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Swiss-Germans and the Revolutionary War

posted Apr 20, 2010, 1:52 PM by James Wise   [ updated Aug 29, 2010, 11:57 PM by Travis Wise ]

The Revolutionary War. The Boston Tea Party in 1773 caused quite a stir among the inhabitants of the American colonies. By the following year many counties and sections of Pennsylvania held patriotic meetings protesting against Great Britain's treatment of them. 

In 1776 the Pennsylvanians began to form German battalions and regiments for the War. From 1775 to 1777 any man between 16 and 60 years of age could "associate" himself with the patriotic cause. Early in 1777, this voluntary system was replaced by a law establishing a compulsory militia composed of all able-bodied white men between the age of 18 and 53 years. Each man was expected to serve two or three terms lasting about two to three months each. 

The local German-Swiss people were very much opposed to methods which would make a military nation of America. They refused to sell their produce for military purposes because they felt the country was taking a wrong course. Some continued to deal in the British trade even though the American patriots had decided not to deal in any manner. 

The clashing of views between those of the Anabaptist faith, as well as other Swiss-German settlers, caused much conflict. The Anabaptists felt it was their duty to honor the oath of allegiance to the British king that they had taken when they immigrated. A law passed in June, 1777, required an oath of renunciation of the King of England and an oath of allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania. Those who would not take the oath were cited as "enemies of the people." 

About 1780 many Germans became discouraged as the long, dreary war dragged on. They felt the struggle would be lost and that their treatment by the British would be harder than ever. Consequently, they refused to sell cattle for war purposes and opposed the payment of war taxes, resulting in the imprisonment of a large number of them. 

About this time a lengthy message was secretively sent to the British in Philadelphia. It said that Mennonites and Dunkards "have long wished to know from authority how to conduct themselves during the present rebellion." Leaders of the two groups sent a petition to the King expressing their "happiness while under his government" and "their desire to be reinstated in the enjoyment of their former blessings and their readiness to assist with their goods and chattels to bring about so desirable an event." they wanted to know if continued farming would be considered as abetting the rebellion and whether they would be permitted to observe their religious principles as before. Because of situations like this, many Swiss-Germans were severely punished. 

Though many in Pennsylvania opposed the military effort and refused to bear arms, there were many more who joined the patriots by fighting in the Revolutionary War.

Sources Used

Harness, Helen Ummel, The Family History of John Ummel (1861-1942) and Ella Lambert (1874-1951), 1999

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