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Lycoming College History Department

“Upon looking round I do not see any Quarter from which I may so confidently look for Assistance as the Pennsylvania Troops who have shewn so much Spirit & Zeal.”

         ~General George Washington to Colonel Samuel Miles, August 8, 1776

With the outbreak of war in April 1775, ordinary farmers, artisans, servants, and laborers in Pennsylvania, like elsewhere, mobilized to meet the threat. Volunteer rifle battalions from Berks and Cumberland Counties were quickly raised and joined the Continental Army at Cambridge. During this initial moment and afterward, the“Pennsylvania Troops,” General George Washington wrote to one correspondent, “have shewn much Spirit & Zeal.” Pennsylvania’s revolutionary soldiers had many opportunities to show the general such passion. Between 1775 and 1781, Pennsylvanians fought in key battles and experienced all the hardships of war. They crossed the Delaware with Washington and took part in the battles of Trenton and Princeton in late 1776 and early 1777. They fought at Brandywine and Germantown to repel the British invasion of their state, and they guarded the roads and policed inhabitants after their efforts failed and the British occupied Philadelphia. Hard as these realities were, Pennsylvania’s soldiers also endured the difficulties of Valley Forge and the horror of the Wyoming Massacre.

 
 
Soldiers at the siege of Yorktown (1781), by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger

Soldiers at the siege of Yorktown (1781), by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger

Flag of the First Pennsylvania Rifles

Flag of the First Pennsylvania Rifles

Not all of Pennsylvania’s soldiers participated in these famous encounters and experiences. Many more ordinary soldiers remained local, building forts, acting as scouts and guides, and protecting their communities from enemy Native Americans and those neighbors, friends, and even kin who remained loyal to the crown. Pennsylvania’s soldiers also acted as a police force, exerting the full power of the commonwealth against perceived criminals and enemies of state. They rounded up “tories and thieves,” guarded prisoners to jail, and supplemented state officials in lesser matters frequently. The war, for many of these soldiers, was just as much about protecting their homes, their communities, and their state, as it was about expelling the British from America.

With the end of hostilities in 1781, the soldiers may have returned home, but the revolutionary struggle was far from over. They now had the task of rebuilding their lives and their state, which goals were sometimes at odds. The state government, suffering from political factionalism and a depleted treasury, exacted heavy taxes on its citizens, many of whom, recently returned from war and in the process of rebuilding, could not pay. Anywhere from 15 to 40 percent of ordinary people in some counties had their land and property confiscated and sold to pay for these back taxes. In result, some remained in the state, endured their losses and attempted to make do with what they had. Others moved to another state, and many more trudged west to the Ohio country.

This website, created and maintained by undergraduate students at Lycoming College, is dedicated to telling the stories of these soldiers and their experiences. On this site, you will find student essays about the American Revolution in Pennsylvania,  and the transcribed/annotated pension files and short biographies of some of Pennsylvania’s revolutionary soldiers. Through these essays and primary sources you will be able to read about the soldiers’ experiences in their own words while also understanding what they endured within the context of their individual and collective lives. I hope you enjoy reading about these soldiers, and please check back as we update the site with more essays, pensions, and biographies.

Dr. Christopher Pearl

Professor of History

Lycoming College

Contributors: 

Featured Pensioner:

ROBERT COVENHOVEN was born in Monmouth County, New Jersey, December 7, 1755 to Albert Covenhoven. Covenhoven lived in an area that could not legally arbitrate these disputes. He squatted on 'Indian lands' outside the western jurisdiction of Pennsylvania and thus beyond the boundaries of the law. Without local government, Covenhoven and several other members of the area banded together and created their own self-government known as the 'Fair-Play System.'

Featured Guest posts:

BENJAMIN TOTH,  “Life, Liberty, and Security”: The Sanguinary Tale of a Valley at War

In 1763, the Pennsylvanian legislature ordered a group of rangers from the frontier counties to enter the Wyoming Valley in order to expel the New England settlers.  Among these rangers was Lazarus Stewart, serving as a part of an eviction force meant to escort the New Englanders from the Wyoming Valley as peaceably as possible. The rangers could not have prepared for what greeted them, however, as they arrived at the settlement at Mill Creek.  When they arrived “They… found the New Englanders, who had been killed and scalped a day or two before they got there…”  

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Copyright 2016 Pennsylvania's Revolutionary Soldiers