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Conscientious Objectors in a New Republic

On July 11, 1775, the Lancaster County Committee of Correspondence published a broadside urging German immigrants to give as much money as they could afford to the cause of American independence. These German immigrants were targeted, the broadside notes, because they were pacifists — Christians who linked their religious beliefs to counter-cultural practices like the refusal to participate in war. If their “religious scruples” prohibited them from taking up arms, the broadside suggested, perhaps these conscientious objectors could contribute toward the “necessary and unavoidable” expenses of the town.

According to an Associated Press article about this recently discovered broadside, such Christian pacifists of Anabaptist, Quaker, and Moravian stock were “frequently greeted with scorn” in the fledgling republic.

Here’s a bit more about the historical context, via the AP:

As war approached, leaders in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County sought to ease tensions by urging the growing number of German immigrants with religious objections to war to demonstrate their patriotism by giving as much money as they could afford to the revolutionary cause.

The proposition is spelled out in a July 11, 1775, public notice known as a “broadside,” which is on display at the Moravian Archives & Museum [in Bethlehem, Pa.]. Experts recently confirmed it as the only known English-language copy.

Lancaster played an important role in the nation’s early history. It was the largest inland town in America, said Scott Gordon, an English professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. It was the nation’s capital for one day – Sept. 27, 1777, while the Continental Congress was fleeing British troops who had captured Philadelphia. And it was Pennsylvania’s capital from 1799 to 1812.

Of course, Lancaster County was also the region that witnessed the birth of the Brethren in Christ, known initially as “River Brethren.” Though historical records from this period are scarce, extant sources indicate that the River Brethren came together around this time (the mid-to-late 1770s). The nascent community’s earliest confession of faith indicates a strong resistance to “bearing the sword for revenge or defense,” and at least some of the early River Brethren came out of the Mennonite tradition. Thus, it stands to reason that the committee’s broadside appeal could have been considered by some early River Brethren adherents (or those who would become River Brethren).

For more on the broadside, check out the AP report or this story from ABC News.

Thanks to Jeff Piepho for the tip!

One response to “Conscientious Objectors in a New Republic

  1. This broadside provides a fascinating glimpse of life during the Revolutionary War. More extensive information is in Richard K McMaster: Conscience in Crisis Mennonites and Other Peace Churches in America 1739-1789, Interpretation and Documents. Herald Press, 1979. Although I have not seen the book, my source indicates McMaster devotes about six pages to the problems encountered by Abraham Beam (Boehm) (1720-1799) of Swiss Mennonite stock. Abraham Beam supplied livestock to the British Army. He was arrested in Jan 1781and placed in Lancaster Gaol. He came to jury trial in May 1781. He was found guilty, sentenced to pay a fine of 750 pounds and to remain in Lancaster Gaol until July 4th. This 61-year-old gentleman was unable to pay his fine and remained in Goal until October 1781 when he received a loan from another British sympathizer. In May 1789, 69-year-old Abraham Beam sold the remainder of his land in Bart Township, Lancaster County and moved to Canada where he settled near Black Creek, Willoughby, Welland, Ontario later receiving a Crown Grant of land.
    Members of Peace Churches were not the only ones targeted because of their religious beliefs. It is said that Justice of the Peace Joseph Miller of Bart Township, a Presbyterian, categorized all Methodists as Loyalists. Abraham’s brother, Bishop Martin Boehm (1725-1812) was excommunicated from the Mennonite Church. A Methodist Class formed at the home of Martin Boehm in 1775. By 1780-81 Martin was active with Francis Asbury in establishing Methodism among the Pennsylvania Germans. Apparently Martin escaped the attention of Miller, perhaps because his home was in Conestoga (Pequea) Township.
    Immigrant Jacob Beam (Boehm) (1693-1781), father of Abraham and Martin, supplied forage for the magazine at Lancaster. Jacob appears in the DAR Patriot Index. Since Anna, a daughter of Jacob Beam is my 4th great grandmother; I could join the Sons of the American Revolution. However, she received a 1797 Crown Grant in Willoughby, Welland, Ontario. I choose to remain neutral.
    David E Byer

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