Revolution Affected Pennsylvania Communities

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Every county and community in the Commonwealth was in some way involved or connected with the American Revolution and Pennsylvania’s attainment of statehood. Certain places associated with famous events in the struggle for independence come to mind immediately: Philadelphia, Lancaster, and York for civil affairs, and Brandywine, Germantown, Whitemarsh, Valley Forge, and Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware for military events.

But the movement to defend American rights which became the struggle for independence had its roots in the feelings and opinions of communities throughout the settled parts of Pennsylvania. When the British government attempted to force unpopular measures on the colonies, people in various communities in Pennsylvania met and adopted strong resolutions urging united action and expressing support of the Continental Congress. Among the places which issued such Resolves were:

Hanover Township, Dauphin County (June 4, 1774). Middletown (June 10, 1774), Hummelstown (June 11, 1774), Lebanon (June 25, 1774), Reading (July 2, 1774), Lancaster (July 9, 1774), Carlisle (July 12, 1774), Chester (July 13, 1774), Hannastown, Westmoreland County (May 16, 1774), Pittsburgh (May 16, 1776), Easton (May 22, 1775), and Pine Creek, Clinton County (July 4, 1776).

When the Provincial Conference of June, 1776, called for an election on July 8 to choose members of a convention to form a new government for Pennsylvania, it required that every voter take an oath or affirmation breaking off allegiance to the King and supporting a government on the authority of the people only. After the Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress, the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety sent messengers to the five most populous countries to have the Declaration published at all the voting places on election day, July 8, the same day that it was officially proclaimed in Philadelphia. Therefore, everyone who voted in Pennsylvania on July 8, 1776, was joining in a mass Declaration of Independence. The list of the voting places has been preserved, and most of them can be identified with present-day communities.

Every community in the settled area of Pennsylvania also had a part in furnishing men, money, and supplies for the Continental Army. The communities and farmers in the frontier counties on the fringes of settlement had a special burden to bear, for raids by the British and Indians often threatened and sometimes destroyed their lives, homes, and properties, and little defense could be provided there. The British Indian Department reports, now in the Public Archives of Canada, have some tabulations of men, women, and children taken prisoner or killed, homes and barns burned and livestock carried off, an indication of the sacrifices and suffering involved on the frontier. The Commission’s historic property, Captain William Phillips’ Rangers Memorial, is a monument recalling one of these raids. In fact, the last action of the Revolutionary War in Pennsylvania was the burning of Hannastown, then the county seat of Westmoreland County, in a final raid on July 13, 1782.

In 1776 a considerable part of Pennsylvania remained unsettled, either because it was still Indian country, or because the Proprietary had not opened it to settlers. Even this area, however, was affected directly or indirectly by the Revolution. Sullivan’s Expedition in 1779 marched from Easton through present Northampton, Monroe, Luzerne, Wyoming, and Bradford counties in a campaign against the Six Nations, allies of the British. In the same year, Col. Daniel Brodhead led an expedition from Pittsburgh against the hostile Senecas on the upper Allegheny, passing through Armstrong, Clarion, Forest, Warren, and Venango counties. Moreover, by the Divesting Act of 1779, the Pennsylvania Assembly took possession of all the unsurveyed Proprietary lands for the benefit of the people. After the Revolution, and after Indian claims had been cleared, much land in northwestern Pennsylvania (Donation Lands) was given to veterans as a bonus, and other lands were sold on easy terms. As a result, in later years many Revolutionary veterans settled in the area which had been opened as a result of the Revolution, and their graves are probably as numerous in the new counties as in the older counties of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Kent is director of the Bureau of Archives and History, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.