hessians and Scottish Highlanders had given no quarter at the Battle of Long Island the month before, and had shot as many as seventeen Americans in the head after they had surrendered at Kip’s Bay. If they did not already know it, they learned here that there is no romance in war.
Four days after their arrival, still at Fort Constitution atop the Jersey Palisades, they watched British maneuvers in the river below. McCarty wrote, “The force heard the cannon fire very brisk from the shipping of the English, and we could see them land. We could easy see their camps and every turn they would make.”
Their stay at the fort was brief. They crossed the river to Fort Washington and Harlem Heights where they joined the 3rd Virginia to form a small, temporary brigade. Private Jonathan Grant later attested that they traveled through the Jerseys “to fort Lee on the North River & thence crossed the River to Fort Washington. The enemy at that time was in New York.” Similarly, Private Henry Gaddis recalled that they traveled “to Fort Lee, then we crossed over the North river to Fort Washington.” Days later, they were with the main army and thrust into battle—first at White Plains and later at Trenton. After the latter ordeal, just a handful of them were well enough to participate in the critical victory at Princeton.
The site of Fort Lee and its surrounding camps and artillery emplacements has been partially preserved. Judging purely from McCarty’s account it appears that much of the camping area has been blasted away to make room for the George Washington Bridge. Some of what remains has been preserved as Fort Lee Historic Park. The visitor center and its displays date from the 1976 Bicentennial and, though deteriorated, still tell the story well. Reconstructed buildings and artillery batteries show the site’s purpose, though the existence of trees and surrounding skyscrapers make the site look very different from they way it was in the fall of 1776. The position of the actual fort is in the middle of the town of Fort Lee and called Monument Park. An artistic monument records the presence of the fort and the events that occurred there.
Fort Lee was abandoned during the retreat through New Jersey, a retreat the fort’s namesake pointedly did nothing to assist with. Lee was in fact captured by the enemy and began to advise them on how to defeat the Continentals—a story told in this earlier post. One has to wonder how many people who live in Fort Lee today have any idea that their town is named for a traitor.
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 men of the 8th Virginia learned of the Declaration of Independence on the heels of a major victory. For nearly all of them, it was the high point of the war—to be followed by very deep lows.
Two hundred and forty years later, most of us celebrate America’s independence with cookouts and fireworks. Colonel Peter Muhlenberg’s soldiers experienced the event in its original context, and learned of it many days after the fact. News traveled slowly.
About three months before July 4, 1776, the regiment’s ten companies began to rendezvous in Suffolk, Virginia. Recruited from the Old Dominion’s vast frontier territory, stretching from the Carolina line to Pittsburgh, many of the officers and enlisted men were meeting each other for the first time as they arrived. Suffolk was then a small town, on the south side of the Chesapeake Bay near modern Virginia Beach.
On the way, each company stopped in Williamsburg (the capital of Virginia) where the officers received their commissions. Tidewater Virginia was abuzz with military affairs and politics. Lord Dunmore, the colonial governor, had fled the capital—but was doing everything in his power to regain control. From the safety of a British naval vessel, he had promised freedom to slaves who fled their masters and took up arms for the king. He had recently met with British General Henry Clinton who had come south with a sea-born army of redcoats. Where those redcoats were headed was unclear; Williamsburg expected an attack at any time.
Peter Muhlenberg arrived on April 16, probably at the head of a cluster of companies from the lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley. Virginia’s defiant revolutionary assembly voted in favor of Independence on May 15—empowering its delegation to propose it in Congress. The very next day, the 8th Virginia was ordered to march south into the Carolinas to protect whatever target Henry Clinton had in mind. The order came before all ten companies had arrived. Captain James Knox’s company from Fincastle County (now southwest Virginia and the State of Kentucky) arrived just in time. Captain William Croghan’s company from Pittsburgh didn’t make it, nor did dozens of stragglers from the other companies. Croghan’s frontiersmen had to walk 350 miles to get there. It was too late for them to catch up with Muhlenberg, so they remained behind in Williambsurg.
About the time of Croghan’s arrival in Williamsburg, one of the great events in world history occurred there—the adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. This document, written primarily by George Mason, served as the direct inspiration for the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and even the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man. It declared, in words that may sound familiar, that “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights of which . . . they cannot deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
Less that a month later, Thomas Jefferson produced a similar Declaration for all the colonies asserted it to be “self-evident” that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Jefferson’s document also contained a long list of indictments against the King, which included some that were of particular importance to the men of the 8th Virginia. At the end of the French and Indian War, the victorious British King had allowed the Canadians to maintain their French laws. Moreover, he had extended the Province of Quebec south to the banks of the Ohio River—while also barring new settlements west of the Alleghenies. This obstructed the dreams of Virginia’s frontiersmen—and offended the convictions of those who hated (and had fought against) the French. The French, and their Catholic faith, were universally hated and believed to be synonymous with tyranny. The Declaration of Independence accused the King and Parliament of “abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies.”
George Washington and many of Virginia’s senior officers were veterans of the French and Indian War. Braddock’s defeat in 1755 had unleashed an era of conflict with the Indians that would not really end until the War of 1812. There was already strong evidence that the the King’s agents were stirring up the Cherokee and the Shawnee to create a two-front war for the Americans. Of special relevance for the 8th Virginia was Jefferson’s charge that the King “has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
News of Jefferson’s declaration arrived in Williamsburg on July 19. A large organized celebration was held on July 25. Early in August, Dunmore, already defeated at the Battle of Gwynn Island, left Virginia for good.
Colonel Muhlenberg and the main body of the 8th Virginia, meanwhile, were in South Carolina preparing for battle. A large fleet of powerful British warships was parked outside Charleston harbor working to navigate its way around a reef so they could attack. Muhlenberg’s men joined in the desperate preparations. The primary defense was a half-finished fort on the southern tip of Sullivan’s Island commanded by Colonel William Moultrie, a local officer who had pointedly refused to submit himself to the authority of Major General Charles Lee, commander of the newly-arrived Continental force.
When the battle began, Moultrie faced off against the British warships while a group of riflemen worked to fend off a cross-channel attack by Henry Clinton’s redcoats on the north end of the island. Among the men blocking this infantry advance was a detachment of about three companies from the 8th Virginia under the command of Major Peter Helphenstine. The rest of the regiment was in Charleston, waiting for the attack that was thought to be inevitable.
Miraculously, the defense of Sullivan’s Island succeeded. The fort, made of soft palmetto wood and sand, simply absorbed the enemy’s cannonballs as Moultrie—carefully shepherding his ammunition—calmly fired back. Good American marksmanship and a sea swell stopped Clinton’s redcoats’ north-side infantry crossing. At sunset, the British sailed off with their wounded.
The Battle of Sullivan’s Island was a major early victory in the Revolutionary War. It deserves to be better-remembered. (According to one explanation, northern historians had little good to say about the south when much of the Revolution’s folklore was fixed around the war’s 1876 centennial.) The Founders understood the victory’s importance, however, and delegates to Congress in Philadelphia were ecstatic as the news arrived soon after the Declaration was proclaimed.
News of the Declaration arrived in Charleston on either July 31 or August 2. On an “intensely hot” day, August 5, all of Charleston was assembled and paraded out of the city to the South Carolina’s Liberty Tree for the first formal reading of the document. There was, according to Henry Laurens, a “Procession of President, Councils, Generals, Members of Assembly Officers & Military &c &c amidst loud acclamation of thousands.” The troops were assembled along with civilians. The tree was located north of town in an open area that would not be built on until after the war. “Thither the procession moved from the city…embracing all the young and old, of both sexes, who could be moved so far. Aided by bands of music, and uniting all the military of the country and city, in and near Charleston, the ceremony was the most splendid and solemn that ever had been witnessed in South Carolina.”
For South Carolina and for Muhlenberg’s men, this was the high point of the war. The Battle of Sullivan’s Island was a tremendous victory that defied all odds and expert predictions. By the start of August, Americans had inflicted heavy blows upon the British regulars at Lexington and Concord, Ticonderoga, Bunker Hill, Great Bridge, Norfolk, Moore’s Creek Bridge, the siege of Boston, and now also at Charleston. The only major loss had been in Canada.
Muhlenberg’s men had left Virginia just days before the Convention voted to empower its Philadelphia delegates to support independence. Now, perhaps just as the giddiness of the victory on Sullivan’s Island was fading, came word of the Declaration. The war was going well. America was winning.
As summer turned into fall, however, fortunes changed. Washington suffered a series of major defeats in New York and New Jersey. The 8th Virginia headed now to Florida on a mission they could not complete. At Sunbury, Georgia (now a ghost town), the regiment’s mountain boys succumbed to the low coutry’s heat and ubiquitous mosquitos. For weeks, those mosquitos had been quietly spreading malaria among the men. Those who had the weakest resistence, the ones born and raised in the mountains, began to die.
In the summer of 1777, General Washington sent Daniel Morgan’s rifle battalion north to help fend off the enemy advance down the Hudson valley. One of Morgan’s companies was led by 8th Virginia Captain James Knox who, along with a handful of enlisted men, was technically still in the 8th but on detached duty. With Morgan and Knox gone, the main army was without a light infantry battalion.
Washington formed a new one, under the command of General William Maxwell. Colonel William Crawford—half brother of 8th Virginia captains John and David Stephenson—seems to have been in active command of this force. Maxwell’s Light Infantry played the central role at the battle of Cooch’s Bridge (September 3) and a key role at the Battle of Brandywine (September 11).
As a temporary force, only hints about how Maxwell’s Light Infantry was organized survive, but it seems the soldiers were organized by their home brigades, as one would expect. The 8th was part of the 4th Virginia Brigade, commanded by General Charles Scott. The recollections of a deserter from the 12th Virginia make it fairly clear that the 8th Virginia’s Captain William Darke was one of two captains sent to lead Scott’s men.
William Walker, also from the 4th Brigade (but a different regiment), left this colorful recollection of the events just before the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge: “At this place [a unit was formed composed of] 8 hundred men, chiefly volunteers, called the detached light infantry, I being among them. The following are the names of the field officers commanding this party, [Lieutenant Colonel] Rich[ard] Parker, [Lieutenant] Colonel [William] Heath [Heth] with a glass eye, Colonel [William] Crawford with his leather hunting shirt, pantaloons and Rifle, Colonel [Alexander] Martin from North Carolina. General [William] Maxwell being the commander, we marched to a place called Iron Hill where we remained until the 2nd of September, the enemy being as yet stationary, when a very bloody conflict ensued.”
A week later, the unit spent many hours skirmishing with the enemy during the early hours of the Battle of the Brandywine—most of it exposed and alone on the enemy’s side of the river.
Until recently, I had little hope of identifying which men of our regiment were detached to Maxwell’s command. Notes on the August, 1777 muster roll, however, appear to tell us who they were. The roll, taken September 2, lists one sergeant and 28 privates as “at the lines” or “on command at the lines.” The day before the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge when the 8th proper was not engaged but Maxwell's men were in the thick of battle, this seems to be a fairly clear indication of who was serving in the new light infantry battalion. Here’s the list. Note that only half the regiment's companies are represented. This reflects among other things the uneven effects of malaria on the troops the year before (Knox's company didn't exist anymore, and Darke's and Higgins' had only a handful of men).
Pvt. George Ashby
Pvt. Abraham Hogman
Pvt. George Lair
Pvt. Daniel Nichols
Pvt. William Shovel
Pvt. Barton Whitehorn
Pvt. Ezekiel Abel
Pvt. Moses Crawford
Pvt. Jesse Davis
Pvt. Jonathan Grant
Pvt. Aneas Lany
Pvt. Thomas Owens
Pvt. John Reed, Sr.
Pvt. John Reed, Jr.
Pvt. David Williams
Pvt. William Campbell
Pvt. Joseph Delaney
Pvt. William Fincham
Pvt. William Robert
Pvt. Richard Roberts
Pvt. John Rosson
Pvt. Elzaphan Rucker
Pvt. James Vowels
David Stephenson’s Company:
Pvt. Cornelius Cain
Pvt. William Donavan
Sgt. Edward McCarty
Pvt. Richard Cain
Pvt. Zachariah Pigman
Pvt. John Williams
A captain (William Darke), a sergeant (Edward McCarty), and 28 rank-and-file soldiers represent nearly all of the men of our regiment who served in Maxwell’s light infantry. Missing from the list is an unknown number of additional officers. Each brigade was ordered to furnish “one Field Officer, two Captains, six Subalterns, eight Serjeants and 100 Rank & File from each brigade.”
[Post updated 8/7/17 to add Pvt. William Donavan.]
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!
Contemporary narratives of the Revolutionary War from enlisted soldiers are as rare as hens' teeth. Below is a very rare extended narrative from William Grant, a school teacher turned Continental soldier from Staunton, Virginia. Grant deserted and defected to the British side just before the Battle of Brandywine, having served against the Cherokee and the Shawnee in the west, and for a few months in the east. Apparently directed to give a full account of his service, he claimed never to have believed in the American cause.
Grant was a soldier in Michael Bowyer's company of the 12th Virginia Regiment, a regiment that served alongside the 8th Virginia under Brigadier General Charles Scott in 1777 and 1778. Coming from Augusta County, a county that also raised men for the 8th Virginia, his narrative is very important in my work compiling a history of the 8th Virginia. It is only through this record, for instance, that we know Captain William Darke performed important service under General William Maxwell at Cooch's Bridge and Brandywine. Notably, Grant calls Darke a "Dutchman," apparently assuming he was German because of his connection with the 8th Virginia. (Darke wasn't German.)
It also portrays both of the war's two fronts--the frontier war against the Indians and the eastern war against the British and Hessians. The frontier war is little-remembered today, but was top-of-mind to the men of the 8th Virginia. The western war was begun by their fathers in the French and Indian War and would not really end until the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794.
Grant's personal story is also interesting It gives a perspective that is rarely remembered--that of a frontier Tory, too afraid to let his true inclinations be known. The entire narrative is transcribed below, with minimal corrections and broken into paragraphs for ease of reading.
About the beginning of July 1776. the Cherokee Indians, excited by a number of the friends to Government, in that place commonly called Tories, who had fled from North Carolina, fell upon the Western frontiers of Virginia; whereupon the Committees of the several Counties detached severall small parties of militia to stop their progress thro’ the Country, untill such time as an army could be raised to oppose them, which at that time was very difficult, as the major part of the youth who were zealous for the cause, were already in the service against the King's troops.
In this juncture they were obligated to have recourse to the Militia law, which compels every male from the age of fifteen to sixty, after having settled three months in one place, to take up arms against all enemys; upon their refusal they forfeit the sum of £20 of that currency. By virtue of which law they collected about 1200 men before the middle of August, the chief command of which was conferred upon Col. [Thomas] Smith, a native of that country.
He immediately assembled his new Army at Staunton, a small town in Augusta County, lying about 20 miles to the Westward of the South Mountain, from whence he marched Aug[us]t 18th and proceeded directly to Holstein [Holston], a settlement upon the frontiers where the Indians were then ravaging; but upon the approach of the army retreated with their booty. The Col. finding they would not come to a decisive engagement so far from home, determined to pursue them to their towns, to expedite which he encamped his army on an island formed in the river Holstein, generally known by the name of the Long Island, untill such time as he could be reinforced with provisions and men, upon which there were severall draughts taken out of the Militia[.]
General Washington at the same time petitioning for more troops, and a draught of the Militia being granted, it fell to my lot to go as one. At that time I taught a school in Augusta County, but being zealous for government was determined not to go, but finding I was not able to withstand their power, which was very arbitrary in that part, I thought it better to enter into the service against the Indians than to go into actual service against my Countrymen. Accordingly some troops were raising at that time by Act of the Convention of Virginia (to be stationed at the different passes on the Ohio to keep the Shawneese &c in awe and to prevent their incursions) upon these terms, vizt that they should enlist for the term of two years, that they should not be compelled to leave the said frontiers or be entred into the Continental service without their own mutual consent, as also that of the legislator.
Taking this to be the only method of scree[n]ing myself from being deemed a Tory and also of preventing my being forced into the Continental service, I enlisted the third of Septemb[e]r into Capt. Michael Bowyers's Company of Riflemen, to be stationed at the mouth of the Little Kennarah [Kanawha] upon the River Ohio.
Soon after we marched in company with 150 militia, to the assistance of Coll. Smith, who still continued on the Long Island. We had several skirmishes with the Indians during our march, without any considerable loss on either side. Sept[embe]r 19th we joined the main body, and on the 22d decamped and proceeded towards the Cherokee towns. The enemy continued to harrass us in our march with numberless attacks, sometimes appearing on our front, sometimes upon our flank, so giving us a brisk fire for some minutes, would immediately retreat into the woods. Thus we continued our march thro' the woods the space of three weeks, about which time we received intelligence from our spies and from some prisoners that had escaped, that the Indians had removed every thing from their towns into the mountains, had cut down their corn & set fire to every thing they could not carry away which they thought might be of service to the white army.
Upon the confirmation of this account Coll. Smith being persuaded they would never hazard a general engagement, and knowing that his army was but badly supplied with provisions, sent severall companys back into the different Settlements where the Savages were still making incursions and murdring the inhabitants; the Company to which I belonged was one of this number. We were sent to a place lying in the Allegany mountains (upon the banks of the River Monongalia) known by the name of Tygar's [Tygart] Valley where we were ordered during the winter, in order both to defend the Inhabitants and to make canoes to carry us down the river to the place where we were to be stationed the ensuing Spring; in which place I was made Serg' in which I continued during my stay in the army.
In the mean time the Indians, finding the Virginians fully bent to search them out and an army of Carolina troops approaching on the other side, sent Deputies to Col. Smith to sue for peace, which was granted upon their delivering up the prisoners, and restoring the goods that they carried out of the Settlements. Hereupon the Militia was disbanded, and the other troops that were enlisted on the aforementioned terms were distributed amongst the frontier settlements during the winter.
About this time the war was very hot in the Jerseys, and the Congress determining to recruit their army as soon as possible in the Spring, sent a remonstrance to the Convention of Virginia, alledging that they had a number of troops on their frontiers that were of very little or no service to the country, as the Indians were peacably inclined. Therefore they desired that they should be sent to the assistance of the Continental army as early in the Spring as they possibly could. The Convention immediately repealed the Act on which the troops were raised and directly entered them into the Continental service, and issued forth commissions for the raising of six new Battalions, amongst which the troops formerly raised for the defence of the back frontiers were to be distributed.
Agreeable to this new Act we received orders to march to Winchester, there to join the 12th Virga Regt commanded by Col. James Wood; pursuant to which orders we marched from Tygar's Valley in the begining of Aprill and proceeded with all expedition; which march we compleated in the space of eight days; after having rested a few days at Winchester we proceeded to join the Continental Army, which at that time lay partly in Morristown, partly at Boundbrook a small town on the Rarington [Raritan] river about 6 miles from New Brunswick, where His Excellency Generall Howe had his head quarters. May 19th we joined the grand army which then consisted of 20000 foot (chiefly composed of Virginians, Carolinians, and Pennsylvanians, the major part of whom were volunteers, altho’ for the most part disaffected to the rebel cause, they being for the most part convicts and indented servants, who had entered on purpose to get rid of their masters and of consequence of their commanders the first opportunity they can get of deserting) and about 300 light horse commanded by General Washington assisted by Lord Stirling, Major Generalls Stephens, Keyn [?], Sullivan; Brigadiers Weeden, Millenberg [Muhlenberg], Scott, Maxwell, Conway, which latter is a French man. Likewise a number of French officers who commanded in the Artillery, whose names or ranks I never had an opportunity of being acquainted with.
Nothing worthy of notice happened untill the 30th of that Inst on which the Continental Army decamped and retreated about 2 miles into the Blue [Watchung] Mountains and incamped at Middle Broock, where they were joined in a few days by the other part of the army that lay at Morristown.
Here they lay for some considerable time, during which they were employed in training their troops who were quite undisciplined and ignorant of every military art. Their Officers in general are equally ignorant as the private men, through which means they make but very little progress in learning. Wherefore it is generally believed by the unprejudiced part of the people that the rebells never will hazard a generall engagement, unless they are so hemmed up that they cannot have an opportunity of waving it; from which reason and the deplorable state the Country in generall is now reduced to, which in many places near to the seat of war is entirely destitute of labourers to cultivate the ground, insomuch that the women are necessitated for their own support to lay aside their wonted delicacy and take up the utensils for agriculture. From these and many other weighty reasons it is generally supposed that they cannot continue the war much longer.
Nothing material was transacted on either side till about the 24th of June, when a party of General Howe's army made a movement and advanced as far as Somerset, a small town lying on the Rarington betwixt Boundbroock and Princetown, which they plundered, and set fire to two small churches and several farm houses adjacent. General Washington upon receiving notice of their marching, detached 2 Brigades of Virginia troops and the like number of New Eng[lan]d to Pluckhimin, a small town about 10 miles from Somerset, lying on the road to Morristown. Here both parties lay for several days, during which time several slight skirmishes happened with their out scouts, without any considerable loss on either side. On the 29th the enemy retreated to Brunswick with their booty and we to our former ground in the Blue Mountain.
Next day His Excellency General Howe marched from Brunswick towards Bonumtown with his whole army, which was harassed on the march by Col. Morgan's Riflemen. As soon as General Howe had evacuated Brunswick, Mr Washington threw a body of the Jersey militia into it, and spread a report that he had forced them to leave it. July 2d there was a detachment of 150 Riflemen chosen from among the Virginia regiments, dispatched under the command of Capt. James [William] Dark a Dutchman, belonging to the eighth Virginia Regt to watch the enemy's motions. The same day this party, of which I was one, marched to Quibbleton [Quibbletown], and from thence proceeded towards [Perth] Amboy.
July 4th we had intelligence of the enemy's being encamped within a few miles of Westfield; that night we posted ourselves within a little of their camp and sent an officer with 50 men further on the road as a picquet guard, to prevent our being surprised in the night. Next morning a little before sun rise the British army before we suspected them, were upon pretty close on our picquet before they were discovered, and fired at a negroe lad that was fetching some water for the officer of sd guard, and broke his arm. Upon which he ran to the picquet and alarmed them, affirming at the same time that there was not upwards of sixty men in the party that fired at him. This intelligence was directly sent to us, who prepared as quick as possible to receive them and assist our picquet who was then engaged, in order for which, as we were drawing up our men, an advanced guard of the enemy saluted us with several field pieces, which did no damage. We immediately retreated into the woods from whence we returned them a very brisk fire with our rifles, so continued firing and retreating without any reinforcement till about 10 oClock, they plying us very warmly both with their artillery and small arms all the time; about which time we were reinforced with about 400 Hessians (who had been taken at sea going over to America & immediately entered into the Continental service) and three brass field pieces under the command of Lord Stirling. They drew up immediately in order to defend their field pieces and cover our retreat, and in less than an hour and a half were entirely cut off; scarce sixty of them returned safe out of the field; those who did escape were so scattered over the country that a great number of them could not rejoin the Army for five or six days, whilst the Kings troops marched off in triumph with three brass field pieces and a considerable number of prisoners, having sustained but very little loss on their side.
This was the last engagement that happened in the Jerseys before General Howe embarked at [New] York. During this time the rebel army advanced as far as Quibbletown where they lay three days, then countermarched back to the Blue Mountains and there continued untill they recd an account of embarkment of the enemy at York. Capt. Dark collected the remains of his shattered party in the best manner he possibly could and continued to execute his orders in reconnoitring and sending intelligence to the Camp, untill Generall Howe crossed over in Strattan [Staten] Island, at which time we returned to the Camp with scarce two thirds of the men we took away, where we remained 4 or 5 days, then decamped and marched to Morristown and lay there untill we received certain intelligence that the army had gone on board and stood out to sea bearing to the Northward.
Upon this news we instantly decamped and marched toward the North River, and encamped at the Clove, about 12 miles South from King's Ferry, where Generall Sullivan left us with about 5000 men and crossed the Ferry. Soon after we again decamped and proceeded further up the River towards Albany. The weather being excessive rainy we were obliged to halt severall days during which time we rec[eive]d an account of Genl Howe's appearing in the Bay of Delaware, which caused us a very hard and fatiguing march, often marching at the rate of thirty miles per day, which killed a number of the men. It was no uncommon thing for the rear guard to see 10 or 11 men dead on the road in one day occasioned by the insufferable heat and thirst; likewise in almost every town we marched through, their Churches were converted into hospitals. Another great hurt to the army was the scarcity of salt and bread, the former of which was not to be had at any rate, for at that time in the Jerseys it sold for 20 dollars pr bushell: as to the latter they were almost in the same condition, altho’ they had plenty of flour they had not time to bake it.
Thus we marched till we came to Germantown a village about 6 miles from Philadelphia, where we encamped for severall days, and we[re] reviewed by the Congress. In the interim the British fleet stood out to sea again and steering to the Northward as at first, we again removed and marched to the Cross roads in Bucks County, about 20 miles to the Northward of Philadelphia, and there we pitched our tents, expecting every day to hear of their landing at York, or in some part of the Jerseys. During our stay here we were joined by the 13th Virga Regt a small body of new raised troops to the amount of about 200. About this the Rebel army was very sickly, occasioned greatly by the scarcity of salt, and the great fatigue they had sustained, during the late hard and fatiguing march; which was soon followed by another as hard tho’ not so long.
August 22d we recd an account that Generall Howe had landed in Virginia. Next day we decamped and marched 15 miles towards Philadelphia and prepared to march through the City next day, which we did in the best order our circumstances could permit, and proceeded towards Virginia with all expedition; but received soon after a true account of his being at the head of Elk in Maryland.
General Washington, being determined to stop his progress towards Philadelphia, posted a body of millitia at Ironhill an eminence about three miles from General Howe's out posts. He also posted three brigades of Virginians with 6 field pieces at Christian [Christiana] Creek about 8 miles from Wilmington, from each of which they detached a party of 100 light armed men, as scouts, under the command of Col. [William] Crawford. Among this number I had the good fortune of being one, as I was determined to embrace the first opportunity of escaping, which I fortunately effected. General Washington with the remainder of his army (which in whole by his own account only consisted of 13000 men) and the artillary park, which consisted of 15 brass field pieces and severall howitts, encamped at Brandywine Creek about 12 miles from Elktown where General Howe held his head quarters. On Saturday August 30th we received intelligence by some prisoners that General Howe intended to make an attack on Ironhill next day. Accordingly next morning between two and three o'Clock, we marched over the hill, and formed our selves into an ambuscade, in which position we continued till five, when being persuaded that no attack would be made, a party of 150 men was immediately chosen and sent under the command of the aforesd Capt. Dark, to reconnoitre. In this party I went as a volunteer, fully resolved never to return unless as a prisoner.
However, marching from thence, took several by roads, untill we had got past several of the Hessians posts undiscovered, and proceeding toward an iron work where they had another post, we discovered a few of the Welch fusileers cooking at a barn in the middle of a large field of Indian Corn. Capt Dark resolved to take them if possible, on which account he divided his men into 6 parties of 25 each, under the command of a Lieu[tenant] and 2 Serjeants. The party on the left to which I belonged, he ordered to surround the field, which we did, but were discovered by those whom we thought to surprise, who were only a few of a party consisting of fifty that were out foraging. They drew up immediately and marched out of the field; upon which our Lieu[tenant] and 4 of his men fired upon them, which they returned with a whole volley, and plyed us very warmly from among the trees for some considerable time, untill the other parties came up and attacked them in the rear; whom they also gallantly repulsed and put to flight.
The party I belonged to upon the approach of the rest, retreated; at which time I left them, and made the best of my way to the English Camp. In my way I saw severall of the rebells lying dead, and was afterwards informed that a number more of them fell in that action; which in every probability will be the fate of the whole, if they come to a generall engagement, which of necessity they must in a short time, as it is impossible they can sustain the war much longer; the Country being entirely laid waste, the inhabitants disaffected and entirely wearied of the war, and independency; numbers of them are detained from coming to the Royal Standard only through fear of being detected by General Washington's army, the army small, undisciplined, disaffected to the cause, badly paid, in very dull spirits, being certain they are far inferior to the British troops in every point, and entirely destitute of every necessary for carrying on the war, having neither arms nor ammunition, but what they receive from the French or Dutch. From these and many other cogent reasons it is highly probable this unhappy war will soon be terminated to the honour of His Majesty and a terror to all other who may attempt to rebell in like manner for the future.
Thus Sir I have given you a short narrative of the facts that came to my knowledge during my stay in the rebell army, and hope it will give your Honour the satisfaction required. I think myself happy in having the honour of serving you in this manner and of subscribing myself
Your most obedient & humble Serv' Ship Queen, Indiaman William Grant.
at Gravesend Novr 24th 1777
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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