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PeterMuhlenbergJohn Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg was a Minister of the Gospel, a Military Officer under General George Washington, and a politician of the Colonial, Revolutionary, and Post-Revolutionary eras in Pennsylvania. His father, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg was a German Lutheran pastor sent to North America as a missionary. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg was integral to the founding of the first Lutheran church body or denomination, in North America and is considered to be the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in the United States. His family had a significant impact on colonial life in North America. In addition to Henry Muhlenberg’s role in the Lutheran church, his children became pastors, military officers, and politicians.

Peter Muhlenberg was born October 1, 1746 in Trappe, Pennsylvania. He was sent, together with his brothers, Frederick Augustus and Gotthilf Henry Ernst 1763 to the University of Halle in Germany. They were educated in Latin at the Francke Foundations. Peter and his brothers went by ship to Germany where their father had once worked at Halle. Peter’s brothers settled into their new life. Peter did not. The teachers could see that he was not a scholar and helped him learn a trade. Peter was sent to work for a man named Herr Leonhard Niemeyer. Herr Niemeyer had a shop in the town of Lubeck. He promised to teach Peter about running a business and to teach him about medicine.

Herr Niemeyer did not keep his promises. Peter worked hard every day, long hours but not learning anything. He had only two shirts, and no warm coat. The people at Halle blamed Peter. Knowing that he must find a way out, Peter contacted a man named Captain Fiser. Captain Fiser was recruiting soldiers for the British army to go to America. Peter left the Niemeyer house early one morning and was sworn into the British army. Muhlenberg, having spent time in Germany from 1763 to 1766, now sailed to America with Captain Fiser’s regiment. When he reached America, he was let out of the army and Peter’s father gladly paid for his trip home.

Peter Muhlenberg served briefly in the German dragoons, earning the nickname “Teufel Piet” (Devil Pete) before returning to Philadelphia. Peter’s father sent him back to school to learn bookkeeping. Provost Wrangle was a Lutheran minister. He offered to teach Peter. Peter learned from him about being a minister. Muhlenberg learned to preach sermons. Soon he was preaching sermons in churches in the area. Peter’s brothers came home from Germany in 1770. They both became ministers. There he received a classical education from the Academy of Philadelphia, which is today the University of Pennsylvania. He was ordained in 1768.

Before moving to Woodstock, Virginia. In 1770 he married Anna Barbara “Hannah” Meyer, the daughter of a successful potter. Together they had six children. Muhlenberg visited England in 1772 and was ordained into the priesthood of the Anglican Church although he served a Lutheran congregation. Since the Anglican Church was the state church of Virginia, he was required to be ordained in an Anglican church in order to serve a congregation in Virginia. Besides his new congregation, he led the Committee of Safety and Correspondence for Dunmore County, Virginia. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1774, and was a delegate to the First Virginia Convention.

According to a biography written by his great nephew in the mid 1800’s, on January 21, 1776 in the Anglican church in Woodstock, Virginia, Reverend Muhlenberg took his sermon text from the third chapter Ecclesiastes, which starts with “To everything there is a season…”; after reading the eighth verse, “a time of war, and a time of peace,” he then declared, “And this is the time of war,” removing his clerical robe to reveal his Colonel’s uniform. The next day he led out 300 men from the county to form the nucleus of the Eighth Virginia. Muhlenberg’s unit was first posted to the South, to defend the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.

During the early years of the Revolution, while Muhlenberg was still in Virginia, he became a follower of patriot Patrick Henry. His contributions to the revolutionary cause included service as the chair of the Committee of Safety in Virginia’s House of Burgesses (1775) and as a member of Virginia’s provincial convention in 1776.

In early 1777, the Eighth was sent north to join Washington’s main army. Muhlenberg was made a Brigadier General of the Virginia Line and commanded that Brigade in Nathanael Greene’s division at Valley Forge. Muhlenberg saw service in the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. After Monmouth, most of the Virginia Line was sent to the far south, while General Muhlenberg was assigned to head up the defense of Virginia using mainly militia units. At the Battle of Yorktown, he commanded the first brigade in Lafayette’s Light Division. His brigade was made up of the Corps of Light Infantry, consisting of the light infantry companies of the line regiments of Massachusetts (ten companies), Connecticut (five companies), New Hampshire (five companies), and Rhode Island and New Jersey (one each).

At the battle of Yorktown, Muhlenberg’s brigade held the right flank and manned the two trenches built to move American cannons closer to Cornwallis defenses. The battalion commanded by French Lt-Col Jean-Joseph Sourbader, Chevalier de Gimat, led the night bayonet attack that stormed Redoubt No. 10 on October 14, 1781. At the end of the war (1783), he was promoted to major general and settled in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

After the war, Virginia had rewarded Peter for his good work by granting him some land in Ohio. Peter Muhlenberg traveled to Ohio by horse and flat-bottomed boat. He reached Louisville but found that the land was not free. It belonged to the Native Americans who lived there. Peter came back home to Pennsylvania, telling Congress to make a treaty with the Native Americans before any more people attempted to settle there. After his return, Muhlenberg decided to permanently live in Pennsylvania.

Peter Muhlenberg was elected to the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1784. He was elected Vice-President of the Council, a position comparable to that of Lieutenant Governor, on October 31, 1787. His term as Vice-President ended on a mysterious note. On October 14, 1788 the minutes of the Executive Council report that Muhlenberg had left Philadelphia without tendering his resignation—why his resignation was needed or expected is not noted—so a messenger was sent after him. That night, after the messenger returned with the resignation, the Council met at President Benjamin Franklin’s home to choose Muhlenberg’s successor, electing David Redick to the position.

When the Constitution was written, Peter worked to have it accepted by the people. In 1787 Pennsylvania accepted the Constitution. There was a big parade. Peter carried a large blue flag. It had silver letters on it. It read, “Seventeenth of September, 1787.” Benjamin Franklin was elected President of Pennsylvania in 1787. Peter Muhlenberg was elected Vice President. Benjamin Franklin was in poor health. Peter took over many of his duties. George Washington became President in 1789. Peter Muhlenberg joined the Congress. He went to the first, third, sixth, and seventh sessions of Congress. He never made a single speech.

Muhlenberg was elected to the 1st Congress (1789–1791) as one of the at-large representatives from Pennsylvania. His brother Frederick was the Speaker of the House for that same Congress. He was the first founder of the Democratic-Republican Societies in 1793. Muhlenberg served in Congress as a Republican during the 3rd Congress 1793-1795 and 5th Congress 1799-1801 for the 1st district.

Muhlenberg died in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania on October 1, 1807 and is buried at the Augustus Lutheran Church in Trappe, Pennsylvania.

This information was taken from the following references: