The First 110 Years of the
Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution
by Martin Pullinger Snyder
Updated and Edited by
Leroy Moody Lewis, 3rd
The Founding of the New York Society
Origins are always important. In the case of the Sons of the Revolution, this is true in a double sense — both because the purposes of the Society have remained unchanged since its founding one hundred and ten years ago and because its membership qualifications are linked with its origins.
Until the celebration of the Centennial in 1876, the Society of the Cincinnati was a unique organization in the United States because it accorded membership to all Continental officers who had served with honor and resigned after three years’ service or been discharged for disability, and membership descended to the eldest male posterity of such officers. At the time of its formation, many saw in it the beginnings of a hereditary aristocracy. The legislature of Massachusetts declared it to be “dangerous to the peace, liberty and safety of the Union” but, with its unusual qualifications for membership, it continued to exist quietly, and in due course served as the forerunner of our Society.
The Sons of the Revolution has been called both patriotic and genealogical in character. This seems accurate though not complete. Its genealogical membership limitations explain the use of the latter term. For the former, just as the Cincinnati was formed in an outburst of patriotic feeling at the termination of the Revolutionary War, so our Society grew from a similar upsurge of feeling which became evident as the Centennial of the conflict approached.
In 1875 John Austin Stevens, a New York City merchant with strong historical interests, corresponded with the president general of the Society of the Cincinnati in an effort to determine whether its constitution could be amended so as to admit descendants in junior lines rather than simply in the line of the eldest son. When it was concluded that no such amendment could be made, Stevens conceived the idea of forming a separate organization. An initial meeting was held in December, 1875, at which the name “Sons of the Revolution” was adopted.
This name is probably little understood by present-day members. It was adopted only after debate and the consideration of many suggestions. It is the fortunate combination of two historic names into one. The “Sons of Liberty” was an organization formed before the Revolutionary War to develop public sentiment favorable to independence. It had branches in each of the original thirteen colonies. At the end of that war, when General Nathanael Greene’s southern army was disbanded and its Continental officers entered the South Carolina Society of the Cincinnati, its ineligible militia officers and the equally ineligible enlisted men formed “The Society of the Revolution.” This organization acted in the closest affiliation with the Cincinnati. The names of these two earlier groups were merged in 1875 to create the “Sons of the Revolution”.
Early in 1876 a proposed constitution for the new Society was submitted for adoption. This set forth its purposes as reviving and maintaining the patriotic spirit of the heroes who had achieved the independence of the United States, collecting and securing for preservation historical records and documents relating to the War of the Revolution, and promoting social intercourse and good feeling among the members. This constitution was adopted and subscribed early in 1876, when the organization came into existence. Our purposes remain unchanged today.
Written notice was issued of a general organizational meeting to be held on Washington’s birthday, 1876. This referred to the membership limitations of the Society of the Cincinnati and concluded that “the approach of the Centennial Anniversary of American Independence is an appropriate time for the formation of a society on a broader basis, which may include all descendants of those who served in the Army of the Revolution.”
But the founders deemed the response to this call insufficient for a general meeting and decided to await a later date when interest might be greater. In November, 1883 New York celebrated the hundredth anniversary of its evacuation by the British. Invitations were issued for a dinner at Fraunces Tavern on December 4, 1883, the 100th anniversary of Washington’s farewell to his officers. In the same room where that scene had taken place, the idea of the Society of Sons of the Revolution was enthusiastically received and acted upon. In May, 1884 the society was incorporated under New York law. Fraunces Tavern, also memorable for meetings of the Sons of Liberty in 1775, became its headquarters. In 1889 the Honorable Hamilton Fish, president general of the Cincinnati, declared that he regarded the Sons of the Revolution as “a younger brother of the Cincinnati, laboring to perpetuate the same principles and inheriting the same memories which belonged to the Cincinnati.”
Although this was a New York organization, from the outset it was contemplated that residents of other states might organize state societies of equal standing. For this reason a provision for that contingency was inserted into the constitution. It was, however, considered that persons in other states desiring to take the society’s name and principles should ask permission to do so and thus enable the original society to ascertain their qualification to incorporate a similar and co-equal affiliated organization. Thus the organization was, informally, also a national society.
The Founding of the Pennsylvania Society
The times manifested not only strong patriotic feelings but also a national interest in family history and genealogy. There was concern at the increasing numbers of immigrants arriving in the United States. In the mid-1880s a shift in the immigration became marked, from the northern to the less familiar and more poverty-stricken southern and eastern portions of Europe. These changes were contemporaneous with a developing sense of nationalism, in place of sectionalism, and unrest accompanying the rapidly increasing industrialization of the economy. Such times supplied the impetus for the formation of numerous patriotic societies; by 1900 the movement was perhaps even more active than it is today.
These feelings were prevalent in Philadelphia as elsewhere. When, in March, 1888, J. Granville Leach was informed that New York had a society composed of descendants of those who had actively participated in the American Revolution, the idea of our Pennsylvania Society was born. Leach’s personal journal tells of this event and of the sequel:
The organization of this Society came about in this way. In one of my visits to the rooms of The Historical Society in March 1888, John W. Jordan, the assistant librarian, called my attention to the fact that there was an organization in New York, descendants of those who had actively participated in the American Revolution of 1776. We agreed that Pennsylvania should have a similar organization, and discussed the advisability of taking immediate steps toward forming one. Dr. Herman Burgin of Germantown called at the rooms of this Society this same afternoon, and Jordan mentioned the subject to him. Within a day or two I brought the matter to the attention of Major J. Edward Carpenter, Colonel William Brooke Rawle, Richard M. Cadwalader and Samuel W. Pennypacker, after which I being again at The Historical Society, reported to Jordan what I had done, and told him I had no doubt Carpenter, Rawle, Cadwalader, and Pennypacker would join with us in forming the suggested Society. Either that, or the following day, Dr. Burgin called on Jordan, who mentioned the names I had given him. Almost immediately afterwards, Dr. Burgin sent out invitations to Jordan and myself, and the others above named, to meet at his office for the organization of a Society of Sons of the Revolution, which was done.
After a short discussion of the advisability of effecting an organization, I moved that we found a society under the name of The Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution. This motion was carried.
Brief entries from Leach’s diary carry developments forward from this point.
Tuesday, April 3, 1888.
Met with a number of gentlemen at the office of Dr. Burgin where we agreed to form a society to be called “The Sons of the Revolution,” after the fashion of the New York Society. It is to be comprised of descendants of men who participated in the Revolution of 1776…. A committee of five on membership was chosen, of which I was a member. We adjourned to meet at the call of the Chair.
April, Saturday 14.
At 4 1/2 P.M. met at the rooms of The Historical Society, with the Committee of the “Sons of the Revolution in Pennsylvania,” to consider the applications for membership…. We approved [14 applications].
April, Thursday 19.
At a general meeting of the Society of Sons of the Revolution held this afternoon at the rooms of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the society was fully organized by the election of permanent officers….
Dr. Burgin, Colonel Dechert and I were appointed a committee to draught a constitution and bylaws.
April, Thursday 26.
Met Colonel R. P. Dechert and Dr. Burgin at the City Controller’s Office, where we considered the matter of a Constitution and bylaws for the “Sons of the Revolution.”
May, Friday 4.
Attended a meeting of the Sons of the Revolution. The Board of Managers met for organization. On my motion, Major J. Edward Carpenter was chosen Chairman of the Board.
June, Friday 25.
Attended meeting of Society of Sons of the Revolution. Amended the Constitution.
The Formation of the General Society
The Leach journal then explains how our General Society came to be formed:
At the time the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution was organized there existed, as I have previously mentioned, a Society of Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York…. This body was intended as a national organization, and it was contemplated that, if organizations were formed in other states, the should be formed a chapter of the New York Society. This view of the matter was presented to the Pennsylvania Society at its inception, and a null protest was made by the New York Society against an independent action. We answered this by insisting upon our right to an independent society and urged the New Yorkers to accede to our position and join with us and the few other similar societies then being formed, in the organization of a National Society, to be comprised of delegates from several state societies. Finally, with this end in view, conferences were held by representatives of the New York and our Society, of which I was invariably a member, until a complete scheme of National organization was effected, and a constitution drafted, whereupon a General Congress was called to meet in Washington for the purpose of accomplishing this object named.
I had the honor to be a delegate to this Congress which resulted in the formation of a General Society, and the choice of officers for the same….
Ever since these formative years we of Pennsylvania have continued to enjoy the best of relations with our brethren of the New York Society.
A Century of Service
With organizational matters completed, Pennsylvania embarked quickly and vigorously on activities which have fixed the main outline of our program to the present day.
Foremost among these was the holding of special religious services. In 1890 the Board of Managers appointed a standing committee on the subject. At first, the services were held on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, April 19, 1775; but by 1891 the anniversary of the commencement of the Valley Forge encampment, December 19, 1777, was substituted. The custom seems never to have been suspended, even in wartime. In recent years, largely because of the often inclement weather of December, the service was moved to the month of May. In our early days attendance at the memorial service was a “must.” Then held at either Christ Church or St. Peter’s as structures which had stood during the Revolution, at least 150 members were customarily led into the church by the Color Guard. Its hearty support of the occasion has remained unwavering in assembling at many different churches through the years for the occasion.
Landmarks and memorials likewise trace back to very early beginnings. In 1890 our first two markers were placed. In December, 1893, the huge natural bolder at Gulph Mills was set up to mark an encampment by the Continental Army on its way to Valley Forge. The Society has continued to regard such efforts as constructive ones. At the time of the First World War it contributed to the Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge, where the Society’s church service was often held, a memorial to the soldiers of the Revolution in the form of an elaborately carved oaken stall surmounted by a copy of the First Pennsylvania Line Regimental Flag. In June, 1935 the Society dedicated an authentic reproduction it had built of one of the original log huts at Valley Forge. In December, 1962 ceremonies at the Gulph Mills boulder marked completion of a slight change in position of the monument to accommodate modern traffic conditions. And in the summer of 1986, after extensive investigation, the monument was moved again to a public park near the road leading through the defile of the gulph. A listing of the Society’s memorials has appeared annually in its recent yearbooks, and a comprehensive report on the subject is available.
The Anthony Wayne Monument in Philadelphia
The most ambitious of our efforts in memorials deserves special comment, for it occupied the Society more or less continuously for forty-five years and culminated in a monument visible from both the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Schuylkill Expressway. In 1893 a special committee of thirteen — one for each original state — was appointed to procure designs and devise means to raise moneys for a monument to be erected in Philadelphia in honor of Pennsylvania’s foremost Revolutionary officer, Major General Anthony Wayne. With much planning and effort a fund was assembled over many years — slowly after the initial burst of enthusiasm subsided. With additional contributions of only $281 in 1904 and $230 in 1906, for example, nonetheless by 1934 the sum of $30,000 was on hand. The increase in prices through the intervening years, and the erection of a statue of heroic proportions to Wayne at Valley Forge in the meantime, led to a decrease in the size of the Society’s planned monument — for which smaller size the sum collected was sufficient. A site on the terrace of the new Museum of Art was selected and approved by the authorities. By 1937 the Committee was able to report that a full-scale equestrian statue in clay had been executed as a prototype. Contracts were let for a polished granite pedestal, for the bronze casting, and for its gold leafing by a special process deemed practically permanent. By the spring of 1938 the statue was completed and in place. In June it was dedicated in the presence of more than two hundred of our members. But after thirty years in the weather, the magnificent statue needed restoration. It was removed and entirely re-gilded, its surroundings improved, and illumination installed in 1968.
The Annual Meeting
Another custom dating from the earliest years was that of an annual banquet with the reading of a paper to the Society. At first, this even took place either on October 4, the anniversary of the Battle of Germantown, or December 19, that of going into the Encampment at Valley Forge. Gradually, this occasion came to be combined with the Annual Meeting which always took place in April.
The Society had reached the age of two years when the subject of flags was first acted upon — a subject which has been of importance ever since. The first took the form of adopting a Pennsylvania Society flag, which within one month was adopted as that of the General Society also. At the start of the 1890’s, J. Granville Leach is said to have originated the idea of Flag Day on June 14th, which idea he presented to the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames of America. In 1893 that organization passed a resolution requesting the Mayor of Philadelphia and all citizens to display the flag on that day; and in that year our Society endorsed the movement and created a Committee on Flags authorized to purchase facsimiles of the flags actually carried during the Revolution. Within a few years the remnants of two original flags carried in that conflict were acquired and enclosed between sheets of glass. They have been fully authenticated and restored in recent years by the most modern methods. Continuing this tradition, in recent years the Pennsylvania Society’s Color Guard has provided substantial financial assistance to the First City Troop in repairing and restoring their collection of original flags and guidons housed in their Armory at 23rd and Ranstead in Philadelphia, which date back to the Revolutionary War.
Formation of the Color Guard
The Color Guard came into existence in 1897 by the authority of the Board of Managers, to care for the then collection of thirteen flags. At many annual meetings replicas of other flags were donated by members, until now the Guard is charged with the care and display of the Society’s collection of 58, of which 12 are now retired. Through the years the Color Guard has always furnished a devoted core of attendance at all Society functions and at the Triennial Conventions of the General Society. The Pennsylvania Society pioneered with its Color Guard: at the 1914 Triennial Convention of the General Society, all state societies were by resolution urged to organize similar groups.
Competition – The Sons of the American Revolution
Another area of great activity in the 1890s related to the basic nature of the Pennsylvania Society’s continued existence. It was fomented by the formation of the entirely separate organization, the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).
An early member of our New York Society was William O. McDowell, one of the most extraordinary figures in the history of American patriotic societies. McDowell’s approach and schemes were far more liberal than the conservative leaders of the New York Society could countenance. He was such an audacious and promotional organizer on the large scale that it quickly became obvious that his energies could not be kept within the confines of the established organization. It was from McDowell’s boundless energies that the SAR came into being. He also claimed credit for founding the Daughters of the American Revolution and other patriotic organizations.
McDowell’s thinking early took his actions far beyond the scope of those of the Sons of the Revolution (SR), which had essentially remained at the state society level for some years. He reversed that process and at once with very wide promotion created a new national society — using as a springboard a New Jersey SR society which he hastily formed. Political ambition seems to have been one of his motivations, combined with a fanatic emphasis on patriotism. Yet within a few years he was removed from control of the very groups he organized.
In the spring of 1989 the centennial of the commencement of the United States government under the Constitution was celebrated in New York City. Anticipating that representatives from all the states would be present, McDowell and another New York Society SR member met on March 7 in Newark to form a New Jersey society under the SR name. Electing themselves to office, the adopted a constitution which admitted women to membership, as well as collateral descendants. Immediately they organized a committee under McDowell to form other state societies from which would form a national society.
At once, McDowell proceeded from state to state, published advertisements for mass meetings, and formed state societies under the name Sons of the Revolution, often with very few persons. Next, McDowell requested approval for the New Jersey one, without divulging that measures had been taken to establish other state organizations. This request was apparently for the purpose of making palatable an invitation to the older New York and Pennsylvania societies to join with McDowell’s group in forming a new national organization during the centennial ceremonies in New York.
The invitation to the “old” societies was coupled with one to the hastily formed “new” ones to send delegates to a meeting at Fraunces Tavern on April 30, 1889, for the purpose of forming a general organization. In addition, the governors of the various states were invited to send delegates to the meeting.
On April 30 a great military parade took place as a part of the celebration. The journal of J. Granville Leach of the Pennsylvania Society (heretofore quoted) tells the story of the meeting that day:
I was with the Governor and on the morning of the parade I asked him to allow me to stay out of it, and instead to attend the meeting at Fraunces Tavern, which I did. When the meeting organized, the secretary asked those present to give in their names, and the organization they represented. I arose, gave my name, and stated that I was a member of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution, but attended, not as a representative of the Society, but merely as a spectator and suggested that I would leave the meeting if those present did not desire my presence. Whereupon I was asked to remain. The first question discussed was the advisability of forming a new society. I participated in the discussion and strongly opposed such action, but without avail. McDowell’s plan was adopted. The name for the new society was the next matter discussed, and this name, The Society of Sons of the Revolution, was forcefully brought forward, whereupon I arose to protest, and made a vehement argument in opposition. In part, I said that I could not conceive that a body of gentlemen would steal a name, by adopting one already adopted and chartered by an organization in the State of New York, and of many years in standing, none of whose membership participated in the present assemblage, and 100 of whom were prominently and actively engaged at that moment, serving on various committees furthering the historic celebration then under way in the City of New York. Several of the gathering were impressed by my speech, with the result that, after considerable debate, it was voted to name the new society “The Sons of the American Revolution.”
The SAR quickly became larger than the original organization. At the meeting of April 30 McDowell became vice-president-at-large. Soon he was a “vice president general.” As such he devoted the greater part of his time to organizing similar groups everywhere in the United States. Shortly after the formation of the group he obtained the interest of Seymour Webb and had him elected president. Webb financed a paid agent to assist in the work. By the end of May, 1890 the SR of New York and Pennsylvania numbered some 800 members; but the SAR had enough more so as to set up rival societies in both states, to assail the conservative group as “preventing harmony” by refusing to amalgamate, and to state blandly that nothing could retard union of the two groups “except a lack of patriotic spirit on the part of the Societies S. R.” Pressure for merger consistently came from SAR sources.
The dispute was taken up by the newspapers. Once having entered the lists, they continued their agitation through the 1890s. The Republic of New York, favored the SAR; The Inquirer of Philadelphia, the SR.
The Sons of the Revolution responded with sincerity to proddings for merger talks. A letter from the President of the New York Society, F. S. Tallmadge, on September 20, 1892 conveys something of the excitement of the times:
You may have heard from Judge Pennypacker of the results of your meeting on the 14th. He left as we were approaching the most critical part of our meeting…but the loyalty of Mr. Trumbull to us and the six officers present, and Mr. Montgomery, our Secretary, gave us a majority…. When we parted after a very genial meeting on the 6th of August it was understood each side should prepare a draft of the Constitution embodying the decisions of the day. I obeyed instructions and invited Mr. Trumbull and Mr. Woodruff to my house, when on the morning of the 14th we went over each paragraph, but what was my surprise when we met at one o’clock to find mine was the only draft, and the American Sons had not even brought a copy of their Constitution with them. They had evidently met in caucus and decided to approve everything except their own Constitution — that or nothing. So, as soon as I began to read they began to object and insisted upon going behind the previous meeting, and opening the whole question of name, colors, eligibility, insignia, etc….
Although the merger proposed in the early 1890s never came about, the idea was thoroughly tested later and under conditions of more calm and reflection. Repeated efforts seem to have demonstrated that there was little basis for success, primarily because of the differences in eligibility requirements, and indeed temperament, of the two groups. For example, in 1896 a triennial convention of the SR invited the SAR to unite on the basis of review by a disinterested committee chosen from both societies of all membership applications in each and the striking of collateral descendants from the rolls. The invitation was never accepted. Again in the 1930s a serious effort at merger failed.
Pennsylvania has in the past been little enthused about union. The Board of Managers report as early as 1897 seems to have voiced an enduring local sentiment. “We in Pennsylvania are of a conservative turn of mind, and like to stand by our traditions…. We are satisfied with our Society as it is, and desire no change.” Although the idea of merger has been voiced even after World War II, it has not received serious attention.
Our Greatest Strength – The Quality of Our Members
Our Pennsylvania Society has always shown strength in both the quality and number of its members. Its first president was William Wayne, great grandson of the Revolutionary general. Membership quickly expanded from the founding until by 1897 there was an active roster of 1025, 1118 having been elected by that time. Apparently the roll has never fallen below 1000 since then. It was an early custom to call new members to the rostrum at the annual meeting and have them shake the hand of the president. This tradition continues today and includes the receipt of rosette — a gift of the Board of Managers to the new member.
The Great Depression brought on appointment of the first committee to secure new members. At a meeting of the Board of Managers in February, 1934 it was reported that for the first time in the history of the Society there were no proposals for membership to be presented. The new committee reported in April, 1935 that it had interviewed a hundred and seventy-five persons and that a hundred and four had been admitted. Sixty-four were elected in 1936; seventy-eight in 1937. World War II’s influence was akin to that of the First World War, when patriotic spirit increased the number of members. But by the early 1970s, with the Bicentennial spirit approaching, attrition had cut our rolls from more than 1450 in 1956 to just over 1250. A special program for 1974 was instituted, under which membership was increased by almost two hundred persons. The Lancaster County Chapter has been most helpful in membership matters and the creation of junior memberships has been a desirable adjunct. Today, with a roll of about 1100, the Pennsylvania Society is the largest state society, surpassing New York among the twenty-seven state societies.
However, in recent years, the Board of Managers have been seeking new ways to reach out and attract new members. We have established an active Younger Members Committee, a Membership Committee in addition to the Admissions Committee. All these committees have been working together to seek ways to increase membership. Chief among the problems was a looser attitude toward genealogical documentation in the early years of the Society, this has required members who claim descent from parents or grandparents who were members and accepted prior to 1963 to re-document their lineage. Also, as time goes on, more generations must be documented and the remaining documentation gets harder to find. As a consequence, the Society now has on staff a part-time genealogist to help prospective members through the documentation process.
The Pennsylvania Society Headquarters
The 1890s were years of experimentation in meeting places for our Society. The vacating by the city authorities of rooms which they had long occupied in Independence Hall led the Board of Managers to secure an ordinance of City Council giving the Society possession of those rooms beginning in April, 1895. But by March, 1896 all right of occupancy was relinquished because a similar privilege had been granted to the DAR.
The impracticability of joint occupancy “needed no demonstration.” For a number of years until 1906 the meetings took place at the New Century Room on South 12th Street. In that year the annual meeting was called to order for the first time in the present building of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania at 13th and Locust Streets, which had just been completed. Our headquarters remained there until 1991, when it move to its present location at The Racquet Club at 215 South 16th Street.
From time to time a desire has been expressed by various members of the Society to have its own building. A committee appointed in 1932 to investigate this possibility presented a negative report because of the depression. In 1951 a report complete with pictures of available structures and prices was given to the Board; but hesitation engendered by the prospect of increased overhead expense turned into abstention. In 1962 the subject again became active because of two factors: availability of a portion of the Free Quaker’s Meeting House in the new Federal Park at Fifth and Arch Streets — determined to be physically unsuitable for the purpose — and the substantial gifts to both the Society and the Color Guard under the will of Herbert C. Rorer, who died in office that year as president after a tragic automobile accident. In 1963 a third committee on the subject was appointed which made an exhaustive investigation. By 1970 it was concluded that “the future of our Society is not dependent” on a headquarters building, but that “its resources can better be applied by educating our youth to a fuller understanding of the cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice,” the cornerstones on which the founding fathers built our nation. This could better be done, said the report, by such a vehicle as the Valley Forge film then contemplated.
One of the problems inherent in the selection of a headquarters building has been that of accommodating the traditional Washington’s Birthday reception. Begun in 1905, this was characterized in the report of the Board of Managers as “the crowning event of the year” which “promises to be a permanent function of the Society.” At that time the reception was held in the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel and was attended by 365 guests. The banners and flags of the Society were displayed surrounding a portrait of Washington after Stuart, donated in 1896. Indeed, the function has become permanent. In several years the number of guests has reached 800.
Society Traditions – Past and Present
Against the background of the permanence of the memorial church service, the annual dinner, and the Washington’s Birthday reception, other Society customs have come and gone. Notable among these last was the commemoration of Evacuation Day. Beginning in 1893 and extending until the 1930s, June 18, 1778, was faithfully celebrated — the day on which the Continentals broke camp at Valley Forge. This was always the occasion for what would now be termed a field trip to a historic site, with an address and a meal. Another custom, continued until 1950 but now in disuse, was that of a minute on the anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin, January 17. Such a minute was prepared and delivered to the Board of Managers each year by one of its members, and later printed as part of the Annual Proceedings. However, in the category of new customs falls the Musket Ball. Upon a re-examination of the yearly calendar of Society events made in the 1970s, came inauguration in 1977 of a popular autumn dinner dance commemorating the Revolutionary victories of October 17, 1777, at Saratoga, New York and October 19, 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia.
Preserving Valley Forge – The Valley Forge Film
Through the decades, the Society has strengthened its early record of direct service to the community. Here a great range of trial and abandonment has been shown; fortunately, the process still continues.
The Society was the first voice to bring to public notice of preserving Valley Forge. It considered this subject as early as 1890, when a memorial to Congress was prepared urging that body to purchase the site. In the following year; Congress having failed to act, the purchase of portions of the ground was recommended. Before 1898 a state commission was appointed for the purpose, in which the Society was represented by eight members. In the 1930s a committee of our Society was appointed to inspire public sentiment favorable to the further development of the park. Through its efforts, the log hut of the winter of 1777 was recreated.
Although administration of the park has been turned over by the state to the national government, our efforts have continued undiminished. Of greatest importance has been the Society’s vision for a Valley Forge documentary film conveying the heroic spirit of the 1777 encampment. This is shown throughout the day to visitors at the park’s reception center. In 1970 the project was being considered; by 1971 a script had been drafted; in 1972 the film was in production; and in December, 1973 it was first shown by formal invitation. In 1974 the Council on International Non-Theatrical Events awarded it one of the Golden Eagle Awards from among a thousand documentary films from all over the world, in a Washington ceremony. After years of continuous showing, the film was re-edited and newly produced for the park’s educational program, and, as revised, premiered in 1983.
In 1992, the Board of Managers made the Valley Forge film available to America’s classrooms through an arrangement with Karol Media. By 1994, the film needed to be upgraded to improve its historical accuracy. An additional 15 minutes was filmed and added to the original Valley Forge film. Also in 1994, the Board of Managers authorized the use of parts of the Valley Forge film in the new film, “Valley Forge Today.” Over the intervening years, the Society has had several requests to include parts of the Valley Forge film in other creative works about the period, which the Society has generally granted upon approval of the project’s purpose and the intended use of the film by the Board of Managers.
Community Awards and Scholarship
Various community award programs have been tried through the years. As early as 1894, prizes were established at the University of Pennsylvania for excellence in student essays on subjects connected with Pennsylvania history during the Revolution. In 1950, the Society embarked on a college scholarship program for persons interested in a career of government service or teaching at any level. It was restricted to the University of Pennsylvania, which informed the Society after a few years of its inability to find any persons interested in such assistance. Throughout the 1990’s, the Society has supported a doctoral dissertation fellowship at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. This scholarship program is conducted in partnership with the State Society of Cincinnati in Pennsylvania, was first funded in 1992, and has been funded every year since.
In the mid-1960s came came the Good Citizen Award and the Herbert Rorer Award, perhaps curtailed because of the lack of persons meeting selection criteria. In 1958 there began the award of a silver bowl at the Air Force Academy in Colorado for excellence in studies, which was continued for a number of years. In 1998, the Society revived this award in honor of Edward West Richardson, who had recently retired after serving more than two decades as the Society’s Historian. The Society selected James Thorington, II, past captain of the Pennsylvania Society’s Color Guard and past president of the General Society of Sons of the Revolution, to present the first Richardson award. Mr. Thorington’s father, who was president of the Pennsylvania Society from 1967 to 1971, had traveled to the Air Force Academy to present the award during his presidency. It was hoped that the son could follow in his father’s footsteps, but scheduling difficulties rendered the idea impossible in 1998.
In 1976, when the Society had the French Ambassador to the United States at its Washington’s Birthday celebration, it presented to him a scroll attesting to American-French friendship and cooperation.
Distributing The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution
In 1936 a flag committee commenced the presentation of United States Flags to the public and private schools in the Philadelphia area. This has evolved into the annual distribution to area children of materials on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Begun in 1967 with a special ceremony, 60,000 copies were distributed in 1968. By 1970 the number rose to 75,000; by 1986, to 100,000. For 1987, demand became exceptional because of the 200th anniversary celebration of the adoption of the Constitution: 140,000 copies were distributed widely to meet requests. The last printing by the Society on its own took place in 1991. In 1998, the Society and Color Guard agreed to underwrite together with the National Constitution Center the printing and distribution of copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights to the public for free.
New Citizens Reception
In 1957, sponsorship annually of a reception of new citizens commenced. This follows their induction in ceremonies at the United States District Court in Philadelphia, and includes instruction in flag etiquette. However, as early as 1918, the Society was already writing to newly naturalized citizens in the United States Army.
Member Service of Volunteers on Board of Managers and Committees
The Society has functioned largely by committees acting under authority of the Board of Managers, which includes the officers. The membership of the Board has been very often recruited from conscientious committee members. As befits an organization whose activities respond to new schemes for carrying out its purposes, these committees have functioned in the widest variety of subjects. In addition to committees for internal business, wartime needs have brought committees into existence on cooperation in national defense, fifth column activities, the protection of historic buildings, and the supplying of air conditioners for Army hospitals. New committees meet new needs. In 1940 a Committee on Junior Council was formed to increase interest in the Society among its younger members. By 1955 this became a Younger Members Committee with a program of its own. In 1998, this committee has a very active membership and an exciting program of events tailored to the interests of members under the age of 40.
Lancaster County Chapter
Another valuable part of the Society has been its Lancaster County Chapter. It has been fully active in maintaining interest in the Society by organized programs and activities conducted under the leadership of a locally elected regent and other chapter officers. Acting under charter from the Pennsylvania Society in 1925, it organized in the following year. Its current membership is close to one hundred persons. A Lehigh County Chapter of our society, formed earlier, has become inactive.
Relations with the General Society
After assisting in the formation of the General Society, we have always enjoyed the best of relations with it. The triennial convention of the General Society has been held at Philadelphia in 1918, 1940, 1962, 1976, and 1988. The Society will be host to the triennial to be held in Philadelphia in 2003. Pennsylvania has contributed a goodly quota of officers of the General Society, including five distinguished General Presidents, John Morin Scott, 1934 – 1937, Judge Edwin Owen Lewis, 1943 – 1946, Daniel Waldo Boone Flint, 1974 – 1976, Joseph Louis Loughran, 1988 – 1991, and James Thorington, II, 1994 – 1997. Our current General President, Thomas C. Etter, Jr. is a member of the Pennsylvania Society as well as the District of Columbia Society. Pennsylvania has also contributed substantially to the General Society Endowment Fund. At present the General Society coordinates matters of mutual interest among the twenty-seven state societies having an aggregate membership of approximately 6,800 persons.
Pennsylvania Society Publications
From time to time, our Society has published printed matter under its own imprint. Such items have varied from an issue for a particular occasion to works of durable nature for long life and influence. Among the earliest and perhaps the rarest is a “Souvenir of the Seventh Annual Celebration of the Evacuation Day” at “Pennypacker’s Mills, June 17, 1899” — a colored map of the Schuylkill from Collegeville to Philadelphia showing roads, ferries and homes as they were at the time of the Revolution. In 1898, the Society published a Decennial Register and may have published other books and pamphlets during its first decade. In 1903, having restored the tomb of Captain Gustavus Conyngham in St. Peter’s Churchyard, an illustrated monologue on his services in the cause of American independence was published, written by the then chairman of the Board of Managers. In 1913 there appeared by order of the Board, The Standards, Flags and Banners of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution, containing eighteen color plates plus descriptive text. In 1948, the Society published American and French Flags of the Revolution, from the pen of Frank Earle Schermerhorn, a former captain of the Color Guard.
Three recent publications are of the highest quality. The first, The American Revolution in the Delaware Valley, appeared upon commission by the Society, was published in the Bicentennial year as part of our special program, and was introduced by its author, Edward S. Gifford, Jr., in his 1976 address to our annual meeting. Nine hundred copies have been distributed to colleges and libraries.
The second, Standards and Colors of the American Revolution, resulted from the learned and expert enlargement of the Society’s earlier flag books by its historian, Edward W. Richardson. After sponsorship jointly by the Society, the Color Guard, and the University of Pennsylvania Press, this elegant authoritative volume made its appearance in 1982 and has received wide distribution.
In 1990, in celebration of a century of patriotic service, the Society published its Centennial Register: 1888 – 1988. The Centennial Register was principally the work of its editor, Mark Frazier Lloyd, then the Society’s Registrar, who developed the content and managed the production of the 994-page volume under the direction of the Centennial Celebration Committee, chaired by Mark Cleveland Tobin, then a senior Vice-President of the Society. Jefferson Monroe Moak, II served as associate editor of the Centennial Register and shortly after its publication he was admitted to membership in the Society. In addition to documenting the history and current position of the Society and its Color Guard, the Centennial Register presented an alphabetical roster of 5,594 members of the Society — every man admitted to membership from the date of the Society’s inception to 31 December 1988 — and a corresponding alphabetical roster of the 3,457 ancestors whose patriotic service in promoting the cause of the American Revolution had conferred upon their descendants eligibility for membership in the Sons of the Revolution. The Centennial Register therefore became the authoritative reference tool for the Society’s current members and for advancing the growth of Society membership. The Centennial Register has been distributed to more than 350 libraries and historical repositories throughout the United States. It has also served as a model for other state societies in the General Society, its format virtually copied by similar centennial publications emanating from the California, Alabama and Virginia Societies. Current plans of the Pennsylvania Society call for the database, which underlay the production of the register, to be updated and made available through the Internet.
In many ways, the Centennial Register represents the end of an era. It was the last large publication authored, edited and published solely by the Society. Since 1990, the Society has instead moved in the direction of support for historical and patriotic publications, rather than distributing them on our own. In that same year, Society President Charles Vansant Esler directed a gift to Cliveden of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to purchase hardware and software appropriate for desktop publishing. Four years later, Thomas J. McGuire completed and Cliveden published, The Surprise of Germantown, or the Battle of Cliveden, October 4th, 1777, 150 copies of which the Society purchased and distributed free of charge to libraries and historical repositories in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
In his first year of office, Society President Mark Cleveland Tobin initiated the City of Philadelphia Archives historical editing project. Again, the Society provided the funding and acted as Treasurer for a join project which was supported by no fewer that fifteen other hereditary and cultural organizations. On behalf of this joint committee, the Society engaged a consulting project archivist who was supervised by the City Archivist. The Society also purchased the computer hardware and software on which, between 1992 and 1995, several important 17th. and 18th. century City Archives collections were organized, arranged and indexed. The Society and the Color Guard then, on their own, supported the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania in publishing two historical books, Guide to the Mortgages of the General Loan Office of the Province of Pennsylvania, 1724 – 1756 (published in 1995) and Guide to Records of the Sale of Commonwealth Property in the County of Philadelphia, 1780 – 1798 (published in 1996). The Society then distributed 200 copies of both books free to libraries and historical repositories throughout the tri-state area.
Thoughout the past decade, the Society and the Color Guard, have both contributed support to the Biographical Dictionary of Early Pennsylvania Legislators, volume one of which was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1992 and volume two in 1997. In 1998, the Society and Color Guard voted to increase their support of the Early Pennsylvania Legislators project, as volume three will contain the biographies of many statesmen who became leaders in the Revolutionary War and eligible ancestors for our members.
Awards and Honors Earned by the Society
The Society’s variety of responsible and affirmative activities have made it known as a body of doers and have earned for it a series of General Society awards over the past quarter century. The General Society has presented its highest honor, the Trent Trophy, to Pennsylvania at the Triennials of 1976, 1982, and 1994. Pennsylvania took the Travelling Banner Award, which recognizes the state society with the greatest increase in membership, at the Triennials of 1976 and 1982. Pennsylvania has also been the recipient of the Sons of Liberty Award, bestowed for substantial support of General Society programs for the preservation of principles formulated in the establishment of our country. At the 1997 Triennial, the General Society’s awards committee declared the Pennsylvania Society once again the leader in the point totals for the Trent Trophy, but ineligible, under the rules, to take the Trophy for successive three-year terms. Pennsylvania therefore aims to take the award again in 2000.
Throughout its history, the Society has demonstrated leadership on public policy issues which cut to the core of American values. The two most sustained efforts have been devoted, one the one hand, to combating the spread of Communist doctrine and on the other, to promoting patriotism through the development of a national system of historic parks. As early as the 1930s, the Society adopted and distributed numerous resolutions condemning Communism and warning of its threat to our nation. For fifty years the subject was vigorously pursued through the dissemination of educational literature chosen by an American Heritage Committee and approved by the Board of Managers. The leadership of the Pennsylvania Society soon resulted in the creation of a similar program by the General Society.
Simultaneously, under the leadership of Society President Edwin Owen Lewis, civic-minded Philadelphians advanced the cause of establishing a national historic park centered on Independence Square. They envisioned a great open space where all Americans, indeed, all peoples inspired by American values, could gather and celebrate the principles of freedom of conscience, opportunity for all, government by representative democracy, and law by an independent judiciary. In 1948 these local leaders were successful, as Philadelphia Congressman Hardie Scott introduced enabling legislation which President Truman signed into law that same year.
A quarter century later, preparations for a national observance of the bicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and American independence brought a fresh infusion of Federal funds to Philadelphia’s historica sites. Again the Sons of the Revolution were in the forefront. Pennsylvania Society member Hugh Doggett Scott, Jr., then U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, was the principal architect of the work. Independence National Historical Park was dramatically expanded towards the Delaware River and a great Visitors Center constructed. Scott was also successful in obtaining appropriations of hundreds of millions of dollars for the purchase of land and establishment of National Park Service educational facilities at Valley Forge. As described above, the Pennsylvania Society has subsequently been very active in the educational programs of Valley Forge National Historical Park.
Beginning in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the activities of the American Heritage Committee have been re-directed towards seeking out and supporting patriotic public celebrations and historical publications as envisioned by the founders of the Society.
Acquisitions and gifts for our educational objectives have become another function carried out through committee action. A Special Projects committee was first appointed in 1963 and was made permanent in the following year. Its first project was the furnishing of the court-martial room in the Bake House at Valley Forge, opened by formal ceremony in 1966. In 1968, the Society and the Color Guard shared in the restoration of the Parry House in New Hope. In 1976 came the furnishing of a bedroom at Harriton in Bryn Mawr. The early 1980s saw the furnishing of General Varnum’s quarters at Valley Forge. With this and the revision of the Society’s film, “Valley Forge, A Winter Encampment,” the Friends of Valley Forge presented to the Society its Friend of the Year award at a formal reception in 1984. In the following year, the committee completed the furnishing of the library in Waynesborough, the home of General Wayne.
The Society views its role to provide the seed money to get local participation in ambitious projects started. To this end, in 1994 the Society provided an initial gift to the American Revolution Patriot’s Fund. This fund has worked with the Mayor’s office and Congress to secure funding for the restoration of Washington Square in Philadelphia, the location of a tomb of the Unknowns where over 2,000 Revolutionary War soldiers were buried in mass graves. This project, estimated to cost nearly $3,500,000, should complete in the year 2000 and has had the active participation of several members of the Board of Managers.
In 1997, a seed money grant was provided to the Paoli Battlefield committee that is seeking to preserve this battleground in Chester County. Again, this initial grant has helped the fledgling committee gain recognition and has helped them recruit other foundations to assist in the cause of preserving our national heritage dating from the Revolutionary War.
A unique acquisition was that in 1978 of the gold medal awarded by Congress to Anthony Wayne for his recapture of the impregnable Stony Point on the Hudson in 1779 at the expense of British Colonel Henry Johnson. It was placed on display at the United States Mint in Philadelphia on July 15, 1979, exactly two hundred years after the dead-of-night exploit by drawn bayonet.
Supplementing purchases, many worthy gifts have been made by the Society through the years, typified by such objectives as the restoration of the Jefferson House at Seventh and Market Streets, Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin’s home in London, and the Society’s pew at Valley Forge Chapel; as well as the preservation of Waynesborough as a national monument, restoration of the Statue of Liberty, and support of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Moland House in Bucks County, and Fort Mifflin historical societies and the Brandywine Battlefield Museum.
Independence Day – Let Freedom Ring Celebration
An important public service which has become national in scope and interest over the last twenty-nine years, has been a well-planned July 4 program at Independence Hall and Washington Square. Known as “Operation Patriotism” when it was instituted in 1969, it is now the “Bell Ringing Ceremony” because it involves the tapping of the Liberty Bell by a Descendant of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence and the broadcast nationally of the ringing of the Tower Bell. As a rededication to the American principles and to a revival of patriotism, it signals the simultaneous ringing of bells throughout the land by pre-arrangement. From Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, the Society received the George Washington Honor Medal Award for this event, as presented in 1969 and again in 1970. In 1992, the celebration on Independence Mall was expanded to include the ceremonial wreath laying at the Washington Square Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldiers. Both these commemorative events continue to this day.
Our Society has never been one which is self-executing along the simple lines of a social club. True, its members have arranged and attended many pleasant occasions. But we are also strongly patriotic and public-service minded in purpose. Looking to the future, formulation of a constructive patriotic policy may call upon us for our finest work in the face of many evidences of the downgrading of respect for American institutions. The concept of nationalism, once a new strengthening development growing from local and colonial divergences, may acquire unwholesome connotations when not wisely applied in a shrinking world. However, in recent times, it may fall to our Society to remind the people of this nation that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, because the agents of tyranny have not gone to sleep simply because the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were adopted as the charter of this great nation.
Fortunately, we do not find ourselves poor in personal or material resources for carrying the Society into the future. Many members, both through the years and very recently, have been material benefactors in generous measure; and our roster will surely continue to list many persons of civic consciousness, drive, and unselfish dedication to American ideals. But making the most of our opportunities will require constant new approaches as in the past.
Again, the very fabric of the Society provides the setting for a unique combination of historical emphasis and civic activity. Today the history of our origins as a nation is ever increasingly a vital and up-to-the-minute subject, deeply interwoven with a conscious appreciation of the liberties won by hard toil and lives and with a determination to preserve and strengthen them. As our members continue in tried paths and develop new ones by devoted effort, applying our original purposes to the new challenges appearing in each generation, so will the Society’s future be secure and its influence increase. Its birth was a response to strong feelings. May their strength continue to be translated into helpful action! Public service, patriotism, and fellowship will supply the key to the future.