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Henry Melchior Muhlenberg and the American Revolution

  • Theodore G. Tappert (a1)


The growing tension between the American colonies and England in the decade preceding the Revolution confronted conscientious colonists with the necessity of making a difficult decision. Pressure to reach a decision was immeasurably increased when friction developed into war. It was relatively easy for some colonists to make up their minds as to whether or not they should remain loyal to the British crown. Those who were called Whigs or Tories recognized no serious problem; political ideals and allegiances, considerations of self-interest, and long standing prejudices united in various ways to make them zealous patriots or ardent loyalists. But these extremists were in a decided minority at the beginning of the Revolution. The majority of the colonists occupied ground somewhere in between; they were conservatives who hoped for a compromise solution of the differences between England and America, or wavered in distrustful indecision, or had no conviction whatsoever in the matter. It would be unjust lightly to prejudge their motives as of necessity either nobler or baser than those of the patriots and loyalists. Particularly unhappy was the lot of those who were unable to reach a conscientious decision either for or against the struggle for independence.



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1 The position taken by Muhlenberg with reference to the American Revolution has been singularly ignored or distorted. Mann, William J., whose reliable Life and Times of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (Philadelphia, 1887) devotes comparatively little space to the last twenty years of Muhlenberg's life, passes by the Revolution with a few generalizations (pp. 481–86). Others have not examined the sources. Richards, H. M. M. glibly asserts in his The Pennsylvania German in the Revolutionary War (Lancaster, 1908), 428: “So great was his [Muhlenberg's] patriotism during the Revolution that he became a marked man and was obliged to flee from Philadelphia to his home at the Trappe when the British entered it [Philadelphia] after the Battle of Brandywine.” Theodore E. Schmauk quotes with approval the words of J. F. Sachse: [Every clergyman sent out by Halle lsqb;Muhlenberg was their leader] was loyal to the patriots and espoused their cause during the revolutionary period]– Schmauk, T. E., A History of the Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania, 16381820 (Philadelphia, 1903), I, 206. Such facile generalizations are widely accepted as true. The present study goes back to the sources, most of which are manuscripts in the Archives of the Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania located in the library of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

2 Ein Zeugniss von der Güte und Ernst Gottes gegen sein Bundesvolk in alten und neuen Zeiten und des Volkes Undankbarkeit, gelegentlich des Dankfestes wegen Aufhebung der Stempel-Acte, 1. August, 1766. Printed by Henrich Miller in Philadelphia.

3 Priedrich Michael Ziegenhagen (1694–1777) was the German Lutheran chaplain of the Royal Chapel of St. James, sometimes called the Royal German Chapel, which was founded in the time of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Queen Anne. The Lutherans in Pennsylvania had appealed to Ziegenhagen as well as to Gotthilf August Prancke, of Halle, for a pastor.

4 German letter, Muhlenberg to David Grim, of New York City, 01 14, 1778. This manuscript letter, like all manuscript materials cited below, except where otherwise stated, is in the Lutheran Archives in Philadelphia.

5 English MS. letter, Muhlenberg to the Governor and Council of Georgia, January 31, 1775.

6 The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, edited and translated by T. G. Tappert and J. W. Doberstein, 3 vols. (Philadelphia, 1942), I, 376; Journals, 09 18, 1774, etc. (Volumes II and III of Muhlenberg's Journals will come from the press in the next few years; they must be cited here by date entries.)

7 Letter to his superiors in Halle, dated 07 18, 1775, and printed in Nachrichten von den vereinigten Deutschen Evangelisch-Lntherischen Gemeinen in Nord-America, neue Ausgabe herausgegeben von J. L. Schulze, W. J. Mann, B. M. Schmucker, und W. Germann (Band I. Allentown, 1886; Band II, Philadelphia, 1895), Vol. II, pp. 706–07. This work is commonly called the Hallesche Nachrichten or Halle Reports.

8 Letter to Halle, dated 08 25, 1775, in Hallesche Nachrichten, II, 703–04.

9 Journals, December 4, 1776; German Mrs. letter, Mrs. J. C. (Margaretha) Kunze to H. M. Muhlenberg, dated 11 5, 1777.

10 Hallesche Nachrichten, II, 708.

11 Huch, C. F., “General Peter Mühlenberg,” in Mitteilungen des Deutschen Pionier-Vereins von Philadelphia, 2. Heft (1906), 213; Germann, W., “Crisis in the Life of Peter Muhlenberg,” in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XXXVII, 298 ff.; the same in Rattermaun's, H. A. Deutsch-Amerikanisches Magavin; Hocker, E. W., The Fighting Parson of the American Revolution: A Biography of General Peter Muhlenberg (Philadelphia, 1930), 5058. Manuscript letters and documents in the Archives of the Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, also throw light on H. M. Muhlenberg's relations with his son Peter.

12 German MS. letter, Muhlenberg to David Grim, of New York City, 01 14, 1778.

13 Loc. cit. The statement in question was actually drafted and published, but not, as frequently stated, with Muhlenberg's permission or approval. The 40-page statement bears the title: Schreiben des Evangelisch-Lutherischen und Reformirten Kirchen-Rathes wie auch der Beamten der Teutschen Gesellschaft in der Stadt Philadelphia an die Teutschen Einwohner der Provinzen New York und Nord-Carolina. For a brief summary of the pamphlet in English see Mann, , Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, 484–85.

14 The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, I, 212.

15 German MS. letter, Muhlenberg to David Grim, January 14, 1778. Mann carelessly states (Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, 491), that Muhlenberg left Philadelphia because he “could not be expected to expose himself in that city to the rudeness of the enemy [the British] and to jeopardize life and personal freedom.”

16 Manuscript volume PM 95, A 1774–75, pp. 673–79, and PM 95, A 1775–77, pp. 31–33.

17 Augustus Lutheran Church, Trappe, Pa.

18 The oldest of the three “united congregations” which originally called Muhlenberg was the “Swamp Church” in New Hanover, organized at some undetermined time between 1695 and 1703. The third of the original “united congregations” was St. Michael's (now St. Michael's and Zion) in Philadelphia.

19 A copy is in the MS. Tagebuch für F. A. C. Mühlenberg, angefangen am 25. 09, 1770, 8694, located in the Archives of Trinity Lutheran Church, Reading, Pennsylvania.

20 German MS. letter, J. C. Kunze to H. M. Muhlenberg, 11 30, 1778; H. M. Muhlenberg's manuscript volume PM 95, A 1775–77, p. 60.

21 Journals, 02 15, 1779.

22 The Swedish corporation, i. e. the vestry or church council of the Swedish Lutheran Church in Wicaco, now South Philadelphia. Prior to this Muhlenberg had urged his son Henry Ernestus to do what he could to have the congregation elect a German-English pastor to take the place of the Swedish pastor who was planning to return to his native land (Journals, 01 30, 1779). Later, in 1783 and 1784, Muhlenberg tried to persuade Frederick to accept a call to the battle-scarred Salzburgers' Ebenezer Church in Georgia or to find a professorship somewhere (Journals, 08 12, 1783; letters of Muhlenberg to the elders and deacons in Ebenezer, Georgia, January 12, January 20, and June 24, 1784).

23 German MS. letter, H. M. Muhleuberg to G. H. E. Muhlenberg, 09 29, 1780. Young Henry also thought for a while of demitting the ministry (Jonrnals, 03 14, 1777).

24 German MS. letter, H. M. Muhlenberg to G. H. E. Muhlenberg, 03 27, 1782.

25 German MS. letter, H. M. Muhlenberg to Governor Treutlen of Georgia, 10 14, 1777.

26 Jornals, 04 25, 1780; 09 21, 1781.

27 German MS. letter, H. M. Muhlenberg to F. A. C. Muhlenberg. 04 3, 1780.

28 Journals, 10 14, 1776; 09 17, 1777; 05 20, 1778. German MS. letter, Muhlenberg to Kunze, 03 7, 1777. Mrs. Muhlenberg's affliction was variously described by her husband as “epileptic convulsions,”“hysterical paroxisms cum clamore,” and “epilepsia uterina” with a variety of complications. To attempt to reason with a hypochondriac and hysterical woman, Muhlenberg complained, is of little avail.

29 Journals, 09 3, 27, 11 25, 1776; 09 19, 12 9, 1777; 04 24, 11 22, 1778; et passim.

30 Journals, 07 28, 1776; cf. 07 23, 1776.

31 Journals, 09 27, 1777.

32 English MS. letter, no addressee given, 06 17, 1778.

33 E. g. Journals, 12 28, 1776, 01 8, 1777, 07 20–21, 1778, 07 21, 1779, etc.

34 Journals, 11 8, 1776; cf. 07 6, 1778.

35 Journals, 05 7, 1778.

36 Journals, 07 28, 1783.

37 Journals, 11 24, 1779.

38 Journals, 12 12, 1777; 03 15, 1778; et passim.

39 Journals, 08 3, 4, 5, 10, 22, 1776. Muhlenberg records that he used Deuteronomy 20:1–4 and Ephesians 6:10ff. as his texts at these special services. His son Frederick preaçhed for him on one of these occasions and spoke more belligerently on Nehemiah 4:14.

40 Journals, 09 23, 1777; 07 26–30, 1778.

41 Journals, 02 25, 12 9, 1779, etc.

42 Journals, 12 24, 1777; 01 13, 02 26, 03 30, 0511, 06 21, 1778; et passim.

43 Journals, 05 28, 1775; 11 3, 12, 24, 1777; et passim.

44 German MS. letters, Muhlenberg to Kunze, 11 1, 1779; Kunze to Muhlenberg, 12 5, 1783; Muhlenberg to the elders and deacons in Ebenezer, Georgia, 06 24, 1784. Journals, 07 23, 12 22, 1777; 06 4, 1778.

45 Journals, 06 2, 1775; 10 23, 27, 1776; 06 11, 09 20, 11 3, 12 18, 1777; 02 27, 05 15, 1778; 02 10, 1781.

46 Documentary History of the Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States, 1748–1821, edited by A. Spaeth, H. E. Jacobs, and G. P. Spieker (Philadelphia, 1898), 154–55.

47 English MS. letter, Muhlenberg to the secretary of the province of Pennsylvania, 10 7, 1775; Journals, 03 7, 09 6, 1777.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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