Peter Muhlenberg, Officer Under Geo. Washington, Witnessed Praying, Valley Forge

Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg (October 1, 1746– October 1, 1807) was a Minister of the Gospel, a Military Officer under General George Washington, and a politician of the Colonial, Revolutionary, and Post-Revolutionary eras in Pennsylvania.

His father, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (an anglicanization of Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg), was a German Lutheran pastor sent to North America as a missionary. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg was integral to the founding of the first Lutheran church body or denomination, in North America and is considered to be the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in the United States.

His family had a significant impact on colonial life in North America. In addition to Henry Muhlenberg's role in the Lutheran church, his children became pastors, military officers, and politicians.

The Rev. Major-General Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg was his son.Peter Muhlenberg's Statue is at the U.S. Capitol Building.

Profession, minister, politician, soldier, Religion, Anglican then Lutheran

Early Years

Muhlenberg was born to Anna and Henry Muhlenberg in Trappe, Pennsylvania, and received a classical education from the Academy of Philadelphia (now known as the University of Pennsylvania).

Then, following his father's example, he studied at the University at Halle (Saale) in Germany from 1763 to 1766. He also served briefly in the German dragoons before returning to Philadelphia.

He was ordained in 1768 and headed a Lutheran congregation in Bedminster, New Jersey, before moving to Woodstock, Virginia. In 1770 he married Anna Barbara "Hannah" Meyer, the daughter of a successful potter. Together they had six children.

He visited England in 1772 and was ordained into the priesthood of the Anglican Church. Besides his new congregation, he led the Committee of Safety and Correspondence for Dunmore County, Virginia.

He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1774, and was a delegate to the First Virginia Convention.

Military career

Toward the end of 1775, Muhlenberg was authorized to raise and command as its Colonel the 8th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army. After Washington personally asked him to accept this task, he agreed.

However, his brother Fredrick Augustus Mulenberg, who was also a minister, did not approve of him going into the army . . . until the British burned down his own church in front of him.

Then he joined the military himself.

According to a biography written by his great nephew in the mid 1800's,.[1] on January 21, 1776 in the Anglican church in Woodstock, Virginia, Reverend Muhlenberg took his sermon text from the third chapter Ecclesiastes, which starts with "To every thing there is a season..."; after reading the eighth verse, "a time of war, and a time of peace,"

He then declared, "And this is the time of war," removing his clerical robe to reveal his Colonel's uniform. The next day he led out 300 men from the county to form the nucleus of the Eighth Virginia. Muhlenberg's unit was first posted to the South, to defend the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.

In early 1777, the Eighth was sent north to join Washington's main army.

Muhlenberg was made a Brigadier General of the Virginia Line and commanded that Brigade in Nathanael Greene's division at Valley Forge.

Muhlenberg saw service in the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth.

After Monmouth, most of the Virginia Line was sent to the far south, while General Muhlenberg was assigned to head up the defense of Virginia using mainly militia units.

At the Battle of Yorktown, he commanded the first brigade in Lafayette's Light Division. His brigade was made up of the Corps of Light Infantry, consisting of the light infantry companies of the line regiments of Massachusetts (ten companies), Connecticut (five companies), New Hampshire (five companies), and Rhode Island and New Jersey (one each).

They held the right flank and manned the two trenches built to move American cannons closer to Cornwallis defenses. The battalion commanded by French Lt-Col Jean-Joseph Sourbader, Chevalier de Gimat, led the night bayonet attack that stormed Redoubt No. 10 on October 14, 1781.

At the end of the war (1783), he was brevetted to major general and settled in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Muhlenberg was also an original member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Society of the Cincinnati.

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John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg1746-1807 Clergyman, SoldierPolitician

Portrait of John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg. Reproduced with permission from the Martin Art Gallery, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA.

Fast FactsPeter Muhlenberg was a clergyman who became a general in the Revolutionary Army. He was Vice President of Pennsylvania under Benjamin Franklin, and served in Congress.

Born: Trappe, Pa. October 1, 1746.Married: Anna Barbara (Hannah) Meyer November 6, 1770Children: 4 sons, 2 daughtersDied: October 1, 1807

Family BackgroundPeter Muhlenberg came from a family that loved adventure. His father was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. He came to America from Germany. He started the Lutheran Church in America. Peter’s mother, Anna Maria, was the daughter of Conrad Weiser. Conrad Weiser was a friend to the Iroquois. He spoke their language. He made treaties between the settlers and the native peoples.

Early LifeJohn Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg was the oldest child in his family. He was born in Trappe, Pa. on October 1, 1746. He had six younger brothers and sisters. Peter was a quiet boy. He loved to hunt, fish, and explore.

Peter loved to read, but he was not a very good student. His father decided to send him to school in Germany. He sent Peter’s two brothers, too. Their names were Frederick and Henry Ernst.

Schooling and ApprenticeshipPeter and his brothers went by ship to Germany. It took a long time. They went to a school in Halle, Germany. Their father had once worked at that school. Peter’s brothers settled into their new life. Peter did not. The teachers could see that he was not a scholar. They decided to help him learn a trade.

Peter was sent to work for a man named Herr Leonhard Niemeyer. Herr Niemeyer had a shop in the town of Lubeck. He promised to teach Peter about running a business. He also promised to teach him about medicine.

Herr Niemeyer did not keep his promises. Peter worked hard for him. He worked in the shop every day. He worked for many hours each day. He had only two shirts, and no warm coat. He learned to serve in a shop. He did not learn anything else.

Peter’s father and mother did not know that he was unhappy. They did not know that he was not being treated well. When they found out, they asked questions. The people at Halle said that the problem was all Peter’s fault.

Peter knew that he must find a way out. He contacted a man named Captain Fiser. Captain Fiser was recruiting soldiers for the British army. They were going to America. Peter asked the Captain to take him home to America. Captain Fiser said that he would help Peter. Peter left the Niemeyer house early one morning. He went to Captain Fiser. He was sworn into the British army. When Herr Niemeyer found out, it was too late. Peter would not come home with him.

Peter sailed to America with Captain Fiser’s regiment. When he reached America, he was let out of the army. His father gladly paid for his trip home.

Finding His CareerPeter’s father sent him to school. He learned bookkeeping. He was not sure what he wanted to do with his life. He thought he might be a doctor, a businessman, or a minister like his father.

Provost Wrangle was a Lutheran minister. He offered to teach Peter. Peter learned from him about being a minister. He learned to preach sermons. Soon he was preaching sermons in churches in the area. Peter’s brothers came home from Germany in 1770. They both became ministers.

A Call to the MinistryA church in Woodstock, Virginia wrote a letter to Peter. They asked him to be their minister. Some people in the church spoke English. Others spoke German. Peter spoke both languages. It was a good match. Peter accepted the invitation. There was only one problem. The Anglican Church was the official church in the state of Virginia. Peter had to become an Anglican. If he did not, he would not be allowed to do baptisms or weddings.

Peter traveled to England. He met with Anglican leaders. They made him a minister in the Anglican Church. Then he returned to America. He sold his furniture, bought a horse, and moved to his new home.

A Minister in Virginia.Peter was happy in his new job. He made some good friends. He found people who liked to hunt and fish. He may have met George Washington that way. He was interested in politics. He became a magistrate.

Peter married Anna Barbara Meyer on November 6, 1770. Everyone called her Hannah.

Political UnrestThe American colonies belonged to England. England charged high taxes. Some people in Boston rebelled against the high taxes. England punished the people of Boston by closing their port. They could not trade with anyone.

The people of Virginia were worried. What if England closed their ports, too? Virginia held a Convention. People talked about the problem. Peter went to the Convention. He represented the people from his county.

Peter’s father, Henry, warned him not to take sides. He said that a minister should stay neutral. Peter listened to his father. He resigned from his political jobs.

The Colonies Want FreedomIn the next few years, the problems with England grew worse. Peter could not stay out of action. In 1775 he went to a Convention. There they talked about liberty for everyone. Patrick Henry spoke at the meeting. He said, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Peter wanted to fight for freedom.

The Decision to FightPeter went to another Convention in 1776. He was made a Colonel in the army. He came home to Woodstock. He had to tell the people in his church what he was going to do.

Peter preached a farewell sermon. He said that there is a time to pray and a time to fight. The time had come to fight. He took off his pastor’s robe. Under it was his blue uniform. He stepped outside the church. He asked the men to join him in the army.

Peter Muhlenberg preaching his last sermon. Stained glass window. Reproduced with permission from Muhlenberg Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, VA.

Peter Muhlenberg, Commanding OfficerPeter was a good officer. General Washington and General Steuben both praised his work. He was faithful and did his job well.

Peter and his men were in many battles. They fought at Brandywine, Germantown, Chad’s Ford and Monmouth. During the winter of 1776 Peter and his men were at Valley Forge. This was very near Peter’s family. His wife and child were staying with his parents in Trappe. Peter did not visit them very often. He knew that his visits put his family in danger.

Peter did a number of jobs during the war. Sometimes he recruited soldiers. Sometimes he trained them. He became a Brigadier General, and commanded several brigades.

These huts are located where Peter Muhlenberg's brigade camped at Valley Forge.

Photos by T. Yates and M. Yates

YorktownAt the Battle of Yorktown Peter’s men were in the front lines. They captured an important position. After the battle was over, a report was sent to George Washington. A man named Alexander Hamilton wrote the report. Hamilton took all of the credit for the capture of Yorktown. Peter’s feelings were hurt. He was sick, and he was tired. He went home.

Peter became a Major General in September 1783. He retired from the army in November. He also retired from his church. He took his family back to Pennsylvania.

The German people in Pennsylvania welcomed Peter Muhlenberg warmly. To them he was a hero, like George Washington.

A memorial to Peter Muhlenberg and John Armstrong, two Brigadier Generals whoserved under George Washington at Valley Forge. Photo by M. Yates

A Trip to OhioVirginia rewarded Peter for his good work. He was granted some land in Ohio. Peter was restless. He was not used to sitting still. He decided to go to Virginia to see the land. He thought he might move there.

Peter went to Ohio. It was a long, hard trip. He traveled by horse and by flat-bottomed boat. He reached Louisville in Ohio. He found that the land was not free. It belonged to the Native Americans who lived there. They did not want people to settle on their land. Peter came home to Pennsylvania. He told Congress to make a treaty with the Native Americans. Then they could settle land in Ohio.

Working in PoliticsPeter could not move to Ohio. He would be staying in Pennsylvania. He decided to run for public office. He was elected to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council. When the Constitution was written, Peter worked to have it accepted by the people. In 1787 Pennsylvania accepted the Constitution. There was a big parade. Peter carried a large blue flag. It had silver letters on it. It read, “Seventeenth of September, 1787.”

Benjamin Franklin was elected President of Pennsylvania in 1787. Peter Muhlenberg was elected Vice President. Benjamin Franklin was in poor health. Peter took over many of his duties.

George Washington became President in 1789. Peter Muhlenberg joined the Congress. He went to the first, third, sixth, and seventh sessions of Congress. He never made a single speech.

Peter was tall and handsome. He was a hero from the war. Many people liked him. Some people asked him to run for Governor of Pennsylvania. Peter said no. He was tired of politics.

Later LifePeter still had his army job. He was a Major General. He was in charge of troops from Montgomery and Bucks counties.

In 1801 Peter took a job as Supervisor of Customs. When he took this job, he resigned from the army.

In 1803 Peter took a new job. He became the Collector of the Port of Philadelphia. He bought some land on the Schuylkill River. There was good fishing there.

Peter’s wife Hannah became sick. She was sick for a long time. Each night Peter sat by her bed. Hannah died in October 1806. Peter was very tired. He had a problem with his liver. He died one year later, on October 1, 1807. It was his 61st birthday.

On his tombstone it says:

“He was Brave in the field, Faithful in the Cabinet, Honorable inall his transactions, a Sincere Friend and an Honest Man.”

Where We See His Name TodayThere is a Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock, Virginia.

Muhlenberg Lutheran Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia is named in honor of Peter Muhlenberg.

In Washington D.C. there is a statue of Peter Muhlenberg. It stands in Statuary Hall. See a picture of the statue at http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/nsh/muhlenberg.htm

There is a Brigade Marker at Valley Forge. It marks the Muhlenberg Brigade.

Brigade marker detail Peter Muhlenberg's name is also listed on the National Memorial Arch. Photos by M. Yates

Muhlenberg College, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is named for Peter’s father, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. In the Martin Art Gallery on the college campus there is a portrait of Peter Muhlenberg.

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Political career

After the war, Muhlenberg was elected to the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1784. He was elected Vice-President of the Council, a position comparable to that of Lieutenant Governor, on 31 October 1787. His term as Vice-President ended on a mysterious note.

On 14 October 1788 the minutes of the Executive Council report that Muhlenberg had left Philadelphia without tendering his resignation — why his resignation was needed or expected is not noted — so a messenger was sent after him. That night, after the messenger returned with the resignation, the Council met at President Benjamin Franklin's home to chose Muhlenberg's successor, electing David Redick to the position.

Muhlenberg was elected to the first U. S. Congress (1789-1791) by the entire state of Pennsylvania as an at-large representative.

(His brother Frederick was the Speaker for that same Congress.)

He was the first founder of the Democratic-Republican Societies in 1793.

He served in Congress as a Republican from 1793 to 1795 and 1799-1801 for the 1st district.

He entered the U.S. Senate in January 1801, but resigned on June 30 of that same year.

8th Vice-President of Pennsylvania, In office 31 October 1787 – 14 October 1788;

United States House of Representatives at large Congressional District 4 March 1789—-3 March 1791

4 March 1793—-3 March 1795 at large Congressional District

4 March 1799—-3 March 1801 4th Congressional District

United States Senator from Pennsylvania, 4 March 1801 – 30 June 1801

President Jefferson appointed him the supervisor of revenue for Pennsylvania in 1801 and customs collector for Philadelphia in 1802.

He served in the later post until his death.

Muhlenberg died in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania on 1 October 1807 and is buried at the Augustus Lutheran Church in Trappe, Pennsylvania.

COPYRIGHT (c) 1977 Cambridge Theological Seminary

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