Pennsylvania in the American Revolution

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Washington Crossing the Delaware, an 1851 portrait by Emanuel Leutze of George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey in December 1776
Join, or Die by Benjamin Franklin and published in The Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754 was the first political cartoon in America[1]

Pennsylvania was the site of many key events associated with the American Revolution and American Revolutionary War. The city of Philadelphia, then capital of the Thirteen Colonies and the largest city in the colonies, was a gathering place for the Founding Fathers who discussed, debated, developed, and ultimately implemented many of the acts, including signing the Declaration of Independence, that inspired and launched the revolution and the quest for independence from the British Empire.

Founding Father Robert Morris said, "You will consider Philadelphia, from its centrical situation, the extent of its commerce, the number of its artificers, manufactures and other circumstances, to be to the United States what the heart is to the human body in circulating the blood."[2]

The American Revolution included both the political and social development of the Thirteen Colonies of British America, and the Revolutionary War. John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1815: "What do we mean by the revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution. It was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected, from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington. The records of thirteen legislatures, the pamphlets, newspapers in all the colonies ought be consulted, during that period, to ascertain the steps by which the public opinion was enlightened and informed concerning the authority of parliament over the colonies."[3]



Key events[edit]

A covert August 10, 1777 letter from Henry Clinton to John Burgoyne concerning the beginning of the Philadelphia campaign. Clinton used the covert mask method to disguise the letter's intended contents.
A Dreadful Scene of Havoc, a 1782 painting by Xavier della Gatta depicting the Paoli Massacre commissioned for a British Army officer who participated in the attack, is now in the collection of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.
The March to Valley Forge, an 1883 painting by William B. T. Trego now part of the Museum of the American Revolution collection in Philadelphia

That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates as with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies; unless dismissed by Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalions of Marines.

  • Pennsylvania Provincial Conference (June 18–25, 1776)
  • The Lee Resolution (also known as "The Resolution for Independence") (July 2, 1776)
  • Declaration of Independence (1776)
  • George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River (December 25, 1776) to attack the Crown Forces' German auxiliaries at Trenton. The decisive American victory was a significant morale boost to the demoralized, shrinking American army that was teetering on collapse due to impending enlistment expirations. The American victory at Trenton, together with American victories at the Battle of the Assunpink Creek and the Battle of Princeton helped inspire the Patriots and keep the Continental Army intact.
  • Continental Congress adopts the 13-star US flag: "Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."[5] (June 14, 1777)
  • Philadelphia campaign (1777–1778)
  • Conway Cabal (1777–1778)
  • Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777) - the largest battle of the American Revolution by number of troops engaged, and the longest single-day battle of the war, with continuous fighting for 11 hours
    • During the battle, famed British army marksman Patrick Ferguson, leading the Experimental Rifle Corps equipped with fast breech-loading Ferguson rifles, had the chance to shoot a prominent American officer, accompanied by another in distinctive hussar dress, but decided not to do so, as the man had his back to him (Ferguson) and was unaware of his presence. A surgeon told Ferguson in the hospital that some American casualties had said that General Washington had been in the area at the time. Ferguson wrote that, even if the officer were the general, he did not regret his decision.[6] The officer's identity remains uncertain; historians suggest that the aide in hussar dress might indicate the senior officer was Count Casimir Pulaski.
    • Brandywine was the first battlefield command of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. The American retreat was well-organized, largely due to his efforts. Although wounded, he created a rally point that allowed for a more orderly retreat before being treated for his wound.[7] Lafayette returned to visit Brandywine during his Grand tour of the United States in 1824–25, after which he was returned to France aboard the USS Brandywine.[8]
    • In addition to Lafayette, Polish Count Casimir Pulaski was another foreign officer present at Brandywine — his first military engagement against the British.[9] When the Continental Army troops began to yield, he reconnoitered with Washington's bodyguard of about 30 men, and reported that the enemy were endeavoring to cut off the line of retreat.[10] Washington ordered him to collect, as many as possible, the scattered troops who came his way, and employ them according to his discretion to secure the retreat of the army.[11] His subsequent charge averted a disastrous defeat of the Continental Army cavalry,[10][9][12] earning him fame in America[13] and saved the life of George Washington.[14] As a result, on September 15, 1777, on the orders of Congress, Washington made Pulaski a brigadier general in the Continental Army cavalry.[15] At that point, the cavalry was only a few hundred men strong organized into four regiments. These men were scattered among numerous infantry formations, and used primarily for scouting duties. Pulaski immediately began work on reforming the cavalry, and wrote the first regulations for the formation.[9]
  • Battle of the Clouds (September 16, 1777) - an aborted engagement in the area surrounding present day Malvern, Pennsylvania. After the American defeat at the Battle of Brandywine, the British Army remained encamped near Chadds Ford. When British commander William Howe was informed that the weakened American force was less than ten miles (16 km) away, he decided to press for another decisive victory. George Washington learned of Howe's plans, and prepared for battle. Before the two armies could fully engage, a torrential downpour ensued. Significantly outnumbered, and with tens of thousands of cartridges ruined by the rain, Washington opted to retreat. Bogged down by rain and mud, the British allowed Washington and his army to withdraw. The storm, which historian Thomas McGuire describes as "a classic nor'easter," raged well into the next day.[16]
  • Battle of Paoli (Also known as the Paoli Massacre) (September 20, 1777)
  • Siege of Fort Mifflin (September 26 to November 16, 1777)
    • Explosion and destruction of HMS Augusta - an explosion that smashed windows in Philadelphia and was heard 30 miles (48 km) away (October 22, 1777)
  • Battle of Germantown (October 4, 1777)
  • Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union created (November 15, 1777)
  • Battle of White Marsh (December 5–8, 1777)
  • Battle of Matson's Ford (December 11, 1777)
  • Valley Forge winter encampment of the Continental Army (December 1777 to June 1778)
  • Battle of Crooked Billet (May 1, 1778)
  • The Meschianza (May 18, 1778) - an elaborate fête given in honor of British General Sir William Howe in Philadelphia on May 18, 1778
  • Battle of Barren Hill (May 20, 1778)
  • Carlisle Peace Commission (1778)
  • The Big Runaway (June and July 1778)
  • Wyoming Valley battle and massacre (July 3, 1778)
  • Treaty of Fort Pitt (September 17, 1778) - the first written treaty between the new United States of America and any American Indians—the Lenape (Delaware Indians) in this case
  • An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery (March 1, 1780) passed by the Pennsylvania legislature - one of the first attempts by a government in the Western Hemisphere to begin an abolition of slavery
  • Sugarloaf Massacre (September 11, 1780)
  • Pennsylvania Line Mutiny (January 1, 1781)
  • Convention Army moved to Pennsylvania in 1781 (1781 to 1783) - an army of British and allied troops captured after the Battles of Saratoga. They were held prisoner at Camp Security in York County, PA. Located in present-day Springettsbury Township.
  • Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 (June 20, 1783)

Key historical sites, museums, and institutions[edit]

Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge in Upper Merion Township
Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia
The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia


Museums, parks and other historic sites[edit]

Libraries, archives, and historical societies[edit]

  • American Philosophical Society, the David Library of the American Revolution transferred its extensive collection to the society, establishing the David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society in 2020. The David Library's location in Washington Crossing, PA closed December 31, 2019.[18]
  • Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA), extensive historical archives and book holdings related to Pennsylvania history. Located on the same block as the Library Company of Philadelphia.
  • Library Company of Philadelphia, library founded by Benjamin Franklin with extensive historical archives and book holdings, as well as exhibits. Located on the same block as the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Significant documents originating in Pennsylvania during the Revolution[edit]

The Declaration of Independence

Key people[edit]

Benjamin Franklin
Peter Muhlenberg
Gen. Anthony Wayne

Legacy and influence: Colony to super-power[edit]

The American Revolution had wide-reaching, long-lasting impact around the world — not the least of which were the U.S. impact on republicanism internationally, numerous unilateral declarations of independence, and its eventual emergence as the world's only super-power following the Second World War and the Cold War. Unparalleled in wealth and power, the United States has remained the world's only super-power since the fall of the Soviet Union — for nearly three decades.[19][20][21]

The Revolutionary War entangled Great Britain in conflict with its rival empires of France and Spain; and also ignited open conflict between Great Britain and the United Provinces of the Netherlands (Dutch Republic).

Ultimately, the Declaration of Independence would influence many similar declarations of independence for over two-hundred years. The U.S. Declaration of Independence was considered dangerous to imperial power by some, and the Spanish-American authorities banned the circulation of the Declaration (although it was widely transmitted and translated).[22] In the Russian Empire, the full text of the Declaration of Independence was outlawed until the reign and reform era of Tsar Alexander II (1855-1881).[23]

Preservation and memorialization[edit]

The Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier in the Washington Square section of Philadelphia
Common grave memorial stone on the Brandywine battlefield in the graveyard of Birmingham Friends Meetinghouse in Birmingham Township

Nineteen Pennsylvania counties (almost a third of its 67 counties) are named for military and political figures from the American Revolution: Adams, Armstrong, Bradford, Butler, Crawford, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Jefferson, Luzerne, McKean, Mercer, Mifflin, Monroe, Potter, Sullivan, Warren, Washington, and Wayne counties.[24]

A convention held in Independence Hall in 1915, presided over by former US president William Howard Taft, marked the formal announcement of the formation of the League to Enforce Peace, which led to the League of Nations and eventually the United Nations. The building is part of Independence National Historical Park and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.[25]

The site of the Valley Forge winter encampment has been a National Historical Park since it was given as a gift to the nation during the U.S. bicentennial, and transferred from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to the National Park Service in 1976.

The American Battlefield Trust is working with various organizations and governments in Pennsylvania to preserve battlefields of the American Revolution, including Brandywine battlefield.[26] As of the 2010s, Chester County's government is working with the local municipalities at the sites of the Battles of Brandywine, Paoli and the Clouds, to preserve key areas in the increasingly-dense suburban communities.[27]

Many monuments and memorials exist throughout Pennsylvania dedicated to revolutionary-era figures, events, and war dead. Examples include the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier in Philadelphia; the National Memorial Arch, in Valley Forge National Historical Park, Chester County — a monument built to celebrate the arrival of the Continental Army at Valley Forge; various battle monuments at Brandywine, Paoli, Wyoming, and elsewhere; and numerous statues across the state.

Several lineage societies related to the revolution currently have an organized presence in Pennsylvania, including the Society of the Descendants of Washington's Army at Valley Forge, Sons of the Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution, Children of the American Revolution, and Society of the Cincinnati.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Today in History: January 17". Library of Congress. Retrieved December 8, 2006.
  2. ^ Weigley, RF et al. (eds): (1982), Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-01610-2. page 134.
  3. ^ Adams, John. "John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 24 August 1815". National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). National Archives of the United States. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  4. ^ Continental Congress (10 November 1775). "Resolution Establishing the Continental Marines". Journal of the Continental Congress. United States Marine Corps History Division. Archived from the original on 7 October 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  5. ^ "Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, 8:464".
  6. ^ Furgurson, Ernest B. "The British Marksman Who Refused to Shoot George Washington". World History Group. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  7. ^ Gaines, James (September 2007). "Washington & Lafayette". Smithsonian Magazine Online. Smithsonian. Archived from the original on April 3, 2012. Retrieved October 21, 2008.
  8. ^ Leepson, p. 164
  9. ^ a b c Szczygielski, 1986, p. 392
  10. ^ a b Storozynski, 2010, p. 56
  11. ^ Appletons Cyclopaedia of American Biography: Pickering-Sumter, 1898, p. 133
  12. ^ Kazimierz Pulaski Granted U.S. Citizenship Posthumously, 2009
  13. ^ Storozynsky 2010, p. 57.
  14. ^ 111th Congress Public Law 94
  15. ^ Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 111–94 (text) (PDF) U.S. Government Printing Office
  16. ^ McGuire, Thomas J. (2006). Battle of Paoli. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. p. 35. ISBN 9780811733373.
  17. ^ Harris, Michael C. (2014). Brandywine: A Military History of the Battle that Lost Philadelphia but Saved America, September 11, 1777. Savas Beatie LLC. p. 207. ISBN 9781611211627.
  18. ^ "Introducing the David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society". David Library of the American Revolution. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  19. ^ Bremer, Ian (May 28, 2015). "These Are the 5 Reasons Why the U.S. Remains the World's Only Superpower". Time.
  20. ^ Kim Richard Nossal. Lonely Superpower or Unapologetic Hyperpower? Analyzing American Power in the post–Cold War Era. Biennial meeting, South African Political Studies Association, 29 June-2 July 1999. Archived from the original on 2019-05-26. Retrieved 2007-02-28.
  21. ^ From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 (Published 2008), by Professor George C. Herring (Professor of History at Kentucky University)
  22. ^ The Contagion of Sovereignty: Declarations of Independence since 1776
  23. ^ Bolkhovitinov, "The Declaration of Independence," 1393.
  24. ^ "Pennsylvania Counties". Pennsylvania State Archives. Archived from the original on 2009-03-06. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
  25. ^ Independence Hall (at "Independence Hall's History"). World Heritage Sites official webpage. World Heritage Committee. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  26. ^ "Brandywine Battlefield, American Battlefield Trust". American Battlefield Trust. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  27. ^ "Battle of the Clouds Technical Report". County of Chester, Pennsylvania. County of Chester, Pennsylvania. Retrieved 2 August 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]