Maj. Gen. Adam Stephen was the 8th Virginia's division commander in 1777, leading them at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. He worked closely with George Washington for more than two decades, sometimes challenging and undercutting him. He ran against Washington for the House of Burgesses and almost ruined the surprise Christmas, 1776 attack on Trenton by sending soldiers across the river to settle a personal vendetta against the Hessians. He was reportedly drank too much, and was finally court-martialed and cashiered from the Army after the disaster at Germantown.
That did not end his life of civic engagement, though. He founded Martinsburg (now in West Virginia) and served in the Virginia convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. Sometime during the war, he built a fine house for himself where Martinsburg grew up. Intriguingly, he built his house over the mouth of a cave. According to tradition, this was done to prove an escape in case of an attack by Indians or other enemies. Since that era, the cave has been filled in with dirt, leaving a persistent mystery: where does the natural underground tunnel lead? For nearly twenty years, TriState Grotto--a local caving club--has been working to excavate the passage, one five-gallon bucket at a time. Videos of their progress (and archeological finds) have been posted occasionally on YouTube. Here they are, in chronological order.
Stephen died in 1791 and is buried under a rustic monument not far from his home. Despite the controversies associated with his life, he served his country at important moments and in important ways. He was with Washington at Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity, and Braddock's Defeat years before his Revolutionary War service. His French and Indian War waistcoat and gorget are in the Smithsonian. Aside from his legacy of service and these artifacts, he left an enduring mystery beneath his house. One day soon, perhaps, we'll know where the tunnel leads.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
On November 21, 1821 an old Revolutionary War veteran in Buckingham County, Virginia named Bartholomew Cyrus wrote a letter to the President and the Secretary of War. Missing one of his hands and living in desperate poverty, he was looking for help resolving a bureaucratic problem with his pension. It is a powerful narrative from a “poor boy” who owned nothing but his “shirt and pantaloons” when he entered the Continental Army in 1777. Like many enlisted veterans, Cyrus was barely literate. Nevertheless, he wrote to President James Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun asking for help. The tone is desperate but also dignified. Though poor, he addresses Monroe and Calhoun as duty-bound public servants and concludes familiarly by writing “no more at present but your well wishing friend” above his signature. Though he was poor, they worked for him. It is worth navigating the misspellings and missing punctuation to read an enlisted-man’s perspective that is only scarcely available from the Revolutionary War.
Annotations are given below as end-notes to preserve the flow of the text.
Nov. 21st 1821 Buckingham Cty.
Honorable presedentand secatary of warbelonging to the united states I wish to inform you of my sufferance in the revolutionary war I inlisted in the year 1776I went from Chesterfield County under Capt. James Harris a three year Soldier then inlisted some time after that for during the war I belonged to the 15 Virginia Ridgment General Woodfords brigade near Philadelphia at valy forge next summer we fought at monmouth the year following our brigade was sent off to CharlestownSouth Carrolina there almost all were taken prisoners by the Britishthen General Green took command of usand the first battle was at Gilford Courthousethe next at eutawspringsand a number of lives were lost on both sides we lay at ninety six siegenear 1 month scarcely 1 hour in the night but firing like claps of thunder many days we could not get any thing to eat 40$was cried through the camp for 1 hoecake of bread and it could not be got we were like hogs that had been wallowing when we came out of the intrenchment the next siege was at camblainnear 1 month and we suffered very much there and a great many dserted and would not stand the sufferanceI was never absent one day without liberty. I was discharged in the year 1783 July the 6 day at winchester barracksunder the command of General neulinburgCapt. kirk partrick was my Capt.I served during this time without ever being confined or one lickwhich few can say in truth sir look at your records and you’ll find this to be truth Sir I have received three draws from the pension you bestowed us then I sent my Schedule and have got no return from it proved before judge Daniel I am upon sufferance I have had the misfortune a few years since to loose one of my hands by a gun bursting and am troubled at times with reumatic pains and my wife worse off than myself I am going on 64 years of age and my wife is near 70 years of age I was a poor boy had nothing but my shirt and pantaloons when I went in to the army. I think it hard for me to suffer now after doing as much for my country as I have and without your assistance am oblige to go to the poor house and I had almost rather diedI thank you for what you have done with more thanks than my lips can express and would freely down with my nees for assistanceno more at present but your well wishing friend
I would be thankful to you to let me know at Oakville post office Buckingham County what I am to depend on
Cyrus got his pension. After his wife died, he got married again in 1833 to a younger woman named Phebe. He died in 1855 at the age of 97, and Phebe inherited his pension. A decade later, after the end of the Civil War, sheapplied for the restoration of the benefit, which had been suspended during the war. She was unable to return the old pension certificate, because it hd been “destroyed by being in a house between the lines of the two armies while engaged.” She had given the certificate to a neighbor named William Durrum to keep in his house, but during the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse “it was destroyed or taken off by the soldiery.” She stated that she had resided in the town of Appomattox Courthouse during the Civil War, when her means of subsistence had been “a small remnant of her pension fund and then she was supported by her relations and friends, except a small allowance from the pauper fund from the Overseers of the Poor of Appomattox County.” The Bartholomew Cyrus pension file contains an Amnesty Oath signed with her mark. The oath, as prescribed by President Johnson, was as follows:
I, _____, do solemnly swear or affirm, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States thereunder. And that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.
[Source:Pension Application of Bartholomew Cyrus W25467, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. Summary of Phebe Cyrus application adapted from C. Leon Harris.]
Rural Buckingham County lies between the Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War ended, and Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello.
James Monroe, now in his second term.
John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.
An error. He enlisted in 1777.
Charles Town was renamed Charleston at the end of the war.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln surrendered May 12, 1780. Cyrus evidently escaped or avoided capture.
Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, 3 Dec 1780.
TheBattle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, March 15, 1781.
The Battle of Eutaw Springs, September 8, 1781.
The Siege of Ninety-Six, South Carolina, May 22 to June 18, 1781.
Probably a mis-transcription of “Cambdain,” or the Second Battle of Camden, better known as the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, April 25, 1781. Though it was an American loss, Greene returned to the area after the battle so it is not unreasonable for Cyrus to recall it as a “siege.”
The actual sequence of events was: Guilford Courthouse, Camden, Ninety-Six, Eutaw Springs.
Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg.
Captain Abraham Kirkpatrick.
Jailed or whipped.
He would almost rather die than go to the poor house.
He would go down on his knees to beg for help.
A post script.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
Long after the Revolution, Col. John Stuart of Greenbriar County recalled the Virginia Militia army that defeated the usually victorious Shawnee at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774.
General Lewis’s army consisted chiefly of young volunteers, well trained to the use of arms, as hunting, in those days, was much practised, and preferred to agricultural pursuits by enterprising young men. The produce of the soil was of little value on the west side of the Blue Ridge— the ways bad, and the distance to market too great to make it esteemed. Such pursuits inured them to hard ships and danger. We had more than every fifth man in our army killed or wounded in the battle,— but none were disheartened ; all crossed the river with cheerfulness, bent on destroying the enemy;- and had they not been restrained by the Governor’s orders, I believe they would have exterminated the Shawanese nation.
Stuart said this after noting that the Shawnee were the tribe that had (often with allies) repeatedly defeated Virginian and American armies on the frontier: those of Gen. Edward Braddock (1755) and Major James Grant (1758) in the French and Indian War; colonels John Todd and Stephen Trigg at the Battle of Blue Licks (1782) in Kentucky; and against generals Josiah Harmar (1790) and Arthur St. Clair (1791) in Ohio.
The victory at Point Pleasant was a very big deal. Moreover, though Lord Dunmore (the governor of Virginia) had raised and led the army, the victory had been won without him by the other of two divisions. An army of frontier Virginia marksmen, many of them occasional subsistence hunters, had proven what they could do.
Dunmore headed back to Williamsburg. His officers, cognizant of political events, convened on November 5 at Fort Gower (modern Hockingport, Ohio) on the Ohio River. Among those present were many men who would be important in the Revolution, including William Campbell, George Rogers Clark, Simon Kenton, Andrew Lewis, Daniel Morgan, William Russell, and Adam Stephen. An unidentified officer (possibly Adam Stephen) addressed the group. Having concluded the campaign against the Indians, he said, “it only remains that we should give our country the strongest assurance that we are ready, at all times, to the utmost of our power, to maintain and defend her just rights and privileges.”
He was careful to deny that the army had any revolutionary intentions while also making it clear where their real loyalties lay. “We have lived about three months in the woods without any intelligence from Boston; or from the Delegates at Philadelphia. It is possible, from the groundless reports of designing men, that our countrymen may be jealous of the use such a body would make of arms in their hands at this critical juncture. That we are a respectable body is certain, when it is considered that we can live weeks without bread or salt; that we can sleep in the open air without any covering but that of the canopy of Heaven; and that our men can march and shoot with any in the known world. Blessed with these talents, let us solemnly engage to one another, and our country in particular, that we will use them to no purpose but for the honour and advantage of America in general, and of Virginia in particular. It behooves us then, for the satisfaction of our country, that we should give them our real sentiments, by way of resolves, at this very alarming crisis."
A committee was formed to draft the resolves, which were published soon after. Like other documents of the period immediately before the war, it proclaims loyalty to the King and the governor, but in a way that implied a threat.
Resolved, That we will bear the most faithful allegiance to his Majesty King George the Third, whilst his Majesty delights to reign over a brave and free people; that we will, at the expense of life, and every thing dear and valuable, exert ourselves in support of the honour of his Crown and the dignity of the British Empire. But as the love of Liberty, and attachment to the real interests and just rights of America outweigh every other consideration, we resolve that we will exert every power within us for the defence of American liberty, and for the support of her just rights and privileges; not in any precipitate, riotous, or tumultuous manner, but when regularly called forth by the unanimous voice of our countrymen.
Resolved, That we entertain the greatest respect for his Excellency the Right Honourable Lord Dunmore, who commanded the expedition against the Shawanese; and who, we are confident, underwent the great fatigue of this singular campaign from no other motive than the true interest of this country.
Signed by order and in behalf of the whole Corps,
BENJAMIN ASHBY, Clerk.
Lord Dunmore, whose motives for leading the campaign came to be suspected, fled Williamsburg just a few months later.
Little is remembered about Benjamin Ashby, who signed the document on behalf of the unanimous officers. The ink he put to paper had an impact, however. Just three years later his nephew, George Ashby, a private in the 8th Virginia, would be scrambling about the ground during the Siege of Fort Mifflin collecting and recycling hot cannonballs as his comrades’ ammunition ran low.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
Virginia was described as the the "most English" of the colonies. It had been consistently loyal to the Crown, even during the era of Parliamentary rule under Oliver Cromwell. The Church of England was integrated into the local government.
Virginia's frontier territories were different. When the Revolutionary War started, the Virginia Conventioned designated the 8th Virginia to be a "German" regiment. Thousands of Pennsylvania Germans had settled in the Shenandoah Valley. But how German was it really? There were also many Protestant Irish ("Scotch-Irish") and English settlers in the area, and the actual recruitment territory stretched all the way to Pittsburgh.
On September 12, Gabe Neville spoke at Virginia's Germanna Foundation to explore the question: "Just how German was the regiment in reality?"
Learn more at the Germanna Foundation website.
A newly-created map of the 8th Virginia's recruiting counties shows that the regiment was largely composed of frontiersmen and pioneers. It is helpful to visualize how the regiment raised its ten companies in the westernmost settled areas of the province (Virginia wasn't a state, yet). This made the regiment unique in several ways. They were ethnically and religiously different from the rest of Virginia. Soldiers, some of whom were subsistence hunters, were typically better marksmen than the average soldier. Their motives for fighting were less focused on taxes and trade and more focused on their desires to head west--something the King had forbidden.
Political geography has changed. All of these counties have been divided, some within months of the regiment's formation. West Virginia, which is not shown, was created in 1863 and would occupy the left-center of the map. The disputed northeast part of the Augusta District is now southwest Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh. Western Fincastle County became Kentucky County in 1776 and the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1792. Most Americans are unaware that beginning in 1774, Ohio and lands west of it were part of the Province of Quebec. This, technically at least, extended holdover French civil institutions to the border of settled Virginia. Quebec had no elected legislature and had been allowed to keep its Catholic institutions. Both facts were seen by Virginians as sure signs of creeping tyranny.
The Soldiers Page lists the various companies and the counties from which they came. In brief: the West Augusta District and Dunmore County each raised two companies. Augusta, Berkeley, Culpeper, Fincastle, Frederick, and Hampshire counties each contributed one. Initially called the "German Regiment" and long remembered that way, the map also shows how wide-ranging and diverse the zone of recruitment was. The lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley counties of Berkeley, Frederick, and Dunmore had significant populations and all three field officers were from that area. Culpeper, the only Piedmont county, had a smaller German population that descended from the Germanna Colony. The other counties were predominantly Scotch-Irish and English.
“The men are to be excused from carrying their Camp Kettles tomorrow,” announced General Washington in his general orders on August 23, 1777. The heavy cast-iron kettles were hated objects that often served only to mock hungry soldiers who had nothing to cook in them. They also did not add to the air of martial precision that Washington wanted his army to convey as it prepared to march through Philadelphia the next day.
Congress would be watching, and Washington wanted his army to be impressive. A show of strength was also important for the city’s many loyalist, pacifist, and vacillating eyes.
The men were ordered to go to bed early. No passes to leave camp were to be allowed except for urgent business. In the morning, “great attention” was to be paid by officers to ensure “that the men carry their arms well, and are made to appear as decent as circumstances will admit.”
The army was ordered to be up and ready to march at four o’clock sharp. The commander in chief played choreographer, specifically arranging the units of his army. He wanted no “strollers,” but rather “strongly and earnestly enjoined” his officers to “make all their men who are able to bear arms…march in the ranks” in order to project the very best order and discipline. “There is to be no greater space between the divisions, brigades and regiments, than is taken up by the Artillery, and is sufficient to distinguish them.”
The order of march was precisely arranged. Leading the parade was a subaltern officer with twelve light horsemen, followed two hundred yards behind by a complete troop of cavalry. After another hundred yards came a company of pioneers carrying their axes and shovels in proper order. Four divisions of infantry followed. Leading the way, from Green’s division, was one regiment from General Muhlenberg’s brigade. Then came the rest of Muhlenberg’s brigade followed by General Weedon’s. Adam Stephen’s division followed: Woodford’s brigade first and then Charles Scott’s. Each of these brigades was preceded by its field artillery. Col. Abraham Bowman’s 8th Virginia men, now in their second year of service, were in Scott's brigade.
Behind Scott, in the center of the procession, came the artillery park and its artificers. Then Benjamin Lincoln’s division, now commanded by Anthony Wayne, and most of Lord Stirling’s division. These latter brigades were each followed by their field artillery. William Maxwell’s New Jersey brigade, from Stirling’s division, completed the procession of foot soldiers followed by the final two troops of cavalry.
As they marched, drums and fifes were arranged in each brigade’s center. Washington ordered “a tune for the quick step played, but with such moderation, that the men may step to it with ease; and without dancing along, or totally disregarding the music, as too often has been the case.” The single-column parade entered the city from the north on Front Street, along the Delaware River, and then turned west on Chestnut Street where it passed the State House (Independence Hall) and the critical gaze of Congress. The soldiers continued on, exited the city, and crossed the Schuylkill River at Middle Ferry where they reunited with the baggage wagons and their cast iron camp kettles.
John Adams, after watching the parade, wrote home to Abigail. “The Army, upon an accurate Inspection of it, I find to be extreamly well armed, pretty well cloathed, and tolerably disciplined. … Much remains yet to be done. Our soldiers have not yet, quite the Air of Soldiers. They don’t step exactly in Time. They don’t hold up their Heads, quite erect, nor turn out their Toes, so exactly as they ought. They don’t all of them cock their Hats -- and such as do, don’t all wear them the same Way.”
Pondering what he saw, Adams observed, “Discipline in an Army is like the Laws in civil Society. There can be no Liberty, in a Commonwealth, where the Laws are not revered, and most sacredly observed, nor can there be Happiness or Safety in an Army, for a single Hour, where the Discipline is not observed. Obedience is the only Thing wanting now for our Salvation -- Obedience to the Laws, in the States, and Obedience to Officers, in the Army.”
The 8th Virginia’s Captain Jonathan Clark made a much more concise record of the day’s activities: “Rain. Marched thro Philadelphia, cross’d Schuylkill and march’d to Derby & encamped.”
On June 1, 1778, Christopher Moyer and Philip Huffman escaped from the enemy. They had both been captured at the Battle of Germantown. Now free, they rejoined the 8thVirginia Regiment and continued the fight.
The Virginia Convention had intended the 8thVirginia to be a German regiment, recruited on the frontier and led by German field officers: Col. Peter Muhlenberg, Lt. Col. Abraham Bowman and Maj. Peter Helphenstine. The regiment was never purely German, but the lower Shenandoah Valley (where several companies were raised) were indeed heavily German.
Moyer and Huffman were from Culpeper County, adjacent to an older settlement of Germans who had come by a different Route: Germanna. Was the 8thVirginia’s Culpeper company, led by Culpeper Minutemen veteran George Slaughter, assigned to the regiment because of the Germanna settlement? Moyer was a Germanna descendent. Hufman was probably not. Slaughter might have been.
Gabe Neville will tell the fascinating story of the 8thVirginia and ask “Just how German was it?” in a presentation at the Germanna Foundation’s Hitt Archeology Center on Thursday, September 12, 2019. The event is free and open to the public.
From the Foundation:
Mr. Gabe Neville will present on George Slaughter, a Captain of the Culpeper company of the 8th Virginia Regiment. The 8th Virginia was originally designated “the German Regiment” by the Virginia Convention. Though the 8th Virginia did not develop into a uniformly German regiment, the Convention’s intent may explain Culpeper’s inclusion in the regiment’s recruitment area and Slaughter’s commission as a captain. He will mention other Culpeper soldiers with Germanna connections and complete their stories by following them into the Tennessee and Kentucky post-war frontiers.
Gabe Neville has been researching the history of the Revolutionary War’s 8th Virginia Regiment for more than 20 years. Working toward an eventual published history, he gives speeches, maintains a blog at 8thVirginia.com, and publishes essays on related subjects. He also writes occasionally on public policy issues. A former journalist and congressional staffer, he is now Senior Advisor at Covington & Burling, a Washington-based international law firm. Originally from Pennsylvania, he lives with his family in Fairfax County, Virginia.
This event is FREE and open to the public and will take place in the Hitt Archaeology Center, located next to the Fort Germanna Visitor Center. There will be time available for questions after the presentation
It wasn’t really their fault, they said. Slavery, men of the founding generation liked to argue, was brought to the colonies by Britain. It came via Barbados and the other sugar islands of the Caribbean. Thomas Jefferson and Henry Laurens both blamed Britain and wished the colonies could free themselves of the practice. It was ironic, therefore, that American slavery not only outlasted the War for Independence but also outlasted slavery in the British Empire. In truth it was more than ironic: it was a tragedy that led to additional decades of forced labor and the deaths of well over half a million Americans in the Civil War.
Could the abolition of American slavery have come sooner? Maybe. Slavery never existed in the New World without someone also speaking out against it, and antislavery views took a demonstrably large leap forward during the founding era. Christianity, social contract theory, and the very spirit of the Revolution led many Americans to the same conclusion. Even many slaveowners understood it was wrong. “I can only say,” wrote George Washington about slavery in 1786, “that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.”
....continue to The Journal of the American Revolution.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
With no actionable intelligence, General Washington had to guess where British Maj. Gen. William Howe was taking his army. So in July 1777, he led the Continental Army north from New Jersey into what was then a rough, dangerous, and little-known pass through New York’s Ramapo Mountains. He had guessed incorrectly, however, and they were soon racing south again. Two hundred and forty-two years later, one of the last vestiges of this frantic Revolutionary detour may fall to a bulldozer.
After wasting much of the spring of 1777 trying to lure Washington’s army out of the Watchung Mountains, General Howe moved his army out of New Jersey and back to Staten Island. The preceding twelve months included the battles of Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, Trenton, Assunpink Creek, Princeton, and Short Hills, but Howe was now literally back where he had begun. Together, the eight battles had earned the British little more than possession of Manhattan.
In July, Howe’s soldiers began to board ships. This was big news, but not actionable intelligence. Washington needed to know where the enemy planned to go. Howe’s ships could take the Crown troops any place near navigable water. The Continentals, on the other hand, would have to race on foot to meet Howe’s Anglo-German army, planning their first movements on nothing more than an educated guess. This was an extreme disadvantage for the Americans. Washington reported to congressional President John Hancock, “The amazing advantage the Enemy derive from their Ships and the Command of the Water, keeps us in a State of constant perplexity and the most anxious conjecture.”
Conjecture focused on two primary possibilities: Howe might move up the Hudson River and seize the Hudson Highlands, a strategic choke point on the river next to the site where the United States Military Academy was later built and sixty miles upriver from New York City. With Gen. John Burgoyne’s forces moving south from Canada, this maneuver would complete the British plan of achieving control of the critically important Hudson-Lake Champlain corridor. The other scenario was an attack on Philadelphia, the target Howe had seemed intent on taking through the spring. If the seat of Congress was in fact his target, a landing on the west bank of the Delaware River now seemed most likely.
...continue to The Journal of the American Revolution.
In 1775, the North American colonies had no professional armies and few leaders with significant military training. What possessed them, then, to believe they could take on the mighty British Empire? Politics and principles aside, two experiences led the Americans to believe they could stand up to the British: the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg and the 1755 Battle of Monongahela. The first dispelled any notion that they were powerless against professional forces. The second dispelled the notion of British invincibility.
In the 1740s, the maritime French colony of Île-Royale and its fortress at Louisbourg guarded the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Today, the two main islands of Île-Royale are known as Prince Edward Island (Canada’s smallest province) and Cape Breton Island (part of Nova Scotia). The French and the Wabanaki Indians were a constant threat to New England. Multiple engagements had occurred during little-remembered wars such as King William's War, Queen Anne’s War, and Father Rale’s War. Louisbourg was (and is) positioned on the east coast of Cape Breton and directly east of the modern state of Maine, which was then part of Massachusetts. Louisbourg itself was a threat to New England: it was a center for privateering and well positioned to interfere with New England’s economically crucial fishing industry.
At the start of King George’s War (known in Europe as the War of Austrian Succession) in 1744, a Franco-Indian force raided and destroyed the British fishing village at Canso, in nearby Nova Scotia. In 1745, Massachusetts Governor William Shirley organized a response. Militia from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, set off on an expedition supported with funds and supplies from Rhode Island, New York, and Pennsylvania. While there were no professional soldiers involved, they did have support from the British Navy.
The Fortress of Louisbourg was thought to be impenetrable from the sea. A land approach, however, provided hilly terrain that allowed for the erection of siege batteries. After a siege of several weeks and a number of raids and skirmishes, the fortress surrendered on June 27, 1745. While the French forces had suffered from poor morale and other issues, the stark fact remained that American militia had taken on and defeated a professional army sheltered in a major fortification.
A decade later, early in the French and Indian War, General Edward Braddock suffered his better-remembered defeat near the banks of the Monongahela. The lesson here was that British redcoats were not invincible. In a report to his mother, Washington wrote, “The Virginia troops showed a good deal of bravery, and were near all killed; for I believe out of three companies that were there, there are scarce 30 men left alive. … In short, the dastardly behavior of those they call regulars exposed all others that were inclined to do their duty to almost certain death; and, at last, in despite of all the efforts of the officers to the contrary, they broke and ran as sheep pursued by dogs; and it was impossible to rally them.”
While the British army was humiliated, Washington’s own reputation for heroism was bolstered, in part because of his own reports. “I luckily escaped without a wound,” he wrote, “though I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me.”
Louisbourg (1745), Monongahela (1755), and the outbreak of the Revolution itself in 1775 are milestones in the colonists’ increasing confidence in their own military capabilities. Though Louisbourg was remote from Virginia, it was not remote from those who began the war in Massachusetts. Braddocks’ defeat was very much front-of-mind to all Virginians at the start of the war. This must have been especially true for men like the 8th Virginia's Maj. Peter Helphenstine and Capt. Thomas Berry of Winchester (Washington's headquarters during the French and Indian War) and Captains John Stephenson and William Croghan who filled their companies with men from the settlements near the site of the general’s failure.
Twenty years after Monongahela, Massachusets’ 1775-1776 experiences at Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, and the Siege of Boston reinforced New England’s view that militia could take on professional troops. Victories won by militia and green provincial troops at Great Bridge and Sullivans Island indicated the same to Virginia and the south.
This elevated view of their militias’ capabilities must be viewed as an important factor in the colonists’ decision to take up arms against the Crown. It is even more important in view of the prevalent Anglo-American dislike of standing or “regular” armies. Oliver Cromwell had used his “New Model” army to rule by martial law. King James II had attempted to use a standing, professional army to restore the monarchy’s supremacy over parliament. For this is he was deposed and replaced by William and Mary, who accepted a Declaration of Rights (enacted as a “Bill of Rights” in 1689) that specifically forbade standing armies on British soil in peace time.
When Britain decided to leave a standing army in America after the French and Indian War, the colonists reacted in a way that should have been predictable. Peace-time standing armies had been illegal in Britain for nearly a century, universally seen as a threat to the “rights of Englishmen.” And yet there they were, posted in the colonies and quartered in private homes. Colonial charters had guaranteed the rights of Englishmen to the colonists. This was a clear violation. Virginia’s 1606 charter read, for example:
"Also we do ... DECLARE ... that all and every the Persons being our Subjects, which shall dwell and inhabit within every or any of the said several Colonies and Plantations, and every of their children, which shall happen to be born within any of the Limits and Precincts of the said several Colonies and Plantations, shall HAVE and enjoy all Liberties, Franchises, and Immunities, within any of our other Dominions, to all Intents and Purposes, as if they had been abiding and born, within this our Realm of England, or any other of our said Dominions."
Among the 27 indictments against the King in the Declaration of Independence was the charge that “He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.” When the war began, it was a war between American militia and British regulars. While some might have seen this as an uneven fight, many more saw it as proof of the justice and moral superiority of the American cause.
The British Army was the most powerful in the world, and there may have been a time when the colonists would not have dared to fight them. In 1775, after the Siege of Louisville, after Braddocks defeat, and with God and Justice on their side, the Americans believed they could win. And they did win, but not until the Continentals themselves were professionalized. Still, consistent with principle, the Continental Army was disbanded at the end of the war.
Read more: "A Campaign of Amateurs: The Siege of Louisbourg, 1745" by Raymond F. Baker.
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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