Chronology of Events Relating to Pennsylvania: March – June 1776

Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

March 1776

The Committee of Safety compromises with the Provincial Assembly and temporarily suspends its call for a constitutional convention.
The Committee of Safety authorizes 3 men to conduct the manufacture of gun locks (firing mechanisms) in Philadelphia.
To placate dissatisfaction the Assembly decides to enlarge itself by adding 17 new members, 13 to come from western counties and 4 from Philadelphia.

The Committee of Safety solicits blankets from patriotic citizens to shelter the Artillery Company.
The Assembly designates the constituency areas for the 17 new assemblymen. They are to be elected May 1.

Congress recommends that each of the 13 colonies disarm those citizens who are disloyal.
Congress, sitting as committee of the whole. deliberates on the defense of New York.
The Chevaux-de-Frize, a river barrier made of floats, is sunk at Fort Island, in order to prevent large enemy ships sailing any further up the Delaware River.
The 5th Battalion of Pennsylvania troops on the Continental establishment, raised largely in Cumberland County, leaves Carlisle to join Washington’s army in New York.
The Committee of Safety warns Lancaster of the immediate threat of invasion by Howe’s army. It issues orders for all armed associator units. Associator battalions are to turn in all their ammunition and to have 23 rounds per man reissued by the Pennsylvania commissary. The commissary is to inspect the associators’ weapons.
The Committee of Safety remonstrates against the Assembly’s instruction to the Pennsylvania delegation in Congress. These instructions forbid the delegates from voting in favor of American independence.
The colonels of the associator battalions of Bucks County are ordered by the Committee of Safety to place themselves in a condition of readiness for combat.
The Lancaster associators resolve that the 17 new assembly­men who are to be chosen on May 1 must all be associators.

April 1776

The Assembly refuses to alter its instructions to the Pennsyl­vania delegation in Congress. These instructions forbid the delegation from voting in favor of independence.

Congress declares all ports open to shipping from every nation except Britain. Also, importation of slaves is forbidden. The boycott of the Continental Association is thus repudiated, but the move is still revolutionary because the Congress has acted in an area previously reserved for Parliament.
A Congressional resolution recommends that the colonies re­ject all royal authoritY and that each of the colonies form an independent state government.
Several prisoners of war are released in Philadelphia and Germantown, upon taking an oath that they will not Join the British or engage in activity hostile to the Revolutionary cause.
Philadelphia Whigs meet to plan for the May 1 election of new members of the Provincial Assembly.
Rules and Regulations for the associator organization are ordered by the Committee of Safety, to be printed in English and German. The Rules include procedure to be followed in levying penalty taxes on the non-associators.

May 1776

The elections of the 17 new assemblymen result in victory for the loyalists and moderate Whigs.
The Sisterhood of Bethlehem presents the Committee of Safety with linen rags to be used in caring for the wounded.

Congress resolves to transfer 20 heavy cannon, which had been captured in the West Indies, to Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety, for the defense of Philadelphia.
The battalions of associators are to parade and stand inspection on the Philadelphia Commons.

Philadelphia fears an English landing on the Delaware shore because H.M.S. Frigate Roebuck and several attending English ships are moving up the River. Pennsylvania’s 13 war galleys attempt to turn Roebuck back. Hopelessly outmatched in gun capacity, the Pennsylvania flotilla seems to be favored by good fortune when Roebuck runs aground.
The galleys are unable to capitalize on Roebuck‘s immobility because they run short of ammunition. Roebuck then floats free and withdraws.
Congress adopts a resolution recommending that each colony form a new government of its own, established by popular majority of its inhabitants.
A committee of 3 – John Adams, Edward Biddle, and Richard Henry Lee – present Congress with a Preamble that is to be placed on the recommendations to be sent to the colonial as­semblies and conventions, concerning the May 10th resolution.
The Preamble is adopted, including references to the total suppression of authority exercised under the British crown.
Col. George Morgan arrives in Pittsburgh to command the defenses against hostile Indians.
The Committee of Safety solicits all the lead in Philadelphia, threatening to confiscate it from those who do not voluntarily surrender their lead.
The Committee of the City and Liberties of Philadelphia decides to poll the inhabitants concerning their desire for a declaration of independence.
A meeting, in the rain, of 4,000 people at the State House Yard results in a protest against the further exercise of political authority by the Assembly. This crowd is clearly revolutionary.

The Philadelphia Committee of Inspection meets at Christ Church schoolhouse – known as “Philosophical Hall” – and votes to take the protest made by the 4,000 at the State House Yard to the Pennsylvania counties for support.
A resolution is informally made up by the moderates against the State House Yard protest. The moderates claim that it voices the opinion of 6,000 people. The resolution is in favor of preserving the old provincial charter as the constitution for Pennsylvania.
The Committee of Safety criticizes the command of the Penn­sylvania Navy for having allowed H.M.S. Frigate Roebuck to escape.
The resolution of the 6,000 moderates against the protest reaches the Assembly.
Col. George Morgan, at Pittsburgh, writes the British com­mander at Detroit saying that the Revolutionary army does not intend to attack Detroit.

June 1776

Richard Henry Lee’s resolution in Congress cal Is for national independence. It is the genesis of the Declaration of Independence.
The debate on Lee’s resolution begins.

Col. William Thompson is captured at Three Rivers, in the campaign to take Canada, and many Pennsylvania troops are taken with him.
Consideration of Lee’s resolution is postponed by Congress until July 1, but a committee to draft a declaration of independence is to be named.
The drafting committee is named by Congress: Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston.
John Dickinson is chosen chairman of a committee of Congress to draft articles of confederation.

By order of the Committee of Safety, provincial troops replace Continental troops as guards at the Powder House and at the military storage rooms in the State House. Is this a military coup?
The Pennsylvania Assembly, finally convening with a quorum, frees Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Congress to vote as they choose on the resolution for national independence. The Assembly then votes to adjourn until August 26.
The Assembly receives a petition from the Pennsylvania German associators requesting the right to vote in civil elec­tions solely on the basis of the military duty they are perform­ing in the association.

A radical Pennsylvania Conference (hereafter “the Confer­ence”), claiming to represent all the province, has been called by the Philadelphia Committee of Inspection. It meets at Carpenters’ Hall. Sessions will be held through June 25. The Conference assumes powers previously reserved for the Assembly, even though the Committee of Inspection did not authorize the Conference to do so.
The Conference determines who will be allowed to vote on the election of delegates to the anticipated Pennsylvania con­stitutional convention. To vote, one must take a test oath swearing, among other things, to (1) abjure the King of Eng­land, and (2) make no opposition to whatever government will emerge from the constitutional convention.

The Assembly seems to approve the Pennsylvania German associators’ petition, by granting the right to vote to every as­sociator, age 21 or over, who has completed one year’s resi­dence and has been assessed for taxes.

Twenty members of the Continental Congress issue a public defense of the conduct of Pennsylvania’s James Wilson. Wilson has been criticized for his conservative opposition to the Conference.

The Conference receives a memorial from “The Patriotic So­ciety” criticizing the Committee of Safety for being too con­servative.
Privates of the associator military units address the Committee of Safety, criticizing the actions of their own military officers. Also, the Pennsylvania war galleys on the Delaware revolt against their commanders.
The Conference decides that it will not attempt to interfere in naval matters.
The Conference approves the preliminary draft of the Congres­sional committee for drawing up the Declaration of Indepen­dence. Thus, the Conference contradicts the Assembly’s instructions which freed the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation to vote as it should choose on the question of inde­pendence.
The Conference makes decisions concerning a number of military subjects: militia quotas, appointments to military command, etc. Then it adjourns.
The Assembly accepts the Committee of Safety’s criticism of the naval command during the Roebuck engagement.
Congress authorizes the Continental treasury to release $100,000 to the Committee of Safety. The Committee is to be held responsible for use of the money. This is the first of a series of such loans (or grants) during 1776.
Virginia adopts a new constitution which seems to end the struggle for possession of Western Pennsylvania because it accepts Pennsylvania’s right to land mentioned in the pro­vincial charter. Thus, the controversy known as Lord Dun­more’s War seems to be resolved. But it is not to be so.
Enlistments in the Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment expire; pleas must be made to the men for continued service.


Dr. Louis M. Waddell is chief of Documentary Publications Projects, Bureau of Archives and History, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.