The actual activity of the Pennsylvania Militia is a bit of a mystery. There was a revolution going on and records were not entirely comprehensive. There were mixed reviews from George Washington about how helpful and reliable they were. Certainly they were loyal to the Revolution, but they were not as disciplined as an army and many of them were farmers and believed their primary role was to defend their land from the British rather than run off to other states to participate in battles.
I have been trying to get a more personal and complete picture of what my ancestor Lt. Col. James McMasters (1735-1805) actually did in the militia during the 8 years that he served. It’s sketchy, but here is what I do know about his service:
19 Aug 1775 – First Major – Second Battalion, Bucks Co. PA
1 Jul 1777 – Signed Oath of Allegiance
31 Aug 1777 – 100 blankets received for Lt. Col. McMasters’ 2nd Battalion, Bucks Co.
24 Nov 1777 – Lt. Col. McMasters and the 2nd Battalion, Bucks Co. served at Whitemarch
10 May 1780 – Lt. Col McMasters was in the First Battalion, Bucks Co.
21 May 1781 – Lt. Col McMasters was in the First Battalion, Bucks Co.
28 May 1781 – Col. Hart brought up on charges of unethical behavior. Col. McMasters refuses to serve under Col. Hart. (He is back to a Lt. Col. after this)
12 May 1783 – Lt. Col McMasters was in the Second Battalion, Bucks Co.
13 Jun 1783 – Lt. Col McMasters was in the Second Battalion, Bucks Co.
The only reference I have found that the Bucks County Militia and Lt. Col. McMasters participated in a battle was the list of battalions and their commanders who were present for the battle at White Marsh published in The Pennsylvania Magazine, Vol. XXXV. In the fall of 1777, the British were hunkered down in Philadelphia, but they were being tormented by American rebel actions against their army. In an attempt to have a decisive blow against Washington, General Howe made the decision to come north 13 miles on December 4th for what they thought would be an easy win against the Americans. It didn’t quite work out that way, the Americans put up enough of resistance that after 3 days of conflicts, the cold and wet conditions drove them back to winter quarters in Philadelphia.
I still don’t know what the Bucks Co. Militia was doing when George Washington was in Upper Makefield Township in December 1776. Gen. Washington was sleeping in William Keith’s house down the road from Lt. Col. James McMasters’ house. Washington and his generals were planning the surprise attack on Trenton for Christmas day. Did the Bucks Co. Militia participate in the crossing of the Delaware and the battles at Trenton? Perhaps…I just haven’t found the evidence. Or maybe not…more research is needed…as usual.
- Pennsylvania Archives Second Series Vol. XIV, 1896
- Pennsylvania Archives Fifth Series Vol. V, 1906
- The Pennsylvania Magazine Vol. XXXV, 1911
- Bucks County Account of Blankets for the Continental Army 1777, Edited by Frances W. Wait and Terry A. McNealy
- Minutes of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania Vol. XII, 1853
- A Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution, Theodore P. Savas and J. David Dameron, 2006