Revolutionary War Historical Article

The Mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line

By Donald N. Moran

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the June-July 1996 Edition of the Valley Compatriot Newsletter

 

The last year of the Revolutionary War opened with the potential of ending the struggle by a fraternal bloodletting. The Pennsylvania Continental Line, wintering at Mount Kemble(2), New Jersey had mutinied.

The Pennsylvania troops has endured more than anyone could expect. General Wayne had written Congress attempting to get the much needed supplies for his men, writing: ". . . poorly clothed, badly fed, and worse paid, some of them not having received a paper dollar for near twelve months, exposed to winter's piecing cold, to drifting snows and chilling blasts, with no protection but old worn-out clothes, and but one blanket between three men. . ." A major point of contention was the terms of enlistment. The verbiage "Three years or during the continuance of the war" had been used. The men's interpretation was "which came first" situation, while the government claimed it to be either/or.

About 9 o'clock the evening of New Year's Day, the enlisted men in the camp started to form up as Regiments did. The duty officers realizing what was going on tried to prevent it. General Wayne, enjoying his 36th birthday with dinner and card playing with two of his favorite Colonels, Richard Butler and Walter Stewart, dropped his cards, picked up and cocked his two pistols and rushed to the parade ground. He was immediately surrounded by three companies of soldiers, with fixed bayonets, a half dozen pointed or touching his chest. Sergeant Major William Bawzer, a former British Soldier and one of the leaders of the mutiny spoke to Wayne in a firm but courteous voice: "General Wayne, we love you and respect you. You have led us often on the field of battle, but you do not command us any longer. We warn you to be on your guard. If you fire your pistol you are a dead man, if you attempt to enforce any commands, we will put you to death".(3) General Wayne realized the futility of further attempts to persuade the men to return to their huts. Several officers had already been killed or wounded (4). Two hours later 1,500 to 2,000 battle hardened troops of the Pennsylvania Line, with six field guns, marched out of camp, in good order, led by their Board of Sergeants.

A second leader of the mutiny was Sergeant John Williams, also a former British soldier. This caused Wayne and his staff much concern. Would the men turn east, and desert to the British in New York? He took steps to prevent it, but it is interesting to note that in his concern for his men (and probably their cause), he also dispatched several wagon loads of rations to catch up with the mutineers, so they wouldn't go hungry. He also dispatched couriers to General George Washington, the area commanders and Congress. He and his staff officers then raced to the fork in the roads which split off to the east to Elizabethtown and the British or to Princeton, then to Philadelphia. If the mutineers planned on deserting to the enemy, General "Mad" Anthony Wayne planned to stop them, somehow.

At this second confrontation, Wayne was informed that "If they [the British] were to come out you would see us fight under your orders with as much resolution and alacrity as ever".(3) He was also invited to accompany the men, provided he gave no orders. General Wayne was somewhat reassured.

At 4:00 a.m. on the 4th , two of the Board of Sergeants woke the General and turned over John Mason and Benjamin Ogden to him. They had brought promises of large rewards to encourage desertion from British General Sir Henry Clinton. The mutineers considered them spies, and themselves still patriotic Americans. Mason and Ogden were promptly tied by court martial, presided over by Wayne, and convicted. They were taken a short distance from town and hanged as spies.

The Pennsylvania Line occupied the town of Princeton, without any looting or damage to civilian property. There Wayne arranged for the President of Pennsylvania, Joseph Reed, to negotiate with the Board of Sergeants. After much discussion Reed and the Sergeants reached an agreement. All of the demands were to be met. A compromise on the back pay issue was reached and the men agreed to accept certificates in lieu of devalued Continental dollars. These certificates were redeemable in the future for full value. The Sergeant's interpretation of the terms of enlistment was also granted. All soldiers who had served three years were honorably discharged. Lastly, complete general amnesty was granted.

A forty day furlough was provided to enact the terms of the agreement.

Following the furlough, two-thirds of the discharged soldiers reenlisted!

After the settlement, the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th Regiments were disbanded. The men from those Regiments that reenlisted were reassigned to the surviving Regiments which were disbursed around Pennsylvania. The 1st (Col. Daniel Broadhead) and 2nd (Co!.Walter Stewart) to Philadelphia, the 3rd (Col. Thomas Craig) to Reading, the 4th (Col. William Butler) to Carlisle, the 5th (Col. Richard Butler) to York and the 6th (Col. Richard Hampton) to Lancaster.

References

(1) There is no likeness of Sergeant Major Bawzer. This is representative only.

(2) Mount Kemble, New Jersey is now known as Jockey Hollow.

(3) The recording of this statement is attributed to Lt. Enos Reeves - Mutiny in January by Carl Van Dom page 46) Also recommended for further reading.

(4) Lt. Francis White (wounded); Captain Samuel Tolbert (wounded) , Captain Adam Bettin (killed); one unnamed enlisted man was accidentally shot and killed. These are the only identified casualties.

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