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The Lancaster Convention, June 25, 1776

Published in the Journal of American History in 1910.

Investigations into the First Proclamations of the American People Setting Forth the Principles of Liberty, at Great Debates in which the Spirit of Freedom was Manifested—Researches into Records of the Resolutions of the Convention at Lancaster on June Twenty-fifth in 1776

Former Lieutenant-Governor of Iowa
Great-Grandson of Delegate to Convention of 1776
Member of the Bar of the State of Iowa

THAT the true history of the nation has never been written, but is being written every day by the citizens of the republic, is again proved by the documentary evidence herein recorded. There has been considerable discussion regarding the actual date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a detail that is inconsequential when considered in the light of the spirit and import of the document. The documentary evidence which Attorney Dungan here sets forth bears, however, on this more vital aspect. It proves that while the Declaration of Independence was being written in Philadelphia, there was a declaration of the same general spirit and import being issued at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, wholly without the knowledge of the other.

“I first came across this record in the Pennsylvania archives some years ago,” says the investigator, “and wondered why more was not said about it by historians. To me it seemed not only exceedingly interesting as a matter of history, but a significant political fact. While Pennsylvania researchers are familiar with it, the document does not seem to have been given much consideration by our national historians.”

The document is transcribed by Lawyer Dungan for record in THE JOURNAL of AMERICAN HISTORY. It is important evidence, which, with such documents as the Wrentham Declaration, recorded recently in these pages, and the Mecklenberg Declaration, proves that the final blow in the Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia, rather than being an original document, as generally inferred, was but the cumulative expression of other assemblages which were being held in all parts of the colonies.

This document is of vital interest to those who wish to trace the cause and effect, the psychology of history, and as such is here recorded. Lawyer Dungan has in his possession a list of the delegates to the Convention that drafted this Declaration, and upon them eligibility may be established for membership into the societies of the American Revolution.-EDITOR

THERE are no brighter pages in colonial history than those which record the acts of the Pennsylvania militia during the years 1774-6. None more patriotic; none that breathes the aspirations for liberty and the establishment of an independent government on this continent, than its acts and resolutions. The spirit of independence was manifested by it far in advance of the public sentiment of the times.

In 1774 there were organized in Pennsylvania fifty-three battalions of militia, in the counties of Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Lancaster, York, Cumberland, Berks, Northampton, Northumberland, and Westmoreland. These were each officered by a colonel, a lieutenant-colonel, and two majors. There was no organization above the battalion. There were no general officers.

The Assembly of Pennsylvania, perhaps through the pacific administration of the Penns, made no proper organization of the militia. Left to organize themselves, representatives of the several battalions met at Hanover, York County, June 4, 1774, and formed an association, taking no forward step beyond the appointment of a Committee of Conference, with advisory powers only, as to future action. But it did resolve, “That in a closer union of the colonies lies the safeguard of the liberties of the people.” And, “That, in the event of Great Britain, attempting to force unjust laws upon us by the strength of arms, our cause we leave to Heaven and our rifles.”

And this, long before the Congress had ceased to solemnly declare its constant loyalty to the mother country.

Early in 1776 Congress called upon the several colonies to furnish troops for defensive operations only. The quota assigned to Pennsylvania was 4500 men. The Assembly of the colony adjourned after this call had been made without making any provisions for filling this quota or answering this call.

In this emergency, the “Committee of Conference” issued a call for a delegate convention, consisting of four members from each battalion, two officers and two privates, to meet at Lancaster on July 4, 1776, for the purpose of electing two brigadier-generals to command the troops of the colony. This call was dated June 25, 1776. The call, in its every line is loyal to liberty and the cause of the union of all the colonies.

“You are about to contend for permanent freedom . . . . The present campaign will probably decide the fate of America. It is now in your power to immortalize your names by mingling your achievements with the events of the year to the end of time, for establishing upon a lasting foundation, the liberties of one quarter of the globe.”

“Remember the honor of our country is at stake . . . . Remember the name of Pennsylvania. Think of your ancestors and of your posterity.”

The convention, after electing Daniel Roberdeau and James Ewing brigadiergenerals, adopted resolutions that breathed the highest spirit of devotion, not only to Pennsylvania, but towards all the colonies:

“Resolved that we will march under the direction and command of our brigadier-generals to the assistance of all or any of the free, independent states of America.”

This convention was held over sixty miles from Philadelphia, where the Congress was sitting, and on the same day of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, at such a distance that the convention could not know what was transpiring in Philadelphia.

Colonel Ross, the chairman of the convention, though a member of Congress, was absent at the time as well as on the second day of July, and it is altogether improbable that he, or any member of the convention, knew of the adoption of the Lee resolution on the second of July. It would take the delegates more than two days to go from Philadelphia to Lancaster.

The Mecklenberg Declaration is justly celebrated, and the story has been told again and again, in history and in song, but this was the action of the militia of but one county, while in the Lancaster Convention we have the action of the militia of the entire colony. Yet outside the archives of Pennsylvania, the story of the Pennsylvania Associators and of the Lancaster Convention has never been told in history. As a native of the “Keystone” State, and a descendant of one of the delegates to that convention, I may take a deeper interest in this story than I would otherwise do, but I hope that the spirit of devotion to the whole country, which animated these worthy ancestors, still dominates her citizens, in whatever part of the republic they may now claim as home.


Convention at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, July 4th, A. D. 1776.
From Pennsylvania archives, second series, volume 13, pages 260-268.

Address of the Committee of Conference.
To the Associate’s of Pennsylvania,
June 25, 1776:

GENTLEMEN: The only design of our meeting together was to put an end to our power in the Province, by fixing upon a plan for calling a convention to form a government under the authority of the people.

But the sudden and unexpected separation of the Assembly has compelled us to undertake the execution of a resolve of Congress for calling for 4,500 of the militia of the province to join the militia of the neighboring colonies to form a camp for our immediate protection. We presume only to recommend the plan we have formed to you, trusting that in case of so much consequence your love of virtue and zeal for liberty will supply the want of authority delegated to us expressly for that purpose.

We need not remind you that you are now furnished with new motives to animate and support your courage. You are not about to contend against the power of Great Britain in order to displace one set of villains to make room for another. Your cause will not be enervated in the day of battle with the reflection that you are to risk your lives or shed your blood for a British tyrant, or that your posterity will have your work to do over again. You are about to contend for permanent freedom, to be supported by a government which will have for its object not the enrollment of one man, or class of men only, but the safety, liberty and happiness of every individual in the community.

We call upon you, therefore, by the respect and obedience which are due to the authority of the United Colonies, to concur in the important measure.

The present campain will probably decide the fate of America. It is now in your power to immortalize your names by mingling your achievements with the events of the year to the end of time, for establishing upon a lasting foundation the liberties of one quarter of the globe.

Remember the honor of our country is at stake. Should you desert the common cause at the present juncture, the glory you have acquired by your former exertions of strength and virture will be tarnished, and our friends and brethren who are now acquiring laurels in the most remote parts of America will reproach us and blush to own themselves natives or inhabitants of Pennsylvania. But there are other motives before you Your homes, your fields, the legacies of your ancestors, or the dear-bought fruits of your own industry and your liberty-now urge you to the field. These cannot plead with you in vain, or we might point out to you further your wives, your children, your aged fathers and mothers, who now look up to you for aid and for salvation in this day of calamity only from the instrumentality of your swords. Remember the name of Pennsylvania. Think of your ancestors and of your posterity.

Minutes or the Convention Of Delegates from associated battallions held at Lancaster, July 4, 1776.

At a meeting of the officers and privates of 53 Battallions of the Associators of the Colony of Pennsylvania, at Lancaster, on the 4th. day of July, 1776, on due notice to choose two Brigadier Generals to command the Battallions and forces in the said ColonyCol. George Ross, President; Lieut-Col. Daniel Clymer, Secretary.

The protest of the Board of officers of the Five Battallions of the City & Liberties of Philada. to the Assembly was read.

The Circular letter signed by the Chairman, Col. Roberdeau, was read.

The Circular letter from the committee of Privates of the City & Liberties of Philadelphia signed by the Chairman, Mr. Samuel Simpson, was read.

The protest of the privates of the City & Liberties of Philada. to the Assembly signed by Mr. Samuel Simpson was read.

By the return of the City & Liberties of Philada. and the several counties of the Colony of Pennsylva., the following persons were Delegates to the convention.

City & Liberties of
Philadelphia, 5 Battallions.
Philadelphia County 3
Bucks Co. 4
Chester Co. (1, 2, 4 & 5, 3 not represented) 4
Lancaster Co. 11
York Co. 5
Cumberland Co. 5
Berks Co. 7
Northampton Co. 4
Northumberland Co. 4
Westmorland Co. 2

A question was put whether the officers & Privates would ballot singly. Resolved unanimously in the affirmative.

Resolved, That both B. Genls. be voted for at the same time, and the highest in vote to be the commanding officers. Adjourned till 5 P. M.

P. M. 5 o’clock. The officers and privates met according to adjournment.

Resolved, That Col. Mark Bird & Capt. Sharp Delaney, with the president, be judges of the election of Brigadiers Genl.

The election came on the same day & after casting up the Roll, the votes stood thus for Brigadier Generals.

Daniel Roberdeau 160
James Ewing 85
Samuel Miles 82
James Porter 24.
Curtis Grubb 9
George Ross 9
Thomas McKean 8
Mark Bird 7

The President immediately declared Daniel Roberdeau, First Brigadier General, James Ewing Second Brigadier General.

Resolved, That the Brigadier Generals shall have full Power & Authority to call out any number of the Associators of this Province into action-their Power to continue until succeeded (superseded) by the Convention or by any authority under their appointment.

Resolved, That we will march under the direction & command of our Brigadier Generals to the assistance of all or any of the free, independant states of America.

Resolved, That the Associators to be drafted out of each County, by the Brigadier Generals shall be in the same proportion as that directed by the late Provincial Conference in Philada.

Resolved, That the address of this board be presented to the President for his seasonable & excellent speech this day in behalf of the liberties of America & of this Colony in particular, which the Col. received, and the cheerfulness, celerity and impartiality with which he conducted the business of this day (which the Colonel received and politely thanked the Board for the honor done him in the address.)

Resolved, That Col. Ross, Lieut. Col. Daniel Clymer & Capt. Sharp Delaney be a committee to review and correct the minutes of the proceedings of this day, & they are hereby desired to publish them in the several newspapers of the Colony and that they be signed by the President.


GEO. Ross, President. D. CLYMER, Secretary,

LANCASTER, July 4, 1776.

I have on file in my library, and have placed on record in the editorial library of THE JOURNAL of AMERICAN HISTORY, a fall transcript of the names of the delegates to the Lancaster Convention with the capacities in which they served during the American Revolution. The descendants of these delegates are all entitled to membership in the societies of the American Revolution. It is quite probable that there are thousands scattered through the United States today who can trace their genealogical lines directly back to these distinguished patriots. In scanning the list I find such names as Copperthwaite, Nelson, Bradford, Knox, Pool, Cox, Prior, Brewster, Brown, Lock, Craig, Hughes, Gray, Roberts, Smith, Hart, Edwards, Simpson, Hicks, Jarvis, Watts, Fenton, Jamison, Thompson, Hopis, Bryan, Erwin, Robinson, Culbertson, Titus, Wallace, Gibbons, Scott, Montgomery, Gardiner, Fulton, Ross, Bailey, Murray, Crawford, Mercer, Mowrey, Cunningham, Hough, Weaver, Till, Little, Hamilton, Andrews, Steel, Blair, Clark, Read, Vance, Findlay, Hartman, Bird, Jones, Patton, Rice, May, Miller, Winter, McDowell, Calhoun, Stone, Potter, Perry, and many others. These names may give clues which will be valuable in genealogical investigations.

© 2000, Jeffrey C. Weaver, Saltville, VA