Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.
The Paoli Memorial Grounds, in the foreground, was first set aside as a commemorative site and militia drill field in 1817-22. Since 1896 the Paoli Memorial Association has cared for the 22-acre site, which includes war memorials, playing fields and a Boy Scout cabin. The 44-acre Paoli Battlefield, in the background, site of Anthony Wayne’s camp and much of the fighting, was preserved in 2002 by the Paoli Battlefield Preservation Fund. Photo by Robert Colameco

The Paoli Memorial Grounds, in the foreground, was first set aside as a commemorative site and militia drill field in 1817-22. Since 1896 the Paoli Memorial Association has cared for the 22-acre site, which includes war memorials, playing fields and a Boy Scout cabin. The 44-acre Paoli Battlefield, in the background, site of Anthony Wayne’s camp and much of the fighting, was preserved in 2002 by the Paoli Battlefield Preservation Fund. Photo by Robert Colameco

Two centuries ago, in September 1817, local War of 1812 veterans gathered in a Chester County field with Revolutionary War veterans and citizens to place a marble monument on the grave of soldiers killed in the Battle of Paoli, or “Paoli Massacre,” four decades earlier. Today, it remains the second oldest Revolutionary War monument in the nation, and the campaign to “Remember Paoli!” continues in the effort to have the grave and surrounding battleground recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

The solemn dirge of a military band drifted across the quiet, leafy countryside as a troop of horsemen led a column of smartly uniformed soldiers up a dusty lane toward a whitewashed stone enclosure. Tall black caps sporting colorful plumes, swaying tassels and gleaming brass plates adorned the heads of infantrymen clad in close-fitting jackets of blue, gray and red. White crossbelts and polished brass buttons stood in stark contrast to the drab clothing of the crowd of onlookers. Artillerymen in elegant dark blue uniforms and red sashes trundled an “elegant” brass cannon up the knoll as dozens of old men, some perhaps wearing faded blue coats, moved along the concourse, remembering their days shouldering arms, a time when any clothing was worn until it fell apart — even captured enemy uniforms.

The day was Saturday, September 20, 1817. The place was a mass grave on the Pearce family farm in Willistown Township, Chester County, not far from the Paoli Tavern. The event was the dedication of a marble monument, the front of which bore this inscription:

SACRED
to the Memory of
The Patriots,
who on this spot
fell a sacrifice to
British Barbarity
during the
Struggle for
American Independence
on the night
of September 20, 1777.

The Battle of Paoli was a painful episode of dark deeds in the night and shouts for vengeance in later battles to “Remember Paoli!”

Isaac Barnard, born in Ashton Township, Delaware County, served as a major in the 14th U.S. Infantry Regiment during the War of 1812 and was cofounder of the Republican Artillerists in 1816. With Darlington, he spearheaded the movement to mark the Paoli grave in 1817 while he was Chester County’s deputy district attorney. He later served in the Pennsylvania Senate, 1820-26, and the U.S. Senate, 1827-31. Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA

Isaac Barnard, born in Ashton Township, Delaware County, served as a major in the 14th U.S. Infantry Regiment during the War of 1812 and was cofounder of the Republican Artillerists in 1816. With Darlington, he spearheaded the movement to mark the Paoli grave in 1817 while he was Chester County’s deputy district attorney. He later served in the Pennsylvania Senate, 1820-26, and the U.S. Senate, 1827-31. Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA

This ceremony was the first step in a preservation effort that has spanned two centuries and continues today in the face of pressures for commercial development and land usage. From the beginning, the process has been a grassroots effort, and the reasons for doing this still ring true with historic preservation’s modern challenges.  Here, it started with a militia unit called the Republican Artillerists of Chester County who noted the goal of protecting the grave in their orderly book: “The soil which has been consecrated by the remains of these Patriots, is exposed to the invasion of every rude and careless footstep, with no enclosure to protect it — without even the humble memorial of a stone to designate the spot where sleep our brave Defenders.  Yet a few short years, and conjecture alone could point to the turf which wraps the men, who laid down their lives that we might live Free and Independent.” Or, as another contemporary put it, the plow was getting closer each year, and the grave might disappear.

The leaders of this early preservation movement were War of 1812 veterans: Col. Cromwell Pearce (1772–1852), hero of the 1813 Battle of Crysler’s Field and newly elected Chester County sheriff; Maj. Isaac Barnard (1791–1834) of the 14th U. S. Infantry, now deputy district attorney; and congressman, surgeon, botanist and historian Dr. William Darlington (1782–1863), who together with Barnard had recently formed the Republican Artillerists of Chester County. It was they who first took up the challenge of protecting the Paoli grave.

“The Corps to consist exclusively of Democratic Republicans,” the Artillerists’ articles announced on July 4, 1816. “The stated meetings for parade to be seldom, and to be attended with the utmost possible punctuality; viz., on the days designated by Law for training, — and on the 4th of July, in each year.” The old Federalist Party had collapsed, and the Democratic-Republicans were soon to be the only political party, though divided by regionalism. The so-called Era of Good Feelings had begun, when American political divisions seemed to vanish under the magical cloud of illusion created by the Treaty of Ghent and the spectacular victory at New Orleans.

The world was a much different place in so many ways, yet some issues ring familiar, such as climate change. 1816 was the “Year without a Summer,” caused by the catastrophic explosion of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora. The resulting dust cloud spawned massive global crop failures; Europe experienced the worst famine of the 19th century during the first year of peace after a quarter century of revolution and Napoleonic wars.

William Darlington, here in a portrait by John Neagle, was a native of Birmingham Township, Chester County, who raised a unit of volunteers during the War of 1812, cofounded the Republican Artillerists, and composed the inscription for the Paoli monument. He also practiced medicine; authored several books on botany; served in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1815-17 and 1819-23; and was president of the Bank of Chester County and the West Chester Railroad. Throughout his life, he gathered and published oral history in the West Chester area. William Darlington Special Collections, Francis Harvey Green Library, West Chester University, West Chester, PA

William Darlington, here in a portrait by John Neagle, was a native of Birmingham Township, Chester County, who raised a unit of volunteers during the War of 1812, cofounded the Republican Artillerists, and composed the inscription for the Paoli monument. He also practiced medicine; authored several books on botany; served in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1815-17 and 1819-23; and was president of the Bank of Chester County and the West Chester Railroad. Throughout his life, he gathered and published oral history in the West Chester area. William Darlington Special Collections, Francis Harvey Green Library, West Chester University, West Chester, PA

With Bonaparte exiled to remote St. Helena, the victorious empires—Russia, Prussia, Austria and Great Britain—created the Quadruple Alliance, and the absolutist monarchies formed a “Holy Alliance” to stop republicanism and secularism, two main features of the American and French revolutions. As a result, America felt even less secure, and Darlington composed a song for his Republican Artillerists:

While Tyrants league, on Europe’s plains,
To rule the world by knavery, —
And abject nations hug their chain
In vilest depths of slavery; —
One voice pervades our happy land
Columbia shall still be free!
And ready to defend her stand
REPUBLICAN ARTILLERY.

Hatred of Great Britain, America’s nemesis and main trading partner, burned bright. The soon-to-be-elected fifth president, James Monroe, a Revolutionary War veteran, hoped to occupy the White House by September 1817 after its fiery destruction at the hands of British troops three years earlier. The military failures on land during one of the strangest conflicts in American history had hit their nadir with the Battle of Bladensburg outside Washington, when poorly organized militia and a few regulars attempted to defend the capital against 4,000 British veterans. A satirical poem called it “the Bladensburg Races,” because the militia ran away so fast. Within hours, the President’s House, the Capitol and other government buildings were ablaze, quenched only by a violent thunderstorm. Now, whitewash neatly covered the burn marks on the White House caused by the torching.

Less than a month later, during another dramatic thunderstorm, Baltimore shook as British ships pounded Fort McHenry with rockets and bombs, prompting Francis Scott Key to pen the most famous poem in American history. Then, as diplomats in far-away Ghent agreed to call off the war on Christmas Eve 1814, a British force descended on New Orleans. Their defeat in January made Gen. Andrew Jackson a hero and ended the war with a stunning American victory.

One of the war’s lesser-known heroes was Col. Cromwell Pearce, commander of the 16th U.S. Infantry Regiment. He served well through three harsh winters in upstate New York and took command of the army at York (now Toronto) when Gen. Zebulon Pike was killed by a massive explosion as the town surrendered. Infuriated, the American troops looted and burned the capital of Upper Canada (the British considered the burning of Washington an appropriate retaliation). Disgusted by war atrocities and the overall ineptitude of the officer corps, Pearce came home to Chester County, where he had been born in 1772.

Pearce had seen the worst side of war at an early age. He was 5 years old when the Battle of Paoli occurred on his family’s farm at midnight on September 20, 1777. Led by Gen. Charles Grey, a force of 1,200 British light infantry, regulars and Scottish Highlanders and a dozen dragoons, silently approached two brigades of Pennsylvania Continentals, 2,200 men commanded by Gen. Anthony Wayne, just as they were evacuating the camp. “No-Flint” Grey had ordered his men to remove the flints from their muskets and fix bayonets so the Americans could be identified by muzzle flashes in the dark. Entering the camp, the British let out a cheer, “which made the woods echo,” according to Lt. Martin Hunter of the 52nd Light Infantry. The darkness hid the size of the attacking force and the battle cries made it seem gigantic. “The Enemy last Night at twelve oClock, attacked our little Force with about 4000 Men — Horse and Foot — accompanied with all the Noise and Yells of Hell,” wrote Col. Thomas Hartley of York, Pennsylvania. “Our Division was drawn up, but retreating . . . our Men just raised from Sleep moved disorderly — Confusion followed. . . . The Carnage was very great . . . this is a bloody Month.”

Most of Wayne’s force escaped, but many did not. Some Americans fired at each other in the dark, while British bayonets and dragoon sabers found their marks. Campfires silhouetted Wayne’s column as screeching Highlanders cut men down with broadswords. “I with my own Eyes, see them, cut & hack some of our poor Men to pieces after they had fallen in their hands and scarcely shew the least Mercy to any,” wrote Col. Adam Hubley of Lancaster. Capt. Sir James Baird of the 71st Highlanders, described by a loyalist as “the scourge of Rebelion,” charged into the fray, where “he push’d a rebel musket past his breast, which killed a Sergent behind him.” Enraged, Baird “put 16 of them to death with his own hands.” The 42nd Royal Highlanders set fire to the camp, burning alive several men who refused to come out of their huts. All told, at least 53 Americans were killed, with 150 others wounded and 70 to 80 taken prisoner, many of whom were severely injured with multiple bayonet wounds.

 

The Paoli Massacre is a rare period image painted in 1782 by Xavier della Gatta in London for a British officer. It vividly captures the details of the battle: the small huts—called “booths” by the Americans and “wigwams” by the British—on the right; British light infantry bayoneting Continentals in the firelight; and British dragoons wreaking havoc on the left. In the foreground, Lt. Martin Hunter, the only wounded British officer, is bandaging his hand, while Capt. William Wolfe of the 40th lies dead, the sole British officer killed in the battle. Museum of the American Revolution

The Paoli Massacre is a rare period image painted in 1782 by Xavier della Gatta in London for a British officer. It vividly captures the details of the battle: the small huts—called “booths” by the Americans and “wigwams” by the British—on the right; British light infantry bayoneting Continentals in the firelight; and British dragoons wreaking havoc on the left. In the foreground, Lt. Martin Hunter, the only wounded British officer, is bandaging his hand, while Capt. William Wolfe of the 40th lies dead, the sole British officer killed in the battle. Museum of the American Revolution

British dragoons went looking for Maj. Cromwell Pearce Sr., of the Chester County militia, at his home. His wife Margaret opened the door with baby Marmaduke in her arms and 5-year-old Cromwell Jr. at her side. “A brutal soldier, pointing his pistol at her breast, asked for her husband,” Stewart Pearce later wrote in his 1908 family history. “They searched the premises and found a wounded soldier who had obtained shelter there after the battle or massacre. They placed a rope around his neck and led him away to the British camp.” Such a terrifying scene left permanent impressions on young Cromwell.

“We bury’d our Dead next day in the field of Battle, (52 brave fellows) All kill’d by the sword & Bayonet,” Colonel Hubley reported. Local civilians, including Joseph Cox and George King, buried the men by a boundary fence at the back of the Pearce farm, where many of them had been bayoneted while vainly attempting to climb over. Later, another soldier was found somewhere in the woods and buried; his grave remains unknown.

The Pennsylvanians burned for vengeance. Two weeks later, in the foggy dawn of October 4, they furiously attacked the British light infantry at Germantown while shouting, “Have at the Bloodhounds! Revenge Wayne’s Affair!” and “Remember Paoli!” The British broke and ran, only to rally after American forces became confused and fired on each other in the fog and smoke.

Recent research by historian Robert Selig has documented “Remember Paoli!” as a battle cry in several engagements to inspire the troops. The most dramatic occurred in 1779 when Wayne led American light infantry in a midnight bayonet assault to capture Stony Point, a fort on a steep eminence overlooking the Hudson River. Wayne was badly wounded but survived; panicked British troops quickly surrendered as American bayonets — backed with shouts of “Remember Paoli!”— came over the parapets. For this victory, Congress awarded Wayne a gold medal.

 

This British manuscript map, “drawn by an officer on the spot” and engraved in London in 1778 by William Faden, shows the main British camp, 4 miles east of Wayne’s camp, and the route of the British attack force. It also depicts “the Rebels flying in disorder” west of the camp towards the White Horse Tavern. The American dead were gathered the next day by local civilians and buried in a mass grave on the battlefield. A British captain, a sergeant and “one or two privates” killed in the battle were taken back to camp and buried by their own troops, probably at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, shown in the upper center.

This British manuscript map, “drawn by an officer on the spot” and engraved in London in 1778 by William Faden, shows the main British camp, 4 miles east of Wayne’s camp, and the route of the British attack force. It also depicts “the Rebels flying in disorder” west of the camp towards the White Horse Tavern. The American dead were gathered the next day by local civilians and buried in a mass grave on the battlefield. A British captain, a sergeant and “one or two privates” killed in the battle were taken back to camp and buried by their own troops, probably at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, shown in the upper center.
Library of Congress

“Paoli left a mark on the collective memory of the Continental Army and entered the collective memory of the American people via the discharged soldiers,” Selig discovered as he worked on the application requirements for National Landmark status. After the war, “it was used for party politics, and speakers throughout the first half of the 19th century could reference Paoli, knowing their audience would understand the meaning.”

While the battle could be referenced in speeches, the remote battlefield quickly returned to farmland. The grave was marked only by a heap of stones, according to one account, and by 1817 it faced obliteration. Meeting at the house of Joseph Pearce, brother of Cromwell, on July 4, the Republican Artillerists resolved “to make arrangements for enclosing, in a durable manner, the graves of the brave men who perished in the Massacre near the Paoli . . . and also to procure a Stone, with an appropriate inscription, to be placed in such part of the enclosure as shall be deemed most expedient.”

In Philadelphia, Isaac Barnard found a marble monument similar to the stone placed on Wayne’s grave at St. David’s Church eight years earlier. This monument was slightly damaged; “The Cap I think can be repair’d but it must have a new Bace,” Barnard reported. “The Die or solid part must also have some repairs.” He procured it for $175, and the monument was refinished by noted architect William Strickland. Darlington composed the “Sacred to the Memory” inscription, and all four sides were inscribed.

In early September, the Republican Artillerists went to the site to build a stone enclosure, which was whitewashed and capped with red-painted wooden boards. They reported that “the grave has been dug north and south, and the bodies,” two rows of 26, “regularly laid east and west. The hats, shoes, clothing and armor [accoutrements] of the gallant, though unfortunate wearers, have been consigned to the grave with them.” To erect the monument, “the principal parts of the bones of four bodies were raised, and a repository being formed in the center of the foundation, they were again carefully committed to the earth.”

The dedication on September 20 began with a parade from the Paoli Tavern, nearly 2 miles east of the site, at 11 o’clock. Militia units came from all over southeastern Pennsylvania:

Capt. Harris’s “Union Troop of Chester and Delaware,” in advance.
Col. Cromwell Pearce, officer of the day.
Revolutionary officers.
Isaac Wayne Esqr. & Rev. David Jones.
Officers of U. S. Army & Navy.
“Republican Artillerists of Chester County.” Commanded by Major Barnard. (with an elegant brass Field-Piece)
Capt. Cooper’s “Junior Artillerists,” from Philad:
Capt. Wersler’s “Chester County volunteer Light Infantry”
Capt. Holdgates’s “Montgomery Blues”
Capt. G. G. Leiper’s “Delaware Fencibles”
Brig. Gen. W. Brooke, and Staff; & officers of 3rd Division Penn. Militia.
Field Officers of Militia, from Philada.
Capt. Holstein’s Troop of Cavalry, from Montgomery County
Capt. Smith’s Delaware County Troop.
Contributors & Citizens generally.

The column advanced west along the Lancaster Turnpike and down the South Valley Hill to the Warren Tavern (where British troops had forced a blacksmith to guide them in 1777) and then proceeded up Sugartown Road to enter the grounds from the west. “By this circuitous route (about 3 miles in extent) the whole ground of the scene of action, during the Massacre, was included,” the Artillerists’ orderly book explained.

Rev. David Jones was pastor of the Great Valley Baptist Church in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County. A radical patriot, he served as chaplain for the Pennsylvania Line and later in the 1794 Fallen Timbers Campaign and in the War of 1812. His last public appearance was in 1817 at the dedication of the Paoli monument. From Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, Vol. 2 (Harper & Bros., 1859)

Rev. David Jones was pastor of the Great Valley Baptist Church in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County. A radical patriot, he served as chaplain for the Pennsylvania Line and later in the 1794 Fallen Timbers Campaign and in the War of 1812. His last public appearance was in 1817 at the dedication of the Paoli monument. From Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, Vol. 2 (Harper & Bros., 1859)

Major Barnard delivered a speech, followed by 82-year-old Rev. David Jones, chaplain of Wayne’s force and a Paoli survivor. Jones, the firebrand pastor of the Great Valley Baptist Church, was a veteran of several wars; this was his final public appearance, and regrettably, his remarks were not preserved. Isaac Wayne, son of the late general, was also present but did not speak. The event concluded with a “sham battle.”

Paoli commemorations became annual militia events, and 22 acres around the grave were purchased to use as a drill field. They drew crowds that drew vendors, and problems resulted; by 1819 “all Sutlers [vendors] are hereby positively forbidden to enter the field with their establishments, on that day,” a notice published in West Chester’s Village Record newspaper stated, and “the Lieutenant Colonel commandant is determined to use all the means within his power, to prevent any infraction of the laws, and to maintain that order and decorum in the vicinity of the monument which are due to the place and the occasion.”

While most of the subsequent commemorations generally remained respectful and orderly, the 1841 event saw, according to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, “a general riot, which nearly ended in the general massacre of several of the combatants.” Order was restored only when “a troop of horsemen near the spot . . . put spurs to their beasts, and succeeded in subduing the disturbance, by dispersing the principal actors.”

As the 1812 veterans passed on, interest in maintaining the site declined. Vandals damaged the monument, chipping pieces off the sides, some even using it for target practice. As early as 1851, a restoration effort tried to raise funds but failed, and by 1857 “unthinking violence, neglect, time and the seasons, have effected the work of further effacement,” the Philadelphia Press reported. “What was then threatened decay is now dilapidation. If this cannot be arrested, it must soon end in destruction.” The monument’s soft, unpolished marble had weathered quickly, and the inscriptions were difficult to read.

By 1869 the worst had happened, according to West Chester’s Village Record: “Vandal hands have broken and defaced the monument until it has been almost entirely destroyed; an attempt was made to take the whole top off the monument, it was moved an inch or so on the pedestal, but finally had to be given up. A great piece was then knocked off the top.” Even more disturbing, “the corner stone was broken out and all the memorials it contained stolen therefrom,” meaning that the bones inside the box at the base were taken.

The approaching centennial saw a revival of interest in the monument, and on the 100th anniversary of the battle, a large granite obelisk with the same inscriptions was dedicated. The 1817 stone wall was removed and replaced with a cast-iron fence. The original monument, now resembling a forlorn obelisk with its base and capstones missing and its tip broken off, was moved to the end of the grave.

Since 1896 the site has been lovingly cared for by the Paoli Memorial Association, shortly after the Borough of Malvern was formed. In the 1960s the original monument was returned to the center of the mound and a stone wall re-erected around the grave. The granite obelisk was moved a few yards away, and memorials to the fallen of other wars have joined the Paoli monument to commemorate their sacrifice.

 

Chipped and scarred by 19th-century vandalism, its inscriptions barely visible due to weathering, the original 1817 marble Paoli monument stands firmly back on its original spot, encased in plexiglas for protection. Photo by Robert Colameco

Chipped and scarred by 19th-century vandalism, its inscriptions barely visible due to weathering, the original 1817 marble Paoli monument stands firmly back on its original spot, encased in plexiglas for protection. Photo by Robert Colameco

In 1996 the Paoli Battlefield Preservation Fund (PBPF) was created to raise revenue to purchase the adjacent 44 acres of cornfield and woods, the site of Wayne’s encampment, from Malvern Preparatory School. The site was preserved and marked for self-guided tours in 2002. Since 2014 PBPF has been working to secure National Landmark status to further protect the battlefield, memorial grounds and other local sites associated with the battle. The effort that started 200 years ago continues.

 

For information on tours and events at the Paoli Battlefield or ways you can assist in its preservation, visit the website of the Paoli Battlefield Preservation Fund at pbpfinc.org.

For details on visiting and preserving the Paoli Memorial Grounds, go to the website of the Paoli Memorial Association at paolimemorialassociation.org.

 

Thomas J. McGuire teaches American history at Malvern Preparatory School, near Paoli, Chester County, and is the author of Battle of Paoli; The Philadelphia Campaign, Vol. 1: Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia; and The Philadelphia Campaign, Vol. 2: Germantown and the Roads to Valley Forge.