Historical Markers
Muhlenberg House Historical Marker
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Muhlenberg House

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
201 Main St. (Old US 422), Trappe

Dedication Date:
April 28, 1960

Behind the Marker

The American Revolution was an empowering movement for Pennsylvania's Germans. During the colonial period they had refused to seek political office, preferring to involve themselves in their congregations and follow the lead of the Quaker Party. Frustrated by the refusal of the Assembly to address their concerns for protection from Indian attack on the frontier, German-speaking Pennsylvanians, living in the hinterland, used the Revolution to further their own political interests.

Once war broke out, the vast majority of the colony's 120,000 German-speaking people, members of the Lutheran and Reformed churches, joined the patriot cause by enlisting in or provisioning the Continental Army, and swearing allegiance to the new revolutionary government. The only exceptions were the Moravians, Mennonites, and smaller pietist groups, who refused to take sides with either army because of their pacifist beliefs. The political awakening and revolutionary involvements of Pennsylvania's Germans can be seen in the activities of Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg, and his sons, John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg and Frederick August Conrad Muhlenberg.
Oil on canvas of the famed Woodstock scene in which General Muhlenberg laid aside his clerical gown. Mulenberg preaching from a pulpit in fill military garb under his robe.
Reverend Johann Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg throwing off his robes, by Stanley...

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg had immigrated to Pennsylvania from his birthplace in the German principality of Hanover in 1742. From his Lutheran church in Philadelphia, he ministered to the swelling population of German immigrants who poured into Pennsylvania during the mid-1700s. One of the very few ordained German Lutheran ministers in the province, Muhlenberg patiently cultivated Pennsylvania Lutheranism from a few dozen congregations in the early 1740s to more than 140 dynamic churches by the outbreak of the American Revolution. Although American Lutheranism did not have a hierarchical organization or a centralized leadership, Muhlenberg served the same role as a bishop, riding hundreds of miles each year to perform sacraments, extend pastoral care to congregations with vacant pulpits, and settle disputes within the denomination.

In the 1770s Muhlenberg left Philadelphia to minister to the growing Lutheran population in the Perkiomen Valley, and to distance himself from the heated disagreements within Philadelphia's Lutheran community. Although his conservative nature and the Hanoverian origins he shared with King George III of England made him reluctant to join the patriot cause, Muhlenberg's experience in America eventually made him a strong supporter of independence. From his house at Trappe, near the juncture of two important roads leading between Philadelphia and Reading, Muhlenberg opened his house to Continental officers and privates, herdsmen and wagoneers, and state and Congressional leaders during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777-78. He also provided refuge for civilians who streamed from the city by the thousands to avoid the ravages of war. Resisting the pleas of kinsmen to flee the area, marker Muhlenberg recorded his own observations on the shared trauma of the divided civilian community and the two armies.

Pastor Muhlenberg's son, John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, joined the Continental Army in 1776. Known simply as "Peter," the younger Muhlenberg was educated at the Academy of Philadelphia and at Halle, in Germany. After an unsuccessful mercantile apprenticeship, he briefly joined the British army before returning to Pennsylvania. Licensed as a Lutheran minister, Peter relocated to the Virginia frontier to serve the growing congregations of that area. But when the war broke out, he joined the Continental Army, where he rose to the rank of brigadier general, and served near his father's home during the markerValley Forge winter.
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg preaching, with outstretched hand, in a barn. Light is shinning through the window and the barn door invitingly open.
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg

Another son, Frederick August Conrad Muhlenberg, followed in his father's career as a minister. Born in Trappe, Pennsylvania, on January 1, 1750, Frederick pursued an academic course, attending the University of Halle, Germany, where he studied theology and was ordained a minister of the Lutheran Church on October 25, 1770. At the outbreak of hostilities against England, he was preaching in New York City. When the British entered the city, he returned to Pennsylvania, where he served as a pastor, in Oley and New Goshenhoppen, until August 1779. There, Frederick's fierce patriotism compelled him to enter Revolutionary politics. From 1779 to 1780, he served as a member of the Continental Congress.

After the war, Peter Muhlenberg returned to Pennsylvania, where he was elected first to the Supreme Executive Council and, later, in the 1790s, to the federal Congress. Frederick held several important posts within the state's government, as a member of the House of Representatives (1780-1783), speaker of the House (1780-1783), delegate to and president of the Pennsylvania state constitutional convention in 1787 called to ratify the federal Constitution, president of the Council of Censors of Pennsylvania, and receiver general of the Pennsylvania Land Office (1800-1801). He also served the new federal government from 1789 to 1797 as a representative in the First, Second, Third and Fourth Congresses, and as Speaker of the House of Representatives for the First and Third Congresses.

After the American Revolution, Reverend Henry Muhlenberg resumed his service to the Lutheran church as a missionary. His influence extended north to New England and into the backcountry lower south before he died in 1787. In the process, he helped to make Lutheranism an important vehicle for the promotion of moral values and ethnic customs among Pennsylvania's German-speaking peoples.
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