The Battle of Brandywine took toll on local residents

The population in the area where the Battle of Brandywine was fought was primarily Quaker.  Quakers are guided in their religious beliefs by a serious of testimonies and queries.   One of these is the Peace Testimony.  Quakers did not, and do not, believe that war is the way to solve the problems of the world.  Both Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and the various local meetings expressed concern with their members’ involvement with the war effort.  Their religious principles frowned on supporting the war effort in any way.  Taking the oath of allegiance, paying a fine in lieu of serving in the militia, fixing the wheel of a gun carriage, buy back your horses that were seized in lieu of payment of your fine, and of course drilling with the militia or entering into military serve were more than sufficient grounds to see one “complained of” and/or “read out of meeting.”

Many Friends were complained and “read out of meeting” for various reasons.  To give two examples:  Peter Harvey, of Pennsbury Township, was complained of “for accepting of an office to assist in the laying of a tax that many Friends could not be free to pay; and it is apprehended he has taken a Test, ye Tendency of which is inconsistent with our Religious Principles; also paid what is called a substitute fine which he does not endeavor to clear himself of.”  Women were disciplined as well, like Ann Hayes, of Whiteland Township, for “sending a Creture [sic] to exchange for one the collector had taken for a substitute fine for her husband.”

On September 21, 1782 the Legislature of Pennsylvania passed an “act for procuring an estimate of the damages sustained by the inhabitants of Pennsylvania from the troops and adherents of the King of Great Britain during the present war.”  The purpose of this document was, in part, to be used in the peace talk bargaining.  When you look at this “Register of Damages” and you see what these people lost you can’t help but wonder how these people coped with the deprivations and how they survived the next several years, in some cases almost starting all over again.  The British camped in the area of Dilworthtown in the five days after the battle and it was those inhabitants that lived in close proximity to the camps that suffered the most.

Remember the battle occurred in the midst of the fall harvests.  The fruit from the orchards was being gathered.  Crops were being harvested or had already been harvested.  Hogs had been fattened up all summer.  And along came 26,000 men.  Not the best of circumstances for any community – agricultural or otherwise.  Let’s look in depth at a couple of the hardest hit families.

John Bennett

John’s plantation was located adjacent to the Sandy Hollow area where some of the heaviest fighting took place.  Tradition has it that it was on the Bennett land where Lafayette first received treatment for the wound he received during the battle.  John files a list of damages in the amount of 401 British Pounds Sterling.  Among the items listed are 600 pounds of cheese, a total of 50 yards of various fabrics, sheets, curtains and other linens (probably used as bandages), milk cows, cattle, horses, corn oats, and hay.

George Brinton

George and his family live in the family home built in 1704.  The British artillery camp was set up right behind their home.   Among the damages he claimed are 5 horses, 2 bullocks, 7 cows, 3 yearling heifers, 2 spring calves, 25 sheep, 6 large sucine [sic] and 9 smaller sucine [sic].

Charles Dilworth

By far one of the hardest hit according the “Register” is Charles Dilworth, claiming over 800 British Pounds Sterling of damage.  Like George Brinton a portion of the British artillery camped on his land in the days following the battle.  Charles was a tavern owner in the village of Dilworth, and as one might expect of a tavern owner, in addition to the usual livestock and crops, Charles lists a fairly significant amount of whiskey, brandy and other spirits among his claimed items.  Charles also lists “damage done to my dwelling house by breaking doors, stair case and pulling down an oven, destroying pales round the garden and yard.  He also claims that a frame house in the Borough of Wilmington entirely destroyed.”

The Benjamin Ring Family

Benjamin, his wife Rachel (who was 4 months pregnant) and their 7 children, played host to General Washington.    Of note, is that in February of 1778 Washington paid to Ring L22.10S for items used while at his house, which included a dinner for his Generals the night before the battle.  The Ring’s lost a child in the months following the battle.  This was not an uncommon occurrence, as the local death rate spiked after the battle as the local residents cared for and continued to care for those soldiers that could not move on with the armies.

Benjamin does not file a claim so we look to the tax records for more information.

According to the 1774 Tax Record Benjamin has 160 acres, 6 Horses, 4 Cattle, 6 Sheep, and Fulling (processes woolen cloth) and a Saw Mill and one servant.  The 1778 records list his house as plundered with 150 acres, a Fulling and Saw Mill and one cow. By 1779 he has 150 acres, the saw and fulling mill and 3 horses and 7 cattle.   By 1783 he has 150 acres, 4 horses and a mare, 5 horned cattle, 16 Sheep, 1 Fulling Mill, 1 Saw Mill, with 11 white inhabitants.  By the time of Benjamin’s death in 1805 his inventory is a quite extensive five page list.  It may be that the fulling and saw mill were what allowed Benjamin and his family to recover fairly quickly.

Many of the local inhabitants were able to survive the losses received as a result of the plundering.  It wasn’t easy and some may have had to compromise their religious beliefs in order to see their families provided for.  Some families’ survival may be attributable to the help Quaker meetings traditionally provide to their members.  It’s the ones that filed claims and then seem to vanish from the record who likely did not make it, at least in the Brandywine Valley.  Perhaps they moved further west, perhaps to North Carolina, perhaps they ended up indenturing themselves.

Submitted by

Beth Bertheaud

3rd generation member Birmingham Friends Meeting

Former Director at Brandywine Battlefield Park,

Current the Director at Ephrata Cloister

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