Lt. Col. James McMasters and the Pennsylvania Revolutionary Militia


Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.  (via en.wikipedia;)

Battle of Whitemarsh
View from the British positions at the en:Battle of White Marsh. Chestnut Hill is in the lower left of the image, Sandy Run in the upper left, and Edge Hill in the upper right.

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
This entry was posted in American Revolution, Revolutionary War and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Lt. Col. James McMasters and the Pennsylvania Revolutionary Militia

  1. Val Sanford says:

    Good research! Many of The Pennsylvania Militia were of a similar mindset during the Civil War. They fought hard a Gettysburg and of course other battles. The women of Pennsylvania also contributed significant support in clothing, food, nursing, and laundry. Thanks for sharing

  2. Val Sanford says:

    Reblogged this on Suitcase Full of Memories and commented:
    I like understanding how military service shaped our families.

  3. Laura M says:

    Always glad to see when you have a new post. I always get new ideas about pursuing new lines of geneology inquiry!

  4. Kati Dickey says:

    Have you found out anything new? Believe my ancestor Gawin Adams, Captain, served under LT Col McMasters but don’t know anything else. What you have found is interesting! I wonder how he became a LT Col.

    • Rachelle says:

      I haven’t been working on this line for a while, but I found some interesting information about militia history last time I was in Bucks County (a couple of years ago) at the David Library of the Revolution. You might try contacting them to see if they have any information about your ancestor or browse their catalog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s