The history of the Provincial Corps of Pennsylvania Loyalists is presented in 7 parts. Click below to skip to:
Part 1 - Introduction & The Philadelphia Campaign, 1777
|A History of the Provincial Corps of Pennsylvania Loyalists - Part 1 of 7
As the American War for Independence ground into its third year, so too came the third generation Provincial Regiments raised with the fall of Philadelphia in 1777. The lessons learned during the raising of the initial corps of 1775 and the massive influx of Loyalists in 1776 would be used to try to ease the difficulties in creating new corps and augmenting existing ones.
The British placed great confidence in raising numerous troops when Philadelphia was taken, and certainly they had reasons for great expectations. Pennsylvania was a large province, containing about 300,000 inhabitants including Delaware. With a population of this size, and British control of Philadelphia, it is surprising an effective brigade of Pennsylvania Loyalists could not be raised.
In the end, barely one viable unit finished the war, a mere company sized corps. What limited the British ability to raise men and how were those so raised used?
The Philadelphia Campaign of 1777
For the British, the 1776 Campaign had ended with a very unintended series of battles breathing new life into the Revolution. The Trenton - Princeton Campaign forced the British to withdraw all their posts below New Brunswick, New Jersey and emboldened the Rebels to attack and harass the others that remained during the first part of 1777.
Sir William HOWE, starting his second campaign as British commander in chief in America, decided upon the plan for taking the Rebel capital, Philadelphia. The seat of Congress had a special allure for the British. European warfare placed special importance on capturing a foe's capital, as it would often lead to the termination of the war and an early peace.
The British had come close at the end of the 1776 Campaign. With Washington's army in full flight, enlistments expiring and the capture of Major General Charles Lee, HOWE was close to ending the war.
Washington threw his army onto the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River and soundly made sure all boats and small craft were brought over from the New Jersey side, thus denying HOWE the ability to follow him and almost certainly capture Philadelphia. With the defeats at Trenton and Princeton, the British lost the opportunity to easily take the land route against Philadelphia in the future.
HOWE sensed he could take advantage of the easy route by water and at the same time keep the Continental Army frozen in place until the last minute. Slogging their way down from Canada into northern New York was a large British army commanded by Lt. Gen. John BURGOYNE. Thinking that HOWE would move northward to meet him in Albany, Continentals were either kept in New Jersey or moved to the North to act against BURGOYNE.
With this diversion working in his favor, HOWE embarked the bulk of his army from New York and sailed for the Chesapeake on 16 July 1777. What should have been a short voyage turned into a five week ordeal, the fleet taking a full week just to get a proper wind and leave Sandy Hook.1
Among the passengers on board the fleet was one William ALLEN of Pennsylvania. William and his brothers Andrew and John were the sons of the former Chief Justice ALLEN.
Of the three, John was the only avowed Loyalist, despite serving as a member of "the Philadelphia Committee of Observation, Inspection, &c." Andrew ALLEN had been a member of the Continental Congress and the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety before going over to the British. William had gone so far in his Rebel leanings as to accept a lieutenant colonel's commission in the Continental Army and take a part in the 1776 campaign in Quebec.2
The three ALLEN brothers had fled to the British, arriving at Trenton shortly after the army's arrival there. William ALLEN had resigned his commission in the Continental Army shortly after the Congress passed the Declaration of Independence, "without first asking the consent, and obtaining the Approbation, of himself and wise Family" as one Rebel paper derogatorily reported.3
The British undoubtedly had hopes that one or more of the ALLEN's could help in raising Loyalist soldiers. Over four thousand troops had been raised at New York over the preceding year and certainly the prospects were high that many more would join once the British standard was raised at Philadelphia.
Only three Provincial regiments, the Queen's American Rangers, the 2nd Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers and the Guides & Pioneers, were on the expedition. If indeed many new recruits were to be raised, they would have be formed into new corps, led by officers familiar to them.
The fleet, after ascertaining the Delaware well defended, proceeded to Chesapeake Bay, where the troops finally disembarked at the Head of Elk, Maryland, on 26 August 1777. General Howe immediately issued a proclamation offering "a free and general Pardon to all such Officers and private Men, as shall voluntarily come and surrender themselves to any Detachment of His Majesty's Forces" and assured the inhabitants that he had given the "strictest Orders to the Troops for the Preservation of Regularity and good Discipline."4
There is no record what William ALLEN's role was in the ensuing weeks, but he most likely accompanied the army on its march north until the grand Battle of Brandywine on 11 September. Washington had arrayed his army along Brandywine Creek in Southern Pennsylvania in the hopes of halting the British advance and preserving the Rebel capital of Philadelphia.
HOWE launched with an attack across the creek led by the Hessian Lieutenant General von KNYPHAUSEN and a flanking movement led by Lord CORNWALLIS. After an obstinate fight, Washington's troops were driven from the field, leaving hundreds dead, wounded, or captured. Nine days later the brigade under Continental General Anthony Wayne was surprised in the night at Paoli, with dozens put to the bayonet.
The door to Philadelphia now lay open. With the evacuation of the Continental Army and the Congress, Philadelphia was a dangerous place. New York had been captured just a year before but the city quickly burst into flames, depriving the British of comfortable quarters for a part of their army and making many New York Loyalists and others homeless.
That thought must have been on the minds of persons on both sides of the conflict, including Jonathon ADAMS, a Philadelphia manufacturer. He tells a personal tale of his experience during that tumultuous time:
"...on the approach of the British Forces the Remaining Rebels resolved on burning the Town, and actually got together Great Quantities of Combustibles as they should find. That the party in which your Memorialist was having gone down High Street Ward your Memorialist went into the London Coffee House where he found a party of Rebels with about fourteen stand of Arms piled up in a Corner which Arms your Memorialist immediately seized and with the assistance of some of his party carried to the Court House for which the Rebels with bitter imprecations swore his Life should suffer, and bid him remember it."5
On the morning of 26 September, CORNWALLIS entered the city at the head of a column of British and Hessian Grenadiers. HOWE had captured the Rebel capital city intact.6
Even though Washington would attempt to disrupt the British at Germantown, just outside the city, and the Rebel forts along the Delaware still had to be dealt with, HOWE could now tend to the business of raising new Provincial regiments to augment his army. Possibly seeking to lend countenance and stature to the new corps, he took upon himself the rank of colonel of the first regiment raised, officially titled the 1st Battalion, Pennsylvania Loyalists.
The rank of colonel is the highest regimental rank in the British army, and it was generally given to generals of all ranks in the army, but this was the only instance in which a British general officer, let alone the commander in chief of the army, took upon himself that rank for a Provincial regiment.
1 Howe to Sir Henry Clinton, dated on board the Eagle off Sandy Hook, 23 July 1777. University of
Michigan, William L. Clements Library, Sir Henry Clinton Papers, Letters from Sir William Howe to Sir
Henry Clinton, 1777.
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