“When rebellion reared its hideous head, he was the first to abandon his valuable property, and join the Royal Standard under which he rendered invaluable services to his country.” Montreal Herald, May 20, 1815
The beginnings of the Pastorius family in Philadelphia are well documented. From early days in 1683, the family prospered as sons and daughters married and raised children of their own. Even today the name Pastorius is recognized in street signs, historic plaques, schools, and a larger-than-life monument in Vernon Park. But for many years there was a glaring hole in the fabric of the Pastorius family story. A missing person.
It happens. There are stories in my own experience; cousins of mine, a family of nine children, leaving church service on a Sunday morning only to realize once they were home that one was missing – later found sitting on the church steps quite resigned to the fact that, if it hadn’t been him it would surely have been one of his sisters or brothers.
When I started looking, the first and only mention I found of my 4x great grandfather was this: "After the Revolutionary War he removed to Canada and was lost sight of." It seemed entirely reasonable that I should go back for Abraham. After all, he has been patiently waiting for nearly two hundred and fifty years.
Let us begin in 1777 just outside the city of Philadelphia. On September 25th, the British army arrived in Germantown. A twelve-year-old boy sitting on his front porch saw the officers, the red-coated men, and refugee greens (American Loyalists), the highlanders (Scottish troops), and grenadiers as they marched in silence into Germantown. The boy later said, “In all their progress there was no violence or offence.” (The Surprise of Germantown, Thomas J. McGuire)
When the British entered Philadelphia they were welcomed by loyal supporters of the King's cause. Captain-Lieutenant Downman wrote, "The roads and streets were crowded with people who huzzaed and seemed overjoyed to see us." One week later the streets were littered with the casualties of the Battle of Germantown.
Well before the British arrived in Germantown, Abraham Pastorius was outspoken in his Loyalist sympathies. The Green Tree Tavern owned by his parents was well known as a safe haven for several very conspicuous Tories living in Germantown. When the troubles began, Abraham was an obvious target.
Tax Collector Tarred and Feathered, 1764. New York Public Library / Science Source
Condemned for treason he was led through the streets by rebels to deter others. Mobs were raised to tar and feather him. One British officer who witnessed the events believed that Abraham’s firmness to Government was only a “very great inducement to others to follow his example.”
Sometimes a family search begins with the hope of finding a hero. But heroes wear many guises. In twenty years of research, what I most often find is the narrative of a life lived — human beings compelled by circumstances to make difficult, life-altering decisions. This remains constant. One crisp autumn morning my 4x great grandfather stood in the doorway of his home, said goodbye to his young wife and children, and changed the course of their lives forever.
Abraham Pastorius was born October 10, 1745, the second child of Daniel and Sarah Shoemaker Pastorius. The eldest son in a family of four, one can imagine he grew up enjoying the freedoms of a full life in Germantown. Abraham was a respected citizen in comfortable circumstances at the outbreak of the Revolution, the owner of landed property which had been in the possession of the Pastorius family since 1684.
The Loyalists of Quebec, a book published in1989 by Heritage Branch United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada, includes an excellent chapter on Abraham Pastorius, ‘The Quaker Saddler’. I found his ties to the Religious Society of Friends to be tenuous at best. As early as 1767 a complaint was lodged at the Abington Monthly Meeting of Friends against Abraham and his younger brother Samuel —
“Germantown Friends enter a complaint against Abraham Pastorius and Samuel Pastorius, sons of Daniel Pastorius, deceased, being deemed to have a birth right in our Religious Society their parents having been married in the way thereof, but were disowned, whilst their children were very young and the said Abraham particularly taking a loose latitude in his conversation such as swearing profanely and behaving rudely, unbecoming a person professing our religious principles, has been treated with thereon and admonished to refrain from those evil practices by Germantown Friends which seems to have too little effect upon him; also that both of them wholly neglect attending our religious meetings, and rather choose as we understand to go to other Societies when they go to any place of worship, and has signified to some friends that they chuse not to be deemed members of our Society, they intending to frequent the Church (as they term it) as being most agreeable to their present sentiments. John Jones and John Child are applied to draw up a Testimony of Denial against the said Abraham Pastorius and his conduct and produce it to next meeting.”
On March 17th, 1769 Abraham Pastorius and Eleanor Leech were married at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, Germantown. A daughter, Eleanor, was born to them in 1772 but lived only one year. Charles, Daniel, and Margaret followed soon after and the youngest, Eleanor was born in 1779.
St. Michael's Lutheran Church, Germantown, Philadelphia. Library Company of Philadelphia
At sunrise on October 4, 1777, American troops under General George Washington marched on British troops stationed in Germantown. It was a British victory. During the Battle of Germantown, the Americans listed an official loss of over 1000 troops. The loss of the royal army amounted to 533 men. During the battle, the attacking Americans under General Wayne reached as far as the Green Tree Tavern as they made their way towards the centre of the town. As the battle raged Abraham’s wife was giving birth to their daughter Margaret. Where was Abraham?
Battle of Germantown, 1782. Museum of the American Revolution
Abraham volunteered for the Royal Guides and Pioneers, a corps attached to Beverley Robinson’s Loyal American Regiment. During the winter of 1777 while the British remained in Philadelphia, Abraham was employed without pay or reward and was responsible for himself and his two horses. On June 10, 1778, Abraham Pastorius was appointed Lieutenant in the Corps of Guides and Pioneers commanded by Major Commandant Samuel Holland, signed by His Excellency Sir Henry Clinton, K.B. General and Commander in Chief of all His Majesty's forces within the Colonies laying on the Atlantic Ocean, from Nova Scotia to West-Florida, inclusive, &c. &c. &c. This commission entitled Abraham to an allowance of one dollar per day.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, Abraham Pastorius received personal commendations from senior officers Lt. General William Howe, the Commander-in-Chief; Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe; Colonel Robert Abercrombie; Colonel Nisbet Balfour; and others. These men knew Abraham and placed their trust and the safety of their troops in his hands. As a guide he was often in danger as he led the King’s forces on excursions and raids into the Pennsylvania countryside. After the capture of the Hessian corps by General Washington, Abraham Pastorius guided the retreat of the British army from the banks of the Delaware to New York. At the Battle of Crooked Billet on May 1, 1778, Abraham was seriously wounded and suffered from the injuries the rest of his life.
Abraham Pastorius was a tanner and like his father before him, a saddler by trade. His business would have followed a process of tanning unchanged from that practised in 16th century Germany. The establishment was known to be very productive supplying leather goods, saddles, and other furnishings for horses. Abraham was described as a good workman and personally very industrious. He had inherited a valuable tract of land, well timbered and “equal to any woodland in the vicinity” including watered meadow ground and orchards. It was also understood that he received a considerable sum of money by marriage. In other words, he had a lot to lose.
One can only imagine the late-night discussions between Abraham and his brothers. Did they try to dissuade him? Did they support his decision to stand with the King? Did they emphasize his responsibilities to his family? In an episode from the British television series Inspector Morse, when Morse is questioned about his actions he replies, “My mother was a Quaker. I have an overwhelming sense of duty.”
Christopher Sower addresses that duty in the following transcription from a document sworn before the Commissioners of American Claims dated June 25,1785:
“I Christopher Sower late of Germantown in Pennsylvania being duly sworn to depose and say, That I have personally been acquainted with Abraham Pastorius, for twenty years past and upwards, and intimately so during the late rebellion in America; that he was loyal, in my belief, to a high degree and a man of good repute and character; that he refused to pay a fine for non-attendance with the militia of that town on days of exercise and had a horse taken from him and sold by the Collector of those Fines in consequence of that refusal; that he was very civil to the British officers who were prisoners on parole in that town; that he was frequently threatened to be maltreated by the populace for avowing his loyal sentiments; that I recollect in the year 1776 when I was one of the Overseers of the Poor for that Township and the declaration of Independence took place, after being in Office, and I refused to further hurt those poor by levying a tax on the inhabitants under Congressional authority on the new State. Mr. Pastorius was one of those persons who enabled me to support the said poor by subscription, and subscribed and paid me considerably more for that purpose than I could have legally taxed him —that in the year 1777 and 1778 I have also known the said Abraham Pastorius make himself useful to the British Commander and detachments of the Royal Army by collecting intelligence and serving as a Guide and that I particularly remember having heard the said Abraham Pastorius offer unto Colonel Balfour his services in that line, either by day or night.”
Richard Boger, Lieutenant of His Majesty’s ship Liverpool, spoke of his friendship with Abraham Pastorius. “I have always found a friend in him to assist, I also remember that he carried on the saddling business and rather than ‘work for the rebels’ he dropped it.”
Samuel Shoemaker, the Loyalist mayor of Philadelphia testified, “I have known Abraham Pastorius from his infancy, that he resided in Germantown near the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania and was possessed of a good Estate there which he was obliged to abandon on account of his attachment to the Legal, Constitutional Government, in support of which he was very useful and zealous on all occasions.” January 23, 1784
Abraham Pastorius was charged with High Treason and his estate confiscated. He lost everything. His estates and effects were sold by virtue of an Act of the General Assembly of the State of Pennsylvania and the stock of leather in his tan yard and fifty cords of bark were taken for the use of the American Army. His household furniture, tools, and horse were removed. Colonel Balfour wrote, “I know he was obliged to abandon his property and fly from his home when the King’s troops left Philadelphia and I believe his estate has since been confiscated.”
The United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the American Revolutionary War. On November 25th the last British troops left New York City.
Washington's Grand Entry into New York. Nov. 25th, 1783. The Huntington Library.
In anticipation of refugees departing New York, Abraham’s brother Daniel requested a travel pass:
Daniel Pastorius of Germantown, whose brother Abraham Pastorius late of Germantown in 1778 went with the enemy to New York where he has remained ever since, leaving behind him his wife (who since dyed in childbed) and three small children, the eldest of which not being now eight years of age; whose real and personal estate has been confiscated and sold by the agents, without making any provision for his wife and children, has ever since Abraham’s absence, at a considerable charge supported the said children out of his own means and has been informed that the refugees are about leaving New York and is therefore desirous of going there and see whether he can fall on some means with his said Brother for the future maintenance of his said children, and requests pass to go to New York. [Granted.]
What can one add to this devastating summary of Abraham’s situation following the war? We find him grieving the death of his wife, unable to return to his home, and totally dependent on the British Government for compensation of losses. How does one put a value on the trauma of war?
Let us pause for a moment to mourn with Abraham while holding fast to the certainty that hope will be restored. For we know Abraham’s story does not end here.