Historic: Key players in American Revolution to mark tricentennial

By Bob Unruh

Soldiers assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as 'The Old Guard,' and the U.S. Army Band, 'Pershing's Own,' participate in a Twilight Tattoo at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, June 14, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Resnick)
Soldiers assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as ‘The Old Guard,’ and the U.S. Army Band, ‘Pershing’s Own,’ participate in a Twilight Tattoo at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, June 14, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Resnick)

There are key individuals in America’s history who sometimes do not get a lot of recognition, despite the critical roles they played.

Such as Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who drilled a group of farmers and tradesmen into a Continental Army that, despite the odds, beat the British redcoats.

And then there’s Capt. Peter Humrickhouse, who crossed the Delaware and wintered with Gen. George Washington at Valley Forge. He also delivered the ammunition that saved Yorktown.

And the group, individual names relatively obscure, who saved the Liberty Bell from invaders.

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And the Zengers, Peter Zenger, the imprisoned newspaper editor and later, his widow, Anna Catherina, who carried on his fights.

And others, who all shared a common allegiance, in addition to their support for the fledgling America.

A pass in review is conducted at the Armed Forces Farewell and Hail for 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley and 21st Chairman General Charles Q. Brown, Jr. on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)
A pass in review is conducted at the Armed Forces Farewell and Hail for 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley and 21st Chairman General Charles Q. Brown, Jr. on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

It’s their participation in what then was the German Reformed Church in America, now known as the Reformed Church in the United States.

An organization that, stunningly, predates almost every other organization in the U.S., and is set to celebrate its Tricentennial in just one year, on June 12, 2025.

Planning already has begun for the events which will include a special celebration at the famed Mount Rushmore monument in South Dakota, according to Wayne Johnson, chair of the Tricentennial Celebration of the German Reformed Church in America.

Some of the members of that organization actually were the soldiers who were recruited to be Washington’s personal guard, event organizers confirm,

The celebratory event will be co-hosted by the Mount Rushmore Society, the regional DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, and others.

Plans already are being outlined online.

Organizers are explaining that the Mount Rushmore event is focus on patriotism, and its community-wide appeal.

Liberty Bell

The website includes a number of relatively unknown historical incidents, including the one about the Liberty Bell:

In 1777, England made its second greatest effort of the war. British General Howe left a garrison in New York and took 13,000 troops to capture Philadelphia. Washington rose to defend the capital, but on September 11 was outflanked and although defeated at Brandywine Creek, his army was not destroyed. Washington retreated to Chester, PA. Several days later the Americans suffered another defeat at Paoli, PA. Several hundred Americans were killed under a British bayonet attack. The American Congress fled from Philadelphia to York, PA, and Howe entered Philadelphia without opposition in late September.

Howe quartered a part of his army at nearby Germantown. On October 4, the Americans attacked this garrison and seemed to have won a victory until the British made a determined stand in the Chew house. British reinforcements came up from Philadelphia while the besieged house still held out, and Washington’s little army retreated. The Americans then took up their miserable winter quarters at Valley Forge.

Fearing the possibility of capture by the enemy, on June 16, 1777, the Assembly of Pennsylvania meeting in the State House at Philadelphia voted to authorize the removal of all bells belonging to several churches and other public buildings and all copper and brass to a place of safety. The Continental Congress, meeting in Independence Hall, on September 14, 1777 (three days after the Battle of Brandywine) resolved that all public bells in Philadelphia be removed to a place of security upon a near approach of the enemy to the city.

The order to remove the bells was passed along to Colonel Benjamin Flower, and his instructions read: “Ordered: that Colonel Flower employ James Worrell, Francis Allison and Mr. Evans, Carpenters, or such other workmen as he may think proper to employ, to take down the Bells of all the public Buildings in this city and convey them to safety.” They had their work cut out for them. Not only did they have to get the bells down, but also to convey them to safety. Eleven bells in all had to be removed. Most had to be taken from fairly high steeples, loaded aboard wagons, and spirited out of the city, all under the cover of night.

Once they were down, Colonel Flowers had to decide whether or not to move them by Army transport wagons leaving the area with increasing frequency. If they were to be overtaken by the British, they would certainly end up as shot designed for Americans. His reasoning might then have led him to seek out farmers bringing produce into the city from the area where the bells were destined to go, Allentown (then Northampton Town). Traditionally, these Pennsylvania German farmers brought their wares into Philadelphia and re-turned to their farms north of the city with empty wagons. A few of these wagons, with the bells secreted in them and covered with hay or straw, might be a better device. Should the British pass such a convoy, there would be a slightly lesser chance that they would be searched.

There are two stories recorded about whose wagon was used to haul the Liberty Bell out of Philadelphia. One states that the man chosen was one John Jacob Mickley. The exact date of the bells’ departure is unknown, perhaps a tribute to the extent of Flowers’ well-kept secret. Some historians give the date as September 16 or 17 when the bells were taken down. Whatever the date, Howe marched into Philadelphia on September 27 but did not send a patrol in pursuit of the fleeing wagon train, undoubtedly because he needed all of his men to secure the city and to repulse Washington’s counterattack at Germantown on October 4.

The bells were taken via Bethlehem to Allentown. At some point along the way, the bell wagons joined an Army convoy of some 700 other wagons, and they rattled into Bethlehem. As the wagon bearing the heavy Great Bell reached the center of town on September 24, the great weight broke the wagon. As the first story goes, the Bell was transferred to a wagon owned and driven by Frederick Loeser, who then carted the Bell on to Allentown.

The Bell’s hiding place until 1778 was in the basement of the Zion High German Reformed Church of Allentown, where it arrived early on the morning of September 25. Other bells were hidden in the same basement and the Church above them served as a military hospital until the British evacuated Philadelphia.

John Jacob Mickley and Frederick Loeser both have commemorative tablets in Pennsylvania which honor the parts they played in the saving of the Bell. The Loeser tablet stands at Loeser Lake just off Route 143 near Jacksonville, Pennsylvania in upper Lehigh County, not far from Frederick’s farm land. The tablet dedicated to Mickley is outside the entrance to the Liberty Bell Shrine located at the Zion Church in Allen-town, and also mentions Frederick’s role in the transport of the Bell. The shrine is housed in the same basement where the Bell was harbored during its year-long stay in Allentown.

When the British completed their evacuation of Philadelphia on June 18, 1777, the bells at Allentown were free to leave their refuge, and they lost no time in doing so. It is recorded that they departed on June 27, and on August 22, the Pennsylvania Packet stated that the bells had been returned safe and hung again.

The organization also notes the participation of Theodore Roosevelt in the church.

“Roosevelt originally belonged to the Reformed Church in America (RCA), a Dutch-American group. As a private person, Roosevelt attended religious services wherever he was. He preferred the Reformed Church if one were available to attend and is reported to have said, ‘I take a sentimental satisfaction in worshiping in the Church of my fathers.'”

Event information about the tricentennial is being assembled online.

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