Thursday, July 19, 2007

Muhlenberg Mystery Robe Featured This Monday on "History Detectives"

Ever watch The History Detectives? I don't get to watch much TV, but that's one show I try to catch. This Monday, at 9 PM, PBS 39 will feature the Revolutionary War legend of Muhlenberg's robe.

The story goes that in January 1776, Lutheran minister Peter Muhlenberg turned his pulpit into a recruiting station for revolutionary fighters. During a fiery sermon, he tore his robe from his shoulders to reveal a uniform and at once rallied 300 able-bodied congregants to the patriotic cause.

A woman in Philadelphia wants to know: Is the robe that’s on display at the nearby Lutheran Theological Seminary the cloak that bore witness to this event? In Philadelphia and Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, HISTORY DETECTIVES host Elyse Luray delves into rare, period accounts from Muhlenberg’s family, friends and contemporaries to find the truth behind the story of the reverend’s famous robe.

Local trivia: Did you know that the statue which adorns the front lawn of Muhlenberg College in Allentown is known as “General Pete?”
The original fightin' parson.

6 comments:

Ric said...

Trouble is, the statue is of Pete's father Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg who was a visionary Lutheran. Hec called the first Lutheran synod in America, and the name of the statue is acutally "Man of Vision"

Ric said...

Please ignore my earlier comment. The outdoors statue in front of the Haas College Center indeed does show Gen. PETER Muhlenberg removing his robe to reveal his military uniform. The statue of his Father HENRY can be found INSIDE the Haas College Center (the building just behind Gen. Peter's statue.)

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ric, Thanks for the clarification. I did not have time yet to check out your claim, so I appreciate that.

It's a very interesting story.

Katherine Flynn said...

I was very intrigued by the program on the robe and the story of Brig. General Muhlenberg. The PBS transcript confirms my recollection that the scholars said the earliest mention of the pulpit sermon is the biography by the nephew in 1849. Also one scholar doubted he would even enter the pulpit in uniform at all. The conclusion was the story was fanciful mythology concocted later in time to claim a German connection to the founding of the country in order to counter anti-immigration sentiment in the mid-1800's.

I did a little research myself and I have found an 1824 published account that cites the farewell sermon with the uniform but it does not include the robe. The source is "A New American Biographical Dictionary; or, Remembrancer of the Departed Heroes, Sages, and Statesmen, of America. Confined exclusively to those who have signalized themselves in either capacity, in the Revolutionary War which obtained the Independence of their Country." - 3rd. edition by Thomas J. Rogers. Published 1824 in Easton, Penn. This edition is available on-line as a scanned image in the subscription area of Ancestry.com website.

Now this does sound like a very grandiose and sentimental work but the contents are often detailed and thorough in describing events and places and dates.

The pertinent quote for the entry "Muhlenberg, Peter" on pages 366-7 is as follows:
"Having in his pulpit inculcated the principles of liberty, and the cause of his country, he found no difficulty in enlisting a regiment of soldiers, and he was appointed their commander. He entered the pulpit with his sword and cockade, preached his farewell sermon, and the next day marched at the head of his regiment to join the army."

At the end of this entry it lists Muhlenberg's date of death as "1st day of October, 1807".

This work had a second edition in 1823 which I do not have ready access to. I have not yet determined when the first edition published. The earlier editions may also contain an entry on Muhlenberg.

I realize this is not a first-person account but at a minimum this pushes the provenance of the pulpit sermon story back another quarter century and out of the time period of anti-immigration fervor.

I am continuing in my research.

Katherine Flynn, CG

[CG and Certified Genealogist are Service Marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists used under license after periodic evaluations by the Board. http:www.BCGcertification.org]

Bernie O'Hare said...

Katherine, Thanks for the detailed analysis. If you're ever in NC Recorder of Deeds and need to find something, look me up. I owe you one.

Katherine Flynn said...

MORE!

The biography published by the nephew in 1849 [“The Life of Major-General Peter Muhlenberg, of the Revolutionary Army” by Henry Augustus Muhlenberg] can be viewed in its entirety on-line at:

http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=DvWzEFMYEi8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA13&dq=muhlenberg+AND+peter&ots=FOSVDWf1Uk&sig=wl-7PP6P5TSz8x0VEOSlwwPjeTs

This book is very detailed and it is footnoted! The author consulted the family records and letters.

The episode of the farewell sermon is on pp. 49-54 and there are REFERENCES: 6,7,8, & 9. The key references to this incident are 8 and 9 and they are on pp. 337-8.

Reference 8 has the data on the Virginia regiments which matches exactly those published at the time in the "Virginia Gazette" - scans of original copies can be seen at the Colonial Williamsburg website under the Research section.

Reference 9 is a listing of five sources that he cites as backing up the farewell sermon story. One is the Rogers publication of 1824 I cited in my previous posting. Three others are published too late (1833, 1843, and 1845) and do not meet the contemporary record test..

But the fifth cited source in reference 9 is an absolute gem. It is to James Thacher, "A Military Journal during the American Revolutionary War, from 1775 to 1783, Describing Interesting Events and Transactions of This Period, with Numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes, from the Original Manuscript" (Boston, 1823). While published in 1823 it is a published version of the author’s actual diary from 1775 to 1783. This source is viewed as a very accurate and reliable source for this period by historians. I could find no one having any concerns about it not being a true and contemporary record. The author was a medical student/surgeon/physician for the Continental Army. In the diary he personally meets Lafayette, Putnam, Washington and others.

Please see: http://www.famousamericans.net/jamesthacher/

Thacher in 1778 was at a hospital set-up at “High Lands” on the Hudson River near Sugar Loaf Mountain. He first mentions Muhlenberg on 8 September 1778 as staying at the hospital.

The key entry for this question is on page 184 with the date of 3 November 1778.

The whole book can be seen on-line at:

http://www.archive.org/details/jamesthachermil00revorich

Here is the full entry:

“November 3d.-Having made a visit to Fishkill, I returned in company with Dr. Treat, our Physician General, and found a large number of gentlemen collecting to partake of an entertainment, by invitation of Brigadier General Muhlenburg [sic], who occupies a room in our hospital. The guests consisted of forty-one respectable officers, and our tables were furnished with fourteen different dishes, arranged in fashionable style. After dinner, Major General Putnam was requested to preside, and he displayed no less urbanity at the head of the table, than bravery at the head of his division. A number of toasts were pronounced, accompanied with humorous and merry songs. In the evening we were cheered with military music and dancing, which continued till a late hour in the night. General Muhlenburg [sic] was a minister of a parish in Virginia, but participating in the spirit of the times, exchanged his clerical profession for that of a soldier. Having in his pulpit inculcated the principles of liberty, and the cause of his country, he found no difficulty in enlisting a regiment of soldiers, and he was appointed their commander. He entered his pulpit with his sword and cockade, preached his farewell sermon, and the next day marched at the head of his regiment to join the army, and he does honor to the military profession.”

Note that the last sentence is obviously the source Rogers used verbatim!

After this first dinner of 3 November he dines with Muhlenberg on 25 Nov 1778, 30 December 1778, 1 Jan 1779 and 16 April 1779.

In summary, this is a contemporary account from a reliable person who had at least five fairly lengthy meetings with Muhlenberg starting at about three years after the event. Although it does not describe a detailed disrobing it does at least state that he entered the church in his military uniform. Personally I can believe that he had the robe at least on in some fashion because the robe signified his role as a clergyman.

The rest of the research in the program left a reasonable belief that the provenance of the robe does lead to Peter Muhlenberg and all records state that he did not return to the clergy after the War so at the very least this robe is probably the one he was using when he enlisted.

Katherine Flynn, CG

[CG and Certified Genealogist are Service Marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists used under license after periodic evaluations by the Board. http:www.BCGcertification.org]