Black-Robed Regiment

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Leading up to the Revolution, colonial clergy who would dress in their long black clerical robes and preach the word of God as well as speaking in favor of the ideals that were leading the colonists towards the movement for independence. They wanted to bring the word of God to their congregations because they believed that to have good government there needed to be great citizens, which could only be done if they were rooted in the foundation of the word of God. They preached about the principles and the proper role of government and the people.

Story of Peter Muhlenberg: It was Sunday morning early in the year 1776. In the church where Pastor Muhlenberg preached, it was a regular service for his congregation but a quite different affair for Muhlenberg himself. Muhlenberg’s text for the day was Ecclesiastics 3 where it explains, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted….” Coming to the end of his sermon, Peter Muhlenberg turned to his congregation and said, “In the language of the holy writ, there was a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away.” As those assembled looked on, Pastor Muhlenberg declared, “There is a time to fight, and that time has now come!" Muhlenberg then proceeded to remove his robes revealing, to the shock of his congregation, a military uniform. Marching to the back of the church he declared, “Who among you is with me?” On that day 300 men from his church stood up and joined Peter Muhlenberg. They eventually became the 8th Virginia Brigade fighting for liberty. Frederick Muhlenberg, Peter’s brother, was against Peter’s level of involvement in the war. Peter responded to Fredrick writing, “I am a Clergyman it is true, but I am a member of the Society as well as the poorest Layman, and my Liberty is as dear to me as any man, shall I then sit still and enjoy myself at Home when the best Blood of the Continent is spilling?...so far am I from thinking that I act wrong, I am convinced it is my duty to do so and duty I owe to God and my country.” During the war there were rumors that the British wanted to hang Peter’s father, Henry Muhlenberg. Henry wrote, “Toward evening came a report that they were near-by and going to take me. I cannot flee, much less leave my sick wife behind, so I must await whatever God’s holy providence and governance…has ordained for me and commit it to him, the Lord of Lords…” Miraculously, the British never came for Henry Muhlenberg. Peter Muhlenberg was a great soldier. He became a Major General under Commander-in-chief George Washington. Baron Steuben, in general orders, requested “General Muhlenberg to accept his very particular thanks for his gallantry and good dispatches.” Because of his actions, Muhlenberg was given command of one thousand light infantry. Muhlenberg finished the war strong and is portrayed in a painting displayed in the United States Capitol Rotunda of the surrender of the British at Yorktown. After the war, Muhlenberg continued to serve his country. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives not once, but three times. He was also elected to the Senate in 1801. Peter’s brother, Fredrick, had a change of heart to his brother’s doings. Fredrick became elected to the House of Representatives and was Speaker of the House twice. Peter Muhlenberg passed away in 1807 at the age of sixty-one. He was a great patriot as can be seen on his tombstone which reads, “He was Brave in the field, Faithful in the Cabinet, Honorable in all his transactions, a Sincere Friend and an Honest Man.”

Other clergymen took similar roles. In colonial times, there wasn't a separation of church and state, but rather each were involved in the business of the other. The churches played a key role in teaching the colonists that they had God-given rights and could stand up for themselves.

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