Revolutionary War Militia Battalions and Companies, Arranged by County
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This Revolutionary War Militia Arrangement provides a breakdown of the battalions and companies raised in each county and the names of the commanding officers. This arrangement represents more of a means of organizing manpower from specific geographical localities rather than reflecting the activity of acting military units that were drawn from this manpower pool. For most counties, the town or township from which each of the companies were recruited is also given when known. For a more detailed account of how the Pennsylvania militia system worked see "The Pennsylvania Militia in 1777" by Hannah Benner Roach in The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine 23 (No. 3, 1964): 161-230 was well as this link on Historical Background. For an account of the arrangement and operations of the Pennsylvania Line soldiers see The Pennsylvania Line: Regimental Organization and Operations, 1776-1783 by John B.B. Trussell, Jr. (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1977). Much of the information provided below was extracted by former archivist Henry James Young, and also possibly by archivist Marvin Schlegel, during the 1940s and 1950s from published entries in the various series of the Pennsylvania Archives volumes and not directly from original archival records. Under the Militia Act of 1777, the numbering of the militia units changed every three years though the composition of each unit recruited from a given area tended to remain more or less the same except for casualties and new recruits. For Bucks County, information has also been provided from the returns for the Committee of Safety (the Associators) for 1775. For Northumberland County, the number of militiamen serving in each company of the 1776 Associator Battalions and for the 1778 3rd and 4th Militia Battalions is provided. 

Historical Background

At the outbreak of hostilities between the Crown and the colonies in 1775 the Pennsylvania Assembly opposed any form of mandatory military service. During this period, activist elements among Pennsylvania's population organized local volunteer "associations" that were eventually formed into fifty-three battalions. These voluntary "Associators" never represented more than a fraction of the state's total population. When General Washington asked for the middle Atlantic states to provide additional reinforcements willing to serve for six months duty in 1776, the Associator units were tapped as a manpower pool, though the individual units did not themselves become part of the Pennsylvania Line forces. The individuals who volunteered at this time were formed into battalions by county and were known as "Flying Camps" that served on active duty until November 30, 1776. By the end of that year, Pennsylvania had adopted a new more radical constitution that wrested control from the older conservative Assembly and in early 1777 the new Assembly passed Pennsylvania's first militia law requiring compulsory military service.

The "Act to Regulate the Militia of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" passed 17 March 1777, and the the subsequent Militia Act passed March 20, 1780, together with their amendments, required all white men between the ages of 18 and 53 capable of bearing arms to serve two months of militia duty on a rotating basis. Refusal to turn out for military exercises would result in a fine, the proceeds from which were used to hire substitutes. Though the act provided exemptions for members of the Continental Congress, Pennsylvania's Supreme Executive Council, Supreme Court judges, masters and teachers of colleges, ministers of the Gospel, and indentured servants, as a practical matter anyone could avoid serving either by filing an appeal to delay their service for a period of time or by paying a fine to hire a substitute. (It should be noted, however, that a person serving as a substitute for someone else was not thereby excused from also serving in their own turn.) The act called for eight battalion districts to be created in Philadelphia and in each of the eleven extant counties. The geographical boundaries for each district were drawn so as to raise between 440 to 680 men fit for active duty as determined by information contained in the local tax rolls. A County Lieutenant holding the rank of colonel was responsible for implenenting the law with the assistence of sub-lieutenants who held the rank of lieutenant colonel. Though they held military titles, these were actually civilian officers not to be confused with the military officers holding the same ranks in the Continental Army. The County Lieutenants ensured that militia units turned out for military exercises, provided the militia units with arms and equipment at the expense of the state, located substitutes for those who declined to serve, and assessed and collected the militia fines. It should be noted that these fines were not necessarily intended to be punitive. Recognizing that personal circumstances might in some cases make it inconvenient or even impossible for a particular individual to serve, the fine system was in part devised to provide money in lieu of service in order to hire substitutes. It also provided an avenue for conscientious objectors to fulfill their legal obligation to the state without compromising their religious convictions.

The men in each battalion elected their own field officers who carried the rank of colonel, lieutenant colonel and major and these officers were then commissioned by the state and expected to serve for three years. Within each county, the colonels drew lots for their individual rank, which was then assigned to their battalion as First Battallion, Second Battalion, Third Battalion, etc. When new elections were held for field officers in 1780 and 1783, the colonels elected at that time again drew lots for their rank and this resulted in a new order for the battalions. The names of men in each company of each battalion were listed on a roll called "General Returns of the Battalion" together with the names of any substitutes that were provided. On these permanent billet rolls the men in each company were listed as being either part of the first class, second class, third class, etc. and were required to show up for their two months of active duty at the time and in the order that their class was called up. When several classes were called up for active duty, a separate roll for each company listed the names of the men who actually served, either in person or as substitutes. This active-duty roll was therefore a completely different roll from the permanent billet roll. These active duty rolls could be distinguished from the permanent billet rolls by the fact that instead of being listed by individual classes as they were in the permanent rolls, the names of the men were here listed under the name of the company captain. Under the provisions of the Militia Law, the men called up for active duty were automatically assigned to companies whose numbers were different from their own company numbers on the permanent billet rolls. They were instead the numbers of the battalions from which the men came! For example, men listed on the permanent roll as belonging to the 2nd Class of the 7th Company of the 6th Battalion would in the active duty battalion be automatically placed in the 6th Company of the 2nd (Active Duty) Battalion. Since the company captain and lower officers were also called up, their identities provide a clue to the permanent class, company, and battalion to which a particular individual belonged. The battalion colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors were called to active duty in a specific order. For example, when the 1st Class was called up, the colonel of the 1st Battalion, the lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Battalion, and the major of the 3rd Battalion entered into service commanding the 1st Class active-duty Battalion. For the 2nd Class, the colonel of the 2nd Battalion, lieutenant colonel of the First Battalion, and major of the 4th Battalion entered service in command of the 2nd Class active-duty battalion. For the rotation of field officers on active duty, it was therefore necessary to substitute Colonel for Captain, Lieutenant Colonel for 1st Lieutenant, Major for 2nd Lieutenant, etc in the column under each Battalion for Company. After each tour of duty was completed, all of the privates and the company and field officers were returned to their permanent battalion billets. For this reason, a separate permanent billet record and an active duty record would have existed for each individual who saw active duty.

When the classes were called up, each captain would deliver a notice to each man's dwelling or place of business. Under the provisions of the Militia Act, each individual summmoned had the right to file an appeal asking that their service be delayed and some successfuly avoided service by repeatedly filing appeals. The names of these individuals will be found on the appeal lists. The names of those who actually turned out for muster duty would then appear on company muster rolls listing the men in their new arrangement. Some of the muster rolls provide the date when duty began, and in the case of officers, the date of their commission, and perhaps some additional comments indicating such types of information as whether they were detached on special duty or the dates of any desertions. Most of the muster rolls that have survived were made up just before the men were discharged from duty. Tabulated company returns were periodically compiled from the muster rolls and from these the adjutants for each battalion compiled battalion returns that were then tabulated by the muster master general of the brigade and submitted to the brigadier general in the form of a general return (not to be confused with the Battalion General Return mentioned above). Company returns, battalion returns, and brigade returns were nearly always filled out on standard printed forms when these were available. While all of these types of records reflect enrollment in the militia, only the muster rolls of the actual marching companies demonstrate actual service while the fine books and appeal books are evidence of lack of actual service. (When an individual filed an appeal, they could also, however, be placed into a later class.) When active service occurred, it would have been for only sixty days at a time.

Also important to understand is that the 1777 Militia Act automatically expired in 1780 and was immediately replaced by a new Militia Act that also lasted for three years and was superceded by a third Militia Act in 1783. The men elected new officers at this time and the militia battalions were renumbered according to the relative seniority of their commanders. For example, what had been Colonel White's 1st York County Battalion continued to be made up of the same men, but could now be designated as perhaps Colonel Black's 7th York County Battalion. The company commanders could also change. For this reason, a particular private might be listed in a different battalion in 1781 than he was in 1778 but this does not necessarily mean that he was transferred between units or changed residence. Most of the service rendered by members of the Pennsylvania Militia fell into one of three categories. They were either used to augment the operations of the Continental Line such as when some of the Associators accompanied General Washington in crossing the Delaware in January 1777. Other examples of this type of service include the large numbers of Pennsylvania militia employed in the summer and autumn of 1777 to oppose the British invasion at Brandywine and on the flanks at the battle of Germantown, though in neither case did they actually see action. The militia did provide a significant defensive force patrolling the south side of the Schuylkill River and engaged in occasional clashes with British outposts and scouting parties including heavy skirmishes at Whitemarsh on December 7. Due to the sixty-day turnover, however, none of the men who were at Brandywine in September would have been present at Whitemarsh in December. It is known that no Pennsylvania militia served at Valley Forge, Monmouth, or Yorktown. The second type of service was duty on the frontier in Northumberland, Northampton, Bedford and Westmoreland counties. Occasionally, militia reinforcements from Cumberland, Lancaster, and York counties would be brought in to reinforce these frontiers as occurred in the summer of 1778. A third type of militia duty was in providing guards for supply depots located in Lancaster, Lebanon and Reading and at various prisoner of war camps.

If you need further assistance, you may contact an archivist at ra-statearchives@pa.gov