Faithful servants

Material Information

Faithful servants Revolutionary War chaplains and their sermons
Heideman, Anthony Jon
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
viii, 146 leaves : ; 29 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
1775 - 1783 ( fast )
Military chaplains -- History -- United States ( lcsh )
Sermons, American -- History and criticism ( lcsh )
Military chaplains ( fast )
Sermons, American ( fast )
History -- Chaplains -- United States -- Revolution, 1775-1783 ( lcsh )
United States ( fast )
Criticism, interpretation, etc. ( fast )
History. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Criticism, interpretation, etc ( fast )
History ( fast )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 138-146).
General Note:
Department of History
Statement of Responsibility:
by Anthony Jon Heideman.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
40283060 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L57 1998m .H45 ( lcc )

Full Text
Anthony Jon Heideman
B.A., University of Colorado, 1983
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts

This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Anthony Jon Heideman
has been approved
If 7 l

Heideman, Anthony Jon (M. A. History)
Faithful Servants: Revolutionary War Chaplains and Their
Thesis directed by Professor Myra L. Rich
The men who served as chaplains in the Continental
Army during the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to
1783 played an important role. Their ministerial duties
included conducting worship services, counseling
soldiers, praying for the sick and injured, and preaching
sermons to the various military units. These duties had a
positive effect upon the morale of the Continental Army,
and were important in establishing, improving, and
maintaining the effectiveness of the Army.
Chaplains helped to mold and unify American soldiers
into an effective army. The nature of the American
disciplinary system precluded harsh treatment of
soldiers. Thus, the most important method of persuading a
soldier to do his duty was through oral communication;
and an effective method of oral communication was the
chaplain's weekly sermon. Chaplains were essential in
persuading soldiers to obey their orders and to act
courageously while on the battlefield.
Sermons from this period have survived and an
analysis of them is revealing. The topics chaplains chose
helped to reinforce a soldier's duty and reminded him
about how he should act. Additionally, the subject and
content of these sermons was homogeneous across
Protestant denominational lines, leading to the
conclusion that chaplains helped to prevent religious
divisiveness. This aspect of chaplains' sermons is a
second way in which they helped to build unity in the
Continental Army.
A final assessment of chaplains' role in the
Continental Army is to understand the effect other
ministerial duties had on the soldiers in the Army. This

thesis argues that chaplains' activities such as praying
with soldiers, counseling them, and accompanying them in
battle helped to unify the Continental Army and improve
its morale and effectiveness.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.

I wish to thank the following faculty in the History
Department of the University of Colorado at Denver for
their support: Mark Foster, Richard Smith, and James
Whiteside. I am particularly grateful to my advisor, Myra
Rich, for her guidance and willingness to adapt the
program to meet my needs.
Others who helped include: Matthew Arnold and J. D.
Lanz for their hardware and software support; Illene
Roggensack, for her editorial comments and
recommendations; Virginia Anderson, for her comments and
advice on an early draft of this thesis; Scott Wenig, at
Denver Seminary, who gave me a great perspective on
culture, history, and God's role in both; and the Inter-
Library Loan Department at the Auraria Library, Denver,
Colorado, for assistance in obtaining dozens of
manuscripts and sermons.
My wife, Shellylynne Jaynes Heideman, my loyal
honker, catcher, and pal, was helpful, understanding and
Thank you one and all!

1. INTRODUCTION....................................1
History of the Chaplaincy.................... 9
The Importance of the Chaplain...............16
2. THE LIFE OF THE CHAPLAIN.......................27
Recruiting Chaplains.........................27
A Profile of the Chaplaincy..................30
A Chaplain's Motivation for Service- ........4 0
A Pacifist...................................45
Daily Life as a Chaplain.....................47
Chaplains in Combat......................... 57
3. THE DUTIES OF A CHAPLAIN.......................64
Ministry to the Sick and Dying...............64

Other Duties and Functions....................74
4. WORSHIP AND SERMONS.............................78
Worship......................................7 8
Sermon Preparation............................83
Chaplains' Sermons............................88
Preliminary Material.....................91
Types of Sermons..............................94
Sunday Sermons...........................94
Thanksgiving Sermons....................103
Fast Day Sermons........................108
Battle Sermons..........................110
REVOLUTION AND RELIGION......................115
God Existed, Was Real, and Was an
Agent in the War.............................118
Soldiers' Actions Influenced God's Response.121
God's Response Affected Soldiers
and the Army................................123
6. CONCLUSION....................................12 6

A. Commissions....................................129
B. Research Methodology...........................132

Now it shall come about that when you are approaching
the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the
people. And he shall say to them, "Hear o Israel, you are
approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not
be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble
before them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes
with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save
Deuteronomy, 20:2-41
The writings about religion during the American
colonial period might very well occupy dozens of feet on
a library shelf. Numerous historians have written and
published on this subject. Since the 1960s, many books
and articles which discuss the importance of the
relationship between religion and revolution have become
available. Alan Heimert's Religion and the American
Mind;, The Sacred Cause of Liberty, by Nathan Hatch;
Religion and the American Revolution, edited by Gerald 1
1 All scripture quotations in the running text are from the New
International Version, while Scripture quotations imbedded in primary
source quotations are from other versions.

Brauer; Religious Origins of the American Revolution, by
Page Smith; Mark Noll's Christians in the American
Revolution; and Bernard Bailyn's The Ideological Origins
of the American Revolution, are but a few.2 The latter
work, Origins, is foundational to gain an understanding
of how changes in the ideas and beliefs of Americans by
1775 preceded their revolutionary activities after this
Bailyn, as well as Hatch, Brauer, and Noll, believes
that the Revolution was only possible because Americans
were sympathetic to the idea of revolution as a solution
to their differences with Parliament. In other words,
revolutionary ideas necessarily preceded the revolution.
These ideas had many sources which were available to the
eighteenth-century American colonist: Classical thought,
expressed by the ancient Greeks and Romans; the
Enlightenment writings of Locke, Rosseau, and
2 Alan Heimert, Religion and the American Mind; From the Great
Awakening to the Revolution (Cambridge, MA: 1966); Nathan O. Hatch,
The Sacred Cause of Liberty: Republican Thought and the Millennium in
Revolutionary New England, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
1977); Jerald C. Brauer, ed., Religion and the American Revolution,
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976); Mark A. Noll, Christians in the
American Revolution, (Washington DC: Christian University Press,
1977); Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American
Revolution, (Cambridge, MA., 1967).

Montesquieu; arguments from English Common Law, as well
as the arguments of English politicians; and finally,
Puritan Covenant Theology3 Each of these sources found
their way into the political and religious writings of
Americans in the fifteen years before 1775. Revolutionary
ideas were expressed in the numerous tracts and
pamphlets, newspaper editorials and letters, and
treatises and sermons of the period. By 1775, the
conviction that permanent separation from Great Britain
was a valid solution to colonial-Parliamentary
differences was already well-argued and well-known in the
Colonies4 Liberty became the byword of the times, and
its preservation was spoken of as a sacred cause, one
which was noble, righteous, and God-ordained.
The works mentioned above comment upon the sermons
and writings of the civilian colonial clergy during the
seventeen-seventies. They conclude that many civilian
clergy supported the separationist position of the
3 Covenent Theology taught that America had a special place in God's
plan for the world, that America was the New Israel, and as such,
would experience God's blessings only if it obeyed Him and followed
His will. By the mid eighteenth century, many clergy expoused the
idea that part of this covenent was to create a new nation, separate
from Great Britain, committed to liberty, equality, and God.
4 Bailyn, 16-22.

Revolution, and preached this to their congregations.
None of these works however, and none of which I am
aware, focus upon the activities and writings of
Continental Army chaplains, who were the civilian
clergy's counterpart in the Army, in an attempt to
describe their role in the religion-revolution debate.
This thesis therefore examines a special case of the
connection between religious thought and the revolution.
Its focus is upon a small but influential group of men
who occupied, for a short time, a unique place in
history: chaplains in the Continental Army5 These two
hundred plus men were both clergymen and soldiers; they
served both God and country. Their perspectives about
military service, fighting, and the justness of the
revolutionary cause are significant, for chaplains did
not simply preach theoretically about the War on Sunday
mornings; they also lived out their convictions during
the rest of the week, serving the soldiers who were their
congregants, and risking their lives in battle alongside
5 I have not restricted the use of the phrase "Continental Army" only
to regular units or soldiers, but it to include soldiers or units
fighting against British or Hessian units. Additionally, the
capitalized term "Army" throughout this paper refers to the
Continental Army.

them. An understanding of what chaplains did, what they
preached, and what they believed, casts light upon the
subject of religion and revolution from the perspective
of those chaplains who fought in the War.
The purpose of this thesis is twofold. First, it
seeks answers to questions about chaplains. Chapter one
discusses the historiography of this field and the
history of the chaplaincy. It asks and answers the
question, "Where did chaplains originate and why were
chaplains needed?" Chapter two explores the life of
chaplains in the Revolutionary War. Why did they serve?
What was their life like? Chapters three and four examine
and describe chaplains' duties and sermons. In these
chapters, chaplains speak in their own words and describe
what they did, what they valued, and what they believed.
Chapter five examines chaplain's faith and their view of
God's role in the Revolution.
The second purpose of the thesis is to closely
examine the effects of chaplains' ministerial duties and
their sermons upon the Continental Army. Based upon an
examination of their duties and twenty-two sermons

chaplains gave to military units6 it argues that
chaplains were a unifying force in the Continental Army;
they helped to mold a diverse group of soldiers into an
effective military force and preclude the development of
religious dissension in the Army.
Colonial American historians who have studied
chaplains agree about a number of things: During the
Revolutionary War, more than two hundred men served as
chaplains to various regiments, brigades, and hospitals.7
They saw duty both in the field with combat units and in
rear areas with support personnel. They served not only
6 Appendix B contains a discussion of the methodology used in
selecting these sermons.
7 Parker C. Thompson, From Its European Antecedents to 1791; The
United States Army Chaplaincy, vol. 1, (Washington DC: Office of the
Chief of Chaplains, Department of the Army, 1978), 245-267. Colonel
Thompson lists 217 men who served as chaplains between 1775 and 1783.
In addition to these, I also include clergy who ministered to
soldiers and/or units during 1775, the Continental Army's formative
period, when every unit did not yet have an assigned chaplain.
Additionally, I have included one soldier, Jesse Lee, who, though not
ordained as a chaplain, served in that capacity.
Thompson quotes generously and extensively from unpublished
primary sources or sources which were difficult to obtain or
unavailable through inter-library loan. In such cases, I have used
Thompson and others as secondary sources of quotation. Other works,
listed in the bibliography, which include references to chaplains and
their roles during the eighteenth century include those by Fred
Anderson, John Brinsfield, Warren Ebinger, Roy J. Honeywell, Charles
Royster, and Harry Stout.

as ministers of the Word of God, but also as counselors,
medics, interpreters, intelligence officers, and,
surprisingly, as leaders in combat. Their services were
important to the good order and discipline of the Army,
to the well being and morale of individual soldiers, and
to the success of the Continental Army. This thesis will
add to the historiography by showing that chaplains
shared their civilian brother clergymen's perspectives
and brought the concepts of just war, millennial thought,
and covenant theology into the Army.
The Historiography, however, is fairly limited.
During the nineteenth century, historians and
antiquarians published dozens of diaries, memoirs,
monographs, and biographies about revolutionary era
clergy and chaplains. Between 1859 and 1865, William B.
Sprague wrote Annals of the American Pulpit, which
includes some writings by chaplains. In 1864, Joel
Headley published Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution,
an anecdotal examination of the lives and writings of
both clergy and chaplains. Alice Mary Baldwin's New
England Clergy and the American Revolution (1928)
contains vignettes about the roles of chaplains in the

army. Charles Metzger's 1946 article, "Chaplains in the
American Revolution," is the earliest synthetic work on
this subject. Metzger discusses the establishing of the
chaplaincy and briefly deals with some of the chaplains'
activities including preaching, praying, and fighting.
His conclusion, that chaplains were successful because
they helped maintain the morale of the army, is valid,
but superficial.8 By far the most complete and
comprehensive works about Revolutionary War era chaplains
both were commissioned by the United States Army Office
of the Chief of Chaplains. Roy J. Honeywell's Chaplains
of the United States Army (1958) is a chronological
history of the chaplaincy with a detailed chapter about
the Revolutionary War. Parker C. Thompson's From Its
European Antecedents to 1791: The United States Army
Chaplaincy (1978) is an entire volume devoted to the
history of chaplains during the period. It is primarily a
chronological and historical review of chaplains'
activities during the War.
8 Charles H. Metzger, "Chaplains in the American Revolution," The
Catholic Historical Review, vol. 31, (Apr, 1945-Jan, 1946), 26-52.

A 1972 dissertation by Eugene Franklin Williams
focuses on chaplains in the Revolutionary War. The
purpose of his work was to present an account of the
chaplaincy, its history, and its development during the
War. He also discusses the duties and responsibilities of
chaplains,9 but does not analyze chaplain's sermons nor
assess the significance of their ministerial activities
on the effectiveness of Continental Army.
Despite their important role in the Revolutionary
War, historians have paid little attention to chaplains.
This thesis provides a new addition to the
History of the Chaplaincy
The chaplaincy traces its origins to Biblical times,
when the armies of Israel went forth to conquer the land
of Canaan under the leadership of Moses and Joshua. The
priest reminded the people that it was not they, but the
Lord who was responsible for their success or failure on
the battlefield. Their role was to be obedient to their
9 Eugene Franklin Williams, "Soldiers of God: Chaplains of the
Revolutionary War," Ph.D. diss., Texas Christian University, 1972,

leaders and faithful to their God. The priest also
advised the leadership about the will and direction of
God, and about the likelihood of military success.
Eleazar the Priest instructed Joshua about when to go and
fight and when not to. Eleazar asked the Lord for His
blessing before the army battled the Midianites (between
1440 and 1420 B. C.). After obeying the Lord's
instructions about how to conduct the battle, the
Israelites went on to win a great victory.10 11 Other
accounts of military leaders consulting priests, who
served in capacities similar to modern chaplains, are
found elsewhere in Scripture.11
The military history of antiquity reveals a pattern
of leaders seeking divine guidance, often feeling their
success or failure depended upon the favorable
disposition of the gods.12 They looked to their chaplains
10 Num. 27:15-23, 31:1-7. Israel obeyed God and fought with only
12,000 men, 1,000 from each of the Twelve Tribes, even though they
could have fielded a much larger army. Succeeding with a smaller army
demonstrated to Israel that it was God's power and not their own
which won them the battle.
11 See Judges 18:1-6, 20:18, 27-31; and 2 Samuel 5:19.
12 For an excellent treatment of the history of the ancient
chaplaincy, see Roy J. Honeywell, Chaplains of the United States
Army, (Washington, D. C.: Office of the Chief of Chaplains,
Department of the Army, 1958). I have patterned my approach in this
area after his.

to pray and intercede on behalf of the army. As
Thucydides records, the Greeks, before waging war or
starting a battle, would pause to attend to spiritual
The ships now being manned, and everything put on board
with which they meant to sail, the trumpets commended silence,
and the prayers customary before putting out to sea were
offered, not in each ship by itself, but by all together to the
voice of a herald; and bowls of wine were mixed through all the
armament, and libations made by the soldiers and their officers
in gold and silver goblets....The hymns sung and the libations
finished, they put out to sea.13
These corporate prayers and libations not only sought the
favor of the gods, but probably helped to strengthen the
sailors' and soldiers' unity while improving their
We also see the chaplain encouraging soldiers in the
Old Testament. The epigraph to this paper is a morale-
boosting text designed to encourage soldiers in their
duties. We will see this function performed by chaplains
later in the eighteenth century.
By the fifth century A. D., one finds specific
written references to chaplains14 and to their role as
13 Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, bk. 6, ch. 16, par. 32.
14 Honeywell has researched the origin of the term "chaplain." "It is
told that [St. Martin] divided his military cloak, giving a large
piece to a beggar and wearing the remainder as a cape. This capella
became a famous relic and was taken on military enterprises for the
benefit its presence would confer. Its custodian came to be called

solicitors of benevolent treatment from supernatural
sources. As an anonymous writer records about the army of
Belisarius15 in 583:
Finally come the chaplains. They play an important role
in the army where exercises of piety were so assiduously
practiced. In the morning and the evening they chant the
trisaigion, "Holy God, Strong God, Immortal God...."16
Throughout the next eight centuries, the
incorporation of chaplains into armies became official.
By the Hundred Years War, at the Battle of Crecy,
historians record three classes of chaplains serving the
English King: his personal chaplains, those serving
noblemen such as earls and barons, and those serving the
foot soldiers. The incorporation of chaplains into the
army and their assignment to serve the common soldier
the cappellanus, which became chappellian in Old French and chaplain
in English. The place where the relic was kept and where religious
rites were performed was known as the chapel. The French King's
chaplain was made grand almoner. This title prevailed over the other,
and in modern France the military chaplain is known as the aumonier."
( Gesta Dei Per Francos of St. Gregory of Tours, quoted in Lot, 80-
82, subsequently quoted in Honeywell, 5.)
15 Belisarius, a general in the Byzantine army, retrained its cavalry
corps, and developed new tactics in the 520s, redesigning the lance,
saddle, bow, and broadsword in the process. He also initiated regular
pay, rations, and rank, including the rank of chaplain. He is famous
for his defeat of the Vandals at Carthage in 532 and his year-long
defense of Rome against the Goths in 539.
16 The Strategicon, quoted by Ferdinand Lot in L'Art Militaire et Les
Armees au moyen age en Europe et dans les proche Orient, 2 vols.,
(Paris: 1946), vol. 1, 46., quoted in Honeywell, p 5. "Trisaigion"
means "thrice holy."

continued. By the 1600s and the creation of Cromwell's
New Model Army, chaplains had become institutionalized
and were an official part of the New Model Army's grade
structure. The command organization of the Army
headquarters included "Master Bowles Chaplain to the
Army" and "Master Hugh Peter...Chaplain to the [supply]
train."17 Many clergy volunteered to serve during the
English Civil War, so the Parliamentary Army had an
abundance of chaplains and assigned them at the rate of
one per regiment. This ratio became the standard for the
English army, and later for the American militia. In
addition to their ministerial duties, tending to the sick
and wounded and preaching sermons, the chaplains were
used as public affairs officers. They recorded the
official history of the army for subsequent publication
and release to the newspapers.18
17 Brigadier The Right Honorable Sir John Smythe, In This Sign
Conquer; The Story of the Army Chaplains, (London: A. R. Mowbray & CO
LTD, 1968), 8-9.
18 Ibid., 17.

Cromwell's inclusion of chaplains in the Table of
Organization19 of the New Model Army attests to his high
opinion of them. The chaplain's role as advisor to the
commanding general and regimental commanders continued in
America and became standard procedure in the militia
during the Colonial Wars of the late seventeenth and
early eighteenth centuries, the French and Indian War,
and the Revolutionary War. In fact, chaplains were
indispensable to the militia in the American Colonies
from the earliest settlements. Robert Hunt was the first
-English chaplain to serve at Jamestown, arriving during
its first year. One of the colony's founders, John Smith,
spoke very highly of Hunt, calling him "honest,
religious, and courageous."20 During King Philip's War
(1675-76), it was more difficult and more important to
recruit good chaplains than it was to recruit good
captains. By the Seven Years' War, the need for chaplains
19 The Table of Organization (T/O) is the organizational chart of a
military unit, listing personnel strengths, job titles, grades, and
20 Smith called Hunt "an honest, religious, and courageous Divine;
during whose life our factions were oft qualified, our wants and
great extremities so comforted, that they seemed easie [sic] in
comparison of what we endured after his memorable death." (George
Bancroft, History of the United States, vol. II, 589.)

was of such importance that Colonel George Washington
made it the subject of various letters. In a Letter to
Governor Robert Dinwiddie, September 28, 1756, Washington
explained that
The want of a chaplain does, I humbly conceive, reflect
dishonor upon the regiment, as all other officers are allowed.
The gentlemen of the corps are sensible of this, and did
propose to support one at their private expense. But I think it
would have a more graceful appearance were he appointed as
others are.21
Washington wrote to John Robinson, Speaker of the House
of Burgesses and Treasurer of Virginia, November 9, 1756,
asking that
A Chaplain for the Regiment ought to be provided; that we
may at least have the show, if we are said to want the substance
of Godliness!22
On the eve of the American Revolution, the chaplain
was indispensable to a regiment, and a valuable member of
the commander's staff. His role in the Army was as
institutionalized as that of any other officer, and, as
Washington wrote, his presence was sorely desired.
21 John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from
the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, vol. 1, (Washington, DC:
US Government Printing Office, 1931), 470.
22 Ibid., 505.

The Importance of the Chaplain
Were chaplains important? Were they necessary to the
Continental Army? The answer to both these questions is a
hearty "yes!" Many eighteenth-century officers and
soldiers believed the chaplain was indispensable to the
efforts of an army. Washington's officers' willingness to
pay the chaplain's salary themselves attests to the value
they placed on the chaplaincy. Chaplain Edward Waldo
Emerson, the grandfather of the famous poet Ralph Waldo
Emerson, speaks of "General Gates, who invited him to sup
on venison at head Quarters [sic], gave him a frank and
friendly reception, and, though not professing himself to
have much Religion, said he looked upon a Chaplain as a
very much necessary officer in the Army...."23 General
Washington, who lobbied strenuously for a chaplain during
the Seven Years' War, again found himself beseeching
others on behalf of chaplains. Throughout that war, he
often wrote to members of the Continental Congress,
urging them to provide more chaplains, and to improve
their pay.
23 Edward Waldo Emerson, A Chaplain of the Revolution (Boston:
Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922), 4-5, quoted in Thompson, 95.

Washington's opinion on the importance of a chaplain
remained unchanged since the Seven Years' War. This is
expressed in his papers. One of his first orders to the
Continental Army, issued 9 July 1776, illustrates not
only his attitude toward chaplains, but toward the
conduct of all soldiers:
The Honorable Continental Congress having been pleased to allow
a chaplain to each regiment, the colonels or commanding officers
of each regiment are directed to procure chaplains accordingly;
persons of good character 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.24
In his letter of 23 May 1777 to Cavalry Colonel George
Baylor regarding the need for a chaplain, Washington
writes, perhaps with a bit of humor:
A Chaplain is part of the Establishment of a Corps of Cavalry,
and I see no Objection to your having One, Unless you suppose
yours will be too virtuous and moral to require instruction. Let
him be a Man of Character and good conversation, and who will
influence the manners of the Corps both by precept and
Clearly Washington intended for chaplains to reform
the Army's morals. He believed in the importance of
upright conduct and personal holiness. He believed God
24 Fitzpatrick, vol. 5 (1932), 244-5.
25 Ibid., vol. 8 (1933), 109.

would not bless the Continental Army if its soldiers
continued to sin, so he encouraged each to act as
"Christian soldiers."
Washington believed one of the greatest impediments
to receiving God's blessings was his soldiers' rampant
cursing.26 Ungodly living and immoral behavior,
especially cursing and profaning the Sabbath, would
alienate the Army from the God upon whose providence and
benevolence it depended for protection and success.
Washington felt strongly about this. He often spoke or
wrote about it and never ceased to encourage his men to
improve themselves. He expected his officers to set
examples of proper conduct for their men, and he relied
upon his chaplains to help dissuade sinful behavior and
encourage godliness. On 31 August 1776, he wrote in
General Orders to the Army:
...The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish, and
wicked practice, of profane cursing and swearing (a Vice
heretofore little known in an American Army) is growing into
fashion; he hopes the officers will, by example, as well as
influence, endeavor to check it, and that both they, and the men
will reflect, that we can have little hopes of the blessing of
Heaven on our Arms, if we insult it by our impiety, and folly;
added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any
26 See John W. Brinsfield, "Our Roots for Ministry: The Continental
Army, General Washington, and the Free Exercise of Religion,
Military Chaplain's Review, Nov, 1987, 26-27, for a discussion of
Washington's attitudes.

temptation, that every man of sense, and character, detests and
despises [sic] it.27 28
v A year later, on 28 June 1111, Washington was still
frustrated that his officers were not attending to their
duties and setting a proud example. He issued the
following General Order, directive in nature and forceful
in its wording, in the name of the Commander-in-Chief,
leaving no doubt about the priority of this matter:
All Chaplains are to perform divine service to morrow
[sic], and on every succeeding Sunday, with their respective
brigades and regiments, where the situation will possibly admit
of it. And the commanding officers of corps are to see that they
attend; themselves, with officers of all ranks, setting the
example. The Commander in Chief expects an exact compliance with
this order, and that it be observed in future as an invariable
rule of practice And every neglect will be considered not only
a breach of orders, but a disregard to decency, virtue and
When, in the summer of 1779, there still was a
problem with cursing, Washington encouraged his
subordinate officers to punish anyone who used profanity.
He took this drastic step because the War was not going
well for the Continental Army. The previous year had seen
the successful withdrawal of British General Clinton's
troops to New York, the defeat of the Americans and
27 Fitzpatrick, vol. 5 367.
28 Fitzpatrick, vol. 8, 308.

French at Newport, Rhode Island, and continued difficulty
with recruitment of adequate soldiers for the Army.
Believing piety would lead to God's favor and success on
the battlefield, Congress raised the status of chaplains
to Brigade staff, with hopes that this elevated position
would help chaplains to combat cursing and swearing in
the ranks29 Washington took another opportunity to issue
an order to his officers in July:
Many and pointed orders have been issued against that
unmeaning and abominable custom of Swearing, not withstanding
which, with much regret the General observes that it prevails,
if possible more than ever; His feelings are continually wounded
by the Oaths and Imprecations of the soldiers wherever he is in
hearing of them.
The name of that Being, from whose bountiful goodness we
are permitted to exist and enjoy the comforts of life is
incessantly imprecated and profaned in a manner as wanton as it
is shocking. For the sake therefore of religion, decency and
order the General hopes and trusts that officers of every rank
will use their influence and authority to check a vice which is
as unprofitable as it is wicked and shameful.
If officers would make it an invariable rule to
reprimand, and if that does not do, punish soldiers for offenses
of this kind, it could not fail of having the desired effect.30
In this matter Washington was writing from experience.
During the French and Indian War he had similar troubles
29 Chaplains had been serving on battalion and regimental staffs,
working for a lieutenant colonel. As a member of a brigade staff, a
chaplain worked for a colonel or brigadier general, and had greater
authority and presumably, greater prestiege.
30 Ibid., vol. 16 (1937), 13. Honeywell records some of the
punishments awarded for cursing and swearing. Officers were fined,
drummed out of the Army (which was a very humiliating experience),
and confined on bread and water for six days. He does not record
punishments given to enlisted soldiers. (See Honeywell 59-60.)

with the conduct and performance of his soldiers. On 9
September 1755, he issued these orders to his command:
Any soldier who is guilty of any breach of the Articles of War,
by Swearing, getting Drunk, or using Obscene Language; shall be
severely Punished, without the Benefit of a Court Martial.31
In the Summer of 1779, clearly Washington was exercising
great patience in the matter of swearing in the
Continental Army. He waited more than two years to
suggest a course of action to his generals which he had
summarily ordered twenty-four years earlier.
Another aspect of Washington's use of chaplains
concerned the discipline of the Continental Army. The
discipline in the American army was not nearly as harsh
as British military discipline. The citizen-soldiers of
the Continental Army, unlike their professional enemies,
were part-timers. A harsh punishment system which made
use of whippings, the stocks, and other physical
brutalities would have driven the American soldier away
from the Army. It was very easy for an American soldier
to desert. Because they were not professionals and had
31 Fitzpatrick, vol. 1, 179.

not signed a lifetime service contract, American soldiers
could not be disciplined the same as professionals.32
American generals, Washington included, avoided
severe punishments and instead used persuasion to
influence their subordinates' behavior. The chaplains
played a crucial role in this persuasion. In their
sermons and their daily ministerings, they persuaded
soldiers to obey their superiors, to act like soldiers,
and to be respectful. They directly influenced the level
of discipline in the Army.
Chaplains supported both Washington's assessment of
the seriousness of swearing and cursing and his efforts
to eradicate it. Chaplain Benjamin Trumbull was shocked
by the behavior of the troops during the expedition to
Canada in November of 1775. "Perhaps there never was a
more ill governed Profane and Wicked army among a People
of Such Advantages, on Earth," he lamented.33 Chaplain
Ebenezer David, during a visit to one of the troop camps
32 Charles Royster, A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental
Army and American Character, (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North
Carolina Press, 1979) 77-80. Royster also provides good discussions
about the difference in the discipline of the Continental and British
33 Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, VII (1899), 262-
263, quoted in Thompson, 124.

near Boston in 1776, commented that "there is a great
need of some persons who dare oppose vice & mentain [sic]
the Doctrine of Dependency upon GOD."34 Philip Vickers
Fithian, a chaplain serving under Washington during the
New York campaigns, wrote: "The Lord's Day is come once
more. But the Sabbath is scarcely known in the Army.
Profaned is all religious Exercise. Dreadful is the
thought that Man who expect an Engagement every Day with
a obstinate, wise, & powerful Enemy, should dare be so
While Washington's highest priority for moral reform
was to limit cursing and swearing, he also desired
soldiers to attend worship, refrain from drunkenness, and
in general to be more pious. As part of their duties,
chaplains exhorted soldiers to do all these and more.
From the outset of his command, Washington ordered
everyone to attend worship services. He believed a
34 Jeannette D. Black and William Greens Roelker, eds., A Rhode Island
Chaplain in The Revolution: Letters of Ebenezer David to Nicholas
Brown, 1775-1778, (Providence: The Rhode Island Society of
Cincinnati, 1949), Letter IV, 10-11, quoted in Thompson, 157.
35 Philip Vickers Fithian, Journal, 1775-1776; Written on the
Virginia-Pennsylvania Frontier and in the Army Around New York,
Robert Grenhalgh and Leonidas Dodson, eds., (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1934), 207.

He was
soldier who worshipped God was a better soldier.36
supported in this by other generals who also directed
their soldiers to attend services. In June of 1776,
"General Ward ordered strict attendance at morning and
evening prayers and at Sabbath services, enjoined quiet
after the chaplain had taken his place, forbade plays on
Sunday, and required that wood for Sunday's fires be
prepared on Saturday."37
Did attending services make one a better soldier? In
a sermon given to soldiers, Jacob Duche, a
Congregationalist from Pennsylvania, explained the
difference between the courage of a soldier motivated by
a faith in God and one who was not:
In his General Orders dated July 4, 1775, Washington announced:
"The Continental Congress having now taken all Troops of the several
Colonies... into their Pay and Service. They are now the Troops of the
UNITED PROVINCES of North America; Which have been raised, or which
may be hereafter raised for the support and defence of the Liberties
of America; The General most earnestly requires, and expects, a due
observation of those articles of war, established for the Government
of the army, which forbid profane cursing, swearing and drunkenness;
And in a like manner requires and expects, of all Officers, and
Soldiers, not engaged on actual duty, a punctual attendance on divine
Service, to implore the blessings of heaven upon the means used for
our safety and defence" (Fitzpatrick, vol. 3 (1931), 309).
37 Allen French, The First Year of the American Revolution (Boston:
1934), 175,. General Artemus Ward, a veteran of the French and Indian
War, was initially in charge of the militia around Boston in 1775. He
later commanded Washington's right wing during the Siege of Boston
(April 1775- March 1777).

'Stand Fast' by an undaunted courage and magnanimity.
And here give me leave to remind you, that there is a kind of
courage, which seems to be merely animal or constitutional.
This may stand a Soldier in good stead perhaps for a few moments
amid the heat and fury of a battle, when his blood and spirits
are set on fire by the warlike sound of drums and trumpets. But
I would have you possessed of more than this, even a courage
that will prove you to be good Christians, as well as good
soldiers, a firm invincible fortitude of soul, founded upon
religion, and the glorious hope of a better world; a courage
that will enable you not only to withstand an armed phalanx, to
pierce a squadron, or force an entrenchment,...but will support
you, likewise, against the principalities and powers of
darkness, will stand by you under the assaults of pain and
sickness, and give you firmness and consolation amid all the
horrors of a death-bed scene.38
Recognizing that battle plans would occasionally
prevent attendance at regular worship, Washington
insisted his chaplains develop the means to honor the
Sabbath at other times. "The situation of the Army,
frequently not admitting, on the regular performance of
divine service, on Sundays, the Chaplains of the army are
forthwith to meet together, and agree on some method of
performing it, at other times, which method they will
make known to the Commander in Chief."39
38 Jacob Duche, The Duty of Standing Fast in Our Spiritual and
Temporal Liberties, a Sermon Preached in Christ-Church, July 7th,
1775. Before the First Battalion of the City and Libertie,
Philadelphia, (Philadelphia: James Humphreys, Jr., 1775), 21-22.
39 Fitzpatrick, vol. 9 (1933), 203-204. Note how Washington ordered
the Chaplains to report back to him with their plan. So important was
this matter, he would personally approve the plan for how his army
would observe the Sabbath.

The chaplain was important to the Continental Army
because obedience to God, piety, and faith were
fundamental to its conduct, and by extension, to its
success. Washington set a high moral standard for his
army, and insisted it be attained. Cursing, swearing,
failure to attend worship, and immoral behaviors such as
gambling and drunkenness were anathema to Washington, for
these brought on the disfavor, if not the wrath, of the
Almighty. To wage war against the British, one of the
powerful weapons he used was a spiritual one: his
chaplains. They would help to spiritualize the
Continental Army, instill it with public and military
virtue, and thus obtain both God's favor and the defeat
of the British.

Since chaplains were essential to Washington's army,
some natural questions arise: How did chaplains get into
the army? Did they volunteer, or did they go as part of
the militia? What was life in the Continental Army like
for a chaplain in the 1770s?
Recruiting Chaplains
After the British forces under Brigadier General
Hugh Percy retreated from Lexington on 19 April 1775, the
call to assemble at Boston sounded throughout New England
to all the colonial militias. As these units mustered and
marched to join the noose tightening around Boston Neck
and the surrounding countryside, their chaplains
accompanied them. Most of these chaplains, traveling
along with the various units, were serving for short
enlistments, usually ninety days or less. Some chaplains,
such as the sixty-five year old Congregationalist,
Reverend Nathaniel Eells, rushed from his home in

Connecticut to Boston to join the action. (Eells later
became chaplain to a Connecticut militia unit.) Chaplains
such as Massachusetts Congregationalist David Avery went
toward Boston to seek out regiments lacking chaplains and
volunteered to enlist on the spot.1 Avery writes: "29
[April, 1775] SaturdayYesterday Col. Patterson overtook
us at Westtown...Marcht [sic] Landlord Brewers joined ye
RegimentAll Marcht in order into Cambridge."1 2
Three traditional views dominate Christian thought
regarding service in waraction as a crusader, a
pacifist, and a combatant. Very few clergy during this
period were pacifists.3 Churches often sent their pastors
to the fight, believing this sacrifice to be their duty
and service to God. Those clergy who were pacifists
avoided the chaplaincy, but served either at home or in
1 Thompson, 103.
2 David Avery, "A Chaplain of the American Revolution: from the
Unpublished Diary of the Rev. David Avery, Chaplain of Col.
Patterson's Regiment," American Monthly Magazine, vol. 17 (Jul-Dec,
1900), 343-44.
3 More details about Jesse Lee are found on page 47. For a discussion
about the different Christian theological positions on war, see
Robert G. Clouse, ed., War; Four Christian Views, (Downers Grove, IL:
Inter-Varsity Press, 1981). I agree with Melvin B. Endy's assertion
that most chaplains and clergy supported the Just War Theory, and had
no qualms about being combatants.(Melvin B. Endy, Jr., "Just War,
Holy War, and Millennialism in Revolutionary America," The William
and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., vol. 42, no. 1 (January 1985), 3-25.)

other capacities. One well-known pacifist, Jesse Lee,
served successfully when drafted.
Colonial legislatures provided volunteer chaplains
with warrants or commissions.4 Chaplains officially
served as officers of a particular colony or state. In
its commission, the Massachusetts Bay Council required a
chaplain to 'inculcate religion, morality, and love of
country" into soldiers. The commission of
Congregationalist Reverend Manasseh Cutler issued by
Massachusetts on 5 September 1776 is such an example (See
Appendix A).
The Continental Congress also issued warrants and
commissions for chaplains serving directly under its
authority. The Congressional commission was different
from colonial commissions in one important respect: it
granted chaplains authority over other officers and men.
Both the Congress and legislatures ordered chaplains to
mold the character of soldiers in their charge, in order
to produce a more religious, moral, and patriotic
4 A warrant of commission was a paper which installed a person into a
military position or grade. In order to serve as an officer, one had
to be "commissioned" as an officer by a particular colony or by the
Continental Congress. There are instances where generals also
commissioned officers.

soldier. (For a sample of a Congressional commission, see
Appendix A.)
Army historian Parker Thompson wonders which
officers and men might have been under the authority of a
chaplain, since Continental Army chaplains served without
distinction of rank. One answer to this question is that
the chaplain, as an officer under a Congressional
commission, would exercise authority over all others in a
unit, excepting the commander, when discharging matters
under his purview.5 Just what these matters were is not
specified in the commission, but is referred to obliquely
in the phrase: "carefully and diligently discharge the
duty of a chaplain." We will examine these duties later.
A Profile of the Chaplaincy
Those clergy who desired to serve as a chaplain
volunteered and applied to either their colony or the
Congress for a commission. Who could obtain a commission
as a chaplain? One might expect that Congress or the Army
required a person to be ordained or sponsored by a church
5 For example, a chaplain might have directed the activities of
subordinate chaplains, and directed the care and treatment of wounded
and prisoners.

before either would accede to the appointment. However,
this was not always the case. While most chaplains had
experience in the pastorate or had at least studied in
preparation for it, in some instances, a chaplain had no
"official" qualifications, nor any sponsorship by a
particular denomination. (Ordination did not become a
prerequisite for the chaplaincy until later.6 ) For
example, Joel Barlow had studied at Yale College and
served with Chaplain Abraham Baldwin. Urged to volunteer
as a chaplain, he studied theology, obtained a license to
preach, and served as a chaplain in the Fourth
Massachusetts Brigade in 1780.7
An important role the chaplains and their sermons
played was to build religious unity and consensus within
the Army. The vast majority of soldiers were from one of
four Protestant denominations: Congregational,
Presbyterian, Anglican, or Baptist. Both the soldiers and
s "The requirement that a chaplain be an ordained clergyman of some
recognized ecclesiastical body, was enacted by Congress in 1861 upon
the recommendation of President Lincoln." (John C. Axton Jr., Brief
History of Chaplains in the U. S. Army, (Washington, DC, United
States Army General Service Schools, 1925), 5.)
7 Honeywell, 42. Barlow was licensed as a Congregationalist.

the chaplains represented the various denominations in
about the same proportions8 as Table One illustrates:
Table 1. Congregations and Chaplains, by
Denomination Congregation (Percentage of 3200) Chaplain (Percentage of 218)
Congregational 832 (26%) 89 (41%)
Presbyterian 736 (23%) 41 (19%)
Anglican 608 (19%) 21 (10%)
Baptist 604 (19%) 11 (5%)
Reformed 352 (11%) 8 (3%)
Roman Catholic 64 (02%) 1 (0.5%)
Jewish 5 (.01%) 0 (0%)
Unknown 46 (21%)
Source: John W. Brinsfield, "Our Roots for Ministry: The
Continental Army, General Washington, and the Free Exercise of
Religion," Military Chaplain's Review, Nov., 1987, 25; Thompson,
Appendix VII.
With 3200 Protestant congregations existing
throughout the colonies in 1775, and 218 active
chaplains, the denominational composition of the chaplain
corps comes as no surprise. The lone exception is perhaps
that Congregational chaplains were overrepresented when
compared with the proportion of churches of that
denomination. This may reflect the predominance of
8 Congregational representation among chaplains is a little higher
than the corresponding congregation percentages. This might be due to
the high number of Congregational chaplains who hailed from New
England, vice the low number of southern colony chaplains who most
often were Anglican.

Congregational churches in New England, and the easy
availability of those pastors for duty as chaplains.
Baptist representation among chaplains runs below the
corresponding numbers of congregations. I have not been
able to determine an explanation for this.
According to Melvin B. Endy, Harry Stout, and an
analysis of twenty-two sermons and addresses chaplains
gave to soldiers, the vast majority of chaplains were New
Lights.9 Not only is this apparent from their writings,
but also from their orientation. New Lights believed in
the Just Cause theory of warfare. This held that a war
was valid in God's sight if it met certain conditions: it
had to be defensive, it had to be fought with a pure
motivation, and it had to be fought by virtuous and God-
fearing soldiers. As evidenced in their writings, most
chaplains held to the Just War position; those clergy who
opposed the War rarely became chaplains. Additionally, an
examination of these sermons, delivered by Presbyterians,
Baptists, Congregationalists, or Protestant chaplains,
reveals no divisive theological differences in the
9 Endy, "Just War, Holy War", 3-7; Harry S. Stout, The New England
Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England, (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

content.10 11 Therefore, a Presbyterian soldier who attended
a sermon given by a Congregationalist chaplain probably
would not hear anything offensive.
Indeed, a chaplain's theology was seemingly not an
important criterion for his selection. Even Washington
himself was not preoccupied with a chaplain's theological
qualifications. He was more concerned with a chaplain's
character and ability. As Washington instructed Colonel
George Baylor, "Let him be a man of character and
conversation, and who will influence the manners of the
corps both by precept and example."11 During the Seven
Years' War, Washington believed a chaplain should be a
gentleman of sober, serious, and religious deportment,"
and there is no evidence to suggest that he believed
differently during the Revolutionary War.12 Neither he
nor Congress gave any indication of preferring one
denomination over another. In one instance, when Colonel
10 Twenty-five extant sermons represent denominations in the following
proportions: Congregational, 5/20%; Presbyterian, 10/40%; Anglican,
3/12%, Baptist, 2/8%; unknown, 5/20%. Anglican sermons are different
in that these are not centered around Scripture, but rather are a
moral or philosophical sermon. These numbers include three occasional
11 Washington's letter to Colonel Baylor. See note no. 25, p. 18.
12 Letter to Robert Dinwiddie, 12 June 1757, (Fitzpatrick, vol. 2,
56) .

Newcomb, a New Jersey militia battalion commander, was
searching for a new chaplain, he chose New Jersey
Presbyterian Philip Fithian, because his "service had
been highly acceptable to [another] battalion."13 There
is no mention of Fithian's theology in making this
decision. Even when Washington himself appointed
chaplains, it was without reference to their theology.14
A pastor needed the support and permission of his
congregation to leave and join the Army. Both duty and a
clergyman's sense of caring demanded he not abandon his
parish. Clergy often arranged for a substitute pastor, or
obtained their elders' assurance that the pastorate would
be cared for. As Thompson notes: "In a day and
theological environment when ecclesiastical endorsement
in any denominational sense was not considered,...
pastors entered the chaplaincy with the approval of their
congregations. Early records abound of churches giving
their leave and blessings to their pastors departing for
duty as chaplains."15 One particularly inspirational
13 Fithian, 200.
14 Fitzpatrick, vol. 3, 497 (John Murray); vol. 4, 307 (Abiel
15 Thompson, 94.

account of parishioner support for a pastor determined to
serve as a chaplain comes to us from the Reverend
Nathaniel Eells' family history:
In 1776... while Washington was holding the British at bay on
Harlem Heights, runners were sent to New England to arouse the
people to come to the rescue. Just as 'Father Eells, as he was
called by his parishoners, [sic] had commenced his sermon, a
horseman rushed up to the door of the meeting house, his horse
covered with foam, and handed out to the Selectman, a paper,
who immediately passed it to the minister. After perusing it,
he laid it on the side of his Bible; and after preaching a
brief sermon, told his congregation that 'The Great General
Washington, and the sons and daughters of civil and religious
liberty were in great peril and calling for help. He then read
the message- and said: 'As many of you as are willing to peril
your lives in this glorious cause will, immediately after the
benediction, repair to the Public Green and organize yourselves
into a military company and prepare to start for the Patriots
Camp by daylight tomorrow morning. The mothers and sisters will
hasten home to make preparations for the journey.16
After the congregation assembled the next morning, it
thought so much of Eells that it elected him as their
captain, and marched off to war with him at the lead.
Another dramatic bit of volunteerism following a
church service occurred at the hand of Pastor John Peter
Gabriel Muhlenberg, of the Lutheran church in Woodstock,
Virginia. In January of 1776, he preached a service based
on Ecclesiastes 3:1:17
16 M., W. W., E., E. E., and W. G. Eells, Eells Family History in
America, 1633-1952 (Ann Arbor, MI: Edward Brothers, 1969), 37-38,
17 Eccl. 3:1 reads: "There is an appointed time for everything. And
there is a time for every event under heaven...."

The church was crowded with the German farmers, their wives and
children, from far and near. The pastor implored his people to
support the struggle for liberty. 'Dear brethren and sisters,'
he exclaimed, 'I feel truly grieved to announce that this is my
farewell sermon, but if it is God's will I shall soon return to
you. It is a sacred duty that calls me from you and I feel I
must submit to it. The endangered fatherland, to which we owe
wealth and blood, needs our armsit calls on its sons to drive
off the oppressors. You know how much we have suffered for
yearsthat all our petitions have been in vainand that the
King of England shuts his ears to our complaints. The Holy
Scripture says: There is a time for everything in this world; a
time to talk, a time to be silent, a time to preach and to pray
- but also a time to fight and this time has come! Therefore,
whoever loves freedom and his new fatherland, he may follow me!'
Laying aside his priestly gown, the Rev. Mr. Muhlenberg buckled
on a sword: A scene of great enthusiasm followed: the people
rose to their feet and joined in the intonation of [Martin]
Luther's stirring hymn: Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott.[A Mighty
Fortress is Our God.] Outside the church drums were beat, and in
about half an hour one hundred and sixty-two men had enlisted to
follow their fighting parson.
Through such examples of volunteering, many clergy
revealed their powerful desire and motivation to join
both the chaplaincy and the revolutionary cause. Many a
chaplain took up both musket and Bible and sought to join
the nearest unit. In late 1776 during a Sunday Service in
New Jersey, the Reverend John Rosebrugh, a Presbyterian
from Pennsylvania, read a troop solicitation letter from
General Washington. Rosebrugh told his congregation of
his intention to join the Army, whereupon many in the 18
18 "The Germans of the Valley," The Virginia Magazine of History and
Biography, vol. 10 (June, 1903), 128-9. There is no author listed for
this article.

congregation told him if he would be their commander,
they, too, would join.19
David Avery found himself in a slightly different
situation in 1777. He, like Rosebrugh, felt the time had
come to offer his services as a chaplain, but his
Gageborough, Massachusetts congregation disagreed. Only
when Avery was able to convince them that it was God's
will for him to be a chaplain did his parishioners
relent. Avery left with a group of twenty from Winsor,
Vermont. One congregant later wrote Avery: "your call is
undoubtedly clear to be there altho you are much missed
among us. "20
In other examples, David Grovsenor left his pulpit
in Grafton, Massachusetts one morning carrying his musket
and joined the Minute Men bound for Cambridge, while
Jonathan French left his Andover, Massachusetts church
19 John C. Clyde, Rosebrugh, A Tale of the Revolution, or, Life,
Labors and Death of Rev. John Rosebrugh, (Easton: 1880), 3, quoted in
Thompson, 150. Thompson notes that Rosebrugh was the first Chaplain
to die at the hands of the enemy. He was captured at the Battle of
the Assunpink in 1776 and immediately executed by the British by
seventeen thrusts with the bayonet (152).
20 William Clark to David Avery, in David Avery, The David Avery
Papers, (Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary, 1777), 13
Microfilm reels, reel 3, quoted in David Wheatley, "The Chaplains of
the American Revolution," 1987, TMs (photocopy), U. S. Army Military
History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, PA, 10.

after the Sabbath morning services, carrying both his
surgical case and his musket, bound for the troops at
A chaplain volunteered his services, usually to a
commander or unit, for a specified period of time. This
period might be as short as three months, as it was for
many of the militia units participating in the siege of
Boston. It might be as long as the entire duration of the
War, as it was for Presbyterian Israel Evans, a chaplain
from Pennsylvania, who served the longest of any
Revolutionary era chaplain.22
Some volunteered on the spur of the moment, moved,
perhaps, by the immediacy of the situation. The Reverend
Benjamin Balch was serving in an Alarm Company during the
Battle of Lexington. Immediately after the battle, this
Massachusetts Congregationalist volunteered to be a
chaplain for Ephraim Doolittle's Regiment.23 Earlier at
Lexington, the first chaplain to arrive at the scene of
the forthcoming battle was William Emerson, the
21 Alice Mary Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American
Revolution, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1928), 163.
22 J. T. Headley, The Chaplains and Clergy of the American Revolution,
(NY: Charles Scribner, 1864), 300.
23 Thompson, 89.

Congregationalist pastor at Concord. He was alerted to
the approach of the Redcoats by bell-ringer Amos Melvin.
"So deeply impressive was Emerson's hasty appearance at
the church, that Melvin commemorated the gallant parson's
patriotic appearance by naming two of his sons in his
honour, 'one William, and the other Emerson.'"24
A Chaplain's Motivation for Service
It is clear that many chaplains volunteered for
service in the Army. What may not yet be clear are the
reasons for a chaplain to volunteer, why he willingly
gave up the security of his pastorate in exchange for the
uncertainty of wartime military service. The reasons
undoubtedly are as numerous as the chaplains who served,
for each individual had his own reasons. However, their
motivations do fall into two broad categories: patriotism
and faith.
Patriotism stirred the blood of chaplains and
motivated them to serve the Cause, just as it stirred
24 Ellen Chase, The Beginnings of the American Revolution, III,
Reprint (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1970), 3.

thousands of other Americans to action.25 Years after the
Revolutionary War, Judge Mellon Chamberlain interviewed
Captain Levi Preston, a veteran of the Battle of Concord,
to determine his motivations for joining the fight.
Captain Preston felt "that their religious liberties
were indissolubly connected with their civil liberties,
and, therefore, that it was a religious duty to resist
aggressions on their civil rights; that a man could not
be good Christian who was not a true patriot." Preston
summarized his feelings with the statement: "Young man,
what we meant in fighting the British was this: We always
had been free and we meant to be free always."26 This
25 Headley relates an anecdote about the transformation of a preacher
into a patriot, the Parson of Chelsea. "He was so adverse to
bloodshed and all the horrors of war that he had felt it his duty to
preach patience and even submission [before the war began]. His
bolder and more resolute brethren near him took such umbrage at this
that they refused to let him preach in their pulpits. They wanted no
conciliatory doctrines taught to their people. The brutal outrage at
Lexington transformed this peaceful scholar and meek divine into the
firey intrepid soldier, and seizing a musket he put himself at the
head of a party, and led them foreword to the attack. The gentle
voice that had so long spoken only words of peace suddenly rung like
that of a prophet of old. A body of British soldiers advancing along
the road, he poured into them such a destructive volley that the
whole were slain or taken prisoners. He was a man of peace and
conciliation, but the first citizen's blood that crimsoned the green
sward made a clean sweep of all his arguments and objections, and he
entered with his whole soul into the struggle (Headley, 60).
26 Mellon Chamberlain, "Why Captain Levi Preston Fought," The
Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society, VIII, 69-
70. The complete interview is interesting:
"'Capt. Preston, what made you go to the Concord fight?'

might have been declared by any number of soldiers who
fought the British; undoubtedly chaplains shared Captain
Preston's patriotic fervor.27
Naturally, we might expect men of the cloth to have
spiritual or religious motivations for volunteering to
serve in the military. By and large, the chaplains who
served had great faith in God. They looked to Him for
their security and protection during both peace and war.
On his deathbed and away from his spouse, William Emerson
wrote in his final letter to his wife: "...don't distrust
God's making Provision for You. He will take Care of You
& by Ways You could not think of. I desire to leave ye
The old man, bowed with the weight of four-score years and ten,
raised himself upright, and turning to me, said 'What did I go for?'
'Yes," I replied, 'My histories all tell me you men of the Revolution
took up arms against intolerable oppression. What was it?'
'Oppression, I didn't feel any that I know of.'
'Were you not oppressed by the Stamp Act?'
'I never saw any stamps and I always understood that none were ever
'Well, what about the tea tax?'
Tea tax. I never drank a drop of the stuff, the boys threw it all
'But I suppose you have been reading Harrington, Sidney and Locke
about the eternal principle of liberty?'
'I never heard of these men. The only books we had were the Bible,
the Catechism, Watt's psalms and hymns and the almanacs.'
'Well then, what was the matter?'
'Young man, what we meant in fighting the British was this: We always
had been free and we meant to be free always.'"
27 For more discussion about the patriotism of chaplains, see.
Metzger, 50-52.

in the Hands of a Covenant keeping God, & leave ye Matter
with him who does all Things well."28 Emerson had peace
upon his deathbed in the knowledge that God would take
care of his family.
By his faith, New Hampshire Congregationalist
Chaplain Samuel McClintock knew the best way to employ
himself during the Battle of Bunker Hill: in prayer.
"Within sight of the action but out of the line of fire,
he remained in the ancient posture of prayer throughout
the battle, standing erect with arms outstretched toward
Heaven. Like Moses, he cried out to the God of Battles
while his young Joshuas fought."29 McClintock's actions
were motivated by his faith in God; a faith powerful
enough to enable him to spend the entire battle in
Combat is stressful. It often motivates a soldier to
reevaluate what is truly important. Jesse Lee, a
Methodist from Virginia, took these sorts of
opportunities to preach and exhort soldiers to cease from
28 Emerson, 23, quoted in Thompson, 96.
29 Headley, 60. Thompson notes that "McClintock's presence has been
immortalized by Jonathan Trumbull in his renowned painting of the
Battle of Bunker Hill" (p. 113). McClintock lost three of his four
sons in the war.

wickedness and put their faith in God. An excerpt from
his diary, written while his unit camped on the Pee Dee
River in North Carolina during 1780, reveals both the
depth of his faith, and his motivation for service in the
Sunday 13th of August, we lay by and did not march;
about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I preached to a large number
of soldiers, from Isa. iii. 10, 11. Say ye to the righteous,
&c.30 Many of the hearers were very solemn, and some of them
wept freely under the preaching of the word. I was happy in God,
and thankful to him for that privilege of warning the wicked
once more. It was a great cross for me to go forward in matters
of so much importance, where there were few to encourage, and
many to oppose; but I knew that I had to give and account to God
for my conduct in the world I felt the responsibility laid
upon me, and was resolved to open my mouth for God. I often
thought I had more cause to praise and adore God for his
goodness than any other person. For some weeks I hardly ever
prayed in public life, or preached, or reproved a sinner,
without seeing some good effects produced by my labors.31 32
Philip Fithian also expressed a spiritual motivation
for service in the military. After visiting a sick young
man in the hospital on 29 July 1776, he wrote:
He is a youth, the only Son of a Widow, & has been light &
ungodly, by his own ready Acknowledgment, in past Life; He seems
now however, in the sober hours of Death, to have different
Notions of present & future things, & is deeply, I hope
properly, impressed with a Sense of Eternity.3
30 Isaiah 3:10-11 reads: "Tell the righteous it will be well with
them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the
wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their
hands have done."
31 Minton Thrift, Memoir of the Rev. Jesse Lee. With Extracts From His
Journals, (NY: N. Bangs and T. Mason, 1825), 30.
32 Fithian, 199.

Two days later, Fithian noted:
I attended Prayers & visited the Hospital as usual. One
young man lies at the Door of Death, Has we think but a few
hours more. I prayed with him & recommended him to the Good &
Kind Jesus. 0 what a blessed Privilege have we that we may in
all Troubles go to our common father.33
These excerpts demonstrate some of the faithful
motivations chaplains had for service in the Continental
Army. Patriotism played a role, since preservation of
freedom is a strong impetus for joining the Army. For
many chaplains, faith in God and their desire to serve in
a variety of capacities also motivated them to join the
A Pacifist
While the vast majority of revolutionary-era
chaplains were what we would label as combatants34 that
is, participants in actual military operations, there is
one notable example of a successful chaplain who was a
pacifist: Jesse Lee. In 1780, Lee was a twenty-two year-
old farmer in Virginia. An experienced Methodist
33 Ibid., 200.
34 A combatant is any soldier who takes up arms and participates in
operations intended to kill the enemy. Non-conmbatants are typically
medical personnel, chaplains, neutral observers, and members of the
press who do not carry weapons. Today, non-combatants are protected
by the Geneva Convention, but in the eighteenth century, non-
combatants did not enjoy special privileges until late in the war.

preacher, he was a newly ordained clergyman. Lee was
drafted along with his militia unit to participate in the
southern campaigns. He officially served, not as a
chaplain, but as a soldier, as a wagon driver. Lee did
not serve as an official chaplain because he was a
Methodist. In Virginia, where the established church was
Anglican, he could not obtain a pastorate, and was not
allowed to be a chaplain in the Virginia militia. He is
included in this study because he discharged the duties
of a unit chaplain, even though he was not commissioned
as one.
Lee soon found himself in a moral predicament, as
his journal records: "I weighed the matter over and over
again, but my mind was settled; as a Christian and as a
preacher of the gospel I could not fight. I could not
reconcile myself to bear arms, or to kill one of my
fellow creatures; however I determined to go, and to the Lord; and accordingly prepared for my
journey." 35
When he arrived at the camp, he realized he would
quickly have to take a stand for his beliefs. Lee writes:
Thrift, 26.

I then lifted up my heart to God and besought him to take my
cause in his hands, and support me in the hour of trial.
The sergeant soon came round with the guns, and offered
one to me, but I would not take it. Then the lieutenant brought
on one, but I refused to take it. He said I should go under
guard. He then went to the colonel, and coming back, brought a
gun and set it down against me. I told him he had as well take
it away or it would fall. He then took me with him and delivered
u 36
me to the guard.
In the end, Lee impressed his colonel, who knew him
to be a preacher. The colonel offered Lee the job of
serving as a baggage wagon driver. Since this would not
involve Lee in the business of combat, or of killing
others, he agreed. Lee also served as a kind of
unofficial pastor/preacher, and had great success among
his fellow soldiers, encouraging them and ministering to
Daily Life as a Chaplain
Chaplains in the Continental Army were paid for
their services. Congress set the amount, and changed it
at various times throughout the War. Initially, in 1775,
chaplains received twenty dollars each month, which was
For Lee's successes, see Thrift, 26-35.

the same as a captain's pay. By the end of the year,
Washington felt this rate of pay would not attract the
caliber of men he desired to have as chaplains. He
informed Congress: "...the chaplain's too small
to encourage men of Abilities. Some of them who have left
their Flocks are Obliged to pay the parson acting for
them more than they receive."38 Congress acquiesced to
the General and on 16 January 1776 raised a chaplain's
pay to 33 1/3 dollars.39
In 1777, Congress changed the amount of pay again,
this time on its own initiative. Initially, a chaplain
was assigned to each of the three regiments which
comprise a brigade. By late 1777, Congress had reduced
this to one chaplain for each brigade. Since chaplains
now had responsibility for three or more times the number
of men and held a higher rank, Congress raised chaplain's
pay to forty dollars,40 commensurate with their new
3B Fitzpatrick, 4 (1931), 197-198.
39 Ibid., 307.
40 Fitzpatrick, 7 (1932) 430, 432, 440. Inflation also was a factor in
the pay raise.

status as Brigade officers; it was the same salary as a
Washington was displeased with this new arrangement.
He immediately petitioned Congress to return to the one
chaplain per regiment ratio. The General believed
chaplains would not be able to perform their duties well;
they would be stretched too thinly in ministering to so
many. More than that, the new ratio would cause religious
dissension, by compelling "men to a mode of Worship which
they do not profess." Under the old arrangement, each
brigade had three chaplains, so a soldier had three
chances to find a chaplain with whom he shared a similar
theology. Under the new system, a soldier was stuck with
the single brigade chaplain. Washington believed morale
would suffer.42
Ibid., 307.
42 Washington wrote to the President of the Continental Congress, on 8
June 1777, in part: "I shall here take occasion to mention, that I
communicated the Resolution, appointing a Brigade Chaplain in the
place of all others, to the several Brigadiers; they are all of
opinion, that it will be impossible for them [chaplains] to discharge
the duty; that many inconveniences and much dissatisfaction will be
the result, and that no Establishment appears so good in this
instance as the Old One. Among many other weighty objections to the
Measure, it has been suggested, that it has a tendency to introduce
religious disputes into the Army, which above all things should be
avoided, and in many instances would compel men to a mode of Worship
which they do not profess. The old Establishment gives every Regiment
the opportunity of having a Chaplain of their own religious
Sentiments, it is founded on a plan of a more generous toleration,

A chaplain usually served under a six to twelve
month contract; incidentally, this was the same as the
arrangement for surgeons. They received the allowances of
their pay grade, captain, major, or colonel, but did not
possess any rank. They wore no grade insignia.43 As
officers, they were entitled to better billeting
arrangements, to transportation of personal baggage,
(enlisted men had to carry everything they owned), and to
better food and more rations. As chaplains, they enjoyed
status, late in the War, as non-combatants, entitled to
repatriation if captured.44
and the choice of the Chaplains to officiate has been generally in
the Regiments." (Fitzpatrick, 7, 430.). In the end, the new
arrangement proved workable, and morale did not suffer.
43 I have not discovered if chaplains were saluted by juniors.
44 After corresponding with British General Lord Guy Carleton,
Washington wrote in 1782: "Chaplains, Surgeons, or Hospital Officers
who shall be captured in the future may not be considered prisoners
of War." This effectively established chaplains as non-combatants.
Washington's declaration, coming when it did, was unfortunately of no
help to those chaplains who had already suffered in British prisons.
In one example of many, the British captured Chaplain Samuel Wood
after Fort Washington fell on 16 November 1776. He died in a POW
prison sometime in 1777. (Clifford K. Shipton, Sibley's Harvard
Graduates: Biographical Sketches of Those Who Attended Harvard
College, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), 610-611).

A chaplain wore no distinctive military uniform. No
insignia identified him as a chaplain. However, he often
wore the traditional clerical garb, which did so identify
him. Each chose his own clothing, for regulations
required no specific uniform.45 Edward Waldo Emerson
imagined how his relative, Chaplain William Emerson,
looked when he left for the War:
He is dressed in a long black coat of which he laughingly
complains to his wife in a later letter that he shall be ashamed
among the Military gentlemen, and begs her to turn his blue one,
shorten its skirts, and face it with black. He perhaps wears a
plain cocked-hat, and possibly a sword, for it is mentioned in
the appraisal of his effects. 6
During Colonel Benedict Arnold's winter march to Quebec
in 1775, Massachusetts Congregationalist Samuel Spring
wore his black canonicals, which were hardly appropriate
for trudging through the snow.47 Chaplain David Jones, a
Baptist from Pennsylvania, wore a dark coat with an
45 Thompson, 94.
46 Emerson, 4-5, quoted in Thompson, 94.
47 Harrison Bird, Attack On Quebec, (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1968), 68. Canonicals were long vestments, or clerical garb,
clergy were required to wear during services or when administering

officer's hat48 and a Congregationalist from Rhode
Island, Chaplain Enos Hitchcock, loaded "my blue coat,-
three pair of stockings one of silk, 1 black, 1 blue
worstered [sic] my box of note one pair shoes, &
plated spurs 1 pair leather breeches, folded in my
narrow sheet ~."49
A chaplain needed very little equipment to perform
his duties. With primary responsibilities to conduct
worship services on Sundays, and prayer services each
weekday morning and evening, all that he needed were a
Bible and perhaps a few notes, books, or hymnbooks.
Chaplains could not carry all of their reference
materials unless they had baggage transportation; most
probably did without these materials. All the American
chaplains, save one, were Protestant and did not conduct
Horatio Gates Jones, A Memoir of The Rev. David Jones, AM, (In the
collection of the American Baptist Historical Society, Rochester, NY,
1859), 16-17, quoted in Thompson, 180.
49 "Diary of Rev. Enos Hitchcock, D. D., A Chaplain in the
Revolutionary Army," William B. Weeden, ed., Rhode Island Historical
Society Proceedings, vol. 7, (Providence: The Rhode Island Historical
Society, 1899), 172.

Communion Services in the field, therefore Communion
elements and implements were unnecessary.50
When Fithian walked the mile and a half from the
ferry on Long Island to the site of the camp he was to
join, he mentions carrying only a blanket and knapsack.51
Later, during the Battle of Long Island, he describes the
equipment he carried as a "Gun, Canteen, Knapsack [and]
blanket."52 Presbyterian Reverend James Sproat, a
chaplain from Pennsylvania assigned to the hospitals in
the Middle Department53 including Philadelphia and the
surrounding counties, describes in his diary the miles he
rode from hospital to hospital, visiting the sick and
preaching to them. He rode a horse, but whether it was
his own property or lent him by the Army is unclear.
Obviously, in his duties as itinerant hospital chaplain,
a horse was essential equipment.54
50 Chaplain Louis Eustice Lotbiniere was the sole Roman Catholic
chaplain in the employ of the Continental Army.
51 Fithian, 119.
52 Ibid., 215. I'm sure he also carried a Bible!
53 The colonies were divided into the Northern, Middle, and Southern
Departments for administrative purposes, and assignment of chaplains,
surgons, commissaries, and other support personnel.
54 James Sproat, "Extracts from the Journals of the Rev. James Sproat,
Hospital Chaplain of the Middle Department, 1788," ed. John W,
Jordan, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1903, 441-

Chaplains billeted55 in an variety of ways. There
appears to have been no standard adhered to, nor any
regulations directing a specific method, though unit
custom and proximity to the regiment often dictated the
type of sleeping arrangements to be used.
As officers, chaplains generally enjoyed the freedom
to live where they chose, in contrast with enlisted men
who lived with their units, usually in tents. When his
unit occupied New York City, Philip Fithian took up
lodging in a private house, as he describes:
Yesterday in the Evening we removed from Crown Street
into the Broad-Way, near the Old English Church, into a House
that is said to have been formerly occupied by a Doctor who was
a base Tory. The House is good, very roomy, each has a separate
Apartment....My room is up two Pair of Stairs on the West Side,
near the North River, & opposite Powles-Hook; I have a perfect
View of the Ferry & good Prospect of the River: An airy
situation, & I hope comfortable.56
His room was proximate to the "Broad-Way", where his
regiment drilled, and to the "Church," where it met for
services. Evidently, most of the officers billeted in
445. In his diary, Benjamin Boardman records owning a horse and
putting it to pasture. ("Diary of Rev. Benjamin Boardman",
Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., 7, (May, 1892), 403.)
55 Billeting is a military term refering to a soldier's sleeping and
living arrangements.
56 Fithian, 202.

comfort in the city, for Fithian describes a pleasant
time eating and visiting frequently with them. His diary
also describes other rooms he leased in New York.57
During a battle, when on the march, or under field
conditions, chaplains billeted similar to everyone else.
Fithian frequently mentions "laying on my arms,"58 as
does Avery, meaning spending the night dressed in clothes
with musket or gun, ready to wake and fight. On one
occasion, Fithian's unit was ordered to "take Post in a
Wood, by Red-Hook there to stay all Night 'sub-jove [by-
Jove]."59 The chaplain, along with the rest of the
regiment, spent the night ready to fight. Fithian
probably slept that night, if he could fall asleep, as
all the other soldiers did, on the ground, wrapped in his
Under field conditions, units usually billeted in
tents. Everyone, chaplains included, lived in tents for a
variety of durations, taking time to improve them and
Ibid., 210.
Ibid., 216; Avery, 344.
Fithian, 217.

make themselves as comfortable as possible. Fithian took
time to record much about camp life:
Thurs: 5 [September 1776]. We enlarged & improved our Tents,
spread our Markee60 & reduced matters about us to some order.
Sat: 7. We had rain last night upon us that made our Lodging a
little uncomfortable; the Rain was moderate or it had been very
bad Our tent is thin & old.
Sun: 8. Our Tent living is not yet pleasant, Many heavy showers
today, & every shower wets us; but we have this Comfort, they
soon dry. We shall be cold next Month. But we must grow inured
to these necessary Hardships.
Mond: 9. Last night we found our Tent & other covering much too
thin to keep us warmwe all slept very coldWhat shall we do
the Month after next? All our Clothes we put over us now & and
then the Weather will be five times colder.We trust only to
our growing more hardy.61
Enos Hitchcock spent a good amount of time in tents and
also records some trouble with his: "10 [September 1777] .
A very rainy night, my tent blew over." (He does not
record if he was inside the tent at the time!)
These hardships contrasted sharply with the easy
living outside of camp. Conditions in the field in tent
camps were much more primitive than in any city. Rhode
Island Baptist Ebenezer David refers to this when he
60 A Markee (or Marquee) was a large field tent, often used by a high
ranking officer. Several people could sleep in one.
61 Fithian, 225-227. Though it may sound like he is complaining,
Fithian at this point had dysentery. The cold weather sapped his
strength, and exacerbated his weak condition. He died a month after
these entries were made.

writes: "I am not sorry that I came down to the Camps
though I forego many privileges which I much esteem."62
But sharing hardships helped to bridge any gap between
chaplains and the other soldiers. Though they found
easier living when camped near cities, chaplains endured
the same challenges and hardships as their men when in
the field or on the move. Chaplain Samuel Spring's trudge
through the snow with the rest of Arnold's Army in New
England exemplified this. Fithian wrote of how "I am
willing to hazard & suffer equally with my Countrymen
since I have a firm Conviction that I am in my Duty."63
Jesse Lee shared the same challenges as the other men:
"We crossed Harraway River, and came through Randolph
County; we were frequently alarmed at night, so that I
was much fatigued by severe marches by day, and sleeping
little at night."64
Chaplains in Combat
52 Black and Roelker, 75, quoted in Thompson, 157. The letter was
written 29 January 1776. The "camps" refer to the American camps
around Boston.
63 Fithian, 197.
64 Thrift, 31.

Serving as a chaplain necessarily entailed more
physical hardship and personal risk than did remaining at
home as a clergyman. We have seen some of the challenges
chaplains faced: the weather, all night vigils, life in
the camps, exposure to disease, and long, tiring marches.
However, none of these compared to the fearful risk of
death or crippling injury on the eighteenth-century
Surprisingly, chaplains saw quite a bit of combat.
The chaplain's role went beyond encouraging soldiers
before the battle and consoling them afterwards. They did
not stay well to the rear once the bullets started to
fly. Chaplains went full into the fray with their
soldiers, suffering an estimated six percent death rate,
which is three times higher than the two percent rate
suffered by all those serving in the Continental Army.65 I
I base this estimate upon casualty figures from the Concise
Dictionary of American History, Thomas C. Cochran and Wayne Andrews,
eds., (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962). Of the estimated
250,000 who served during the War, 4,434 deaths are listed, or 1.8
percent of those who served. Thompson lists 217 men who served as
chaplains during the War. Of these, I have found at least 14 who died
during the war, both from battle injuries (e.g., shot, wounded, then
died later from complications), and non-battle injuries (e.g., a war-
related accident or sickness). These 14 represent 6.45 percent of the
chaplains who served.
The 250,000 who served in the Revolutionary War is an estimate,
but corresponds favorably with percentages from other major wars in
U.S. history. The 250,000 represents 10% of the estimated 2,500,000
population in 1775. During the War of 1812, 286,730 served out of a

The chaplaincy brought to the Revolutionary War a
legacy of participation in combat. During the French and
Indian War, chaplains served with honor and zeal. One of
them, Chaplain Jonathan Frye, fought Chief Paugus at the
Battle of Lovewell Lake in Maine, a battle at which more
than half of the English were wounded or killed. Frye was
injured and could not keep up with the retreat; he asked
to be left behind, and was not heard from again. He was
memorialized in some lines from a ballad:
Our worthy Captain Lovewell among them there did die;
They killed Lieutenant Robbins, and wounded good young Frye,
Who was our English chaplain; he many Indians slew,
And some of them he scalped, when bullets round him flew.66
By the Revolutionary War, soldiers and officers
expected and desired their chaplains to accompany them
into battle. Lieutenant Jabez Fitch took occasion to note
in his diary the absence of his unit chaplain on 24
August 1776: "At about 6 o'clock [sic], the Revd. Mr.
[John] Ellis, who set off with us from Camp with great I,
1810 population of 7,239,881, or 4%; During the Civil War, 3,113,000
of a 1860 population of 31,443,321 served, or 10%. During World War
I, 4,734,991 out of 96,000,000 served, or 5%. World War II saw
14,903,213 serve out of the 1940 population of 131,669,275, or 9%.
(Population figures are taken from James A. Henretta, W. Elliot
Brownlee, David Brody, and Susan Ware, eds., America's History, 2d
ed., vol.2, (Worth Publishers, Inc., 1993), A-19.
66 John Fiske, New France and New England, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin
and Company, 1902), 233-48.

zeal, but when we pass'd the Lines of Genii: Greens
encampment, he somehow seemed to Disappear, & had not
been hear'd of again in the Regt: until now; but he now
Attend' with Regt: in the Church."67 Fitch's expectation
to see his chaplain under fire shows how important the
chaplain was to troops in combat. Fitch obviously
expected to see his chaplain with him in combat. When Mr.
Ellis did not appear, Fitch thought enough of it to take
note. This expectation went both ways. Just before the
Battle of Brandywine, Chaplain Joab Trout had this to say
to his fellow soldiers: "To-morrow we will all go forth
to battlefor need I tell you that your unworthy
minister will march with you, invoking God's aid in the
fight. We will march forth to battle...."68 Chaplains,
knew that their place was with their officers and men in
67 Jabez Fitch, The New York Diary of Lt. Jabez Fitch of the 17th
Continental Regiment from August 22, 1776 to December 15, 1777, ed.,
W. H. W. Sabine, (New York: Colbourn And Tegg, 1954), quoted in
Thompson, 143-4. Thompson assures us that, based upon Ellis' track
record, he probably did not shirk his duties, but was elsewhere on
the battlefield, out of sight of Fitch, though this is speculation.
Ellis was a Congregationalist from Connecticut.
68 Joab Trout, "Sermon delivered before The Battle of Brandywine on
September 10, 1111," quoted in Thompson, 281.

Chaplains' actions during combat can be examined
under two broad headings: actions enhancing morale and
actions against the enemy.
Concerned about the morale and discipline of his
army, one of Washington's admonitions to his chaplains
was to "influence the manners of the Corps both by
precept and example."59 Under fire, chaplains inspired
troops, improved their morale, and motivated them to
courage in combat. On the morning of 19 April 1775, after
both the British and Americans had drawn up facing each
other on the Lexington Green, Chaplain Emerson walked
along the line of Minutemen, encouraging them and
strengthening their resolve against the Redcoats.* 70
Chaplain Samuel McClintock prayed with upraised arms
during the Battle of Bunker Hill. This attitude of prayer
inspired many.
Chaplains not only inspired others, they took an
active part in the dangerous aspects of combat, and
fearlessly risked their lives. Accounts of the German
retreat from Trenton in December of 1776, tell of
See page 16.
Emerson, 15, quoted in Thompson, 91.

Chaplain David Avery who jumped up on the top of a rum
cask and fired into the retreating Hessians.71
Congregationalist Chaplain Daniel McCalla, a
Pennsylvanian serving in the 2d Pennsylvania Regiment at
the Battle of Three Rivers, participated in final attack
against the British.72 Another Congregationalist,
Chaplain Benjamin Trumbull from Connecticut, left the
chaplaincy and the service in 1777, was elected the
commander of a volunteer unit, and returned to see action
against the British.73 David Jones, chaplain to General
Anthony Wayne's Brigade, evidently spent a great amount
of time in action:
In the vicinity of Brandywine Creek, an area which he knew
intimately since his childhood, armed with a brace of pistols
and provided with a detachment of cavalrymen, he lead a
reconnaissance force in the search for intelligence. This led to
an abortive attempt to capture a mounted Hessian patrol, and to
the capture of a British dragoon personally by him at pistol
point. The news of this feat spread rapidly throughout the army,
and it is recorded that Mad Anthony laughed 'immoderately.'
Later at Staunton, Virginia the warrior-chaplain passed a group
71 Headley, 293-7.
72 Ibid., 276-9. McCalla was captured by the British and later
73 "Orderly Books and Journals Kept By Connecticut Men While Taking
Part in the American Revolution, 1775-1778," Collections of the
Connecticut Historical Society, vol. 7 (1899), 219-20 quoted in
Thompson, 125. Trumbull was evidently dissatisfied the ungodliness of
the army and did not desire to serve as a chaplain, but felt strongly
enough about the patriot cause to return to the fight.

of British POW's. One, upon recognizing him, doffed his hat and
bowed. It was his captive!"74
Another chaplain, James Caldwell, guaranteed his
place in history at the Battle of Springfield in 1778. As
the fighting progressed, the Americans began to run low
on wadding. Without more, they would not be able to fire
their muskets. Caldwell disappeared into a nearby church.
He soon emerged carrying as many Watts Hymn Books as he
could manage. He passed them out to the troops, intending
for the soldiers to tear the pages out of the books for
wadding, In a spirit of enthusiasm, he is said to have
cried out: "Now, put Watts into them, boys!"75
Many chaplains participated completely in the
Revolutionary War. These were not bench warmers, but went
full into the fray, encouraging their soldiers, exhorting
them, pulling the trigger with the enemy in their sights,
leading attacks, and risking their lives along with the
lowest ranking privates. Soldiers expected their
chaplains to be nearby, and chaplains enthusiastically
obliged them.
14 Jones, 16-17, quoted in Thompson, 173.
75 F. R. Brace, "New Jersey Chaplains in the Army of The Revolution,"
Proceedings of The New Jersey Historical Society, 3d ser., no. 1
(1908), 9, quoted in Thompson, 196.

There was more to being a chaplain than accompanying
soldiers into battle. When Congress charged a man to
"carefully and diligently discharge the duties" of a
chaplain, what did it have in mind? What were these
Chaplaincy duties are not delineated in a military
manual, nor can they be completely extracted from Army
orders. Instead, the best way to determine a chaplain's
duties is to examine his activities during the War.
Ministry to the Sick and Dying
The chaplain's ministry to the sick and dying
directly influenced the fighting soldier's morale. An
army's treatment of its sick and dying greatly affects
morale. This is not simply a matter of compassion. If a
soldier observes his wounded peers quickly tended to,
increasing their chance of survival, that soldier will

fight more willingly with the knowledge that he, too,
will be well-cared for in case of injury. On the other
hand, if the wounded are neglected or mistreated, a
soldier will dread being injured, be more hesitant and
tentative, and attack the enemy less aggressively. A
soldier's morale is deeply affected by the care provided
to wounded comrades.
Records are full of accounts of the time chaplains
spent with the wounded an dying. Chaplains in the
Continental Army were expected to visit the sick and
injured in the hospitals. It was one of the most
emotional aspects of their work, and chaplains who kept
diaries frequently mentioned it.
Philip Fithian's diary of 26 July 1776 contains a
poignant reflection on the condition of the injured and
his responsibility to serve them:
After Evening Prayers I walked to the Hospitals of three
Regiments; to ours & the two New-England Battalions.A Sight
that Forces CompassionAn unfeeling Heart here is brutal
Youth, of fine Constitutions, used to good & easy living, of
Credit, & many of them heirs to large paternal Estates, have
steped [sic] forth when their Country is bleeding, & are
resolved to save it, or die;These brave Youths, when brought
to the Necessity of changing their Time of Rest, & in the main
diminishing it; changing wholly their Diet; & in this uncommon
Heat & Drougth [sic], when no Vegetables can be procured,
sicken, & are sent from Camp to these Hospitals which are
thronged with the brave Sons of Freedom in the utmost distress.

In every Apartment are many in the Dysentery1 .
Many have putred Fevers; Yet to such Places, must our
Youth go, & mix with such diseases; & here I must daily Visit,
among many in a contagious Disorder, which has something so
peculiarly horrible in it always to me, that my whole Frame
revolts against it! But I am not discouraged, nor dispirited;
I am willing to hazard & suffer equally with my Countryman since
I have a firm conviction that I am in my duty.
Attending to the sick and wounded was a common,
almost daily event for the chaplain. David Avery recorded
one patient who did not recover.
8.[May 1775] Monday. Prayed with R't [regiment].About 3
'cl'k Mr. Phelps of Capt. William's company was wounded in his
Breast and Lungs by an accidental discharge of a musket by Mr. -
----Yale of Col. Patterson's company as he was exercising. Dr.
Foster & others attended him but found the wound to be mortal.
Mr. Phelps appeared to be very calm & patienthad a good sense
of God's gov't & yeEquity of Providence...An awful day! Mr.
Phelps died. I closed his eyes& gave a word of exhortation to
ye spectators.1 2 3
Fithian recorded some of his visits and feelings during
[July 27] After breakfast I attended & prayed with, the
sick in the Hospital. Captain Woolley of our Battalion is very
ill of an intermittant [sic]. He apprehends himself dangerous,
yet is resigned.
1 Camp dysentery commonly occurred during the summer and fall. John
Pringle provides a contemporary description of it; "The diagnostics
of the dysentery, besides some feverish symptoms, are a disorder at
the stomach and wind in the bowels, small, but frequent stools of a
slimy and frothy matter.... Blood mixed with the feces is a common,
but not a constant symptom" [bloody flux], (Sir John Pringle, Bart.,
Observations of the Diseases of the Army, ('Philadelphia: Edward
Earle, 1810); Reprint, Birmingham, AL: Gryphon Editions, Ltd., 1983,
2 Fithian, 196. Fithian certainly was courageous to minister in such
conditions. On 8 October 1776, he died from dysentery, the very thing
his "whole frame revolts against" (Fithian, 197).
3 Avery, 345.

[July 29] After evening prayers I visited the Hospital.
All are mending but one who I think will die....
[July 31] I attended prayers & visited the Hospital as
[August 4] I visited our Hospital & prayed with the sick
none I hope now are dangerous; ten are in it.
Enos Hitchcock wrote how he "visited the Hospital at
Mount Independence, the new Hospital about one third
covered 250 [feet] long & 24 widewarm and pleasant
He records many other visits to hospitals in his diary.4
Sometimes the chaplain also saw to a patient's
physical needs. Chaplain Hezekiah Smith tended the sick
and wounded after the retreat from Long Island, in order
to better care for them.5 Some chaplains also served as
surgeons: David Jones, David Griffith, Joseph Thaxter,
John Martin, John Lyth, and David Avery all worked in
some capacity as surgeons during the War.6
On 18 September 1777 the Continental Congress
established the Hospital Chaplaincy. This provided
4 Hitchcock, 113. For other hospital visits, see 113, 126, 129.
5 Reuben A Guild, ed., Chaplain Smith and The Baptists; or Life,
Letters, and Addresses of the Rev. Hezekiah Smith, D. D., of
Haverhill Massachusetts, 1737-1805, (Philadelphia: American Baptist
Publishing Society, 1885), 206, quoted in Thompson, 163.
6 Honeywell, 46. Griffith and Lyth were Anglicans from Virginia,
Thaxter was from Massachusetts, but Martin's background is unknown.

ministers for service to soldiers whose wounds required a
long recuperation or who needed care beyond the
capability of unit hospitals. Chaplain James Sproat was
the first Hospital Chaplain assigned to the Middle
Department. His exclusive duty was to minister to the
sick and injured, traveling from hospital to hospital to
visit them and conduct services.7 Some samples from his
diary illustrate this:
April 4 [1778].Visited, discoursed and prayed with the
April 17. At Dunkertown; visited and prayed with all
the sick; preached in the Hospital....
April 25.This day rode to the Yellow Springs; visited
the Hospital, conversed and prayed with the sick, that were not
able to attend the sermon.
April 27.Mr. Ralston rode with me to French Creek
Church. William Smith and G. Tennent doctors herethe senior
doctor is abroad. This Hospital very neat and clean, and the
sick seem well attended. Here I met again Gen. McIntosh, who is
visiting the Hospitals in an official capacity. According to my
usual custom, first visited and then conversed with the sick and
wounded in their wards, in the forenoon; in the afternoon
preached to them all in the Church.
May 2. At BethlehemThe Hospital had been removed from
this place; only a few invalids remain. Called to see Capt.
Balding, who had his leg amputated since I was here last;
conversed and prayed with him, then rode to Easton.8
When no one was familiar with the soldier,
frequently it fell to the hospital chaplain to visit and
7 Sproat, 441.
8 Ibid., 443.

care for him. Often the wounded soldier was far from
home, lonely, young, and afraid. The chaplain sought to
lessen the soldier's pain and burden, and speed him to
Prayer is another duty chaplains frequently
mentioned in their diaries. Prayer occupied an important
part of a chaplain's ministry plan, and was conducted in
a variety of ways: As Fithian, Sproat, and Avery did,
chaplains prayed with soldiers in hospitals, or wherever
they found the injured. Prayer for healing was considered
an important part of the recovery process, and was almost
always performed during visits to the wounded. Private
prayer was often offered, either alone or with a small
number of people. Chaplains also conducted public
prayers, attended by large numbers of participants.
Public prayer in the colonial army was scheduled
regularly. In most units, it was held twice a day, six
days a week. On Sundays, morning worship replaced the
morning prayer time, but chaplains conducted Sunday
evening prayers. Fithian recorded the prayer times in

Washington's army: five-thirty in the evening and either
four or five o'clock in the mornings.9 Avery also noted
morning prayers and evening prayers.10 11 Hitchcock
confirmed that the day began early: "...Attended prayers,
dismissed at Sunrise...." and "Attended prayers before
Sunrise."11 Sunday evening prayers were at seven o'clock.
Generally, prayer sessions were held in formation with
the entire regiment or brigade in attendance. Prayers
were compulsory for all personnel, except those on guard
duty, on fatigue duty, absent.12
Reverend Jesse Lee held some informal and
spontaneous public prayer sessions held in General Gates'
command during the summer of 1780:
Sunday [July] 30th. As soon as it was light, I was up and
began to sing, and some hundreds of people soon assembled and
joined with me, and we made the plantation ring with the songs
of Zion. We then kneeled down and prayed; and while I was
praying, my soul was happy in God, and I wept much and prayed
loud, and many of the poor soldiers also wept. I do not think
Fithian, 188, 193, 195-6.
10 Avery, 344.
11 Hitchcock, 115, 116.
12 So seriously did Fithian take prayer times, he recorded: "This
morning I am much unwell. Sickness, Weakness, & Laxity.... I keep my
Bed most of the Day; I did indeed go out to morning Prayers at four,
but poorly was I able" (Fithian, 193) .

that I ever felt more willing to suffer for the sake of religion
than what I did at that time.13
Prayers were offered for the success of the Army,
for the health of its generals, for the recovery of the
injured and the sick, and for the providence of God.
After the Battle Of Monmouth Courthouse on 28 June 1778,
Chaplain Enos Hitchcock wrote: "General orders given for
the army to parade at seven in the evening, and offer up
thanksgiving to God for the success of our arms."14 From
July of 1776 and the publishing of the Declaration of
Independence forward Virginia and Rhode Island regiments
no longer offered prayers for King George. Virginia
struck all references to him from its prayer books and
order of worship, and replaced them with more acceptable
prayers.15 Rhode Island went a step further. Not only did
13 Thrift, 27.
14 Enos Hitchcock in his diary, quoted in Carlton A. Staples, "A
Chaplain of the Revolution," TMs, (Boston: Office of the Unitarian
Review, 1897), 9. Hitchcock's diary for 1778 is not contained in the
RI Historical Proceedings, and Staples does not provide any notes or
source locations in his article.
15 For example, "...the prayers in the communion service, which
acknowledge the authority of the king...shall be omitted, and this
alteration made in one of the above prayers in communion service:
'Almighty and everlasting God, we are taught by thy holy word, that
the hearts of all rulers are in thy governance, and that thou dost
dispose and turn them as it seemeth best to thy goodly wisdom; we
humbly beseech thee dispose and govern the hearts of the magistrates
of this commonwealth, that in all their thoughts, words, and works,
they may evermore seek thy honor and glory, and study to preserve thy
people committed to their charge in wealth, peace, and godliness.

it ban prayers for the King, but it declared prayer for
the King to be a high misdemeanor, punishable by a fine
of £100, 000!16
As their counterparts do today, Revolutionary War
chaplains provided counsel. As men committed to God,
chaplains could be expected to give advice and counsel
which was Biblically based. Educated at Harvard, Yale,
and Princeton Colleges, chaplains were better educated
than most soldiers, and could perhaps understand problems
and see solutions more easily. Most soldiers held
chaplains in high esteem; many looked up to them as wise
Grant this, O Merciful Father, for thy dear Son's sake, Jesus Christ,
our Lord, Amen'" (New York Gazette, 29 July 1776).
16 Frank Moore, comp., The Diary of the American Revolution, 1775-
1781, John Anthony Scott, ed., (NY: Washington Square Press, 1967),
137. The Constitutional Gazette, 31 July 1776, reported: The
representatives of the State of Rhode Island and Providence
plantations have passed a resolve, That if any person within that
state shall, under pretense of preaching or praying, or in any other
way or manner whatever, acknowledge or declare their late King to be
their rightful lord or sovereign, or shall pray for the success of
his arms, or that he may vanquish or overcome all his enemies, shall
be deemed guilty of high misdemeanor, and therefore be presented by
the grand jury of the county, where the offence [sic] shall be
committed, to the superior court of the same county; and upon
conviction thereof, shall forfeit and pay, and a fine, to and for the
use of that state, the sum of one hundred thousand pounds lawful
money, and pay all costs of prosecution, and shall stand committed to
gaol until the same be satisfied.

and caring father figures who had the soldiers' best
interests at heart.17
Chaplains counseled in many different circumstances.
Chaplain Boardman took it upon himself to diffuse a
potential riot over a disagreement about pay. "I was out
among ym [them] & advised ym yt [that] if they had any
difficulties yy [they] would lay the same before ye
general in some orderly manner, & yy seemed to hearken, &
after a while matters eased away, &c."18 Jesse Lee,
concerned for the lost souls of some of the wounded,
"...went among them where they lay in barns, at the point
of death, and talked to them about their souls; and
begged them to prepare to meet their God."19 Fithian
expressed similar concerns when he noted, "One young man
lies at the Door of Death. Has we think but a few hours
more...I prayed with him & recommended him to the Good
and kind Jesus."20 Chaplain Samuel Spring counseled a
17 Eugene Franklin Williams, "Soldiers of God: Chaplains of the
Revolutionary War," Ph.D. diss., Texas Christian University, 1972,
18 Boardman, 407.
19 Thrift, 33.
20 Fithian, 200.

condemned man, urging him to repent of his crime and thus
receive a lighter sentence. New York Congregationalist
Samuel Kirkland and a Baptist chaplain from Pennsylvania,
William Rogers, similarly beseeched a second prisoner.
The second relented and became penitent, but the first
remained callused. General Benedict Arnold pardoned the
second, based, in part, upon the chaplains' report; the
first was hanged.21
On 16 September 1779, Enos Hitchcock visited and
counseled a condemned prisoner:
This day I visited a poor, unhappy man of the N. Carolina
troops, under Sentence of death for desertion. He appears very
ignorant of divine thingsbut much affected with his stateHe
was seduced by a fellow of the same Reg*1., who has been forging
discharges for a number of men, for which crime he ran the
gauntlet yesterday & was drumd. Out of the Camp& is now in a
miserable situation by Danforths, not able to move
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending:
18. [September]...The poor fellow of the N. Carolina Brigade
pardoned; some care has been taken of the one who was scourged.22
Other Duties and Functions
Chaplains also performed many other duties which
clergy normally perform during peacetime: funerals,
21 Honeywell, 68.
22 Hitchcock, 211-2.

weddings, and baptisms. They attended the executions of
prisoners and conducted last rites.23
Other duties chaplains performed had no relation to
the spiritual; it simply happened that the best one for
the job was also a chaplain. Hezekiah Smith served as
General Nixon's Aide de Camp.24 James Caldwell served as
the Deputy Quartermaster and Assistant Commissary
General.25 Abner Benedict experimented with the
development of an early torpedo.26 Because the
3 For funerals, see Avery, 344-45. For weddings, see Black and
Roelker, 75, quoted in Thompson, 157. For baptisms, see Hitchcock,
168; Boardman, 401. Also of interest is an article in Time Magazine,
5 September 1932, under the title line "Washington's Baptism." It
reports: "General Washington one day went to Rev. John Gano, chaplain
in the Continental Army, and exclaimed: "I have been investigating
the Scripture, and I believe immersion to be baptism taught in the
Word of God, and I demand it at your hands. I do not wish any parade
made to the army called out, but simply a quiet demonstration of the
ordinance." In the presence of 42 witnesses George Washington was
immersed in the Potomac; but he did not give "personal testimony"
which would have made him a member of the Baptist Church." Honeywell
provides some evidences against the authenticity of this story, and
concludes that it has been passed down as a sincere, though
unfactual, event (Honeywell, 55-56). For more detail, see I. M.
Haldeman, A History of the First Baptist Church in the City of New
York, 8-9. For executions, see Moore, 210 (Brint Debadee, shot by
firing squad); Hitchcock, 227-8 (Major Andre, hanged), 223 (David
Hall, hanged). Of David Hall, Hitchcock writes: "...the Adj3 5 6.'
Gen1.'.sent a request to me to attend, which I didfound the poor
unhappy man somewhat affected with his case, but did not seem to be
appear to be [sic] acquainted with Religion." For last rites, see
Avery, 344-45.
24 Guild, 206, quoted in Thompson, 163.
25 Headley, 225.
26 Ibid., 164.

Continental Army was always short of manpower, many
chaplains effectively worked as recruiters of sorts,
urging men to extend their enlistment or to reenlist.27
Washington had to rely on his chaplains to encourage
soldiers to remain in the Army, and to persuade them it
was their sacred duty to serve.
Finally, chaplains were involved in intelligence
gathering. General Washington often asked chaplains for
information about a geographic area. Because of their
pastoral travels and wide-ranging parishes, chaplains had
an special knowledge helpful in military planning.
Records show that Chaplain Alexander McWhorter, who was
familiar with the area around Trenton, New Jersey,
attended a planning session for Washington's Christmas
Eve 1776 attack on that town, perhaps providing important
information about the layout of Trenton.28
The chaplains who served in the Continental Army
came from a long tradition of fighting-chaplains. Their
mission was to help obtain God's favor by instilling
soldiers with a sense of morality, religion, and love of
27 Honeywell, 171-2.
28 Ibid., 147; "Alexander McWhorter," Dictionary of American
Biography, 7, 175.

country. They did this by performing the various duties,
examined so far: ministry to the sick and dying, prayer,
counseling and miscellaneous minor duties and functions.
The revolutionary era chaplain also fully participated in
combat with his men, setting an example of bravery and
leadership for others to emulate.

The worship service contained the element of a
chaplain's ministry for which he would be best
remembered, preaching. Through their weekly sermons,
chaplains influenced soldiers' actions, thoughts, and
morale. Chaplains exhorted soldiers to obey their
superiors, to work dutifully as soldiers, and to behave
in accordance with both Scripture and the General Orders
of the Continental Army. Extant sermons provide a window
into the minds of chaplains and the opportunity to
understand what they thought.
Sunday worship was an important part of the life of
the Continental Army, and the sermon was the central part
of Sunday worship. General George Washington, as we have
seen, believed in the importance of moral and godly
soldiers; the Sunday worship service was the key to
achieving this. The General wrote on 22 March 1783:

In justice to the zeal and ability of the Chaplains, as
well as to his own feelings, the Commander in chief thinks it a
duty to declare the regularity and decorum with which divine
service is now performed every Sunday, will reflect great credit
on the army in general, tend to improve the morals, and at the
same time, to increase the happiness of the soldiery, and must
afford the most pure and rational entertainment for every
serious and well disposed mind.1
Every Sunday, battle plans permitting, the regiments
marched to worship. Chaplains preferred to hold services
in church buildings, accommodating large numbers of
people protected from the weather. Since services were in
actual churches, most soldiers felt comfortable with this
familiar environment.
Even the largest church could not simultaneously
accommodate every unit in Sunday morning worship, so
chaplains developed a rotation schedule. Regiments would
stagger the hours they would occupy the church. Philip
Fithian and Enos Hitchcock reported their ability to
attend multiple services and listen to fellow chaplains
preach,1 2 while Benjamin Boardman related how he and other
chaplains would substitute-preach for each other when one
of them was unavailable.3 Samuel Kirkland wrote in his
1 Fitzpatrick, vol. 26, 250.
2 Fithian, 192; Hitchcock, 130.
3Boardman 402, 405, 407.

diary of the day he preached twice to different elements
of his battalion, in the same location.4
When church buildings were unavailable, chaplains
improvised. Reverend Doyles used a warehouse and Joel
Barlow used a Dutch barn.5 Others preached outdoors while
standing on a pile of knapsacks, or on an inverted
hogshead of rum.6 When a man asked him to preach, Jesse
Lee "told him I would preach provided he would procure a
block, or something for me to stand upon; which he
readily promised to do."7 Naturally, hospital chaplains
preached in hospitals. David Avery evidently spoke from
inside a building one morning, for he reported: "L's
[Lord's] day. Preacht [sic] out at a window."8 George
Duffield stood in the fork of a tree so that he could be
seen and heard.9 On Sunday 4 July 1779, Enos Hitchcock
4 Samuel Kirkland, "Journal of the Reverend Samuel Kirkland,
Missionary Among the Oneidas," E. B. O'Callaghan, commentator, The
Historical Magazine, vol. 3, 2d ser., (1868), 38.
5 Fitzpatrick, vol 3, 403.
6 Headley, 95, 201.
7 Thrift, 28.
8 Avery, 345.
9 William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, 9 vols, (New
York: 1857-1865), vol. 1, 527; vol. 3, 190. In response to the

attended a service small enough to be held in the "new
barracks" since that day most soldiers were on fatigue
duty.10 11 If there were no indoor facilities available,
chaplains conducted services, as well as prayers,
outside, as Hitchcock related:
20. [July 1777] Sunday. Divine Service at ^5 past 10 Clock on
Patterson Island among the trees, Neh: 4, 14 AM. The brigade
generally attended.11
One might wonder how a chaplain could make himself
heard by an outdoor crowd of several thousand listeners,
without the aid of any amplification devices. In 1739,
Benjamin Franklin wondered the same thing about the great
evangelist George Whitfield, and provided an account of
his observances:
He had a loud and clear voice, and articulated his words
and sentences so perfectly, that he might be heard and
understood at a great distance, especially as his auditories,
however numerous, observ'd the most exact silence. He preach'd
one evening from the top of the Court-house steps, which are in
the middle of Market-street, and on the west side of Second-
street, which crosses it at right angles. Both streets were
fill'd with his hearers to a considerable distance. Being among
the hindmost in Market-street, I had the curiosity to learn how
far he could be heard, by retiring backwards down the street
towards the river; and I found his voice distinct till I came
near Front-street, when some noise in that street obscur'd it.
Imagining then a semicircle, of which my distance should be the
singing, the British artillery on Staten Island began to fire upon
the congregation, which took refuge on the far side of a hill.
10 Hitchcock, 183.
11 Ibid., 121. (It is unclear if this was a special service "among
the trees," or if this was the normal location for the service.)

radius, and that it were fill'd with auditors, to each of whom I
allow'd two square feet, I computed that he might well be heard
by more than thirty thousand. This reconcil'd me to the
newspaper accounts of his having preach'd to twenty-five
thousand people in the fields, and to the ancient histories of
generals haranguing whole armies, of which I had sometimes
Occasionally, the Army could not take time to
worship. One reason for this was that the troops were
busy with other matters. As Fithian reported:
[25 August 1776] Another holy Sabbath presents to our View. No
social Worship to be performed this dayCarts & Horses driving
every Way among the ArmyMen marching out & coming in to & from
the front CampSmall Arms & Field Pieces continually firing;
all in Tumult.13
A week later, he remarked:
So much confusion & Bustle is there in the Army that we can have
no composed Worship.14
Similarly, for Samuel Kirkland, serving with Colonel
Dayton's regiment at Ft. Stanwix, Sundays were often so
busy, even he could not attend worship: "22 [September
1776] L. D. [Lord's Day]Was obliged this day to be with
the Indians&ye garrison so hurried in work could not
attend Divine serviceonly prayers at Even9
12 Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography, Albert Henry Smyth, ed., The
Writings of Benjamin Franklin: With a Life and Introduction (New
York: The Macmillan Company, 1905), vol. 1, 354-59.
13 Fithian, 218.
14 Ibid., 223.

[evening]. "15 Generally, when there was not a pressing
requirement for fatigue duty or actual combat, it seems
that the services were fairly well attended. "Our
Battalion was well out," Fithian wrote.16
Inclement weather also affected worship services,
especially if there was not a protected place to conduct
them. Many chaplains recorded how rain prevented a
service from being held. Hitchcock noted: "Raind all day-
-ergo no ServiceKirkland wrote: Lord's dayThe
weather being so bad the Regt could [not] attend Divine
Sermon Preparation
One could argue that sermon preparation technically
began with the training of the chaplain. Many American
clergy attended Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, and studied
the classical languages Latin, Hebrew, and Greek
rhetoric, ethics, law, religion, and government. Training
15 Kirkland, 37. Also see Hitchcock, 128, 180.
16 Fithian, 205.
17 Hitchcock, 190, 128, 177; Kirkland, 37.

also included oration, sermon preparation, and pastoral
Since the sermon was an important part of the
worship service, one should not be surprised to discover
that chaplains labored over its preparation; writing,
rewriting, studying, praying, and rethinking. John
Barnard recorded the steps involved in preparing his
Having, in a proper manner, fixed upon the subject I designed
to preach upon, I sought a text of Scripture most naturally
including it; then I read such practical discourses as treated
upon the subject; I read also such polemical authors, on both
sides of the question, as I had by me, sometimes having ten or
a dozen folios and other books lying open around me, and
compared them with one another, and endeavored to make their
best thoughts my own. After having spent some time (perhaps two
or three days) in thus reading and meditating upon my subject,
I then applied myself to the Bible, the only standard of truth,
and examined how far my authors agreed or disagreed with it.18
Next Barnard describes the mechanics of how he outlined
and arranged the parts of the sermon. It took him about
four hours to pen a seventy-five minute sermon. After
such preparation, he was able to deliver his discourse
with infrequent reference to his notes. Fithian reported:
18 John Barnard, Autobiography, reprinted in Massachusetts Historical
Society Collections, 3d ser., 5, (1836), 187). The reliable methods
Bernard used at the turn of the eighteenth century were still in use
just before the Revolution, and were likely used by many of the
college-educated chaplains.

"'Till twelve I studied for the approaching Sabbath."19
We have no idea when he began, but evidently the
preparation time was significant.
What reference materials did chaplains use? The
Bible was the primary reference source for chaplains of
all denominations, for in it was revealed the Word of
God, and His instructions on how to live, act, and
worship. In the Old Testament, a chaplain found examples
of the covenant relationship between God and Israel, the
proper use of authority, the right to resist evil, the
Just War, and other concepts important to eighteenth-
century clergy. From the New Testament, chaplains drew
teachings about salvation, which they often preached upon
in terms of faith, hope and charity. Faith referred to a
faith in the Scriptures, God's promise of salvation, and
the record of His dealings with people. Hope was the
believer's assurance that God promised salvation and
eternal life to those who acknowledged Jesus' death, and
that, because God is a reliable God, the believer would
indeed receive eternal life. Charity referred to the
response of the Christian to God's gift of life, that is
19 Fithian, 189.

to obey the Scriptures and live their lives in accordance
with them with charity and love toward all.20
In order to be better prepared to interpret and
explain the Scriptures, chaplains started to build their
collection of reference materials in college. Soon they
amassed quite a few volumes in their study:
No matter how rustic the settlement, here [in the study]
were found most of the relevant texts bearing on the great and
significant questions raised by the printed Word. On the
minister's shelves lay the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible,
commentaries in Latin and English indexed by chapter and verse,
concordances of key words and metaphors in the original
languages and in English, comprehensive systems of divinity from
the church fathers to the English Puritans, natural histories to
explain the imagery of the ancient Near east, encyclopedias of
human knowledge, and a range of Protestant sermons dating back
to the Reformation. Many of these sources were literally "Greek"
to ordinary readers whose only literary skills were in English,
but for ministers having a "knowledge of Tongues and Arts" they
were nothing less than the interpretive keys to the kingdom of
Chaplains in the field could not carry all these
resources with them (recall Fithian carried only a
Stout, 33. The salvation message was central to preaching in the
eighteenth century. Chaplains, concerned that men might be killed
without knowing Christ and thus suffer eternally in Hell, strove to
tell as many as possible about the salvation that is found only in
Christ. According to Hitchcock, even the leadership of the Army had
to hear this: "Sunday 29 [August 1779] Divine service at 5 Clock P.
M. Acts, 2.22. His Excellency [General Washington] & suite Genls
PutnamHeathGreenKnox & suitesDr Shipin Col Cox &c &c A
sermon on the subject of Christianity might not be amiss."
(Hitchcock, 208, and Staples, 10.) Evidently, no audience was above
the need for a salvation sermon.
21 Ibid., 32-33. Alice Baldwin lists some other sources of knowledge
upon which clergy drew: classical authors and philosophers such as
Thucydides, Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Virgil, Seneca, Tacitus,
Sallust, Plutarch, Pliny, Josephus, and Eusebius (Baldwin, 7).

knapsack). However, these were tools familiar to a
chaplain. He might possess notes or sermons on a
particular subject or text. Along with his understanding
of the original Biblical languages, he was well-prepared
to compose a sermon or open a particular text for
teaching. Often, a chaplain simply relied on his memory,
training, and insight into Scripture to prepare his
sermons. Those who were permitted officers' baggage might
bring dozens of references with them for use in sermon
A chaplain meticulously prepared his sermon. The
sermon was the mainstay of his work, for his
effectiveness depended on his preaching ability. Thompson
tells us that "sermons were carefully prepared and well
delivered." Chaplains desired to prepare for sermons
during the War in the same manner as during peace, and in
accordance with their college training. Therefore, they
used whatever resources they had access to.22
22 Thompson, 189.

Chaplains' Sermons
The role a sermon played in the lives of eighteenth-
century Americans was vastly different than the role it
plays in the lives of twentieth-century Americans. The
1700s were primarily an aural age, especially regarding
spiritual and Biblical matters. A person's knowledge of
God and the Bible generally did not come from studying a
personally-owned copy, but from listening to sermons, not
only on Sundays, but usually on a mid-week evening and on
civic occasions. The sermon of the eighteenth-century was
akin to today's sermon, as well as today's six-o'clock
television news, election advertisement, civic
responsibility motivator, opinion poll, political
commentary, and social issue report.
Sunday worship was a regular time a majority of the
members of a community gathered together and could be
addressed as a group. Since there was no way for a
government official to address the populace directly,
often it fell to the pastor to provide political as well
as spiritual guidance. It is estimated that between the

ages of ten and sixty, a regular church attender in the
eighteenth-century could have listened to more than 7,500
In accordance with the Protestant and Puritan
traditions of the nation, on Sundays the pastor of a
church announced pertinent news to the community. For
example, Father Eells announced to his congregation
General Washington's need for troops. Though the pastor's
authority within a community was not as strong in 1775 as
it had been fifty years earlier, his congregants still
valued his opinion on both secular and spiritual matters.
Often the pastor was the best-educated man in the
community, and thus was in a position to understand and
interpret the political news of the day for his church.
Advice about which candidate to support for office or
what action to take on a particular issue flowed freely
from the pulpits of the 1770s. Thus, a pastor's preaching
on Sundays often had practical and immediate use, in
addition to a sanctifying, spiritual application.
23 A churchgoer regularly heard two sermons on Sundays and another
during a mid-week service, often on Wednesdays or Thursdays. This
amounted to three sermons a week, 156 sermons a year, and 7,800
sermons over fifty years. This does not include sermons heard on
other occasions such as weddings, funerals, Fast Days, Thanksgiving
Days, or other civic days.

Continental Army chaplains continued this dualistic
approach in their sermons, providing for the regiments
and battalions what pastors at home did for their
congregations. For example, after arguing from Scripture
that a defensive war is a just war, and encouraging his
hearers to trust their lives to Jesus Christ,
Presbyterian John Carmichael made some editorial comments
about the British regulars:
...As standing armies are too often made up of the scourings of
gaols and the refuse and filth of the people, who make that the
last shift for a living, they are but too often found destitute
of either good principles of education, and sunk into every
species of dissoluteness and debauchery. We could wish the
King's troops at Boston had not, by their cruelty and inhumanity
of conduct, given the world too lively and striking a proof of
the truth of this observation; hence the very name of a Red Coat
(pardon the expression) stinks in out nostrils.24
William Linn, in a similar way, treated Colonel
Irvine's battalion to an evaluation of the British
Parliament and its Army, but then added a call to arms
such as might be heard from a head of state:
Behold an omnipotent parliament, full of bribery and
corruption, consisting of men abandoned and profligate, in whose
choice we have had no vote, declaring they have a right to bind
us in all cases whatsoever;in consequence of this, breaking
charters, blocking up harbours, establishing popery, and sending
an armed force to dragoon us into submission....Add to these,
every species of violence committed since; the hellish scheme of
bringing upon us the savage bands and arming our slaves.Call
24 John Carmichael, A Self-Defensive War Lawful, Proved in a Sermon,
Preached at Lancaster, Before Captain Ross's Company of Militia, in
the Presbyterian Church, on Sabbath Morning, June 4, 1775,
(Philadelphia: John Dean, Bookbinder, 1775), 19.

to mind all these, and tell me, whether your breasts do not
heave with ardour, and long for the day of combat?25
Chaplains used their sermons both to inform and to exhort
their listeners. They did not shrink from using emotive
language to communicate information of a political or
civic nature. The chaplains' business was to preach the
truth as he saw it, be it political truth or spiritual
Preliminary Material
The title pages, prefaces, dedications, and other
non-text pages contain some interesting information.26
For example, all twenty-two extant sermons in this study
were well-received and successful. The reason for this
becomes obvious after understanding the circumstances
behind sermon publication.
After a chaplain delivered a well-received sermon,
often he was asked to publish it for the benefit of those
who missed it, or so that the troops could have personal
copies. Israel Evans' title page reads in part "Now
25 William Linn, A Military Discourse Delivered in Carlisle., March the
nth, me..., (Philadelphia: 1776), 12-13.
26 See Table B1 for information about the sermons used in this paper.

published at the particular Request of the Generals and
Field Officers of that Army: And to be distributed among
the soldiers.Gratis!"27 Many other sermons simply say
"published by request" or "published by request of the
officers" on their title pages. In these cases, the
officers personally offset the printing costs for
publishing the sermon. One sermon even lists the officers
and the amounts of their contributions!28
The sermon front-matter also included dedications
and inscriptions. In glowing and appreciative prose,
chaplains dedicated their sermons to their troops,
officers, or unit commanders. John Hurt dedicated one
sermon to the officers in his battalion and signed his
dedication page "your fellow-soldier and humble
servant."29 Joseph Montgomery inscribed his sermon in a
respectful and sincere way:
Israel Evans, A Discourse Delivered at Easton, on the 17th of
October, 1779, to the Officers and Soldiers of the Western Army,
(Philadelphia: Thomas Bradford, 1779), 1.
See Fitzhugh Mackay, American Liberty Asserted or British Tyrrany
Reprobated, (Lancaster, PA: Francis Bailey, 1778), iv-v.
29 John Hurt, The Love of Our Counrty; A Sermon Preached Before the
Virginia Troops in New Jersey, (Philadelphia: Stiner and Cist, 1777),