and the American Revolution


Headquarters, New York, July 9, 1776

General Orders

The Hon: Constitutional Congress, having been pleased to allow a Chaplain to each Regiment, with the pay of thirty-three Dollars and one third pr month-The Colonels or Commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure Chaplains accordingly; persons of good Characters and exemplary lives-To see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and attend carefully upon religious exercises. The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger-The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavor so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

George Washington          

The Writings of George Washington from the original manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.-vol 05 (Library of Congress)

(From Library of Congress Electronic Exhibition)

     Religion played a major role in the American Revolution by offering a moral sanction for opposition to the British -- an assurance to the average American that revolution was justified in the sight of God. As a recent scholar has observed, "by turning colonial resistance into a righteous cause, and by crying the message to all ranks in all parts of the colonies, ministers did the work of secular radicalism, and did it better."

     The revolution split some denominations, notably the Church of England, whose ministers were bound by oath to support the King, and the Quakers who were traditionally pacifists. Religious practice suffered in certain places because of the absence of ministers and the destruction of churches, but in other areas religion flourished.

     The Revolution strengthened millennialist trains in American theology. At the beginning of the war some ministers were persuaded that, with God's help, America might become "the principal seat of the glorious Kingdom which Christ shall erect upon Earth in the latter days." Victory over the British was taken as a sign of God's partiality for America and stimulated an outpouring of millennialist expectations-the conviction that Christ would rule on earth for 1,000 years. This attitude combined with a groundswell of secular optimism about the future of America to create the buoyant mood of the new nation that became so evident after Jefferson assumed the presidency in 1801.

A Brief Account of Religion

and the Revolutionary War Chaplaincy

Parts 1 & 2 (in part)

Taken with permission from author, James E. Newell - 1st Continental Regiment

Denominational Attitudes toward the War

While the power of the pulpit to educate and motivate extended to all denominations, not all shared the same enthusiasm for the war and thus the messages preached varied along the lines of the often estimate that one third of the population was for the war, one third against it, and the remaining third just wanted to be left alone. There were about 3200 churches divided among eighteen denominations at the time of the outbreak of the War (Thompson, 84). The attitudes of the major groups are listed as follows:

Congregational (668) and Presbyterian (588) As noted above, these were the staunch New Englanders and the recently immigrated Scots-Irish, both of whom were solidly behind liberty from British rule (ibid., 86). The Presbyterians were so vocal and effective in preaching rebellion that many had prices on their heads and were treated with extreme barbarity if captured (Williams, 42). In fact, King George is said to have characterized the American Revolution as "A Presbyterian War". Horace Walpole, addressing the English Parliament, said, "There is no crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson and that is the end of it" (Donehoo, 1069).

Further, the Congregational church which was anti-Anglican, remained the official established church of New England until 1833 (Thompson, 86). 

Anglicans (495) These churches were solidly Loyalist (ibid.,86-87). The Anglican Clergy were bound in a way not shared by other denominations. Their ordination vows had included an oath to "bear true faith and allegiance to the Crown" (Williams, 66). Most went back to England. William White D.D. was the only Episcopal clergyman in Pennsylvania to remain after the British evacuated Philadelphia (Headly, 64). The British chaplains were all Church of England or Church of Scotland, however they were under the regimental system and most did not accompany their units to America. The Official British Chaplaincy History does not even recognize British involvement in the American Revolution (Thompson, 201). There were twenty-eight chaplains, mostly Anglican, with the Loyalist troops (bid, 203).

Ministers served the American cause in many capacities during the Revolution: as military chaplains, as penmen for committees of correspondence, and as members of state legislatures, constitutional conventions and the national Congress. Some even took up arms; leading Continental troops in battle. 

Methodists (65) In 1770, John Wesley published a piece entitled "Free Thoughts on the Present State of Public Affairs", which was positive to the American cause. In 1775, he reversed himself and published "A Calm Address on our Colonies" in which he backed the King (ibid., 85). As a result, all but Asbury of the eight Methodist missionaries sent over by Wesley left the country with their Anglican brothers at various points during the war. Further, in 1777, the Methodists are estimated to have totaled 6968 persons, of which 4379 were in Virginia and North Carolina where the Anglican Church remained established until 1796 (ibid., 86 & 99). At this point in history, the Methodists were a lay movement within the Anglican Church and thus there were no ordained Methodist clergy. There were, however, circuit-riding lay preachers through-out the South, and while the Methodists, as a whole, were largely neutral or faithful to the crown (ibid., 86) at least one unordained preacher, Jesse Lee of Virginia, enlisted as a non-combatant wagon master (earning the rank of sergeant) and served informally as unit Chaplain (ibid., 198 - 199).

Baptists (494) This denomination had been severely persecuted both in the Congregational North where they were taxed to support the Congregational Pastors, and in the Anglican South where many had been beaten for their faith (ibid., 86-87). Thus they were solidly behind the concept of religious freedom.

Quakers (310) Quakers, like the Baptists, had suffered at the hands of the Anglicans, however most chose to remain silent and to follow their belief in non-violence (ibid.). This was not universally the case, however, since about four hundred Quakers were disowned by their "Meetings" for participating in the war efforts. They formed what was known as the "Free Quakers". Included in this group were famous participants, Thomas Mifflin, the Quartermaster General of the Continental Army and later Governor of Pennsylvania, Nathaniel Green who succeeded Mifflin as Quartermaster General, and Betsy Ross (Williams, 45).

Lutherans (150) Largely German speaking, members of this denomination found themselves in both camps. Some continued loyalty to "German King George" as the Elector of Hanover, and others, having tasted freedom and the ability to own land for the first time in their lives, distrusted England. The twenty-five "Hessian" Chaplains, were mostly Lutheran and Reformed (with one Roman Catholic) (Thompson, 201). The "Hessian" soldiers themselves were deeply religious and held hour-long devotions and hymn singing after reveille and tattoo. As prisoners they built themselves a chapel (ibid., 203). 

Roman Catholic (56) The Catholics were also split in their loyalties with many siding with the Revolution despite the anti-Catholic sentiment. Ironically, although the Protestants feared that the King was too pro-Catholic, the Maryland Catholics feared the he was too anti-Catholic. When the French entered the war, they brought with them eleven Roman Catholic chaplains for the land troops and one hundred more on board ships (ibid.). Some American soldiers of the Catholic faith attended their first Mass in years in the nearby French camps (Williams, 87). There were two Continental Regiments known collectively as "Congress Own" made up primarily of French Canadian Catholics supplemented by Catholics from Pennsylvania. Father Eustache Lotbiniere, also from Canada, was appointed by Benedict Arnold as Chaplain to the 1st Regiment on January 26th, 1776. He continued in the pay of Congress for most of the war although he probably did not celebrate Mass since he had been cut off by Bishop Briand of Quebec, a staunch loyalist to the English. The Bishop also excommunicated all the Canadians who fought on the American side (Griffin, 45 - 46). Col. Morgan Connon (O'Connor) who originally enlisted as Lt. in George Nagel's Company of Rifleman raised in Reading on July 17, 1775, was most probably a Roman Catholic since he served as Godfather to several Catholic children in Philadelphia (ibid., 133 - 134). 

Jewish (5) The small Jewish population of about 2000 people strongly supported the revolution (Thompson, 87). Francis Salvador of Charleston, South Carolina, was the first Jew to die in the revolution in 1776; Col. Mordecai Sheftall was Commissary General to the Georgia Militia; and Haym Solomon was honored by the nation for helping to finance the Revolution (Sloan,4).

Background of the Chaplaincy

     After Lexington and Concord, great numbers of the parishioners remembered their Pastors' teachings and rallied to the cause. Others saw their Pastors enlist to shame or encourage their flocks to do likewise. At first, however, the Chaplaincy was a totally unorganized system. Some clergy were commissioned by governors, some were part of various militias, and some were commissioned by authorities in the national army. These men were officers of a regiment in the standard British system rather than members of a Chaplain's Corps per se. Their function rather than their rank justified their presence, and "they were motivated with the courage of a crusade and the unconventionality of a mission." (Williams, 76)

     The practice of taking clergy into battle with armies dates back to the Old Testament (cf: Deuteronomy 20: 1-4). Up through and including the Crusades, the Clergy were an integral part of the Military leadership structure. Gradually they took more of a supportive and less of a leadership role.

     The origin of the title Chaplain goes back to an old legend of St. Martin of Tours, a soldier who lived about 316 to 400 AD. Out on the town, Martin met a naked beggar. With his sword, Martin divided his cloak and gave half to the beggar. Later, Martin dreamed that he saw Christ wearing the part of his cloak given to the beggar whereupon Martin sought baptism, abandoned the military, and devoted himself to the Church. His remaining part of the cloak survived him and was carried into battle as a sacred relic of St. Martin who became Patron Saint of France (Drury, 2). The reliquary in which the cappa was kept was called the cappella, which through the Old French word Chappella became our word chapel. The priest in charge was called the Chappellanus, which became chappellain in Old French and chaplain in English (Williams, 11-12).

     The first recorded use of a Chaplain in the American Colonies was in the Spring of 1637, when Samuel Stone of Hartford served as chaplain and advisor to Captain John Mason in the Pequot War (ibid., 31). Chaplain Jonathan Frie, aged 21, fought during Queen Ann's War (1702 - 1713). Wounded, he died on the way home as was the subject of several ballads known throughout New England (Thompson, 40). Chaplains Buckingham and Edwards served on the expedition to Crown Point in 1711. They wore regimental coats and were issued fusees (ibid., 36). In King George's War (1744 - 1748), Moses Coffin served as chaplain and drummer as was dubbed "the drummer ecclesiastic" (Williams, 34).

     The French Canadians has chaplains also during these various wars, and Francois Piquet, a Jesuit, acted as an advanced scout in his post with the Indians and passed back information to the Governor that led to the French attack on Saratoga in November of 1745 (ibid., 228). Chaplain Norton, in 1746, was taken prisoner with his flock to Canada and continued to minister to them and resist the French attempts to convert him (ibid., 48). There was a Chaplain Newell in the French and Indian War in 1755, but we don't know any more than that about him (ibid., 225). During the various campaigns to take Fort Duquesne throughout the French and Indian War (1755 - 1763), Col. George Washington begged Virginia's Governor Dinwoodie repeatedly for a chaplain. One was finally approved but never appointed and services continued to be supplied by civilian clergy when there happened to be any available (ibid., 58).

     By the time of the Revolutionary War, the chaplains had carved for themselves, a place with the military which was not within the chain of command but was never the less considered almost indispensable. For years, in every "little valley and sequestered nook" of the English Colonies, the clergy had taught the doctrines of freedom and preached the duty of resistance to oppression (Headly, 17). Further, The Act of Episcopacy (1772) attempted to establish the Anglican as the official state church, complete with Bishop, in the colonies. The Quebec Act (1774) attempted to cede the territory west of the Appalachian mountains and north of the Ohio River to Canada and would have allowed the Canadians to keep their exclusive Roman Catholic Religion and apply it in the newly ceded territory. These attempted actions by the English Parliament worried and angered the Protestants and increased the preaching against Catholicism and Religious tyranny (Thompson, 81). Whether the Quebec Act actually "established" Catholicism as the official religion in the British colony of Canada is open to debate, but it was widely considered to have done so by people on both sides of the Atlantic and contributed in no small part to the Revolution (Griffin, 6 - 7). 

     A remarkable bit of propaganda was printed in England by the "Friends of America" and distributed to departing English soldiers. It began, "Gentlemen, You are about to embark for America to compel your fellow subjects there to submit to Popery and slavery…" (ibid., 12). Ironically, many, including Benedict Arnold and the Reverend Jacob Duche (Episcopalian) from Philadelphia, attributed their switching to the British side partly to what they considered the "Popery shown by Congress in welcoming the French support".  Alexander Hamilton said "Remember, civil and religious liberty always go together; if the foundation of the one be sapped, the other will fall of course" (ibid., 84), and John Adams asked Thomas Jefferson, "can free government possibly exist with the Roman Catholic Religion?" (Griffin, 32).

     Another reason for heavy Clergy involvement was the large immigration of Scots-Irish Presbyterian clergy. By their very nature, they hated and distrusted the English Parliament.

     A very practical reason, however, was the fact that the "Pulpit was the most direct and effectual way of reaching the masses" (Headly, 22). In most of the colonies that had militia, a major part of each training day was a sermon, sometimes called an "artillery sermon, which literally bristled with Old Testament injunctions in support of a just war" (Higgenbotham, 3). "Several generations of Americans saw themselves transformed into the Biblical David, while France (and later Britain) was Goliath incarnate" (ibid.).

     Further, in Philadelphia Carractacus an essayist, On Standing Armies, prophesied that "virtuous yeomen and artisans associating together in barracks or camps would lose the gentleness and sobriety of citizens". Congress believed that nothing of the sort would happen if the troops' spiritual needs were guaranteed by the presence of chaplains. (ibid., 92) 

Military duties and appearance of the clergy

     The normal term of service for a chaplain at the start of the war was six months. Like the men who couldn't spare any more time away from their farms, the clergy were not paid by their home churches and were usually responsible for paying for their temporary replacements back home. A few served only during the week and returned home each weekend ( Williams, 38).

     Throughout the Revolution, chaplains, although officers without rank, had no specific uniform. David Jones apparently wore an officer's uniform but without epaulets, changing to rougher cloths when serving as a surgeon (Rogers, 86). Most wore their usual civilian dress and there is one record of black material being issued to a chaplain for the purpose of making a replacement set of cloths (Thompson, 95). On May 19, 1780, the Supreme Executive Council at Philadelphia "ordered that a suit of cloaths of Black be furnished by State Clothier to the Reverend Mr. Samuel Blair, Chaplain to the Brigade of artillery, in the same manner as has been furnished to other Clergymen" (PA Archives, 358).

     Universally in this era, chaplains bore arms, at least the sword of an officer and a gentlemen, and occasionally a firearm as well. Jones carried a pistol and used it frequently (Rogers, 101). Many other Chaplains also used weapons upon occasion although it would seem that their normal post during and after a battle was with the wounded. "My station in time of action I knew to be among the surgeons" - John Gano (Headly, 255). Ebenezer David died of sickness while working at a hospital on March 19, 1778. Thompson notes that many chaplains served also as surgeons (Thompson, 185), and in fact, Robert Blackwell, James Sproat, David Jones and David Avery had each been trained as professional medical men as well as Clergy before joining the Army. Avery brought his own medical chest because of the lack of supplies in the Army (Williams, 87).

     Duties of a Chaplain were not officially stated but, in broad terms, amounted to these: 1) Conduct divine services, 2) Obey superior officers and Congress, and 3) Act as a representative of God (Williams, 85). Practically, they uttered prayers, usually before the reading of the orders in the morning, before a march and before roll call at night (Bolton, 158). They held Sunday services and officiated at funerals (Williams, 85-86). They performed marriages, both within the camp and for nearby civilian church members who were without pastors (ibid.,87). Evidently, American Protestant soldiers received holy Communion in local churches, if at all, since the only record of a Protestant service of Holy Communion in the Dairy of Philip Wedlock, a "Hessian" (Thompson, 210). Roman Catholic soldiers were visited by French Catholic Chaplains who administered the Eucharist (Williams, 87).

     The most important function of the chaplains was, however, to conduct Sunday services including a Sermon of a practical nature that would meet the needs of the men (or of the Army) at the same time. Services were usually held at 11:00 in the morning (Bolton, 159). The Reverend A. R. Robbins reports in his journal that:

     "The music march up and the drummers lay their drums in very neat style into rows one above the other; it often takes five and often the rows are very long, Occasionally they make a platform for me to stand on and raise their drums a number of tiers" (ibid.)

     Normally services were held in the open. Rev. Gano was not in camp at Valley Forge during the Winter because he realized that the men could not be expected to stand in the open for services (Bolton, 162). Having services was considered of great importance, however, and at Newbury at the Winter Encampment of 1780 - 1781, the army erected the usual huts ":and one larger than the rest for a place of public worship on the Sabbath. Here three services a day were held, the chaplains from each Brigade preaching in rotation" (Headly, 271).

     Occasionally, services were held in a nearby church building. LT. William Feltman of the First Pennsylvania Rgt. Noted in his journal of 1781-1782, that on August 19th "...from the parade we marched to a church close by our encampment, where Doct. Jones (the chaplain) preached us a sermon" (Feltman, 10).

     A penalty was imposed for missing services; a few hours spent in digging out stumps (ibid.,161). The matter of the lack of interest in services had been treated differently in previous years. In 1755, Chaplain Charles Beaty served a force led by Benjamin Franklin to guard the Northwestern frontier of Pennsylvania. At Franklin's suggestion, the chaplain served the daily rum ration to those who were in formation for prayers (Williams, 34-35).

     The sermon, itself, was usually of a practical nature in which the Chaplain would urge upon the men temperance, vigilance, cleanness, and honesty (Bolton, 159). Several typical sermon topics are as follows:

"He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." - Rev. Kirkland, 9/15/1776 (ibid., 160).

"This day shall be a memorial unto you throughout you generations."

- Rev. Gano, 7/4/1776 (ibid.)

"Defensive War in a Just Cause Sinless"

- Rev. David Jones to Col Dewee's Regt., Tredyffrin, PA 7/20/1775. (Baldwin, 112)

     Told to dwell a little more on politics the usual, Gano, in 1779 at Canajoharie, preached on "Come go thou with us and we will do thee good, for he that seeketh my life, seeketh thy life but with us thou shalt be in safeguard" - 1st Samuel 22:23 (Bolton, 160). On another occasion, Gano was told that it would be a disaster if the six and nine months men did not reenlist. Gano told them that "he could aver to the truth that our Lord and Savior approved of all those who has engaged him His Service for the whole warfare." The troops were amused by this stretching of the Word of the Bible but kidded each other into reinlisting anyway (ibid., 161).

     Reverend Gano, true to his own injunctions, served the entire war and on April 19, 1783, under orders from George Washington, has the honor of announcing that the war was officially over and that the United States of America was free and independent. Afterwards, Gano assembled the officers and men who had survived the entire war and let them in a prayer of thanksgiving and peace (Thompson, 208).


(From James E. Newell's works)

Baldwin, Alice, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution, (New York, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1928)

Bolton, Charles Knowles, The Private Soldier Under Washington, (Williamstown, MA, Corner House Publishers, 1976)

Burgoyne, Bruce, trans., Diaries of a Hessian Chaplain & the Chaplain's Assistant, (Pensauken, NJ, Johannes Schwam Historical Assoc., Inc., 1990).

Donehoo, George P., ed, Pennsylvania History, Vol III, (new York, Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., 1926

Drury, Clifford Merril, The History of the Chaplain Corps, United States Navy - Volume One - 1778-1939, (Washington, DC, US Government Printing Office, 1948).

Feltman, Lieut. William, The Journal of Lieut. William Feltman, (Phila., Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1853 - Reprinted by Arno Press, 1969).

Garrison, Webb, Great Stories of the American Revolution, (Nashville, Rutledge Hill Press, 1990).

Griffin, Martin I.J., Catholics and the American Revolution, (Ridly Park, PA, Martin Griffin, 1907)

Headly, Joel Tyler, The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution, (New York, Charles Scriber, 1864).

Higgenbothan, Don, The War of American Independence - Military Attitudes, Policies and Practices 1763-1794, (New York, Mac Millan Co., 1971).

"Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society" 9:2, (June 1971)

Pennsylvania Archives, Vol 12 - Colonial Series

Rogers, Truett, Bibles and Battle Drums, (Valley forge, Judson Press, 1976)

Sloan, Irving J., comp. & ed, The Jews in America 1621 - 1970, (Dobbs Ferry, NY, Oceana Publications Inc.1971)

Thompson, Parker C. From Its European Antecedants To 1791 - The United States Army Chaplancy, (Washington, DC, Department of the Army, 1978) 

Ward, Christopher, The War of the Revolution, Vol II, (New York, The MacMillan Company, 1952)

Williams, Eugene Franklin, Soldiers of God - The Chaplains of the revolutionary War, (New York, Carlton Press, Inc., 1975).


( from )

B.C. (before Christ)

500 BC: Completion of All Original Hebrew Manuscripts which make Up The 39 Books of the Old Testament.

200 BC: Completion of the Septuagint Greek Manuscripts which contain The 39 Old Testament Books AND 14 Apocrypha Books.

A.D. (anno Domini)

1st Century AD: Completion of All Original Greek Manuscripts which make Up The 27 Books of the New Testament.

390 : Jerome's Latin Vulgate Manuscripts Produced which contain All 80 Books (39 Old Test. + 14 Apocrypha + 27 New Test).

500 : Scriptures have been Translated into Over 500 Languages.

600 : LATIN was the Only Language Allowed for Scripture.

995 : Anglo-Saxon (Early Roots of English Language) Translations of The New Testament Produced.

1384 : Wycliffe is the First Person to Produce a (Hand-Written) manuscript Copy of the Complete Bible; All 80 Books.

1455 : Gutenberg Invents the Printing Press; Books May Now be mass-Produced Instead of Individually Hand-Written. The First Book Ever Printed is Gutenberg's Bible in Latin.

1516 : Erasmus Produces a Greek/Latin Parallel New Testament.

1522 : Martin Luther's German New Testament.

1525 : William Tyndale's New Testament; The First New Testament to be Printed in the English Language.

1535 : Myles Coverdale's Bible; The First Complete Bible to be printed in the English Language (80 Books: O.T. & N.T. & Apocrypha).

1537 : Matthews Bible; The Second Complete Bible to be Printed in English. Done by John "Thomas Matthew" Rogers (80 Books).

1539 : The "Great Bible" Printed; The First English Language Bible to be Authorized for Public Use (80 Books).

1560 : The Geneva Bible Printed; The First English Language Bible to Add Numbered Verses to Each Chapter (80 Books).

1568 : The Bishops Bible Printed; The Bible of which the King James was a Revision (80 Books).

1609 : The Douay Old Testament is added to the Rheimes New Testament (of 1582) Making the First Complete English Catholic Bible; Translated from the Latin Vulgate (80 Books).

1611 : The King James Bible Printed; Originally with All 80 Books. The Apocrypha was Officially Removed in 1885 Leaving Only 66 Books


With special thanks to William S. Peterson

Professor of English, University of Maryland, College Park


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