Black Robed Regiment

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The Black Robed Regiment was a term of scorn that British troops used[1] to describe American clergy, especially Anglican clerics, who preached forceful sermons in direct support of American Revolutionary Patriots.

Peter Muhlenberg was the most memorable member of the Black Robed Regiment. On January 21, 1776, Muhlenberg stood up in his church in Woodstock, Virginia and preached a sermon from Ecclesiastes chapter 3. He quoted the text about “a time of war and a time of peace.” Then he said,

In the language of the holy writ, there was a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away. There is a time to fight, and that time has now come!

So saying, he stripped off his pastoral robe, and showed his congregants the uniform he wore as a general in the Continental Army. (His brother Frederick once objected to Peter Muhlenberg’s involvement in the war against the King. When British troops burned down his church in front of him, Frederick joined the Continental Army himself.)

British and Tory criticism

The term has its origins with Peter Oliver, a British loyalist[2][3], and was also used by British troops.[1] The role of American Clergy was widely recognized in that era on both sides. One loyalist wrote in 1774:

It is an indubitable fact, that previous to and during all these acts of violence committed in the Colonies, especially to the Eastward, the Presbyterian pulpits groaned with the most wicked, malicious, and inflammatory harangues, pronounced by the favourite orators among that sect, spiriting their godly hearers to the most violent opposition to Government; persuading them that the intention of Government was to rule them with a rod of iron, and to make them all slaves; and assuring them that if they would rise as one man to oppose those arbitrary schemes, God would assist them to sweep away every ministerial tool (the amiable name these wretches are pleased to bestow on the professors of the Church,) from the face of the earth; that now was the time to strike, whilst Government at home was afraid of them; together with a long string of such seditious stuff well calculated to impose on the poor devils their hearers, and make them rush into every kind of extravagance and folly, which if I foresee aright, they will have leisure enough to be sorry for.[4]

Impact

Historians have recognized the important role that the clergy had in the century leading up to the revolution, particularly the most recent decade preceding it.(1766-1776) Benjamin Franklin Morris, writing in his book Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, developed in the official and historical annals of the Republic said:

The ministers of the Revolution were, like their Puritan predecessors, bold and fearless in the cause of their country. No class of men contributed more to carry forward the Revolution and to achieve our independence than did the ministers of that grand era of liberty. They esteemed the cause just and right, and by their prayers, patriotic sermons, and services rendered the highest assistance to the civil government, the army, and the country.[5]

Alice Mary Baldwin wrote:

The Constitutional Convention and the written Constitution were the children of the pulpit.[6]

Clinton Rossiter wrote:

Had ministers been the only spokesmen of the American cause, had Jefferson, the Adamses, and Otis never appeared in print, the political thought of the Revolution would have followed almost exactly the same line - with perhaps a little more mention of God, but certainly no less of John Locke. In the sermons of the patriot ministers, who were responsible for fully one third of the total output of political thought in these years, we find expressed every possible refinement of the reigning secular faith. The leading thinkers among the ministers, for the most part sons of the Puritan churches, were Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Samuel Cooper, Stephen Johnson, Jonas Clarke, Samuel Webster, and Samuel Cooke. A step behind this select band of prophets was a small army - "the black Regiment," as Peter Oliver labeled it - of staunch expounders of English and natural rights: William Gordon, Samuel West, Samuel Langdon, Judah Champion, Ebenezer Devotion, Simeon Howard, Amos Adams, John Cleaveland, Phillips Payson, Isaac Skillman, John Allen, Thomas Allen, Gad Hitchcock, John Tucker, Charles Turner, Ebenezer Bridge, Eliphalet Williams, Edward Barnard, Jason Haven, Samuel Lockwood, and literally hundreds of others hardly less skilled than Mayhew or Cooper in discussing resistance, unalienable rights, and political consent.[7]

J. T. Headley wrote:

The teachings of the pulpit of Lexington caused the first blow to be struck for American Independence.[8]

Today, patriotic American clergy are once again forming organizations explicitly taking the name "Black Robed Regiment" to promote explicit addressing of political issues as the Bible warrants. One such organization recently held its charter meeting in New Jersey. Such organizations also exist in Virginia and California.[9]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 (2012) The Boston Tea Party: The Foundations of Revolution. ABC-CLIO, 138-141. 
  2. (1781) Origin And Progress Of The American Rebellion, A Tory View, 29. “Mr. Otis, ye. Son, understanding the Foibles of human Nature, although he did not always practise upon that Theory, advanced one shrewd Position, which seldom fails to promote popular Commotions, vizt. that it was necessary to secure the black Regiment, these were his Words, & his Meaning was to engage ye. dissenting Clergy on his Side.” 
  3. (2006) Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the Revolution. Wipf and Stock, 569-570. 
  4. (1838) Address delivered before the Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania, Thursday, November 1st, A.D. 1838, 569-570. 
  5. (1864) Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, developed in the official and historical annals of the Republic, 334. 
  6. (1936) The clergy of Connecticut in revolutionary days. Yale University Press, 134. 
  7. (1963) The political thought of the American Revolution, Part 3, 7-10. 
  8. (1864) The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution, 82. 
  9. Hurlbut TA. Black Robed Regiment in New Jersey. Conservative News and Views. Retrieved on April 26, 2013.

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