Revolutionary War Chaplaincy

This is a most excellent article concerning Revolutionary War Chaplaincy.  No, I did not write this.  This is the only article like this that you will ever need to read. This article has two parts.

A Brief Account of Religion and the Revolutionary War Chaplaincy: Part 1


By James E. Newell — 1st Continental Regiment

Copyright © 1995 and 1996 James E. Newell. All rights reserved.

Background of the Chaplaincy

The practice of taking clergy into battle with armies dates back to the Old Testament. (cf: Deuteronomy 20:1-4) Up through and including the Crusades, the Clergy were an integral part of the Military leadership structure. Gradually they took more of a supportive and less of a leadership role.

The origin of the title “chaplain” goes back to an old legend of St. Martin of Tours, a soldier who lived about 316 to 400AD. Out on the town, Martin met a naked beggar. With his sword, Martin divided his cloak and gave half to the beggar. Later, Martin dreamed that he saw Christ wearing the part of his cloak given to the beggar whereupon Martin sought baptism, abandoned the military, and devoted himself to the Church. His remaining part of the cloak survived him and was carried into battle as a sacred relic of St. Martin who became Patron Saint of France [Drury,2]. The reliquary in which the “cappa” was kept was called the “cappella,” which through the Old French word “chappelle” became our word “chapel.” The priest in charge was called the “Chappellanus,” which became “chappellain” in Old French and “chaplain” in English [Williams,11-12].

The first recorded use of a chaplain in the American Colonies was in the Spring of 1637, when Samuel Stone of Hartford served as chaplain and advisor to Captain John Mason in the Pequot War [Williams, 31]. Chaplain Jonathan Frie, aged 21, fought during Queen Ann’s War (1702-1713). Wounded, he died on the way home and was the subject of several ballads known throughout New England [Thompson, 40]. Chaplains Buckingham and Edwards served on the expedition to Crown Point in 1711. They wore regimental coats and were issued fusees [Thompson, 36]. In King George’s War [1744-1748], Moses Coffin served as chaplain and drummer and was dubbed “the drummer ecclesiastic” [Williams, 34].

The French Canadians had chaplains also during these various wars, and Francois Piquet, a Jesuit, acted as an advanced scout in his post with the Indians and passed back information to the Governor that led to the French attack on Saratoga in November of 1745 [Williams, 228]. Chaplain Norton, in 1746, was taken prisoner with his flock to Canada and continued to minister to them and resist the French attempts to convert him [Williams, 48]. There was a Chaplain Newell in the French and Indian War in 1755, but we don’t know any more than that about him [Williams, 225]. During the various campaigns to take Fort Duquesne throughout the French and Indian War (1755-1763), Col. George Washington begged Virginia’s Lt. Governor Dinwiddie repeatedly for a chaplain. One was finally approved but never appointed and services continued to be supplied by civilian clergy when there happened to be any available [Williams, 58].

By the time of the Revolutionary War, the chaplains had carved for themselves a place with the military which was not within the chain of command but was nevertheless considered almost indispensable. For years, in every “little valley and sequestered nook” of the English Colonies, the clergy had taught the doctrines of freedom and preached the duty of resistance to oppression [Headly, 17]. Further, The Act of Episcopacy (1772) attempted to establish Anglicanism as the official state church, complete with Bishop, in the colonies. The Quebec Act (1774) attempted to cede the territory west of the Appalachian mountains and north of the Ohio River to Canada and would have allowed the Canadians to keep their exclusive Roman Catholic religion and apply it in the newly ceded territory. These attempted actions by the English Parliament worried and angered the Protestants and increased the preaching against Catholicism and Religious tyranny [Thompson, 81]. Whether the Quebec Act actually “established” Catholicism as the official religion in the British Colony of Canada is open to debate, but it was widely considered to have done so by people on both sides of the Atlantic and contributed in no small part to the Revolution [Griffin, 6-7].

A remarkable bit of propaganda was printed in England by the “Friends of America” and distributed to departing English soldiers. It began, “Gentlemen, You are about to embark for America to compel your fellow subjects there to submit to Popery and slavery…” [Griffin, 12]. Ironically, many, including Benedict Arnold and the Reverend Jacob Duche (Episcopalian) from Philadelphia, attributed their switching to the British side partly to what they considered the “Popery shown by Congress in welcoming the French support”. Alexander Hamilton said, “Remember, civil and religious liberty always go together; if the foundation of the one be sapped, the other will fall of course” [Griffin, 84], and John Adams asked Thomas Jefferson, “can free government possibly exist with the Roman Catholic Religion?” [Griffin, 32].

Another reason for heavy Clergy involvement was the large immigration of Scotch-Irish Presbyterian clergy. By their very nature, they hated and distrusted the English Parliament.

A very practical reason, however, was the fact that the “Pulpit was the most direct and effectual way of reaching the masses” [Headly, 22]. In most of the colonies that had militia, a major part of each training day was a sermon, sometimes called an “artillery sermon,” which “literally bristled with Old Testament injunctions in support of a just war” [Higgenbotham, 3]. “Several generations of Americans saw themselves transformed into the Biblical David, while France (and later Britain) was Goliath incarnate” [Higgenbotham, 3].

Further, in Philadelphia “Caractacus”, in an essay “On Standing Armies,” prophesied that virtuous yeomen and artisans associating “together in barracks or camps,” would lose the “gentleness and sobriety of citizens.” Congress believed that nothing of the sort would happen if the troops’ spiritual needs were guaranteed by the presence of chaplains. [Higgenbotham, 92]

Denominational Attitudes Toward the War

While the power of the pulpit to educate and motivate extended to all denominations, not all shared the same enthusiasm for the war and thus the messages preached varied along the lines of the often quoted estimate that one third of the population was for the war, one third was against it, and the remaining third just wanted to be left alone. Thompson claims that there were about 3,200 churches divided among eighteen denominations at the time of the outbreak of the War [Thompson, 84]. The attitudes of the major groups are listed as follows (number of congregations in parentheses):

Congregational(668) and Presbyterian(588) As noted above, these were the staunch New Englanders and the recently immigrated Scotch-Irish, both of whom were solidly behind liberty from British rule [Thompson, 86]. The Presbyterians were so vocal and effective in preaching rebellion that many had prices on their heads and were treated with extreme barbarity if captured [Williams, 42]. In fact, King George is said to have characterized the American Revolution as “A Presbyterian War.” Horace Walpole, addressing the English Parliament, said “There is no crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson and that is the end of it” [Donehoo, 1069].

Further, the Congregational church, which was anti-Anglican, remained the official established church in New England until 1833 [Thompson, 86].

Anglicans(495) These churches were solidly Loyalist [Thompson, 86-87]. The Anglican Clergy were bound in a way not shared by other denominations. Their ordination vows had included an oath to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Crown” [Williams, 66]. Most went back to England. William White D.D. was the only Episcopal clergyman in Pennsylvania to remain after the British evacuated Philadelphia [Headly, 64]. The British chaplains were all Church of England or Church of Scotland, however they were under the regimental system and most did not accompany their units to America. The Official British Chaplaincy History does not even recognize British involvement in the American Revolution [Thompson, 201]. There were twenty-eight chaplains, mostly Anglican, with the Loyalist troops. [Thompson, 203]

Methodists(65) In 1770, John Wesley published a piece entitled “Free Thoughts on the Present State of Public Affairs,” which was positive to the American cause. In 1775, he reversed himself and published “A Calm Address on our American Colonies” in which he backed the King [Thompson, 85]. As a result, all but Asbury of the eight Methodist missionaries sent over by Wesley left the country with their Anglican brothers at various points during the war. Further, in 1777, the Methodists are estimated to have totaled 6,968 persons, of which 4,379 were in Virginia and North Carolina where the Anglican Church remained established until 1796 [Thompson, 86, 99]. At this point in history, the Methodists were a lay movement within the Anglican Church and thus there were no ordained Methodist clergy. There were, however, circuit-riding lay preachers through-out the South, and while the Methodists, as a whole, were largely neutral or faithful to the crown [Thompson, 86], at least one unordained preacher, Jesse Lee of Virginia, enlisted as a non-combatant wagon master (earning the rank of sergeant) and served informally as unit chaplain [Thompson, 198-199].

Baptists(494) This denomination had been severely persecuted both in the Congregational North where they were taxed to support the Congregational Pastors, and in the Anglican South where many had been beaten for their faith [Thompson, 86-87]. Thus they were solidly behind the concept of religious freedom.

Quakers(310) Quakers, like the Baptists, had suffered at the hands of the Anglicans, however most chose to remain silent and to follow their belief in non violence [Thompson, 86-87]. This was not universally the case, however, since about four hundred Quakers were disowned by their “Meetings” for participating in the war efforts. They formed what was known as the “Free Quakers.” Included in this group were famous participants, Thomas Mifflin, the Quartermaster General of the Continental Army and later Governor of Pennsylvania, Nathaniel Green who succeeded Mifflin as Quartermaster General, and Betsy Ross [Williams, 45].

Lutherans(150) Largely German speaking, members of this denomination found themselves in both camps. Some continued loyalty to “German King George” as the Elector of Hanover, and others, having tasted freedom and the ability to own land for the first time in their lives, distrusted England. The twenty-five “Hessian” chaplains were mostly Lutheran and Reformed (with one Roman Catholic) [Thompson, 201]. The “Hessian” soldiers themselves were deeply religious and held hour-long devotions and hymn singing after reveille and tattoo. As prisoners they built themselves a chapel [Thompson, 203].

Roman Catholic(56) The Catholics were also split in their loyalties with many siding with the Revolution despite the anti-Catholic sentiment. Ironically, although the Protestants feared that the King was too pro-Catholic, the Maryland Catholics feared that he was too anti-Catholic. When the French entered the war, they brought with them eleven Roman Catholic chaplains for the land troops and one hundred more on board ships [Thompson, 203]. Some American soldiers of the Catholic faith attended their first Mass in years in the nearby French camps [Williams, 87]. There were two Continental Regiments known collectively as “Congress’ Own” made up primarily of French Canadian Catholics supplemented by Catholics from Pennsylvania. Father Eustache Lotbiniere, also from Canada, was appointed by Benedict Arnold as chaplain to the 1st Regiment on January 26th, 1776. He continued in the pay of the Congress for most of the war although he probably did not celebrate Mass since he had been cut off by Bishop Briand of Quebec, a staunch loyalist to the English. The Bishop also excommunicated all the Canadians who fought on the American side [Griffin, 45-46]. Col. Morgan Connor (O’Connor) who originally enlisted as Lt. in George Nagel’s Company of Riflemen raised in Reading on July 17, 1775, was most probably a Roman Catholic since he served as Godfather to several Catholic children in Philadelphia [Griffin, 133-134].

Jewish(5) The small Jewish population of about 2,000 people strongly supported the revolution [Thompson, 87]. Francis Salvador of Charlestown, South Carolina, was the first Jew to die in the Revolution in 1776; Col. Mordecai Sheftall was Commissary General to the Georgia Militia; and Haym Solomon was honored by the nation for helping to finance the Revolution [Sloan, 4].

Clerical Involvement in the War

There were basically only three religious stances to the war, the same three existing today — some were religious crusaders, some were pacifists and would not participate, and some were combatants “who participate in War as a grim reality and a sad necessity of life while wishing wholeheartedly for peace, good will toward men” [Sloan, 95].

Although, as has been seen, the majority of the Churches supported the Revolutionary cause, not all of the Clergy did so in the same way. Pierre Gibault, a Roman Catholic, was Vicar-General for the Bishop of Quebec. He had sole responsibility for what was then called the Illinois Country. Against the orders of his Bishop not to get involved, he volunteered to ride one hundred and fifty miles to Vincennes, the center of French colonial government in America and convince a large proportion of the inhabitants to take an oath of allegiance to the American leaders. As a result, George Rogers Clark, who didn’t have enough men or arms to storm the town, was able to occupy it without firing a shot [Garrison, 168].

Some, like John Witherspoon D.D., a Scot who was released from an English prison only after Culloden, was an outspoken advocate for the Revolution. His sarcasm was withering and he used it to great effect to silence critics both before and after he was elected to Congress [Headly, 280]. Another member of Congress, Father Carrol, a Jesuit from Maryland, went with Franklin and Chase as a Commissioner to Canada in March 1776 and later signed the Declaration of Independence [Griffin, 19]. Some, like Peter Muhlenberg, left their religious life altogether and became professional soldiers. Others did both.

The Reverend James Hall of Iredell County North Carolina was elected Captain of a cavalry unit. He refused a promotion to General to stay with his unit and serve as its Commander/Chaplain [Thompson, 197]. John Steele of Cumberland, Pennsylvania, also served as a Captain and Chaplain, while Dr. Latta of Lancaster, a militia chaplain, enlisted as a common soldier when an unusual number of his parishioners were drafted into the army [Headly, 69]. Some, like David Jones, the Welsh Baptist from Pennsylvania, served both as a chaplain and as a surgeon [Rogers, 76] and fought alongside the troops whenever the opportunity presented itself [Rogers, 83-85]. Joseph Fish of Duxbury, Mass., at seventy-six years of age, was too old to enlist but told the assembled volunteers:

“Were it not that my nerves are unstrung and my limbs enfeebled with age, on such a call as you have, I think I should willingly quit my desk, put off my priestly garments, buckle on the harness, and with trumpet in hand, hasten to battle” [Rogers, 67].

Finally, “Tea Parties” were held all up and down the Atlantic coast and the one at Greenwich, New Jersey, on Friday, December 23, 1774, was lead by Andrew Hunter and Philip Fithian, two Princeton Theological students.

A Brief Account of Religion and the Revolutionary War Chaplaincy: Part 2


By James E. Newell 1st Continental Regiment

Official actions pertaining to the chaplaincy

After Lexington and Concord, great numbers of the parishioners remembered their Pastors’ teachings and rallied to the cause. Others saw their Pastors enlist to shame or encourage their flocks to do likewise.

At first, however, the chaplaincy was a totally unorganized system. Some clergy were commissioned by governors, some were part of various militias, and some were commissioned by authorities in the national army. These men were officers of a regiment in the standard British system rather than members of a Chaplain’s Corps per se. Their function rather than their rank justified their presence, and “they were motivated with the courage of a crusade and the unconventionality of a mission” [Williams, 76].

On April 6, 1775, the Connecticut Assembly appointed a chaplain to each of the six regiments of colonial militia at a salary of six pounds sterling. In July, they added additional chaplains, and in December, they raised the salary to twenty dollars a month plus a monthly grant of forty shillings for a supply pastor to cover their home churches. In Pennsylvania, many clergymen had been serving as temporary chaplains in local militia companies. When the war began, the militia was reorganized and the chaplains were given permanent status. In early 1776, the Pennsylvania Assembly authorized appointment of one chaplain for each battalion of riflemen and musketmen. These chaplains were to be selected by the field officers with the approval of the Assembly and were to receive twenty dollars per month [Williams, 80]. New Jersey never developed a system for giving official approval to chaplains with the result that many clergy crossed over to Pennsylvania to serve.

On May 25th, 1775, a committee of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts resolved to permit thirteen chaplains to be stationed with the encampment around Boston [Headley, 61].

July 29, 1775 – On this date, which is considered the official birthday of the American Chaplaincy Corps, the Congress recognized chaplains in the national army with a rank equal to that of a Captainand a monthly pay of twenty dollars [Thompson, 107].

August 15, 1775 – Washington reported that fifteen chaplains were in service for twenty-three regiments and that twenty-nine regiments were without any. In September, there were twenty regiments supplied and twenty vacancies. The situation worsened over the Fall and by January 9, 1776, there were only nine chaplains and eighteen vacancies [Headley, 62]. Washington thought that the pay was not enough and suggested a chaplain for each two regiments as a means of doubling the salary.

January 16, 1776 – Congress passed the “Chaplaincy Act” authorizing one chaplain for every two regiments for the “army at Cambridge.” The pay was set at thirty three and one third dollars [Williams, 82].

September 20, 1776 – Congress passed the “Articles of War” which was highly moralistic in tone, and while they didn’t establish an organized chaplaincy, they did recommend diligence in services and established their authority over the chaplains in locations other than “the Army at Cambridge” (see January 16th). The articles also provided for fines or confinement for soldiers not attending services and for AWOL chaplains to be court martialed and fined a maximum of one month’s pay [Williams, 83]. Washington was now of the opinion that one chaplain should not be expected to serve more than one regiment to prevent the possibility that some of the men would have a chaplain of a faith other than their own. Apparently most of the units were fairly homogeneous as far as religion is concerned.

November 15, 1776 – Congress established the Navy Chaplaincy at a base pay of twenty dollars a month [Drury, 3].

November 28, 1776 – Congress approved the Navy regulations, the second article of which reads:

“The Commanders of ships of the thirteen United Colonies are to take care that divine service be performed twice a day on board, and a sermon (implying an ordained clergyman) preached on Sundays unless bad weather or other extraordinary accidents prevent.”

These are much stronger provisions than for the Army. They also had much stronger designated punishments. Article three reads:

“If any shall be heard to swear, curse, or blaspheme the name of God, the Commander is strictly enjoined to punish them for every offense, by causing them to wear a wooden collar, or some other shameful badge of distinction … Commissioned officers forfeit one shilling for each offense, a warrant or inferior officer, six pence. For drunkenness, a seaman shall be put in irons until sober – if an officer he shall forfeit two days pay” [Drury, 3].

February 1777 – Congress reorganized the Army Chaplaincy Service, requiring all chaplains to be commissioned by Congress. Also they extended services to garrisons, forts, hospitals, and to rifle and cavalry brigades. Prior to this only infantry and artillery units received chaplains. Several chaplains were assigned to linguistic service with the Indians, and Washington’s desire was recognized with one chaplain authorized per unit [Williams, 83].

April 1777 – Pay was increased to forty dollars per month [Williams, 83].

May 27, 1777 – Congress decided upon only one chaplain per Brigade, to be appointed by Congress and with the same pay, rations and forage allotment as a Colonel. Nominations were to be made by each Brigadier-General and Washington was directed to send in a list of all chaplains so that Congress could recommission the good ones and eliminate the bad ones [Williams, 84].

September 11, 1777 – Congress ordered 20,000 Bibles imported for use by the Army [Bolton, 159].

September 18, 1777 – Congress created the Hospital Chaplaincy Corps with one chaplain for each of the four medical districts. The pay was to be sixty dollars per month, three food rations and one forage ration [Williams, 84].

1778 – New Commissions were issued to some and not others in completion of the orders of May 27,1777 [Williams, 84].

1780 – Congress abolished the Hospital Chaplaincy for economy reasons and turned the responsibility for the hospitals over to the Brigade chaplains [Williams, 84].

May 8, 1781 – Washington was directed to re-arrange assignments to one chaplain per brigade. The dismissed were to receive a pension of one half a Captain’s pay for life. No new chaplains were commissioned after this point [Williams, 84]. Since they were rarely in one place for services, it was decided that light dragoon units did not need a chaplain [Thompson, 205].

1782 – Congress determined that “Chaplains, Surgeons, or Hospital Officers who shall be captured in the future may not be considered prisoners of war” [Thompson, 205].

1783 – Congress granted five years full Captain’s pay to all retired chaplains previously entitled to half pay for life [Williams, 84].

Military duties and appearance of the clergy

The normal term of service for a chaplain at the start of the war was six months. Like the men who couldn’t spare any more time away from their farms, the clergy were not paid by their home churches and were usually responsible for paying for their temporary replacements back home. A few served only during the week and returned home each weekend [Williams, 38].

Throughout the Revolution, chaplains, although officers without rank, had no specified uniform. David Jones apparently wore an officer’s uniform but without epaulets, changing to rougher clothes when serving as a surgeon [Rogers, 86]. Most wore their usual civilian dress and there is one record of black material being issued to a chaplain for the purpose of making a replacement set of clothes [Thompson, 95]. On May 19, 1780, the Supreme Executive Council at Philadelphia “ordered that a suit of cloaths of Black be furnished by the State Clothier to the Reverend Mr Samuel Blair, Chaplain to the Brigade of artillery, in the same manner as has been furnished to other Clergymen” [Penn. Archives, 358].

Universally in this era, chaplains bore arms, at least the sword of an officer and a gentleman, and occasionally a firearm as well. Jones carried a pistol and used it frequently [Rogers, 101]. Many other chaplains also used weapons upon occasion although it would seem that their normal post during and after a battle was with the wounded. “My station in time of action I knew to be among the surgeons” – John Gano [Headly, 255]. Ebenezer David died of sickness while working at a Hospital on March 19, 1778. Thompson notes that many chaplains served also as surgeons [Thompson, 185], and in fact, Robert Blackwell, James Sproat, David Jones and David Avery had each been trained as professional medical men as well as Clergy before joining the Army. Avery brought his own medical chest because of the lack of supplies in the Army [Williams, 87].

The duties of a chaplain were not officially stated but, in broad terms, amounted to these: (1) Conduct divine services, (2) Obey superior officers and Congress, and (3) Act as a representative of God [Williams, 85]. Practically, they uttered prayers, usually before the reading of the orders in the morning, before a march and before role call at night [Bolton, 158]. They held Sunday services and officiated at funerals [Williams, 85-86]. They performed marriages, both within the camp and for nearby civilian church members who were without pastors [Williams, 87]. Evidently, American Protestant soldiers received Holy Communion in local churches, if at all, since the only record of a Protestant service of Holy Communion is in the diary of Philip Waldeck, a “Hessian” [Thompson, 210]. Roman Catholic soldiers were visited by French Catholic chaplains who administered the Eucharist [Williams, 87].

Daily life through selected personal accounts of Revolutionary War chaplains

It is said of David Avery of Gaysboro Vermont, that he was “everything Washington wanted in a chaplain” [Headly, 298]. Avery had served as Captain of a group of his parishioners, bringing them to Cambridge at which time they were assigned to Col. Sherburn’s Rgt. and Avery became a full time chaplain. He was reported to be:

“Intrepid and fearless in battle, Unwearied in his attentions to the sick and wounded; nursing them with care and faithful to their souls as if they were of his own Parish.” He had a “Love of Country so strong that it became a passion, was cheerful under privations, ready for any hardship, and never lost, in the turmoil of camp, that warmth and glowing piety which characterized the devoted minister of God” [Headly, 298].

He frequently rode beside Washington and often ate with him. At the attack on Trenton, he picked up a fallen musket and fired upon the Hessians [Headly, 296-297].

Although the Navy regulations were more detailed than those of the Army, they also gave little guidance beyond the Sabbath sermon and daily services. The ship’s captains were given a lot of latitude to draw up their own job descriptions for their chaplain. John Paul Jones sought a man with a set of qualifications that indicated that the chaplain would also be Jones’ private secretary. The position was never filled because one of the qualifications was that the chaplain be Protestant and they were anchored in a French port at the time [Drury, 4].

The most important function of the chaplains was, however, to conduct Sunday services including a Sermon of a practical nature that would meet the needs of the men (or of the Army) at the time. Services were usually held at 11:00 in the morning [Bolton, 159]. The Reverend A.R. Robbins reports in his journal that:

“The music march up and the drummers lay their drums in a very neat style into rows one above the other; it often takes five and often the rows are very long, Occasionally they make a platform for me to stand on and raise their drums a number of tiers” [Bolton, 159].

Normally services were held in the open. Rev. Gano was not in camp at Valley Forge during the Winter, because he realized that the men could not be expected to stand in the open for services [Bolton, 162]. Having services was considered of great importance, however, and at Newbury at the Winter Encampment of 1780-1781, the army erected the usual huts “and one larger than the rest for a place of public worship on the Sabbath. Here three services a day were held, the chaplains from each Brigade preaching in rotation” [Headly, 271].

Occasionally, services were held in a nearby church building. Lt. William Feltman of the First Pennsylvania Rgt. noted in his Journal of 1781-1782, that on August 19th “… from the parade we marched to a church close by our encampment, where Doct. Jones (the chaplain) preached us a sermon” [Feltman, 10].

A penalty was imposed for missing services; a few hours spent in digging out stumps [Feltman, 161]. The matter of the lack of interest in services had been treated differently in previous years. In 1755, Chaplain Charles Beaty served a force led by Benjamin Franklin to guard the Northwestern frontier of Pennsylvania. At Franklin’s suggestion, the chaplain served the daily rum ration to those who were in formation for prayers [Williams, 34-35].

The sermon, itself, was usually of a practical nature in which the chaplain would urge upon the men temperance, vigilance, cleanness, and honesty [Bolton, 159]. Several typical sermon topics are as follows:

“He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” – Rev. Kirkland, 9/15/1776 [Bolton, 160].

“This day shall be a memorial unto you throughout your generations.” – Rev. Gano, 7/4/1776 [Bolton, 160].

“Defensive War in a Just Cause Sinless” – Rev. David Jones to Col. Dewee’s Regt., Tredyffrin, Penn., 7/20/1775 [Baldwin, 112]. [This, apparently, was the sermon mentioned above by Lt. Feltman.]

Told to dwell a little more on politics than usual, Gano, in 1779 at Canajoharie, preached on “Come go thou with us and we will do thee good, for he that seeketh my life, seeketh thy life but with us thou shalt be in safeguard” – 1st Samuel 22:23 [Bolton, 160]. On another occasion, Gano was told that it would be a disaster if the six and nine months men did not re-enlist. Gano told them that “he could aver to the truth that our Lord and Savior approved of all those who had engaged in His service for the whole warfare.” The troops were amused by this stretching of the Word of the Bible but kidded each other into re-enlisting anyway [Bolton, 161].

Reverend Gano, true to his own injunction, served the entire war and on April 19, 1783, under orders from George Washington, had the honor of announcing that the war was officially over and that the United States of America was free and independent. Afterwards, Gano assembled the officers and men who had survived the entire war and led them in a prayer of thanksgiving and peace [Thompson, 208].

Navy Chaplains

Despite the Navy regulations that required a chaplain on every ship, there were only two recorded Navy chaplains during the Revolutionary period. The first was the Reverend Benjamin Balch, a Congregationalist whose father had served in King George’s War. Balch fought as a minuteman at the Battle of Lexington and served as a Army chaplain at the siege of Boston. On October 28, 1778 he reported aboard the frigate Boston at a pay rate of ninety shillings per month. After the Boston was captured he served on the Alliance along with his two young sons. He fought alongside the men in the capture of two British ships off Halifax and became known as the “Fighting Parson” [Drury, 4]. One of his sons, William, became the first chaplain commissioned in the U.S.Navy in 1798 [Drury, 8]. After Balch retired, the Captain of the Alliance, John Barry, appointed the second and last Navy chaplain of the Revolutionary War. Barry, an Irish Roman Catholic appointed the ship’s surgeon, James Geagan, probably also Roman Catholic, as chaplain [Drury, 5].

No discussion of Revolutionary War era chaplains would be complete without mentioning Chaplain Caldwell, a Presbyterian who was immortalized in Bret Harte’s poem about “The Rebel High Priest.” His church had been burned down by a Tory and his wife shot through the window of her house by Hessians. It was he who, when the troops slackened their fire due to a lack of paper for wadding, was reported to have run into a local Presbyterian church and brought out Watts Hymnals, crying “Give them Watts, boys, give them Watts” [Thompson, 196].

Williams counts 179 chaplains reported as having served during the war, however, Thompson, the US Army Chaplaincy Historian counted only 111 at the time of the writing of his book. He is currently [1996] retired and it is my understanding that his research has turned up more names. I have the list from Thompson’s book and will be happy to share it with anyone who is interested in checking the list from their state.


– Baldwin, Alice, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution, (New York, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1928).

– Bolton, Charles Knowles, The Private Soldier Under Washington, (Williamstown, Mass., Corner House Publishers, 1976).

– Burgoyne, Bruce, trans., Diaries of a Hessian Chaplain & the Chaplain’s Assistant, (Pensauken, N.J., Johannes Schwam Historical Assoc., Inc., 1990).

– Donehoo, George P., ed., Pennsylvania History, Vol III, (New York, Lewis Historical Publishing Co. Inc., 1926).

– Drury, Clifford Merril, The History of the Chaplain Corps, United States Navy – Volume One – 1778-1939, (Washington, D.C., US Government Printing Office, 1948).

– Feltman, Lieut. William, The Journal of Lieut. William Feltman, (Phila., Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1853 – Reprinted by Arno Press, 1969).

– Garrison, Webb, Great Stories of the American Revolution, (Nashville, Rutledge Hill Press, 1990).

– Griffin, Martin I.J., Catholics and the American Revolution, (Ridley Park, Penn., Martin Griffin, 1907).

– Headly, Joel Tyler, The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution, (New York, Charles Scribner, 1864).

– Higgenbothan, Don, The War of American Independence – Military Attitudes, Policies, and Practices 1763-1794, (New York, MacMillan Co., 1971).

– “Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society” 9:2, (June 1917).

– Pennsylvania Archives, Vol 12 — Colonial Series.

– Rogers, Truett, Bibles and Battle Drums, (Valley Forge, Judson Press, 1976).

– Sloan, Irving J., comp. & ed., The Jews in America 1621-1970, (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Oceana Publications Inc., 1971).

– Thompson, Parker C. From Its European Antecedants To 1791 – The United States Army Chaplaincy, (Washington, D.C., Department of the Army, 1978).

– Ward, Christopher, The War of the Revolution, Vol II, (New York, The MacMillan Company, 1952).

– Williams, Eugene Franklin, Soldiers of God – The Chaplains of the Revolutionary War, (New York, Carlton Press, Inc., 1975).