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Remembering the Locals on July 4th
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2022-06-09

            Remembering and honoring one's heritage has become more important and even commonplace as our nation, states, communities, and organizations celebrate throughout the year.  Heritage and just causes are important.  Whether we agree or

Many of the local citizen-soldier's graves can be

identified by a grave-marker and 13-starred United

States Flag showing their service in the Revolution-

ary War and the banner they fought under

disagree, we can all learn from it.

            We have our own heroes from days-gone-by who have no monuments and no celebratory months or days.  They and their descendants shunned notoriety and were mostly interested in getting a job done and getting back to work on their farms.

            Scores of them rest in area cemeteries in common graves.  Some identified with a grave-marker and 13-starred United States Flag showing their service in the Revolutionary War and the banner they fought under.  Their weathered stones are engraved with hand-chiseled words in their mother tongue, making them unreadable to many.

            They were plain people who came to the new world seeking freedom from religious persecution.  Many were indentured servants, contracted to work for another for a specified time to work off the cost of bringing them here.  By 1775 Germans constituted about one-third of the population of Pennsylvania. 

            After they worked to pay off their debt, many moved west to our area.  They found the soil fertile and began their own farms here.

            Among them were some whose religious practices forbade them from

Their weathered stones of local German-American

are engraved with hand-chiseled words in their

mother tongue, making them unreadable to many.

participating in war or killing.  But hidden in the farms in the surrounding hills of Philadelphia were warriors willing to go into battle to protect their families and homes.

            Heinrich Ohl was one of them.

            Ohl was born in Marlborough Township, Philadelphia County in 1753.  He grew up on his parent's farm near Hoppenville and attended the Old Goshenhoppen Reformed Church in Woxall.   He married Margaret Sitzman in that same church on January 16, 1776.

            On August 8, 1776, just one month after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Ohl volunteered for the Continental Army.  He was discharged in October as troops on both sides prepared for winter quartering.

            Heinrich re-enlisted the following May and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

            After the Continental Army's defeat at the Battle of Brandywine, Ohl's commanding officer, Captain Shively, faked an illness to avoid further combat. Ohl immediately seized the opportunity to take command and received a promotion to First Lieutenant.

            After the Continental Army's defeat at Germantown on October 4, 1777.  Lieutenant Ohl and his company marched back with General James Potter's brigade across the Schuylkill River into Chester County.  Heinrich was discharged along with his Company at the end of November.

            One month later he re-enlisted again,  this time in the Company of his Marlborough Township neighbor, Captain Adreas Reid.  The newly formed group marched from the township toward the city of Philadelphia.  Along the way they joined up with the regiment commanded by Colonel Frederick Antes, of Frederick Township.  They would all become part of the Pennsylvania Militia under the command of Major General John Armstrong.

            Their job would be to guard the roads from Philadelphia to Valley Forge during the army's winter encampment of 1777-1778. 

It was during that stay when another German immigrant, Major General Friedrich von Steuben, molded Washington's group of rag-tag soldiers into a fighting unit.  In the face of the most deplorable conditions, Steuben told General Washington "no other European army would hold together in the face of such hardships."  It became a turning point in the war.

            According to "Washington's Bodyguard", published by the Philadelphia Chapter of the German-American National Congress, "In the early days of the battle for independence, General George Washington's bodyguards had been Tories, loyal to Great Britain. They plotted to capture Washington and turn him over to the British. On the advice of his adjutant, Washington had a German-American bodyguard unit formed to protect himself. The bodyguard was called the Independent Troop of the Horse, and it was placed under the command of Major Bartholomew von Heer, a former soldier in the Prussian army of Frederick the Great.

            In a letter dated June 30, 1776, Washington wrote to Congress about the plan to raise a German-American battalion.  "The battalion of Germans which Congress had ordered to be raised will be a corps of much service, and I am hopeful that such persons will be appointed officers as will complete their enlistments with all possible expedition ..."  Washington obviously recognized the value of German­-American troops.

            Von Heer recruited most of the men for the bodyguard from the Pennsylvania German counties.  They continued through the end of the war with outstanding service.  Twelve of the German-American bodyguards escorted Washington to his home in Mount Vernon after the end of the War. Because of this, they have the distinction of having served longer than any other American soldier in the Revolution.  German-Americans, therefore, served not only the best but also the longest.

            The bodyguard consisted of 53 men and 14 officers.

            According to historians not one could understand English. Because of this fact, a translator was needed and Washington could speak freely to his officers in front of his bodyguards.  It is also quite probable that the first president of the U.S. understood some of the German language.

           The attitude of the German-Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War was summed up well in an item published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger in 1918.  It read "…let me tell you that Beelzebub himself is a mere tyro in his profession as compared with what the Pennsylvania-German will do with Schrecklichkelt (frightfulness) – not because they love war, but because they love peace."


 

 

 

 

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