Revolutionary War: Panels depict 15 portraits of the past

The 150th anniversary celebration in 1927 of Continental Congress’ visit to York featured the commissioning of these 15 paintings. Sesquincentennial organizers posted the paintings, measuring about 3 1/2 feet by 6 feet, on light poles in York’s Continental Square.

J. Horace Rudy, prominent York County artist, planned the panels and other festive decorations in the square where those portrayed once walked. The outdoor panels are a forerunner to the large-scale paintings in The Murals of York program, prominent at the turn of the 21st century.

The 1927 observance of Congress’ nine-month occupation of York was one of the largest on record. The multi-day event included a parade, with a reported 4,000 participants, and a pageant at the York Fairgrounds, ‘The White Rose of York,’ written for the occasion.

David Kornhauser, artist
Gen. Anthony Wayne (1745-1796), called “Mad Anthony” by a deserter after a successful night attack in the Battle of Stony Point in 1779, commanded in many key northern battles. The Pennsylvania tanner-turned-general spent time in York Town in 1781 recruiting and reorganizing his Pennsylvania Line to fight in a war that had moved to the South. In that Pennsylvania town, he successfully put down a mutiny caused, in part, by the inactivity of his troops, who lacked an enemy to fight. In the South, Wayne’s men fought in several battles, including the Yorktown, Va., campaign that ended in British Gen. Cornwallis’ surrender. “In Wayne, as Washington appraised him, the spark of daring might flame into rashness,” historian Douglas Southall Freeman wrote, “but it was better to have such a leader and occasionally to cool him to caution than forever to be heating the valor of men who feared they would singe their plumes in battle.”
Albert Bosshart, artist
Michael Doudle’s rifle company from York County was among the patriot rifle units known for marksmanship. One unidentified Continental Army rifleman astonished onlookers in Cambridge, Mass., by having his brother hold a piece of white paper the size of a dollar between his knees and hitting it at 60 yards with a rifle shot. Author Sid Moody said the British soon came to respect the woodsmen “with their cursed twisted (rifled) guns … the most fatal widow-orphan makers in the word.” The riflemen also became known for their lack of uniformity in dress. “Even with the hunting shirts gone,” Moody wrote, “inspection … looked like an explosion in a pizza factory.”
Mary Fratz Andrade, artist
Philip Livingston (1716-1778), one of the oldest members of Congress, died shortly after arriving in York Town from New York. He was buried in York Town’s German Reformed Church cemetery. The Rev. George Duffield, one of the chaplains of Congress, presided at the grave, with the rest of the town’s clergymen joining the audience. His body was later moved across town to Prospect Hill Cemetery. Grandson Stephen Van Rensselaer erected a monument that stands today.
Albert Bosshart, artist
Anglican William White (1748-1836), rector of Christ Church in Philadelphia, and Presbyterian George Duffield served as chaplains to Congress during that body’s stay in York Town. After the Revolution, White became the first Episcopal bishop in Pennsylvania. The Episcopal Church was the American expression of the Anglican church. White was a well-connected patriot. He was a friend of George Washington, and Robert Morris, the statesman who helped finance the Revolution, was his brother-in-law. Many of the nation’s founders attended Christ Church. He preached there every Sunday until well into his 80s. By the time of his death, he was known as the “Father of the Episcopal Church.”
George W. Cotter, artist
John Hancock (1737-1793), one of the richest men in the Colonies, presided over Congress when it moved to York Town. Citing ill health, Hancock took a leave of absence to return to Massachusetts a month after he arrived. Henry Laurens of South Carolina served as president during the remainder of Congress’ stay. Hancock returned to York Town six months later, in time to head back east to Philadelphia. There, Hancock left for home after signing the Articles of Confederation, again citing ill health. Some have speculated that Hancock wasn’t satisfied to serve as a rank-and-file delegate.
Mary Fratz Andrade, artist
John Adams (1735-1826) was a loving husband and said so in his frequent letters from York Town and elsewhere to his wife, Abigail. About six weeks after his arrival in York Town, Adams took a leave to his Massachusetts home. Duty to his country soon drew him away from his beloved wife and children to Paris, where he joined diplomats Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee. He did not return to York County, then divided and its western half named Adams County in his honor, until 1800. This time he visited as U.S. president.
Mary Fratz Andrade, artist
Henry Miller (1751-1824), whose family founded Millersville in Lancaster County, fought in many of the war’s northern battles before returning home in 1779. Back in York Town, he parlayed his considerable war experience into community leadership. He became the first burgess, or mayor, of the newly minted borough of York in 1787. Unlike many other 18th-century leaders who lived out their days in the county, Miller moved from York County later in life and died in Perry County. Miller’s war exploits included heading a company of riflemen, the York County Rifle Company, that showed off its marksmanship by firing on a target drawn on the side of a barn.
Hay Gilbert, artist
Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794) and Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734-1797), his brother, served in Congress in York Town. They were members of Virginia’s first family. Another brother, Arthur, served as American envoy with Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane and later John Adams in Paris. Henry “Light Horse Larry” Lee, also a member of the family, was a Revolutionary War hero and the father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Harry Lee involuntarily stayed in York County for treatment of injuries sustained in trying to help a friend defend his printing press during a Baltimore riot in 1812. Richard Henry Lee served with Samuel Adams and Daniel Roberdeau in drafting the proclamation setting aside a day of thanksgiving and praise to observe the American victory at Saratoga. He also recognized the need for a printing press. “The want of a Press here obliges us to furnish manuscript accounts of military events,” he wrote, “and this is attended with great difficulty amidst the pressure of much business.”
Albert Bosshart, artist
Robert Morris (1734-1806), the “Financier of the Revolution,” spent most of his time during Congress’ stay in York Town working out of his Lancaster County home. There, delegates and military officials frequently stopped to discuss affairs of state. To maintain communications, Morris made several visits to York Town to confer with congressional officials. After the war, Morris lost his fortune in land speculation and spent time in prison because of debt.
Mary Fratz Andrade, artist
A child at her knee, this patriot mother sews a shirt for a soldier — perhaps her husband — away at camp or on the battlefield. Many women during the Revolutionary War managed the homefront, handling many traditional male duties. Women in York County faced a double measure of work because of the large number of visitors passing through — or staying in — the area. The Continental Congress’ visit to York Town brought delegates, their servants, war boards, military guards and messengers. All had to be fed and otherwise accommodated.
David Kornhauser, artist
Henry Laurens (1724-1792) has been called the first activist president of Congress and the first to advocate strengthening executive power. He rose to the presidency after only four months in Congress. This outspoken South Carolinian provided stable leadership during Congress’ stay in York Town, but a controversy over Silas Deane, American envoy to France, tarnished Laurens’ leadership after that body’s return to Philadelphia. Whatever his shortcomings, Laurens provided a common denominator during Congress’ nine months in York Town. Delegates came and went, but Laurens was a constant, convening Congress day after day when America’s fortunes seemed to hang in the balance.
Hay Gilbert, artist
Super patriot Samuel Adams (1722-1803) traveled twice to York Town — once in fleeing Philadelphia and the second time days before Congress left to reconvene in Philadelphia. Shortly after his initial arrival in York Town, he made a speech one evening that calmed gathered patriots. “Let us still rely in humble confidence on Him who is might to save. Good tidings will soon arrive,” he said. “We shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we act worthy of its aid and protection.” Back in Philadelphia, the colorful and outspoken Adams resumed his place among congressional leaders: “I heartily despise the small Dealers in Politicks who are propagating idle Stories to injure me. Little Insects will be for ever playing around the glimmering Light of a farthing Candle. It is out of the power of those Men to disturb the Peace of my Mind.”
Albert Bosshart, artist
The image of James Smith of York County, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, draws together several elements of the Continental Congress’ nine-month visit to the remote Pennsylvania county. Smith, portrayed in his South George Street law office, served as a Pennsylvania delegate to Congress. They met in the York County Court House in York Town’s Centre Square, seen in the background. Delegates bttled the same winter snow and chill that caused such pain to the Continental Army in Valley Forge. Their York Town accommodations were far superior to the military’s but far below the standard of living the delegates usually enjoyed. Smith — attorney, military organizer, businessman and lawmaker — was a leader in 18th-century York County and the young nation. “Colonel James Smith was indeed a hero … a man who stood shoulder to shoulder with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Carroll and other great Revolutionary figures,” Henry C. Kessler Jr., a York College professor, wrote. “He has earned our undying love and homage and merits our eternal gratitude.”
David Kornhauser, artist
Thomas Hartley (1748-1800), a York County attorney, held the rank of colonel in the Continental Army during the war. This brought him into contact with George Washington, a relationship that continued to grow over the next 20 years. “I have a hundred times seen Col. Hartley received in the halls of the great President, where so many Revolutionary worthies were made welcome,” a biographer of Washington said, “and to none was the hand of honored and friendly recognition more feelingly offered; on none did the merit-discerning eye of the Chief appear to bear with more pleasure than on Hartley of York.” Hartley became the county’s first congressman under the U.S. Constitution, serving from 1789 until his death in 1800.
Hay Gilbert, artist
Cavalry officer Casimir Pulaski (c. 1748-1779) earned distinguished military honors in Europe. Finding his estates confiscated in Poland, he gained a letter of support from Benjamin Franklin in Paris for a command in the Continental Army. His American career, which included a recruiting stint in York Town, was less successful. Historians observe that his arrogance and tendency to quarrel led to controversy, and his undisciplined cavalry troopers fared poorly in the field.