Beyond Friendship: the roots of eastern Pennsylvania patriots
By James C. Fulmer, NMLRA Past President
During the dark days of the American Revolution during the winter of 1777-1778 the British had captured Philadelphia, the colonies’ largest city.
Here the British would winter over in the comfort of a city with a seaport, where they would easily receive supplies from Mother England. The Americans would follow George Washington into a part of the bleak rolling hills of Pennsylvania called Valley Forge. The suffering that winter was unimaginable. As many as 12,000 men entered into the encampment.
Washington wrote, “We have this day no less than 2,873 men in camp unfit for duty because they are barefooted and other wise naked.”
Washington shared the hardships suffered by his men. His presence kept the army from disintegrating. He spent much of his time begging Continental Congress for supplies and food. Everyday was a constant struggle to survive and keep the army together.
Tradition holds that one cold day, Isaac Potts, a Quaker farmer who lived near Valley Forge, was walking through the woods when he heard a low solemn voice. Slipping quietly closer in the direction of the voice, he found a riderless horse tied to a tree. He crept closer and there he saw General Washington on his knees in snow.
“If there is anyone the Lord will listen to, it is this brave man. I have seen General Washington on his knees. Our independence is certain.” Isaac Potts (Valley Forge Winter 1777-1778)
Washington with his head bowed asked God to look after his men. That night Isaac Potts would tell his wife Martha of the encounter.
The patriot spirit never broke. In the midst of all the misery, the men managed to march, drill and train to fight. By the time the snows melted only about 8,000 of the original men remained. They survived on little more than loyalty, courage and resolve. They were true patriots. Who were these Patriots? On Nov. 9, 2011 I had the opportunity to speak about patriots at the Andulhea Heritage Center (AHC) annual dinner meeting. Andulhea means between the two streams in the language of the Lenni Lenape. Carol Kissinger, a director of the AHC, invited me to speak at the dinner almost a year before and talk about the soldiers of the American Revolution.
The president of the AHC is Sandra Kauffman; their website is Andulheaheritagecenter.org. The AHC is a group of like-minded people who love history and are very patriotic.
The patriots who came from that area in Pennsylvania during the War of Independence were almost 600 strong; that is a lot of men to come out of Berks County alone, many from the Andulhea area. The two streams are the Schuylkill and the Susquehanna Rivers.
This area of the country is full of streams: the Tulpehocken, Northkill and Swatara Creeks, to name just a few.
This area of the country was settled pretty early, but the great immigration came in 1723 when 33 German families moved from New York State and relocated in Pennsylvania.
Many Germans had moved to New York State at the invitation of the British Government in 1712, under Queen Anne’s rule. Around 1720 the governor of New York cheated them out of their land. Because of the number of Germans who were showing up in the county of Schoharie they were restricted to a scanty allowance of ten acres per family and they could not survive. Since Pennsylvania was known to be friendly to the German people they petitioned the governor of Pennsylvania to move to the Andulhea area. This area in Pennsylvania wasn’t settled like most of the state. These families came down the Susquehanna River all the way from New York State. They would turn up the Swatara Creek and follow it up in to the Tulpehoken Valley. Probably the first dwelling of a white man was the long log cabin of John Harris.
By March 11, 1752, Berks County officially came into existence. The boundaries would not be settled until 1769. The population of the county at this time was 12,000. With the first federal census of Berks County in 1790 it was found that of the 30,189 residents 22,345 were of German decent, 7,000 were English and Welsh, and the rest were made up of Scotts, Irish, Dutch, French and Blacks. Reading Town was the only sizable settlement, with 2,225 residents.
This area saw many great raids during the French and Indian War, 1754 to 1763. All along the Blue Mountain there was fighting on the frontier. Even after the French and Indian War there would be no peace in the area until after Pontiac’s rebellion.
When the rebellion against the British government erupted in 1775 a whole rifle company was raised overnight. Naugle’s Rifle Company would become a part of history for their flintlock long rifles and expert marksmanship.
This civilian rifle company manned by the patriots of Berks County would eventually become the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line.
Why did these men come down out of the rolling hills at the base of the Blue Mountain so mad to fight the British Government? Part of it was that during the French and Indian War they saw no help from the British government.
They were on their own, the land they cleared and worked was theirs; they earned it through loyalty, courage, and resolve. Why could someone demand a tax on something that was yours? Also the British started using the Native Americans against the settlers, and once again the frontier was not safe.
Maybe it was their parents and grandparents telling them stories about Europe and how there was no freedom like they experience at the base of the Blue Mountain.
This story was repeated all over the 13 colonies. People worked hard in the New World for themselves, not to support a King or a Lord of the Manor. When Britain tried to control the industry, the commerce, and even the migration of the people into a new frontier beyond the Alleghenies, that is what made the people mad enough to fight.
“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” Theodore Roosevelt
These people were patriots. Without patriotism there cannot be a United States. Patriotism doesn’t mean blind loyalty. It isn’t a knee-jerk reaction in agreement with a president or a political party to which we belong.
Nobody wants the United States to be a republic of sheep. We need a nation of free minds and free wills to examine the country’s actions closely. Sometimes the debate will get noisy. American patriotism can be rough and tumble.
That’s okay as long as it is all for the good of the country.