Nicholas's Story

Lately people have been asking me what it was like to be part of our Nation's Revolutionary War. They know that I was a part of the battle at Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania, which happened shortly after we had declared our independence from the Mother Country. People are a little curious what it was like for me in those years, so here's my story.

I am the oldest son in a family of seven children and the only son that survived infancy. I was born in Germany in 1747, in the beautiful old town of Butzbach in the area known as Hesse. Butzbach was known for spinning wool into socks and trousers, but by the time I was born this business was in decline. In fact, my Dad and uncle were the only remaining practitioners of this skill. Butzbach is also known as one of the walled cities in Germany. This protected my town from the all too frequent wars that ravaged Germany.

The year I was born, the War of Austrian Succession was winding down. Its conclusion led the major European powers to rethink their alliances. In the next several years, Germany found itself caught between the new Austria-France alliance and the reformulated Britain-Russian alliance. By the time I was seven years old, battle lines were being formed between these newly defined adversaries. The combination of poor weaving business and new rumbles of war persuaded Dad that the time had come to make a big change. So he began the process of moving our family to the American colonies, Pennsylvania in particular.

In the spring of 1754, when the weather had begun to warm, Mom and Dad led us on the overland trek to the port of Hamburg to catch a ship to Pennsylvania. I remember this was some trip. My sisters were about 3 years old, and we had to walk the entire distance of some 300 miles along side the wagon Dad had purchased of the trip. If it hadn't been for the two orphan teenagers that went along with us, I don't know how we would have made it. A lot of other people joined us as we traveled, and by the time we got to Hamburg, there were 245 of us wanting to go to Pennsylvania. We all got on a ship called "The Adventure" . The "Adventure" wasn't really built to carry passengers but we all found a place on board and finally got underway in late June. Since we were going to a British colony, we had to stop at a British port to get permission to travel to one of Her Majesty's colonies. Therefore the captain stopped at Plymouth to get the required paperwork and to stock up with food and water for the trip. That was finally all completed, and we set sail on August 1, 1754.

The trip wasn't much fun, I'll tell you that! But we had good winds and a skilled captain and so it took us "only" 7 weeks to make land at the port of Philadelphia. Dad got all our stuff off the ship and signed some paperwork, something called an "Oath of Allegiance", and we were on our own. We spent the first few days at a rooming house in Philadelphia while Dad figured out where we were going to live. He learned that a lot of new Germans were going west to a town called Lancaster, so he decided we'd try our luck there. At that time, Lancaster had about 500 homes and a population of 2000, so it was bigger than the town we had left in Germany. The route everyone was taking was called the Conestoga Road. It had been completed only 12-13 years before. It wasn't paved, but at least the trees had been cleared from a wide enough path that two wagons could pass in most places. It certainly made the travel between Lancaster and Philadelphia easier for wagons.

It was almost the end of October before we reached Lancaster and it was starting to get cold. Dad found a place for us to stay and we began to settle into our new life in the colonies.

At this time, Lancaster was close to the Pennsylvania frontier. In fact, the practical limit of the colony was the Susquehanna River, and that was just 10 miles to the west. I think Dad was kind of taken aback by how wild the Lancaster area was, in spite its substantial population of settlers. He was especially dismayed at learning of the threat of Indian attacks. It turns out that the war he thought we were leaving behind in the Homeland was now being played out right in our own backyards. The situation deteriorated so quickly that in 1756 "the Penn family agreed to donate money for provincial defenses and the Assembly appropriated money to raise a militia. The government declared war on the Indians and offered bounties for their scalps." "The most grievous example of the colonists' all-out war on Pennsylvania's Indians occurred in late 1763 in Lancaster County. Angered by Indian raids on settlements across the Pennsylvania frontier, a group of colonists from Paxton in present-day Dauphin County destroyed the Conestoga Indian village and systematically murdered its inhabitants. Convinced that Quakers in Philadelphia were harboring other Indians, the Paxton Boys, now swollen in size to several hundred men, marched on that city in January 1764, threatening to kill any Indians and their Quaker protectors that they found there. The timely intervention of Benjamin Franklin prevented further violence, but William Penn's dream of peaceful coexistence between Indians and colonists evaporated in the endorsement that the Paxton Boys' actions received from many of their fellow Pennsylvanians, who refused to arrest or prosecute anyone for the murder of the Conestogas."

Mom and Dad tried to keep things somewhat normal for us kids during all this time. Religious life was always important to them, and we began attending Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster. In 1759 my little sister Margaret was born and she was christened there a few months later. At that time, Trinity was just a small stone church with a steeple . However, during my teenage years, Trinity constructed a newer, larger church, which was completed in 1766. I enjoyed watching it be built, because it quickly became the tallest building in town. Church records from the new church show that Mom and Dad were regular attendees at services from 1767 thru at least 1779 and paid pew rents for a number of years.

As exciting as it was to watch a big construction project come to its conclusion in 1766, that wasn't my main interest at the time. I was now 19 years old, and I was particularly aware of the young ladies in town. Catherine Franks was one of those young things and I had started seeing her pretty regularly that year. So it wasn't a surprise to anyone who knew us when we announced that we would be married in the new church building on 8 May 1767. My oldest sister Apollonia had already gotten married in the old church 3 years ago. The required announcements of our marriage were made at church, and there being no objections, we were married as planned.

One of the members at Trinity was Henry W Stiegel. Some of the people called him Baron Stiegel. He had laid out a new town a few miles north, which he called Manheim. He was part owner of an iron furnace north of Manheim and was a respected member of the community. He was well known by Trinity members, having been invited to lead the choir during the inaugural worship service in the new church building. Katherine and I talked about it, and we decided to move up to Manheim and provide leather products to him and his business. They called me a "saddler", but my business included bridles, reins, harnesses and horse collars. In just a couple years, I had become a card carrying tax payer in Rapho township, the township where Manheim was located. That year, a formal Lutheran Congregation formed in Manheim, and Kate and I were among the charter members of that new church. Pastors from Lancaster and other towns would come by to provide church services for us.

Our first child, John Nicholas was born the next year, followed by Anna Marie, the fall of the following year. Our third child, Daniel, was born in 1773. He was christened in the our new church building, unlike our oldest two who we took down to Mom and Dad's church for their christening. A fourth child, John Phillip, was born in early 1775.

Meanwhile, Baron Stiegel was not happy with the way his iron business was going. He was left holding the bag after partners deserted him, so he started a derivative business, that of glass manufacture. This business he started right in Manheim town, and it proved more lucrative, at least for a time. Even today, Stiegel glass remains highly collectible. So I signed on with the Manheim glass house and began working there. That employment proved to be short lived, however, because in a couple years, creditors from Stiegel's failed iron blast furnaces got an Sherriff's order to sell assets to cover the debts, and in February of 1774, the Sherriff auctioned off most of Stiegel's assets in Manheim. In addition to the glass factory, he owned many lots in the town of Manheim. I entered the bidding and ended up with a dozen lots, some on the town square and others were "out lots". So my good fortune had taken me from being a Stiegel employee to owning a number of my ex-bosses properties.

So, all the while Kate and I were getting our family established in Manheim, tensions with the British were starting to everyday life. In December of 1773, the now famous Boston Tea Party expressed our commitment to the principle of no taxation without representation. See, I'm using the phrase "our" now. Guess that means I now identify mostly with the colonies and not so much with England or even Germany. Dad and I both were supportive of the First Continental Congress, which met in of 1774 in response to the Intolerable Acts. We were shocked, however, at the British actions the next spring, where they actually took up arms against us at Lexington and Concord. So it didn't surprise us when the Second Congress in May of 1775 actually named a military commander-in-chief. Something had to be done. After all, we have rights too! The Congress had not much more than adjourned when the Battle of Bunker Hill commenced. I think that battle convinced all of us, except maybe for our Quaker friends, that sooner or later, this situation would have to be resolved by force. Our resolve was only strengthened by the publication of Thomas Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense" in early 1776. I guess you would call "Common Sense" a set of "talking points" now, but that pamphlet served to get everyone in synch with what the issues were and to make the case for independence from Great Britain.

When Congress met in June of 1776 in Philadelphia, it was clear that their intention was to formally declare our independence, and on July 4th, 1776 the final wording of the Declaration was agreed upon. We all understood that this wasn't just a declaration of independence, but it was a declaration of war. So, it didn't surprise anyone that the very next day, a call for volunteers was posted around Lancaster County. Nine companies of musketry and two companies of riflemen made up the initial quota for the county. With the British actions concentrated in Canada and New York that year, there was little action seen by the Lancaster militias. 1777 was not to be such a quiet year. Mid-year, with the British defeat at Saratoga, their attention was turned to Philadelphia. That this was the case was evidenced by the landing of huge troop contingency at the head of the Elk River in Maryland in late July. The contingency numbered 17000 soldiers using 265 ships . General Howe's plan was to advance along the north shore of the Delaware River and ultimately capture Philadelphia, the colonist's provisional capital.

As you can imagine, this turn of events scared everybody to death. With the British army now just 40 miles from Lancaster, the Pennsylvania militia sprang into action. After all, 40 miles is just 3-4 days march, and then they could be in our backyards! of the guys that had not enlisted in the initial drive last summer now rushed to be a part of the defense. That included me, even with my family, or maybe because of my family. It was serious now! So on August 16th, just a couple weeks after Howe had landed his troops, I signed up in a company of militia that was being formed from guys in Manheim. I knew Abraham Forey, the Captain of the new company and was anxious to be a part of his company. The initial roll call for the company was hurriedly called and I just couldn't get things arranged quickly enough to be present for it. I asked my sister Hannah if she would attend on my behalf and she agreed. So if you look on that initial roll for Capt Forey's company, you'll see Hannetta Liebrich's name and not mine. However, I was able to join the unit just a couple days later and served with it for the balance of my tour. Hannetta never let me forget that I really owed her one for doing me that favor!

You can probably imagine how frantic the training of our company was. None of us had served in the military before, so we didn't know anything about marching or handling weapons or any of the military disciplines. Quite a rag tag bunch we were! And yet, just a couple weeks later, we found ourselves marching toward Brandywine Creek and Chad's Ford, in response to a call from General Washington for additional troops in anticipation of a battle at Brandywine Creek and Chad's Ford. All kinds of thoughts raced through my mind: thoughts of my family, wondering if I was really ready for this and yet proud to be defending MY country against the repugnant Red Coats.

The evening of September 10th, we found ourselves on the north side of Brandywine creek. Brandywine had eight places where troops could reasonable ford, and so our strength was greatest in these places. That evening, the pastors prayed with us, and we all had the sense that daylight tomorrow was going to bring one heck of a battle.

General Washington wisely understood that militia units like ours was not going to be much help on the front lines. Therefore, he assigned some of us to drive off all the cattle and horses to leave the country as barren as possible, thus handicapping the British in their foraging efforts. He assigned others of the Pennsylvania Militia to protecting the rear of his Continentals. But, yes, some of us were assigned to units of the Continental Line and were right up there in the line of fire.

The day dawned with fog, making it impossible to see that the British had begun moving at 4 a.m. The first sighting of the British was about 9 o'clock, and by that time they were less than 100 yards away from our front lines. Heavy skirmishes ensued all morning, but for some reason, the British did not attempt to cross the creek. They just milled back and forth o ut there in front of us. General Washington began to suspect something was up, but received such conflicting reconnaissance reports that he could not form a definite decision. However, by about 2pm, Washington was able to determine that General Howe had managed to hide 8000 men and were preparing to attack from his flank. Attack they did! Americans were unable to adjust quickly enough to repulse the attack. Falling back 400 yards, they attempted to regroup. Failing that, they dropped back another 400 yards. Here Washington's troops were able to mount a strong defense, making this line of battle the most ferocious of the entire day. One of the British officers later wrote "There was the most infernal Fire of cannon and musquetry. Most incessant shouting, 'Incline to the right! Incline to the left! Halt! Charge!' etc. The balls ploughing up the ground. The trees cracking over one's head. The branches riven by the artillery. The leaves falling as in autumn by the grapeshot... Another historian, Robert Bruce, described our performance this way: Mostly unskilled militia, hastily recruited from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, sustained repeated charges of the well-disciplined British and Hessian infantry, chasseurs, grenadiers and guards until overwhelming numbers and superior arms forced them to yield. Troops that had been in service before, usually proved reliable and effective; but the new recruits were easily thrown into when attacked on the march, and prevented from reaching their designated places in line."

To add injury to insult, late in the afternoon, the British that were first seen by Washington's troops, began a frontal across Brandywine Creek. Our side put up a good fight for nearly two hours, but after realizing we were substantially outnumbered, we retreated under cover of darkness. At day's end, casualties were strewn across a 10 square mile area, making final determinations particularly difficult. Best estimates were that the British experienced nearly 2000 men killed or wounded and American losses around 1300. In addition the Americans lost 10 cannon and a Howitzer, a severe blow their fighting capabilities. After the war was over, this battle of Brandywine Creek would be recognized as one of the longest engagements of the entire war, and one of the most costly in casualties incurred.

When news of our defeat at Brandywine Creek reached Philadelphia and General Howe's continued to progress toward the capital, panic broke out among the congressmen there. They took the decision to vacate Philadelphia. The city offered little resistance when Howe entered Philly on September 26, 1777. As Howe entered, Congress fled to the city of Lancaster and the next day met inside the county courthouse. Faced with the difficulty of finding suitable lodging and continued concerns about their safety, the delegates' official business consisted mainly of deciding how quickly they could leave Lancaster. Leave, they did, just two days later for York, Pennsylvania, where they stayed for about nine months. You will remember that the winter of 1777 was a particularly difficult one for George Washington and the troops. It was spent at Valley Forge. History doesn't record whether my unit was among those at Valley Forge. History does record that when it returned in March from its six month deployment, I was among the returnees. I felt very blessed and fortunate to be able to return to my family and home Manheim. Although the war continued on, things slowly returned to normal for Katherine and I. Five children were added to our family. All my sisters got married, even Hannah. She was the last to be married, which happened in 1785.

Just because I had served my time in the militia did not mean that was the only service our family rendered to the War . My Dad died in 1785, a few months after Hannah was married. When we were going through his things, I was surprised to discover a Continental Loan Office Certificate in the amount of $800, dated 21 May 1779. I knew that Dad supported our independence effort, but I had not known till then that he had loaned money to the government to help out with the W ar costs.

So that's pretty much my war story. It's good to be our own country now. I'm really glad Dad brought us here. I'm sure it's not going to be easy maintaining our freedom, but I think we're off to a good start.

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