Happy (almost) Independence Day!!
As Americans we often have trouble imagining being ruled by a king or queen. Especially lately, much attention has been given to our liberties and freedoms. These are important conversations because those who put the laws in place intended them to be living and dynamic; able to change as the people they govern change. Sometimes, though, we loose sight of how new and different those laws were when they were laid out before the Continental Congress. Personal liberty wasn’t just a new concept – it was down right weird. Sure, England had a tradition of its people having some influence over how they are governed, but never in history have people been sovereign. These crazy men and women wanted to make something based on the ideas and theories.
By the time Americans wanted their independence, they had already made several efforts to stay with the crown. After all, they were British. They didn’t see themselves as being any different from their cousins across the pond. But they were different: very different. Americans were healthier and lived longer than their English counterparts. Most were several generations removed from the homeland. So while they thought of themselves as British, those in Europe did not agree. These silly colonists thought they deserved equality. They were not equal, according to the British. The colonists were always asking for more. England was spending a fortune fighting Native Americans and the French for these ungrateful colonists and now they didn’t even want to pay the small taxes the Crown asked from them.
We wanted to pay taxes, we always had, but we wanted to have a say in the taxes we paid. They let other British holdings have a place in parliament, and we just wanted the same. Instead, we are treated like the second-class citizens we were viewed as, despite having more wealth and prosperity. Fueled by the ideals of the Enlightenment, we went out on a limb. A very far out limb. History books paint a picture of all colonists wanted this severance from their homeland and Crown.
The truth: it was a scary proposition to accept. Without British support, at best we were exposed to Native American, French, and Spanish attacks. Merchants feared for their businesses, too. Most of what they sold was to England and without that market, business could go bad quick. Farmers wondered if their crops could still be sold to the merchants. Liberty and freedoms seemed great, but it would take so much sacrifice, many wondered if it was worth the price.
Peter Kimball knew it was. Born in Sussex, New Jersey, Peter was a teenager, in the middle of the area where the most ardent supporters of a revolution were, and he must have overheard innumerable conversations around him about these issues. His father was born in America, too, and Peter must have felt more like an American than some. We are not sure when Peter signed up with his local militia, but we do know he was ready and willing, from the beginning of the revolution, to fight for the freedom of children he would someday have, and all those who would follow after them. Making him even more special: he was only 16 years old at the time! When I was 16, I was excited to get to drive, and hanging out with my friends. When Peter was 16, he was preparing for war with the strongest, biggest, and best army in the entire world, and signed up with the First Regiment of the New Jersey militia in 1776. Peter served under Col. Mark Thompson, and together they stood up to the powerful Redcoats.
His first orders were:
“1 September, Sunday. We were ordered to be in readiness to march at a minute’s warning. The soldiery were ordered to cook 2 days provisions and were prevented attending religious exercises.”
Upon enlisting, Peter was given one felt hat, a pair of yarn stockings, and shoes. He was to provide his own arms. On the 25th of October, 1776, Peter’s regiment was inspected. The commissioners found the men and boys “destitute of many articles of dress, supplies of every kind they want, but shoes and stockings they are in the last necessity for, many having neither to their feet. After suffering devastating defeats by the British army in and around New York City, Washington’s bedraggled army in November and December of 1776 fled through New Jersey and across the Delaware River with the British in pursuit. During the next months, local militiamen harassed the British by intercepting supplies, ambushing, and more, while camped at Morrison, New Jersey. These militiamen were exposed to death from the British, Natives who sided with the British, starvation, disease, and extreme weather. Peter probably still didn’t have shoes, but wrapped his feet in bandages and old cloths. Maybe he later got a pair of boots from another soldier who had died, maybe this was his friend. These were hard and desperate times, and I sometimes wonder how often each man thought of just leaving – going home – going back to when they weren’t watching their friends dying, watching their feet turn black and their toes fall off, and watching their opponents seem to have little suffering compared to what they were experiencing. But, Peter, and his fellow soldier, didn’t leave. A 16-year-old kid stayed through all of this, and more, and witnessed horrors I cannot begin to imagine so I could live in this grand experiment of American liberty.
On the 9th of September, in 1777, Peter was 17 and at the Battle of Brandywine. Washington placed his troops, including Peter, along the Brandywine River to guard the main fords. By placing detachments of troops at Pyle’s Ford — the southernmost possible crossing of the river — and Wistar’s Ford — the northernmost crossing of the river before it forked — Washington hoped to force a fight at Chadds Ford, an advantageous position. Washington believed that he had all of the fords along the Brandywine guarded by his troops and that the closest unguarded ford was twelve miles up-river. Washington was confident that the area was secure.
On September 11th the battle began with a heavy fog which blanketed the area, providing cover for the approaching British troops. When the fog cleared, the sun blazed and the heat was sweltering. The first reports of British troop movements indicated to Washington that Howe had divided his forces, and in the confusion Washington persisted in the mistaken belief that the British were sending their entire force against his line at Chadds Ford. By mid-afternoon the British had crossed the river at the unguarded ford to the north of Washington’s force and they had gained a strategic position near Birmingham Friends Meeting House. When the British appeared on the American right flank, Washington realized that he had been outmaneuvered. He ordered Peter and his army to take the high ground around Birmingham Friends Meeting House as a last defense. Unfortunately, in the confusion caused by the surprise, the Americans were unable to successfully defend their position. The Americans fought valiantly, but they had been outwitted on the rolling hills along the Brandywine. Nightfall finally brought an end to the battle. The defeated Americans retreated to Chester. The bulk of the army arrived by midnight with the remainder trickling in until dawn.
Philadelphia now belonged to the British army, and the Continental Congress had fled. A couple of weeks later, on the 4th of October, 1777, Peter fought in the Battle of Germantown. On the night of October 3, four converging American columns, including Peter and the New Jersey militia, began a sixteen-mile march towards Germantown. The fighting began at 5:30 on the morning of the 4th. By the afternoon, they were running low on ammunition and seemed to start to unravel. One column had trouble finding its way and failed to reach the battlefield. A second column fired at, but did not charge, the enemy camp. The column tasked with attacking the center of the British camp, led by General John Sullivan, was the first to engage the British in spirited combat. Sullivan’s column caught the British pickets by surprise and succeeded in driving back the startled British army.
The tide of the battle turned, however, when the last column, commanded by General Nathaniel Greene, entered the fray. Greene’s column had farther to travel than the center column and so had gotten a later start. By the time it reached the British camp, the field was obscured by a thick fog and gun smoke, and Sullivan’s column had already pushed well into the British camp, into Greene’s path. The two American columns stumbled into each other and, unable to make visual contact, fired upon each other. (It didn’t help that the commander of one of Greene’s divisions, General Adam Stephen, was noticeably intoxicated when he brought his men into the battle.) By the time the two columns realized what had happened, they faced a punishing counter-assault from the British that drove them from the field. During the grinding five-hour battle, Washington’s casualties numbered 152 killed, 521 wounded, and approximately 400 captured. Howe’s losses included 70 killed and 451 wounded. Still, the British were greatly surprised that an opponent whom they believed was beaten could launch such a fierce attack. Once again, though, Peter Kimball was alive.
Despite the defeat at Germantown, Washington could take solace in the fact that the soldiers of his Continental Army conducted themselves well in the heat of battle. The professionalism and discipline displayed by the American army had improved noticeably since the American Revolution began. Shortly after the Battle of Germantown, Washington’s army retired to a winter camp at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where–with help from the Prussian General Von Steuben (a shady character, who came from suspicious origins, but did much to bring the continentals into being a standardized army)–it was able to further hone its skills and emerge the next year a superior force. Peter fought to the end, and was 23 years old when the American Revolution was finally done. He married Eve Kouse two years later, in 1785.
After Peter and Eve married, they continued to live in Sussex County, New Jersey, where Margaret and John Kimble were born. In 1798 they moved from Sussex County, New Jersey to Buck County Pennsylvania, and to them were born there Anna, Mary, Peter, Elizabeth, Henry, William and Jacob Kimble. In 1811 they moved from Bucks County, Penn to Lycoming County, Penn to what was Muncy Township but now is known as Upper Fairfield Township. Eve died there March 15th, 1828 age 63 years. Peter then went to live with Jacob Kimble in the same township, 10 miles from Williamsport, PA. He died there March 30, 1846 at the age of 86 years. They are buried at what is known as Buckley’s Cemetery, eight miles from Williamsport, PA.
We hear about the triumphs and hardships of George Washington and his army often in reference to the American Revolution. However, history books tend to focus on the leaders of the battles and armies. Peter Kimball is a great example of the average American who believed so intently in the ideas of the Revolution, he took up arms, and followed Washington through Hell. Then, he went home, married, had children, and lived out his life knowing he did his part to establish this grand experiment of the United States, and he left it up to us to ensure it continues.