Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Independence Day

This week we are skipping the letter “O” in honor of our national holiday, Independence Day. Most of us refer to this holiday as merely the 4th of July or the July 4th holiday, advertisements rarely if ever include the words “Independence Day”. Our focus is on picnics and fireworks with little thought given to the sacrifices and events which occurred for us to enjoy our freedoms. Pennsylvania played a pivotal role in the events that led to the creation of the Declaration of Independence and continued to play a major role as the fight for independence evolved.

Pennsylvania was established by William Penn as a safe haven for Quakers fleeing religious oppression in England. The influx of Quakers and other passive religious groups to the colony attributed to the delay in Pennsylvania joining other colonies in revolting against the British Crown. Skirmishes in nearby colonies eventually forced Pennsylvanians to join in the revolution.

This premise of religious freedom was a factor in the establishment of Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County. The Cloister was a religious commune settled in 1732 under the leadership of Conrad Beissel. This celibate community led a very simple lifestyle, sheltered from much of the turmoil surrounding them. But even the quiet community of the Cloister could not avoid the changes that occurred with the Revolutionary War during the winter of 1777-1778.

The Continental Army was quartered at Valley Forge under George Washington’s command with few provisions during harsh winter conditions. Disease rapidly spread thru the camp and included Typhus, typhoid, dysentery, and pneumonia. The sickened soldiers were sent from the camp to hospitals established in the surrounding countryside, Ephrata Cloister functioned as one of these hospitals.

Archaeology conducted at the Cloister by former Senior Curator Steve Warfel of the State Museum of Pennsylvania in 2002 & 2003 verified the historic accounts of a Revolutionary War hospital on the grounds. Excavations in search of the foundation of a 1739 Prayer-house on Zion’s Hill, yielded evidence of the occupation of this site by soldiers of the Continental Army. According to historic records, the Prayer-house was destroyed after its conversion into a hospital during the war.

Warfel described the military buttons recovered in his report of excavations Historical Archaeology at Ephrata Cloister; A Report on 2002 & 2003 Investigations. He identified a pewter button as particularly noteworthy, “for it is a regimental button of the Revolutionary War period. Marked “PSR,” the button was made for garments worn by members of the Pennsylvania State Regiment of Foot, an infantry unit (Bower 2000:2). The unit was activated on March 1, 1777 and “officially uniformed in a blue regimental coat with red lining and facing and pewter buttons inscribed PSR”(Gorecki 2003:1). Members of the infantry unit fought at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown in the fall of 1777. The button implies that one or more members of the regiment were treated at the Continental Army hospital established on Mount Zion “.

The “PSR” button, far left, is one of three regimental buttons recovered from the ground on Mount Zion. A cast pewter button marked with the numeral “11” (above center) was linked to the Eleventh Pennsylvania Regiment which formed on October 25, 1776 (Eleventh Pennsylvania Regiment 2004:1). This unit participated in the Battles of Brandywine, Paoli, and Germantown. Thirty-six percent of its men were listed as “sick” by November 1, 1777 – only a month before the Ephrata hospital was opened (Eleventh Pennsylvania Regiment 2004:1).”

The third pewter regimental button is marked with the numeral “4” and was recovered from the plow zone soil on the 1738 Brothers' dormitory site during a previous field season. The Fourth Continental Light Dragoons was a mounted unit, raised in January 1777 (Waldo 2003:2). “Most of the men hailed from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland” (Waldo 2003:2). Like the Pennsylvania State Regiment and the Eleventh Pennsylvania Regiment, this unit also participated in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown (Waldo 2003:3-4). These Revolutionary War period regimental buttons are considered rare finds and document the Continental Army’s presence on Zion Hill.

Lead musket balls and shot, English and French gunflints, gun lock parts, a bayonet, hundreds of free-blown glass medicine bottle pieces, regimental and plain buttons, and numerous strike-a-lite flints are byproducts of the Continental Army’s occupation on Zion’s Hill (Warfel 2003).

This iron brazier recovered from the excavations on Zion’s Hill likely served as a small camp stove for soldiers of the Continental Army.  This is a unique artifact and the only example in our collections. Recent conservation treatment will help insure its preservation for future researchers. 

The freedoms we enjoy today are the results of years of struggle in formation of a new government, a military force and a financial system.  The signing on the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia was only one step towards building a new nation, years of conflict and sacrifice followed this momentous event.  Pennsylvania is known as the “birthplace of liberty”, let us recognize and celebrate this on Independence Day 2011!                                                                                                                    

Warfel, Stephen G.
Historical Archaeology at Ephrata Cloister A Report on 2002 & 2003 Investigations Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .


  1. I believe your conclusion on the 11th PA button is incorrect. After checking with the PA archives and Don Troiani, the 11 button is from the 11th Continental infantry of 1776-1777. In January 1777 they became the 2nd Rhode Island regiment. I am told similar buttons were also found in the Lake Champlain area of New York. The old 11th (1776 to mid 1778) was never in that area of Lake Champlain.
    - Justin Blocksom (member of the recreated 11th Pennsylvania Regt.)

  2. Thank you for your interest and research of the 11th Continental Infantry. We have also been in contact with Mr. Troiani who as you state identified the button to the Continental Infantry. However, the archaeological recovery of the button from a buried context at Ephrata Cloister is not refuted. Mr. Troiani provided this hypothesis as to its recovery at Ephrata; It's a button of the 11th Continental Infantry of 1776-77. In January of 1777 they became the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment. They were in the Trenton-Princeton campaign of late 1776-77 so my guess is that someone wounded there wound up at your hospital site. After that they were stationed mostly in the West Point area for the rest of the war.
    Site Curator at Ephrata also adds ", the soldiers did not arrive here right after Brandywine as was the old tradition. They arrived here in December as the Americans were pulling back to Valley Forge and the field hospitals were being evacuated to the interior." This is a fascinating time in our Nation's history and these small pieces provide the tangible evidence of the hardships endured by soldiers from this period. Again, our thanks for your insight and interest in preserving our past.