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Great Britain after September 10, 1775, unless the grievances should sooner be redressed; recommended the appointment of committees of superintendence and correspondence, in the several counties and towns; adopted a declaration of rights, an address to the people of Great Britain, a memorial to the inhabitants of British America, and a loyal address to his majesty; and then adjourned, to meet in Philadelphia in May following.
The next assembly of Pennsylvania, composed of a large proportion of Quakers, promptly seconded the resolves of congress; and appointed a new delegation, consisting of Messrs. Biddle, Dickinson, Mifflin, Humphries, Morton, and Ross, of the former delegation, to whom were subsequently added Dr. Franklin, James Wilson, and Thomas Willing. Dr. Franklin returned from London 14th May, 1775.
During the gathering of the storm, Gov. Penn looked calmly on, rather disposed to favor the pretensions of the colony, but preserving a semblance of respect for the instructions of the crown, by disapproving of the mode of obtaining a redress of grievances by conventions and congress, and preferring the channel of the regular assemblies. Overtures from parliament for a compromise were transmitted by Gov. Penn to the assembly. These overtures, while they conceded to the colonial assemblies the right to assess and collect their own taxes, left it with parliament to dictate the amount to be raised; and it was hoped, by inducing some one or two colonies to accept them, to dissolve the confederacy. The overtures were rejected promptly by all the colonies, and the assembly of Pennsylvania disavowed, as disgraceful, any intention, to accept of benefits for this province, which might injure the common cause; “and which, by a generous rejection for the present, might be finally secured to all.”
A second provincial convention at Philadelphia, in January, 1775, of which Joseph Reed was president, was called to enforce the pledge of non-importation; to encourage the establishment of domestic manufactures, and the raising of wool and other raw materials of manufacture ;the making of salt, saltpetre, and especially gunpowder, “ inasmuch as there existed a great necessity for it, particularly in the Indian trade !" The committee of safety and correspondence for Philadelphia was made a standing committee for the whole province, and authorized to convene a provincial convention whenever they might deem it expedient.
The year 1774 had closed with loud expressions of constitutional loyalty to Great Britain: the spring of 1775 opened with the roar of revolutionary cannon. The battle of Lexington was fought April 19th, 1775; a British army, with Generals Howe, Burgoyne, and Clinton, arrived at Boston on the 25th May; and on the 17th of June the battle of Bunker Hill was fought.
Congress reassembled in Philadelphia, on the 10th of May. Peyton Randolph, after a few days, being obliged to return home, John Hancock took his place as president. Congress soon proceeded to the organization of an army, but still desiring reconciliation with Great Britain, determined that “an humble and dutiful petition be presented to his majesty.” “To resist and to petition were coeval resolutions.” The petition to his majesty was drawn and urged upon congress, by John Dickinson. Many members opposed it on the ground that it would be of no avail, but it was carried out of respect to Mr. Dickinson. This respectful pe
tition was presented to the king, through the secretary for colonial affairs, on the 1st of September, 1775, by Mr. Richard Penn and Henry Lee; and on the 4th Lord Dartmouth informed them that “to it no answer would be given.”
Gen. Washington was placed at the head of the army. A post-office department was organized, at the head of which Benjamin Franklin was placed. The assembly of Pennsylvania immediately took measures to raise the four thousand three hundred men apportioned to the province; made appropriations for their support, for the defence of the city, and for the purchase of saltpetre. Bills of credit were issued amounting to £35,000, redeemable by a tax on real and personal estate. A general committee of safety was appointed for the province, with power to call out the troops, to pay and support them, and to organize subordinate committees in every county. This committee at once assumed the executive powers of the province. A military association for mutual defence, with branches in each county, had been previously formed. The subordinate committees in the interior promptly attended to raising and organizing their respective quotas of men and officers. The members of the central committee were Benjamin Franklin, president, John Dickinson, George Gray, Henry Wynkoop, Anthony Wayne, Benjamin Bartholomew, George Ross, Michael Swope, John Montgomery, Edward Biddle, William Edmonds, Bernard Dougherty, Samuel Hunter, William Thompson, Thomas Willing, Daniel Roberdeau, John Cadwallader, Andrew Allen, Owen Biddle, Francis Johnston, Richard Reilly, Samuel Morris, junior, Robert Morris, Thomas Wharton, junior, and Robert White. After the election in October, these gentlemen were reappointed, and Joseph Reed, Nicholas Fairlamb, George Clymer, Samuel Howell, Alexander Wilson, John Nixon, James Mease, and James Biddle, were added to the committee.
The Quakers were severely exercised by the peculiar duties required of them by the committee of safety and the military associations. They were required either to take up arms, which they would not do, or contribute to the support of those who did. The latter they would probably have cheerfully done, in some indirect manner, if left to do it voluntarily; but an attempt to coerce them had the effect of alienating many of the sect, and attaching them to the royal side. There were distinguished men, however, of that sect among the patriots of the revolution; and many more favored the cause. Gen. Washington was always careful to conciliate the Quakers, for he saw that they were conscientiously loyal " to the powers that be,” and that if once they were convinced that the American government was firmly established, they would adhere to it with equal loyalty.
The assembly authorized the enlistment of a battalion of eight companies for the continental service, under Col. John Bull, and 1,500 men for the defence of the province, until January, 1778; forming two battalions of riflemen under Col. Miles, and Lieut. Cols. Ennion Williams, and Daniel Broadhead; and one battalion of infantry under Col. Samuel Atlee.
Congress had resolved in May, 1775, “That it be recommended to the respective assemblies and conventions of the united colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs has been hitherto established, to adopt such government as shall, in the opinions of the re
STATE CONSTITUTION OF 1776.
presentatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general."
The whigs were determined upon a change of government in Pennsylvania in pursuance of this resolve. More moderate men, and the tories, determined that the ancient charter was “sufficient for the exigencies of their affairs." Revolution, however, was the order of the day, and the whigs prevailed, and determined further, that the assembly, shackled as its members were by oaths of allegiance to the crown and the ancient charter, should have no hand in the formation of the new provincial government. Through the Philadelphia committee of observation and correspondence, a conference was called of delegates from all the county committees. This conference assembled at Philadelphia on the 18th June, 1776. Thomas McKean was president ; Col. Joseph Hart vice-president; Jonathan B. Smith and Samuel Morris secretaries. Each county was allowed but a single vote. The conference prescribed the mode of electing delegates to a great provincial convention for forming a new constitution, and the qualifications of electors who might vote for delegates; and in a solemn and temperate address to the people, (reported by Messrs. Benjamin Rush, McKean, Hill, and Smith,) set forth the objects and importance of the measure. All persons suspected, or publicly denounced as enemies to the liberties of America, and all who would not abjure allegiance to the king of Great Britain, were excluded from voting. The delegates to the convention were further required to believe in the Holy Trinity, and the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. The meeting of convention was fixed for the 8th July.
Previous to the assembling of the provincial conference, the proposition to declare the colonies independent had already been introduced to congress, on the 7th June, by Richard Henry Lee, and seconded by John Adams. These gentlemen advocated the measure with great boldness and eloquence. Mr. Dickinson of Pennsylvania, whose patriotism no one could doubt, opposed it, and strongly urged the propriety of seeking a reconciliation with Great Britain. On a vote in committee of the whole, all the colonies, except Pennsylvania and Delaware, approved the measure. On the 2d July, the measure was adopted by congress. The Declaration of Independence was reported to congress on the 28th June, and passed, by the vote of every colony, on the 4th of July, 1776. Messrs. Morris and Dickinson were absent. Messrs. Franklin, Wilson, and Morton voted for it, and Willing and Humphrey against it. Mr. Rodney was sent for from Delaware to unite with Mr. McKean in voting for it.
The convention for forming the constitution of the state of Pennsylvania, met at Philadelphia on the 15th July, 1776, and elected Benjamin Franklin president, George Ross vice-president, John Morris and Jacob Garrigues secretaries. Rev. William White, since the venerable bishop of Pennsylvania, opened the convention by imploring the Divine blessing upon their labors. The convention not only entered upon the task of forming the constitution, but assumed the legislative power of the state. They appointed as delegates to congress, Messrs. Franklin, Morton, Morris, Wilson, George Ross, James Smith, Benjamin Rush, George Clymer, and George Taylor. All these gentlemen, who had not already done it, signed the Declaration of Independence. Those gentlemen who had opposed it, were left out of the new delegation. The new constitution was
completed on the 28th September, 1776, signed by the president and all the members, and committed to the council of safety, to be delivered to the general assembly of the state at their first meeting.
The assembly of the province, whose power had gradually melted away before the heat of revolution, convened on the 23 September, and after approving a few accounts, and denouncing the legislative action of the convention, as a dangerous assumption of power, expired on the 26th September, 1776.
The population of Pennsylvania at the time of assuming the powers of a sovereign state, was estimated at over 300,000.
Independence had only been declared ; it was now to be maintained by a long and bloody war. The limits of this sketch will not admit of a notice of those scenes of the revolution occurring beyond the bounds of Pennsylvania. The close of the year 1776 was a gloomy period of the war. Gen. Washington, with the remains of an army constantly diminishing by desertion and the expiration of the terms of enlistment, had retreated through New Jersey before the British army under Howe and Cornwallis, and crossed into Pennsylvania. The enemy posted themselves along the Jersey side of the Delaware, waiting for the ice to form a bridge by which they might reach Philadelphia. The Americans guarded the ferries from New Hope to Bristol. The militia from the eastern part of Pennsylvania flocked to Washington's standard with spirit and in considerable numbers. On the night of the 25th December, Gen. Washington, with a force of only 2,400 men, boldly pushed across the Delaware and attacked the Hessian regiments at Trenton, capturing nearly a thousand men and six cannon. Washington recrossed with his prisoners into Pennsylvania, refreshed his troops, and then returned to Trenton, where he was joined by Gen. Cadwallader and Gen. Mifflin, who crossed the Delaware each with about 1,800 Pennsylvania militia.
The battle of Princeton took place within a week afterwards, after which the army went into winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey.
In July, 1777, the British army embarked at New York for the Delaware or Chesapeake bay, evidently intending an attack on Philadelphia. Gen. Washington immediately marched the army into Pennsylvania and encamped near Germantown, waiting to know more definitely the intentions of the enemy. It was at this time that Washington first met Lafayette, who had recently arrived in Philadelphia. Lafayette, invited by Washington, at once took up his quarters with the commander-in-chief, and shared all the privations of the camp. The British army, commanded by Sir William Howe, landed at the head of Elk, on the 25th August, 1777, and moved in two divisions, under Lord Cornwallis and Gen. Knyphausen, towards Chad's Ford, on the Brandywine. Washington marched his army, in fine spirits, through the streets of Philadelphia, and took up a position along the left bank of the Brandywine, at Chad's Ford, and at the Birmingham meeting-house, four miles above. Here a general action took place on the 11th September, in which great gallantry and military skill were displayed on both sides, but the Americans were finally routed, and retreated that night to Chester. The day after the battle, Washington retreated to Philadelphia, and encamped near Germantown. After a day's rest he again crossed the Schuylkill, and proceeded on the Lancaster road, intending again to meet the enemy. On
the 16th September, both armies prepared with great alacrity for battle ; but a heavy rain coming on, which wet the arms and ammunition of the Americans, they were compelled to abandon the design of an engagement, and retreat to French creek. Gen. Washington crossed the Schuylkill, and encamped on Perkiomen creek, and Gen. Wayne was sent to annoy the flanks of the enemy. It was while he was on this service that the memorable affair at the Paoli occurred. Having thus driven Wayne from his rear, and destroyed a quantity of stores at Valley Forge, Gen. Howe came across the Schuylkill without opposition, and entered Philadelphia on the 26th September, at the head of a detachment of British and Hessian grenadiers. The remainder of his army encamped at Germantown. The royalists in Philadelphia welcomed Gen. Howe with transports of joy; and during the winter the British officers were regaled with luxury and festivity.
Congress, immediately after the battle of Brandywine, had retired to Lancaster. They ordered large reinforcements of regulars and militia, from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia, to repair without delay to the camp of Gen. Washington. Thus strengthened, Washington seized upon a moment, while a part of the British army were engaged below the city in effecting a passage for their vessels through the obstructions thrown across the river, to attack the enemy's camp at Germantown. This attack was planned by Washington with his usual ability. At first the Americans appeared to have the advantage ; but Col. Musgrave contrived to throw a detachment of British troops into a large and strong stone house, at the entrance of the town, where he made a formidable resistance, and detained the Americans for some time in vain attempts to dislodge him. The morning being foggy, Gen. Smallwood's brigade came tardily upon the ground, and was inefficient when it arrived. These circumstances turned the fortunes of the day to the British side; the Americans were repulsed, leaving a great number of killed and wounded.
Washington, reinforced again by regiments from Virginia, encamped on Skippack creek, where he maintained a menacing attitude, and employed his cavalry and light troops in scouring the country to cut off supplies going to the enemy
The British made a vigorous attack, with a combined land and naval force, upon Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer, by which the passage of the Delaware, opposite the mouth of the Schuylkill, was guarded. Col. Donop, with a Hessian corps, was severely repulsed by Col. Greene, at Red Bank, (Fort Mercer.) Col. Donop was mortally wounded and taken prisoner, and his best officers killed or disabled.
On the other side, two of the British ships went on shore, and the others, with the troops, met with a long and obstinate resistance from the garrison in Fort Mifflin ; but the latter at length set fire to the fort, and retreated to Red Bank. Cornwallis, with a strong detachment, took possession of the fort at Red Bank, which had been evacuated on his approach, dismantled it, and destroyed the works. This was late in November, 1777.
Gen. Washington, being now reinforced by General Gates' troops from the north, encamped in a strong position at Whitemarsh. The American army at this time consisted of about eleven thousand one hundred men,