Disarming the Disaffected

Techniques & Tech

August 26, 2014
by Thomas Verenna Also by this Author


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In a previous article I said that there are “times when a gun would have come in real handy” but there were no guns to be found.[1] Well the flip side to that coin is when guns aren’t so useful—at least not to you—and those incidents generally involve guns that are being aimed at you. It can’t always be avoided; war is one of those rare occasions when someone willingly walks into places where guns are pointed in their direction. But as a general rule, the average person should try to avoid looking down the wrong side of the barrel as often as they can. During the American Revolution, the same Rule of Avoiding Death by Bullet was followed as strictly as could be managed. For the patriot leaders of the day, there was only one clear way do this—you had to disarm people you didn’t like or who didn’t like you.[2]

It is hard to say where it all started (that won’t stop me from hazarding a guess). Following the steady establishment of extralegal Committees of Observation and Inspection throughout the colonies, some of these standing committees took it upon themselves in certain places, specifically locally, to disarm those who refused to accept their authority or were apathetic to it. These individuals were “disaffected [emphasis added] to the cause of America, have not associated, and refuse to associate, for the Defence of these Colonies, by Arms, against the hostile attempts by the British Fleets and Armies.” [3] Hence, the term “disaffected.” If you’re like me, you probably noticed that it’s a rather broad definition. You might be wondering to whom this term “disaffected” applied. Well, you’re in luck; I brought answers.

The short of it is about 55 to 60% of the population. That’s not even a joke; more than half of the population of the colonies at the time was made up of those who didn’t want to get involved (roughly 40–45%) or remained loyal to the Crown (between 15–20%). Only about 40–45% supported the patriot movement; these numbers varied by colony (some colonies had stronger support for the patriots while others had weaker support).[4] And initially, turnout for associations was an even smaller percentage than that; about 10–20% of the communities in Pennsylvania turned out to Associate under arms in 1775,[5] and the numbers had not changed much by March of 1776 when this ordinance was passed. For the middle colonies specifically, we’re also talking about people whose religious affiliations made them pacifists (Quakers, Moravians, etc.); pacifism was akin to “disaffection” in the eyes of many patriot community leaders.[6]

It should also be pointed out that these figures are pretty static; they don’t tell the whole story. Real life is not so black and white, especially since loyalties during the war shifted with the direction of the wind.[7] Not only were the standing committees overseeing communities with huge chunks of citizens that they considered to be “disaffected,” throughout the war those previously considered to be “disaffected” could remain neutral, join a Tory regiment, or enlist under the Continentals (and then desert and join the British, or visa-versa).

Whatever their motivation, having people who disagreed with your political viewpoints while running a revolution was something the patriots could not abide. When faced with opposition, the patriots took actions that led to the safety and security of the people under their care, especially those who supported their cause. That meant that those who remained apathetic, or those who refused to get involved, had to suffer the occasional forceful entry into their home; it meant that they were looked at suspiciously; it meant that they were constantly harassed.[8] (Seriously, how does this not get made into a television show?)

In New York, we find the events that eventually lead to a large-scale disarmament. The standing committee at Brookhaven, on 1 September 1775, issued the following statement:[9]

Resolved, That if any person or persons shall hereafter oppose or deny the authority of the Continental or of this Congress, or the Committee of Safety, or the Committees of the respective Counties, Cities, Towns, Manors, Precincts, or Districts, in this Colony, or dissuade any person or persons from obeying the recommendations of the Continental or this Congress, or the Committee of Safety, or the Committees aforesaid, and be thereof convicted, before the Committee of the County, or any thirteen or more of their number, who shall or may meet upon a general call of the Chairman of such Committee, where such person or persons may reside, that such Committee shall cause such offenders to be disarmed; and for the second offence they shall be committed to close confinement, at their respective expense.

Again, we must remember that some civilians wanted to harm or kill the patriot leadership (you know, because treason). One has to keep in mind these were relatively new committees and a lot of people disapproved of them—and New York was a hotbed for loyalist activities. A message from “The Intelligencer” (possibly the patriot Hugh Hughes) to John Adams notes:[10]

“In the first Place, the Committee of Safety, during the Recess of the Congress, pass’d a Resolve to impress all the Arms of those who had not sign’d the Association by the 16th of Septr., the Time of passing the Resolve, which was done too, only in Consequence of a Letter, or Letters, from your Body, as it is generally imagined. This was first attempted to be carried into Execution on Long Island, in Queen’s County, by sending out one or two of their own Board, with 4 or 5 Citizens, who at the same Time were restrain’d from exercising any manner of Coercion whatever by private Instruction, unless endanger’d by Violence &c. According they went out on the 23rd Ultimo and were treated in the most contemptuous Manner, even to Insult and Threat; declaring they knew no Congress, neither would they sign any Association, nor pay any Part of the Expense accruing by an Opposition to the King’s Troops &c. On the Contrary, that they were determin’d to support the “King’s Laws” and defend themselves against all other Authority &c. Some of this happen’d within 5 or 6 Miles of the City, and some further. They got a few worthless Arms, from some of the most Timid, who, it was tho’t, had concealed their best.”

Clearly people did not approve of the patriots’ attempts to disarm them. When it became apparent that this measure—initially being unsuccessful—could not be completed with a handful of regular unarmed citizens (for obvious reasons), the Continental Congress moved to take a more definitive action, this time using armed militia. In early January, 1776, they resolved:[11]

“That colonel Nathaniel Heard, of Woodbridge, in the colony of New Jersey, taking with him five or six hundred minute-men, under discreet officers, do march to the western part of Queen’s county, and that colonel Waterbury of Stanford, in the colony of Connecticut, with the like number of minute-men, march to the eastern side of said county; that they confer together, and endeavor to enter the said county on one day; that they proceed to disarm every person in the said county, who voted against sending deputies to the said convention, and cause them to deliver up their arms and ammunition on oath, and that they take and confine in safe custody, till further orders, all such as refuse compliance.”

This attempt was carried out but, as before, it failed. A combination of weather, the great distance between the two forces of Heard and Waterbury, and a lack of solid communication between them hindered these actions more than did the Tories. In the end, Congress ordered that the Connecticut men be disbanded. Washington wasn’t through, however. A few days later, he sent a note to General Charles Lee ordering him to make Long Island ready to defend against the British, in the process “Disarming all such persons upon long Island and elsewhere (& if necessary otherwise securing them) whose conduct, and declarations have render’d them justly suspected of Designs unfriendly to the Views of Congress.”[12]

Lee would find this difficult as weather would hinder him as it had earlier attempts, and he lacked the men due to the fact that Waterbury’s regiment had been disbanded. Annoyed, Lee told Washington that he would write to Congress to assist him at his task.[13]

Meanwhile, in the Mohawk Valley region of New York, Major General Philip Schuyler—on orders from Congress—had been successful at disarming some of the “Malignants” in the area, capturing “Six of the Chiefs of about two hundred and fifty or three hundred Scotch Highlanders [who] are to go Prisoners to Pennsylvania, as are six Others of the English & Dutch Inhabitants” and taking “four six & four Pounders, together with a Number of Swivels & Blunderbusses.”[14]

By early February 1776, Washington, still at Cambridge, was short of arms for his army. He had been complaining to Congress about this need for months, but without any success. “I have tried every method I could think of, to procure arms for our men,” Washington wrote, “They really are not to be had in these governments, belonging to the public;…There are near two thousand men now in camp without firelocks. I have written to the committee of New York this day, requesting them to send me the arms, which were taken from the disaffected in that government.”[15]

It would take another month before the committee of Congress responsible for dealing with General Lee’s and Washington’s objections would come to any decision. On 14 March, they laid forth the following proposal:[16]

“When our own troops are obliged to remain inactive from want of arms, when from this deficiency the Canada Expedition is at a stand, New York and Long Island left open to the invasions of the Enimy, is it not a most dangerious neglect, omission, or rather unaccountable infatuation, to suffer considerable Bodies of avowed Foes to be possessed of arms for your destruction? … I wou’d therefore humbly propose that the Inhabitants of Statten Island shou’d be without loss of time be disarm’d and their arms delivered to some Regiment already raised but unfurnished with muskets.”

The proposal was adopted immediately and extended to all Colonies:[17]

Resolved, That it be recommended to the several Assemblies, Conventions, and Councils or Committees of Safety of the United Colonies, immediately to cause all persons to be disarmed within their respective Colonies, who are notoriously disaffected to the cause of America, or who have not associated, and refuse to associate, to defend by arms these United Colonies against the hostile attempts of the British Fleets and Armies; and to apply the Arms taken from such persons in each respective Colony, in the first place, to the arming the Continental Troops raised in said Colony; in the next, to the arming such Troops as are raised by the Colony for its own defence; and the residue to be applied to the arming the Associators.”

This resolution was rather unique for its day; it effectually made it so only one political group was armed (the patriots/Whigs), and anyone who questioned the legitimacy of the United Colonial (eventually the United States) government, or those who did not fully support it, would lose their guns and their ability to voice their dissent (presumably by shooting patriots).

Committees from around the colonies began putting this resolution into effect. In Pennsylvania, the Assembly reviewed the recommendation by Congress and, by 9 April 1776, passed a few ordinances to carry out disarmament:[18]

Resolved, That the Freeholders and Freemen of every Township, Borough, Ward and District, within this Province, qualified to vote for members of Assembly, shall respectively meet together, at some convenient Place, within their several Townships, Boroughs, Wards and Districts, on the Twenty-fifth Day of this Month, and then and there chuse by Ballot three Persons for Collectors of Arms.

Resolved, That the said persons so chosen, or a Majority of them, shall disarm all disaffected Persons before described, and shall appraise, or cause the Arms taken from them to be appraised as aforesaid, and shall pay to the owners the Value of such Arms as are fit for Use, or that can be conveniently made so, depositing all the Arms in the Manner before-mentioned.”

These ordinances seem distant to us, but we can get a more personal look at the struggles close at hand by examining the Minutes book of the Committee of Observation from Northampton County. What becomes immediately clear is the chaotic implementation of these ordinances; who, after all, is the enemy in a war where changing sides is sometimes a necessary part of survival? And how does one deal with someone who refuses to give up their arms? Well, Northampton’s committee books have the answers. An incident occurred in Macungie Township between a local individual, Joseph Romich, and his family when collectors came to receive their arms.[19]

“Jacob Bear says that he, Peter Haas & Jacob Stephen were chosen & appointed by the Inhabitants of Maccongie Township, Collectors to receive & take the fire Arms from the Non-Associators and other disaffected persons in the said Townships; that when they came the first time to the House of the said Joseph Romich for the purpose aforesaid, the said Joseph said that he would not deliver up his Arms, that they the said Collectors had no right; and that they were Thieves & Robbers and not Christians: that the said Collectors went a second time to the house of the said Joseph for the purpose afrs’d, and in a calm and discreet manner demanded his Arms; who replied he had Arms but would not deliver them up. Whereupon they made a search and found only one Gun which belonged to John Kline, who is a lodger with the Said Joseph.”

“Resolved, That Capt. Trexler, of Maccongie Township, with a sufficient party of his Associators bring Joseph Romich and John Romich before the Committee to be held at Easton the 13th Instant, at one O’Clock in the afternoon, to answer such matters & things as shall be objected against them; they the said Joseph and John having been legally Summoned to appear here this day, paid no regard thereunto, and refused absolutely to attend.”

Captain Trexler sent men to deal with the disobedient group, and at first it seemed to go their way.

“Henry Wetzel, Lieutenant in Capt. Trexler’s Company, appeared in Committee and made report, that in consequence of request of this Committee to Capt. Trexler to bring down Joseph Romich and John Romich, he the said Henry with four more of the same Company went to the House of the said Joseph & John to prevail upon them to go to Easton to attend this Committee, before they would offer any force; and having acquainted them with the occasion of their coming, they the said Joseph and John promised to attend here this day. And they are not now appearing according to their promise, it is Ordered by this Committee the said Lieutenant Wetzel bring them down by force to attend here the 15th Instant.”

This time, things nearly got ugly (which we’ll see in a minute). Romich, however, was brought before the committee on 15 June 1776. The testimony of the incident speaks volumes of the tension between the local population and the patriot leaders:

“John Markle says, that he served Joseph Romich & John Romich with a Summons from this Committee to appear at Easton on the 6th of this Instant; that John Romich read the Summons and said he shit upon it; that Joseph Romich said they would come if they pleased; & if not, they would stay at home.

“Peter Trexler says, that he was one of the party that went yesterday to the House of Joseph Romich in Order to bring him down to appear before this Committee; that when they came there he said Joseph Romich and John Romich were shut up in a Room in the said House; that this Evidence went to a Window of the said Room and desired them to open the Door; that John Romich replied they would, if they would not kill them; that the said Joseph had a gun in his hand; that this Evidence desired Joseph to put away the Gun and open the Door, Who replied we are in a passion, we do not know what we may do; some little time after Joseph set the Gun behind a Stove in the Room, and opened the Room Door.

“Jacob Kichley says, that they yesterday entered the dwelling House of Joseph Romich by lifting up a Latch of the Outer Door without any Force; that Capt. Trexler handed the Gun, mentioned in Peter Trexler’s Evidence, to him, the said Jacob, when he drew out the Wad, and found therein five swan shot and powder; that the Gun was primed and had a flint.”

The Committee was lenient on John and Joseph Romich, given the circumstances, and they were ordered to read and sign a recantation that was then published in German and English in the local papers of Northampton County.[20] The idea, it was probably presumed, was that by publishing their recantation, this tension would go away. It did not.

At the next meeting, 22 June 1776, it was brought to the Committee’s attention:

“Jacob Stephen, one of the Collectors of Arms in the Township of Maccongie, made complaint that Conrad Brey, Nicholas Klotz, Isaac Klotz, Ludwig Meckel, Leonard Miller, Jacob Shuler & John Butz, Inhabitants of the said Township, being Non-Associators do refuse to deliver up their Arms agreeable to the Resolves of the House of Assembly.

“Whereupon Summons were issued against them, returnable to Wednesday the 26th day of this Instant.”

These cases were heard in parts at the court house, the verdicts being that the guns were to be given to the collectors by certain dates and they were ordered to pay for wasting the time and expenses of the collectors (and thus they were all fined appropriately).[21] Trouble would continue through the rest of the summer throughout the county.

In Plainfield Township, around 23 July 1776, Joseph Stackhouse and family refused to give up their arms, but the Commission had lost patience. They threw the whole lot of them into the county gaol. This was due to a statement from one of the sons, Joseph, that they had two muskets and a rifle, “and that they were all loaded, and that he would discharge them against those who would take them out of his hands.” This led the Committee to resolve that the second son, Robert, would be “committed with his father who is so refractory & inflexible that he will not give this Committee the least satisfaction in the matter.”[22] It would not be until 8 August that, upon petition from Joseph, the father and brother would be released from the gaol—but not before paying for the cost of their imprisonment, giving up their arms to the Committee, and paying security for their future behavior (in total, Joseph paid £40 and Robert paid £20).[23]

Easton held one of the more successful Committees, able to bring to court those who refused to disarm and swiftly bring about justice to those who remained adamantly against such ordinance. That didn’t ring true everywhere. When Washington crossed into Pennsylvania from New Jersey in December 1776, he found that the residents of Bucks County were riotous and disaffected—and still armed. Concerned for the safety of his dwindling army, he wrote to the Committee of Safety:[24]

“The Spirit of Disaffection that appears in this County, deserves your serious Attention. Instead of giving any Assistance in repelling the Enemy, the Militia have not only refused to obey your general Summons and that of their commanding Officers, but I am told exult at the Approach of the Enemy and our late Misfortunes. I beg leave to submit to your Consideration whether such people are to be intrusted with Arms in their Hands? If they will not use them for us, there is the greatest Reason to apprehend they will against us, if Oppertunity offers. But even supposing they claimed the Right of remaining Neuter, in my Opinion we ought not to hesitate a Moment in taking their Arms, which will be so much wanted in furnishing the new Levies. If such a Step meets your Approbation, I leave it to you to determine upon the Mode. If you think fit to empower me, I will undertake to have it done as speedily and effectually as possible. You must be sensible that the utmost Secrecy is necessary, both in your Deliberation on, and in the Execution of a Matter of this kind, for if the thing should take Wind, the Arms would presently be conveyed beyond our Reach or rendered useless.”

The Committee resolved in Washington’s favor to do what needed to be done.[25]

By March 1777 a new government had been put into place in Pennsylvania, and new legislation enacted stricter penalties on Tories and expanded the reach of those who were to be disarmed.[26]

“Make Dilligent search for Musquetts, Carbines, fusees, rifles, & other fire arms, & for swords & Bayonetts, & the same to seize, secure, & deliver to said Lieu’t & his Deputies, or any of them, and it is ordered that if any of said inhabitants shall oppose said search, or conceal any fire-arms, or other weapons afore-mentioned, to apprehend such persons, & take them before one of the Justices of the peace, to be dealt with according to law, and further, the said Lieu’t & his Deputies, are to have all such arms so taken carefully appraised, in order that payment & satisfaction for the same may be made to the rightful owner.”

By June, Pennsylvania had broadened the disarmament to include those who refused to take the oath of allegiance. In July, the Supreme Executive Council urged those counties struggling to disarm to proceed with haste:[27]

“As the enemy is approaching this state and arms are wanting to put into the hands of the militia to defend it—it becomes absolutely necessary that those who have not taken the oath of allegiance should be disarmed, and their arms made use of by those who are willing at the risqué of their lives to defend their liberties and property. I therefore, in compliance with a law of this state, request you will instantly disarm all those who have not taken the oaths aforesaid.”

As August and September arrived, County Lieutenants were complaining that there were no more arms to be found, that nearly all nonassociating households had been disarmed, and yet they still could not acquire enough to outfit their militia companies then on the march.[28]

The following year, 1 April 1778, Pennsylvania actually increased the penalty to include fines:[29]

“And be it further enacted, That every such person who shall refuse to take the oath of affirmation before mentioned on or before the first day of June next, and shall refuse or neglect to deliver up his arms to the lieutenant, or one of the sub-lieutenants, of the city or county where he inhabits, on or before the tenth day of June next or who shall, from and after the same day last-mentioned carry any arms about his person or keep any arms or ammunition in his house or elsewhere, shall forfeit the said arms and ammunition to the state, and also double the value thereof to such persons who shall discover the same to any justice of the peace of the county where such offender resides.”

There is no doubt that for some readers, this information will be a difficult pill to swallow. It really isn’t ever addressed in popular depictions of the Revolution. For example, in the movie The Patriot, Mel Gibson’s character would have been disarmed in 1776, following the decision of the South Carolina Provincial Congress to disarm all those “active in opposing, the measures of the Continental or Colony Congress.”[30] In fact, his line during the assembly about tyrants being only three miles away, taken from words supposedly uttered by noted Tory preacher Mather Byles, would have not only meant the stripping of his arms, but the loss of his property and his detainment as well.[31] (That would have made the epic scene, where he is leaving his burning house with what appears to be six or eight guns in hand, a little less epic.)

Like most of what I write, this is part of that unknown element of American history that tends to be a little on the dark side. Nevertheless it is still a very human tale and an important part of the past. While a foreign concept today, disarmament was instrumental in getting guns away from the enemy and into the hands of Continental troops and militia. Without these guns, it is possible that the Continentals would not have been successful in their earlier campaigns, the frontiers of the colonies would not have been adequately defended—and would have likely been completely burned to the ground—and as a consequence France may not have entered the war.

[FEATURED IMAGE AT TOP: “Disarming the Romichs” by Daniel O. McClellan]


[1] ‘A Want of Arms in Pennsylvania’; accessed online, 1 August 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/04/a-want-of-arms-in-pennsylvania/.

[2] When it comes to writing about ‘guns’ or ‘gun related’ happenings, it is nearly impossible to get the subject off the ground without falling into the well of political ‘otherness’. So I’m just going to leave the elephant in the room alone, because I know what happens when one pokes an elephant—seriously, I’ve seen the videos online; you get stampeded. It isn’t pretty.

[3] The Pennsylvania Archives (Harrisburg: The State Printer, 1907), Ser. 8, Vol. 8, 7505-7506.

[4] These figures drawn from Michael Schellhammer’s excellent article debunking the ‘Rule of Thirds’ myth; accessed online, 1 August 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/02/john-adamss-rule-of-thirds/.

[5] See my discussion on this in ‘Explaining Pennsylvania’s Militia’; accessed online, 1 August 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/06/explaining-pennsylvanias-militia/.

[6] See the notes in my article ‘The Darker Side of the Militia’; accessed online, 1 August 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/02/the-darker-side-of-the-militia/.

[7] See two excellent discussions which demonstrate the rampant opportunism of the day; Todd Braisted, ‘A Patriot-Loyalist: Playing Both Sides’; accessed online, 1 August 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/04/a-patriot-loyalist-playing-both-sides/. And Don N. Hagist, ‘Would They Change Their Names?’; accessed online, 1 August 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/07/would-they-change-their-names/. It is worth pointing out that some men were captured and then were recruited into service with the British, as demonstrated by Hagist, but often this was just a means to earn extra coin and recruitment bonuses, which explains in part the high desertion rates amongst both armies.

[8] There is an interesting complaint from one of the County Lieutenants in Pennsylvania in 1777, wherein a group of German farmers had become so troubled by the patriots who, in the eyes of the Germans, did everything they could to make their lives difficult, that the Germans formed a pact. On 28 August, between 200 and 500 of them assembled about a mile away from Hanover, in York County, to “bind themselves to each other that they w’d not muster, nor go in the Militia any way, nor suffer their effects to be sold to pay any fines, and to stand by other at the Risque of their lives, to kill every man who w’d Distress them.” From the Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 1, Vol. 5, 559.

[9] Committee of Brookhaven, resolution; accessed online, 1 August 2014: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.6833:1.amarch.

[10] To John Adams from The Intelligencer, 16 October 1775; accessed online, 1 August 2014: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-03-02-0105.

[11] Journals of the American Congress: From 1774 to 1788 in Four Volumes, Vol. I, (Washington: Way and Gideon, 1823), 225.

[12] Instructions to Major General Charles Lee, 8 January 1776; accessed online, 1 August 2014: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-03-02-0033.

[13] To George Washington from Major General Charles Lee, 16 January 1776; accessed online, 1 August 2014: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-03-02-0076.

[14] To George Washington from Major General Philip Schuyler, 22 January 1776; accessed online, 1 August 2014: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-03-02-0118. On December 30, 1776, Congress made the following resolve, “That the said committee be directed to communicate the said intelligence to General Schuyler, and in the name of the Congress, desire him to take the most speedy and effectual measures for securing the said arms and military stores, and disarming the said tories, and apprehending their chiefs.” Found in the Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Vol. 3 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1905), 466–67. This was a separate committee/Congressional order from the one started because of Lee’s report.

[15] Letter from George Washington to the President of Congress, 9 February 1776; found in J. Sparks, The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 3 (Boston, 1834), 283-284.

[16] Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 4, 203-204; Incidentally, the proposal goes on to state that, “I shou’d therefore think it prudent to secure their Children as Hostages if a measure of this kind (hard as it may appear) is not adopted, the Childrens Children of america may rue the fatal omission.”

[17] Resolution of the Continental Congress; accessed online 1 August 2014: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.14104. A similar resolve was passed 2 January 1776, “Resolved, That it be recommended to the different Assemblies, conventions and committees or councils of safety in the United Colonies, by the most speedy and effectual measures, to frustrate the mischievous machinations, and restrain the wicked practices of these men: And it is the opinion of this Congress, that they ought to be disarmed, and the more dangerous among them either kept in safe custody, or bound with sufficient sureties to their good behaviour.” See New Jersey Committee of Safety, 13 January 1776; accessed online 1 August 2014: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.10828.

[18] Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 8, Vol. 8, 7506-7507. I should note here that despite the resolution that the guns be appraised, most were not. This part of the resolve was carelessly followed (or deliberately ignored); often only those who volunteered their arms for use by the patriots—those Whigs of the same political orientation—were given adequate sums for their guns. Those who had their guns forcefully taken were not only less likely to receive payment, but whatever money was given was immediately taken the next tax cycle (as Tories and disaffected were notoriously overtaxed as a penalty for their disaffection).

[19] This incident involving the Romichs can be found in the Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 2, Vol. 14, 600-605.

[20] The recantation went: “We, the subscribers, inhabitants of Maccongie Township, in the County of Northampton, do voluntarily acknowledge that we were duly waited upon in an orderly, decent and discreet manner, by the persons appointed in the said Township, to receive and take the arms from the Non-Associators and other disaffected persons, agreeable to the resolves of the honourable House of Assembly; and that we did most imprudently refuse to deliver up the same, and also did refuse-to pay any obedience to the summons of the

Committee of this County, who were therefore obliged to send a party of Associators to compel us to answer for our misconduct; and that we did then resist their authority by loaded fire-arms to the endangering of their lives. Being now convinced and made sensible of our errour, we do humbly ask pardon of our injured and incensed countrymen, promising to deliver up our fire-arms immediately to the persons appointed for that purpose; and that we will in future demean and conduct ourselves in such a manner as to recommend us to the friends of American liberty.” Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 2, Vol. 14, 604-605.

[21] For full proceedings of these cases see Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 2, Vol. 14, 606-607.

[22] Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 2, Vol. 14, 611.

[23] Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 2, Vol. 14, 612-613.

[24] From George Washington to the Pennsylvania Council of Safety, 15 December 1776; accessed online, 1 August 2014: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-07-02-0276.

[25] It goes, “Resolved, That it be recommended to General Washington to issue orders immediately for the Militia of Bucks and Northampton Counties forthwith to join his Army, and to send out parties to disarm every Person who does not obey the Summons, and to seize and treat as Enemies all those who shall attempt to oppose the Execution of this measure, and likewise every person in those Counties who are known or suspected to be enemies to the United States.” Pennsylvania Archives, Colonial Records Vol., 11, 54.

[26] Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 1, Vol. 5, 563.

[27] President Wharton to Colonel William Henry, Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 1, Vol. 5, 472. An actual ordinance similar to this was passed 13 June 1777: “And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That every person above the age aforesaid refusing or neglecting to take and subscribe the said oath or affirmation shall during the time of such neglect or refusal be…disarmed by the lieutenant or sub-lieutenant of the city or counties respectively.” The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1801, Volume 9 (Pennsylvania, 1903), 112-113.

[28] For example, the letter from R. McCalester to President Wharton, 21 September 1777; Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 1, Vol. 5, 634.

[29] Statutes at Large, 242.

[30] Report on the State, 13 March 1776; accessed online 1 August 2014: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.13926.

[31] Byles is suspected to have said, “Which is better — to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrantsonemile away?” He may not have uttered those words; they may have been embellished or fabricated in the following century. Similar words were spoken by Theophilus Lillie from Boston in 1770—his business was destroyed, his property damaged, and he was forced to escape with the British fleet in 1776 where he died shortly after. See the excellent discussion at the Boston 1775 blog, accessed online 1 August 2014: http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2007/02/theophilus-lillie-shopkeeper-importer.html. On Byles’ quote, see the same blog, accessed 1 August 2014: http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2007/03/mather-byles-sr-and-three-thousand.html.


  • This is a splendid article covering the Committee of Safety. The men of Massachusetts began the Committee of Correspondence which also developed into the Committee of Safety. What happens within Massachusetts was the blueprint for the rest of the colonies. These men followed the essential stages that each revolution seems to follow. You must create a bonding of your insurgents. The most practiced application down through history is the pointing of the fingers at the class system which provides a reason to hate. This first action gives rise to the next; provide the avenue for the release of that social anxiety. Allow the following to display their inner-anger with destruction of property. They feel good and “normally” little physical harm done. Once those that have been alienated, they will strike back with legislation or form their own group. This action gives rise to defining the Cause. Hate has become the center of agitation and thus the crucial steps are taken. The enemy has been defined and located, so hurt them. Tarr & Feathering, riding the rail, take their weapons, take their property and corral them that they will either flee on their own and forced. Those that stay will take-up arms and fight with such a vengeance, that there is no turning back. Thus you’ve created the perfect enemy for your rebellion; individual Loyalist that become armed-Tories.
    It’s hard to talk with the label was it right. It was essential that the process of eliminating the Loyalist from society be completed. There was no “if’s” as the CAUSE used the stipulation, against the liberties of the people. Note: General Washington will use that phrase many times. (Tomorrow btw) Civil War is an ugly business but every rebellion is just that. Taking the property is rewarding the following or funding the organization. That is basically it. WE in 2014 have a very hard time understanding their situation yet can feel the need to justify the Cause. The leaders of the insurgency were well aware of their deeds and made it clear to the following that there can be no turning back.
    Again thanks to Citizen Thomas Verenna for a great article!

  • Thanks for a very thought provoking article. I try to imagine what it could possibly have felt like living as a part of the disaffected population and subject to such harsh treatment. It seems that the disaffected lived in fearful discriminatory circumstances similar to those that had existed in Europe and that caused the great migration to America in the first place. This seems somewhat ironic to me. On the other hand I can understand that the American Revolution was in many ways a desperate affair and that desperate measures were necessary in order to achieve it`s ends. After all, the conflict was America`s first really nasty civil war that encompassed a vast territory. I suppose that the confiscation of firearms from the disaffected was easier to justify given that that these people were considered to be virtual enemies of The Cause and a grave potential danger to the Patriots. This threat proved to be the case throughout the war.
    Thanks again for a very interesting read.
    John Pearson

  • It appears that the “Committee of Correspondence” writer has an unfortunate tendency towards the idea of ethnic cleansing when it involves the people who may have been Loyalist and may have disagreed with Patriot sentiment. The notion of ethnic cleansing is both disturbing and abhorrent and needs to be addressed. My family have ancestors that were Loyalist Americans during the American Revolution. Who ever wrote the “Committee of Correspondence” piece should be ashamed of them selves. Also the writing and grammar leave a lot to be desired!

    1. Citizen Pearson, your clever comments on the subject of our response to the article are completely out-of-touch to reality and the attack on our writing skills only demonstrate that belittling is your only strong point. Thank you CitizenVerenna as your assessment is right-on the mark.

  • I think he’s just in character. I don’t think he is advocating ‘cleansing’. Maybe I’m reading him more sympathetically than you, but it reads more like he is giving a ‘first person perspective’ of what the more volatile patriots thought about the Tories and disaffected. I may be wrong, but that is how I’ve been reading him.

  • Evidently I have misjudged the commentary provided by Committee of Correspondence, not having been familiar with any prior writing offered. Thank you Committee of Correspondence and Thomas for helping to set the record straight. Please accept my apology for assailing the writing skills of another individual as in the Committee of Correspondence. It was uncalled for and I certainly do not wish this to be perceived as my strong point! I do however believe that my first commentary on this article contained some interesting thoughts. Anyway, the subject itself is rather remarkable in consideration of today`s social issues as they relate to firearms and the 2nd Amendment.
    Thanks again.
    John Pearson

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