1781 Pennsylvania Line Mutiny – Norfolk Chronicle Article


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    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created AmericanRevolution.org in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      Editor’s note
      This is an account and analysis of the Pennsylvania Line Mutiny, a revolt that occurred in the Continental Army under George Washington in 1871. It was originally published in the Norfolk Chronicle (UK) on Saturday, February 17, 1781.

      The following is the most particular account that has yet been produced of the late revolt of the greater and most respectable part of the Congress’s army, under the command of Mr. Washington, Lieutenant-General of France, and an Admiral in the service.

      The impatience of all the rebel troops, and being long deprived of their pay in real money, and wholesome provisions, had determined many of the soldiers to a peremptory demand, that their arrears should be produced to them in solid money, and the whole army put on a respectable and well appointed establishment; many perceiving the bankrupt condition of the Congress’s finances, and that no magazines, &c. &c. were formed for the future subsistence of the army, took occasion on Monday last (when the times of the enlistment of several hundred expired) boldly to require their pay in present cash and hard money : finding no revenue but the long expired paper currency produced to supply their demands, the malcontents frankly offered to give up their pay with all arrears, and return home, provided each got a formal discharge, as they were determined to a man no longer to remain in the Continental service. These overtures being rejected, a cessation immediately ensued, consisting of the whole Pennsylvania line, commanded by General St.Clair, formerly a Lieutenant in his Majesty’s Royal American regiment, having under him the Brigadier Generals W. Wayne, Hand, and a successor to the deceased Brigadier General Poor.

      After having spiked up all the cannon, and destroyed all the carriages, they left their Head Quarters at Morris Town, bringing with them four field pieces, all the powder and provisions, and were pursued by some militia, of whom they killed a Colonel, two Majors, two Lieutenants, and some privates; they proceeded to Veal’s Town, about twenty-two miles from Elizabeth Town, where on Wednesday last they threw up works of defence; at this place they erected a standard, chose a Commander in Chief, Commissaries, Quartermasters, and other Officers, essential to the accomodation and movement of troops on service.

      They presently secured four hundred head of live cattle; all the horses of the neighbouring country as they passed were surrendered to them; upwards of one hundred rifle-men had been detached to hang on and annoy their rear, but on exploring their situation, rather than molest them, they left their Officers, and preferred to join their quondam fellow soldiers, in pursuit of the same object.

      Thus reinforced, the total number of the revolters now amounts to two thousand two hundred men, and are daily encreasing. Gen. Wayne overtook, harangued, and on his knees supplicated their return, but all in vain; he was informed if he ever again approached them, they should detain him as a prisoner. Yesterday morning about three o’clock, a firing of field-pieces and musquetry was heard, supposed to be near Veal’s Town.

      The whole body (at the time of this paper’s going to press) was in motion, conjectured to be for Amboy. It is said they are commanded by Mr. Box, formerly of his Majesty’s forty-third regiment. All the measures they have hitherto concerted, seem to have been dictated by skill, firmness, and animation. The only Continental troops now in Jersey, in the Congress’s service, are that solitary brigade of Gen. Dayton, lately commanded by Brigadier Maxwell, who some time since bootless quitted their service; this corps consists of only three slender regiments, total number seven hundred.

      On Thursday last accounts of an action were received from the rebel country, which afford us hopes of important advantages newly obtained by the royal arms in the Carolina’s; but no official relation having yet been obtained, we chuse not to risk a detail of them, until it can be done from an indubitable quarter…

      North America, says a correspondent, continues to be the grave of Englishmen, the repository of English money, the source of Great Britain’s troubles, and, it is to be feared, a monument of her indelible disgrace and infamy. Thro’ her means three powerful nations have risen up against us, and more are daily expected to show their hostile intentions, without any friend or ally to assist us.

      The revolt, or mutiny, of a part of Washington’s army, which has just reached our ears, has this disagreeable circumstance attending it, that whatever discontents, quarrels, and animosities prevail among the people of America, whatever hardships, distresses, and even misery they undergo, they show no hearty inclination to a reconciliation with the mother country! Else why do we not hear of the revolters immediately joining the royal standard? Nay, why do we not hear of the royal army embracing that opportunity of joining them, and attacking Washington’s remaining weakened army? An invincible obstinacy in the minds of the people overcomes all – Independence is still the cry.

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