The Diary of a Patriot

In its long history, the Neebor Lee property had owners of many different religious and political persuasions. In an earlier post I wrote about Peter Horning, the original builder of the Neebor Lee, and his loyalty to England during the Revolutionary War. Thirty-three years before Peter built his stone house, another gentleman who was influenced by the American Revolutionary War owned the property. That gentlemen was Henry Vanderslice. Henry was  born in Providence, Pennsylvania on March 9, 1726 and married Catherine Petronella Sassamanhausen on October 23, 1750. One year after his marriage he was bequeathed by his father, Anton Vanderslice, the plantation upon which Peter Horning would later build the Neebor Lee house. Henry would own the Neebor Lee property from 1751 to 1758.

Henry was Anton’s oldest son. His original occupation was that of a miller, but he soon learned the art of surveying from this grandfather, Hendrick Pannebecker. Pannebecker was an important surveyor who is credited with having surveyed most of the original roads and properties in Philadelphia County1. After Pannebecker’s death in 1754, young Henry succeeded his grandfather as the leading surveyor and conveyancer in the Perkioman and Skippack area. However, he would soon leave his Providence Township plantation. On March 9, 1758 he conveyed the Neebor Lee plantation to his cousin, Rinear Vanderslice, and moved west to Berks County, Pennsylvania, where surveying was more lucrative due to the westward expansion of the colony.

It was in Berks County that he would begin to take on a more prominent role in American history. As a surveyor, conveyancer and later a jailer, Henry gained much prominence in Berks County. So much so, in fact, that in 1774 he was appointed to the position of  sheriff of Berks County by John Penn, who was then the colonial governor of Pennsylvania and the grandson of Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn. Henry would be re-appointed by Penn to that position one year later just as war broke out between the colonies and England. On July 4, 1776 members of the Continental Congress, which was presiding less than 50 miles away in Philadelphia, declared the colonies to be free and independent of England. On July 8, 1776 Henry Vanderslice,  in his role as the sheriff of Berks County, stepped onto a platform in Penn Square in Reading, Pennsylvania, and read the Declaration of Independence for the first time to a large crowd of Berks County residents that had gathered in the square. That moment is described in a book written to celebrate the bicentennial in Berks County2:

“The morning mist had cleared and the bell kept ringing out until the hour of high noon brought the sun to its apex in the heavens. And the crowd continued to swell and it jammed to a sweltering mass of humanity that lined the full length and breath of Penn Square. A bareheaded man climbed the steps of a specially built wooden platform just off the center of the square. In other times this reassembled planking had served as the speakers platform when town meetings were held and, too, the structure had a trap door that served when it was used for public hangings. The man on the platform was Berks Sheriff Henry Vanderslice. He surveyed the huge crowd and then wiped the perspiration from his face. He then unrolled the newly-arrived parchment and began to read:

The Congress assembled – in the City of Philadelphia – on the fourth day of July in the Year of our Lord, One Thousand Seven Hundred Seventy Six: A Declaration of Independence.

Then he went on:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them to another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Henry Vanderslice would officially declare his sympathies for the rebellion the following winter, in March 1777, when, despite his age of 51 years, he enlisted in the Continental Army where he served as a wagoner in the Virginia Battalion Artillery, then camped at the Jockey Hollow encampment in Morristown, New Jersey.  To put this period in perspective, George Washington had defeated the British only several months before in Trenton and then Princeton and had followed the British army northward toward New York City. Washington then established a winter camp at Jockey Hollow, which was tucked safely in the New Jersey Highlands but close enough in distance from New York City to keep a watchful eye on the British forces that were stationed there under the command of General Howe.

Henry Vanderslice’s experience as a soldier in the Continental Army is well documented. He kept a diary of his war exploits, the existence of which was unknown until the heavily worn leather-bound book was discovered in the 1920s. In this diary Henry kept meticulous wartime notes. although his spelling and grammar were poor. Most of the diary entries were recordings of payments for supplies or receipts of payments made to various colonists for his lodgings. His first diary entries were rather mundane. For example, his first entry of March 26, 1777 was an invoice for “3 sherts, 3 stocks, 3 pr stocken, 1 jacket.” His next entry was also an example of the routine information that he would record,

“March 27, 1777 Record of Bill of these Item. Bill one of five shillings and the other three shillings one Massachuset Boy 5 shilling.  If I can pass the same than am to pay Isaac Baker the values If I cannot pass the same to return the same Bill to him agan.”

Over time, however, Henry’s diary entries became less routine and he began to record activities that were occurring around him. For example, on April 29, 1777, Henry documented an accident that resulted in the loss of grain for the troops,

“on the 29 of April accident happened the Brigade. The first load lost in the waters at francis post the bridge across the Mill Brok, the Grain went into the Waters.”

Later, on June 17, 1777, he recorded an altercation that he had with another soldier,

“Thursday 17, 1777. I had some cros words with Philip Kramer I had broak my Inkhorn and had hisen in my pocket. in his anger he demanded his Inkhorn. I had not paid his money. When I went to pay him his money on his demanding the interest he would not receive the horn and he wase Going home.”

Henry eventually left the Virginia Battalion Artillery and joined fellow Pennsylvanians in General John Peter Muhlenberg’s Brigade where he was appointed wagon master. Coincidentally, General Muhlenberg was the son of Reverand Henry Muhlenberg, who was the nemesis of Henry’s church-hating grandfather, Hendrick Pannebecker.  As wagon master, Henry was responsible for 12 wagons with 50 horses and 12 carters. His job was to traverse New Jersey and Pennsylvania, foraging and hauling supplies such as hay, grains, whiskey, beef, pork, salt, baggage, guns, tools and whatever else the Continental troops needed to conduct the war.

Several entries made in Henry Vanderslice’s diary in June 1777. Henry actually kept two diaries. This is an image taken from his second diary, which is limited to receipts of transactions.

Henry joined General Muhlenberg’s Brigade in early June 1777,  just a George Washington was breaking camp to begin his summer campaign against the British. General Howe had broken camp prior to this, having left the confines of New York City in the hope of drawing the Continental Army out of the Highlands so that his forces could engage them. When General Howe found the Continental Army unwilling to leave the protection of the New Jersey Highlands, he pulled his troops back toward New Brunswick, New Jersey. George Washington, saw this as an opportunity to strike, and followed the British forces. In doing so, Washington’s troops encountered British foragers. On these, Henry Vanderslice writes:

“On Saterday 14 of June that there was great movement and the Rigolers com to Summerset.”

The “Rigolers” referenced by Henry are British regulars who where on a foraging expedition to the town of Somerset, New Jersey. New Jersey Militiamen outflanked these foragers at the Battle of Millstone on June 20, 1777, driving them off. Washington’s army continued eastward toward Howe’s army in New Brunswick and reached that town on June 16, 1777. Henry writes,

“On Sunday 22 June our army got portion of Brunswick, and we Lost but few men the Lost of the Ragler we do not know at present – the Rain in evening Raind Little and the Ragular at the time when the com out to Sumner let and Returned on the 18 of June to Brunswick. Burnt several house. them they did note burn they destroyed and plundered and took the peoples goods, drove their Horses cowes sheep swine and the sows. they Left Even Not one. they cut of the standing wheat and rye.”

Thus, Henry Vanderslice documented the plunder of New Brunswick as the British forces under General Howe retreated eastward to Perth Amboy, New Jersey. As George Washington’s troops continued eastward toward them, Howe abruptly turned and struck the American forces hoping to crush Washington and block an Americans retreat to its safe haven in the Highlands. Henry documents the aftermath of that battle, which became known as the Battle of Short Hills,

“On Thurday 26 of June 1777 our people thay would oder the RAglers out from Strawberry Hill and they would not come out – then our people Attacked the Ragler Near AmBoy and our people were obliged to retreat and retreated to wimbl town where there are at present, part of the Army, and the rest at Middle Brook Mountain.”

The British won the battle, but failed to block the retreat of the American forces to the mountains. From the safety of Watchung Mountain at Middle Brook (in Bridgewater Township between Martinsville and Bound Brook), Henry would write,

“Saterday 28 there were brought in 11 prisoners that our people have Token – Sence the Ragalers went from Brunswick to ward AmBoy they had made thier coupe to ward webletown and Scouts plain. The Raglars the Burn almost all the Houses and Burn where they go. On Friday the 27 one of our Lite Horsemen Got in thier hands  and cut him in several places. He made his escape. now in Camp. On Friday the 27 of June, the Raglers got 2 field pieces from our people.”

It was a precarious time for the Americans. Washington’s army was facing a significant force under the command of General Howe and to his north was another significant British force under General John Burgoyne. Burgoyne’s army was marching south from Quebec and had captured Fort Ticonderoga in New York on July 6, 1777. Washington, concerned about linkup between Howe’s and Burgoyne’s forces and acknowledging that more decisive leadership was required in New York, wrote to John Hancock, the presiding President of the Continental Congress, on July 10, 1777. He wrote, “If General Arnold has settled his Affairs & can be spared from Philadelphia, I would recommend him for this business & that he should immediately set out for the Northern department. He is active—judicious & brave, and an Officer in whom the Militia will repose great confidence.” Thus, General Benedict Arnold was to be sent north to confront Burgoyne’s army and would later prove to be the hero of Saratoga, rallying the American troops and forcing Burgoyne’s surrender.

On the same day of his request to John Hancock, on July 10, 1777, George Washington issued general orders to move out of Morristown and march to Scotch Plains, New Jersey, which by that time had been vacated by the British. The following day, with Henry Vanderslice among them, Washington’s army marched.  Henry writes of an encounter with George Washington on that march,

“On our March from Morristown on Friday the 11 George Washington wase long the waggons Several Times and Gen Muhlenberg the most of the day with the Brigade of waggons.”

Henry, however, had other responsibilities than staying with the army in Scotch Plains. The army needed supplies, and Henry was immediately off to forage for those supplies, ranging from Trenton in central New Jersey to the Ramapo River in northeastern New Jersey. He writes,

“Hard shower Friday 11 of July. We went from Morristown to Tranton [Trenton]. We did not rech there the first day and the same evening it raind, and on Satterday the 12th it raned. And in my brigade on my March there was one of the Axel tree broke. we having only wagons we wase not kept but a little wile. Kramer gon the other way about 12 mile we come up to the same road. There is a boat coming along with the army.”

Days before, with the Continental Army safely entrenched once again in the mountains, Howe made a fateful decision to leave New Jersey. Rather than march north to link up with Burgoyne, as was assumed by Washington, Howe loaded his British Regulars and German Hessian mercenaries into ships and sailed south to Philadelphia, thereby ensuring Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga. Once Howe’s destination became known, George Washington ordered his troops to march south to Philadelphia. Henry, who was foraging in the vicinity of Ramapo River in northeastern New Jersey at the time, writes,

“Thusday 15, went about two mile this side of the Clove there we put in out tents. Then on Saterday the 20 we Marched along Ramopough over the rock and Stones between two Mountains then we Returned on Wendsey 23 July.  Thusday 24, we lay Still on Ramopough.  On friday the 25 we come to Pumpton Planes. Our intended march is toward Philadelphia if not counterordered. Saterday July 26 we went to Morristown and six mile beyant [beyond], on Sunday the 27 of July. On Monday the 28 we march to Delaware River and cross the same to Peniscylvania. I have recvd no letters. on Saterday 2 of August came to Germantown. Incamped”

Thus, Henry Vanderslice arrived close to home in Germantown, Pennsylvania, although perhaps a little disappointed that he received no letters from his family. He then resumed his duties of foraging for the troops. However, the entries in his diary become less consistent after arriving in Germantown, with days passing when no entries were made. That may be due to the actions of the Continental Army. Washington’s troops arrived in the Philadelphia area weeks ahead of General Howe’s British forces. After a long and difficult voyage, the British forces landed in Elkton, Maryland, and then marched north toward Philadelphia. Washington moved his Continental army south of Philadelphia to engage the British forces at Brandywine Creek, Maryland. A battle ensued there on September 11, 1777 with the British forces outflanking and defeating the American forces.

Thereafter the two armies maneuvered around each other, engaging in minor skirmishes including one in the vicinity of Malvern, Pennsylvania area where an advance force of Continental soldiers under the command of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne were routed by the British.  With these defeats, the city of Philadelphia was open to British occupation and the Continental Congress fled to York, Pennsylvania. Howe then split his forces, sending the smaller of his two forces to Germantown where, on October 4, 1777, Washington attacked. Despite initial successes by the Americans, the British force imparted yet another defeat on the American forces.

Of these battles, Henry Vanderslice remains silent. One suspects that at that time he was busy hauling military supplies from Philadelphia to Reading, Pennsylvania, his home town, where they were safeguarded during the British occupation of Philadelphia. It is plausible that once in Reading, Henry spent time with family and friends and, thus, ignored his diary. His diary entries pick up again on October 9. That first entry after his hiatus in Reading was routine, documenting the delivery of shoe and boots for which the Continental troops were wanting. The diary entries continued to remain intermittent thereafter.

On December 9, 1777, Washington’s army arrived in Valley Forge, which is across the River from the Neebor Lee, the land of Henry’s former plantation. While Valley Forge proved to have good natural defenses for Washington’s army, the terrain proved difficult for the wagoners due to the poor and often muddy roads. As I can attest from my experience on the Neebor Lee property, the soil in the vicinity of Valley Forge is very clayey and I can visualize wagons easily sinking and sliding in the wet rutted roads. As a result, the wagoners had much difficulty hauling supplies to the troops. To make matters worse, a lack of organization in the commissary department during this time of crises resulted in a loss of pay for the wagoners. This caused many wagoners to abandon their duties thereby further reducing the delivery of supplies and leaving the soldiers at Valley Forge in a destitute condition. There are indications in Henry Vanderslice’s diary that he was among those wagoners who temporarily abandoned his duties. Diary entries indicate that he took this time to travel west to York, Pennsylvania, where the Continental Congress took up residence after the British occupation of Philadelphia, in order to collect the money that the commissary department owed him. He writes that he was traveling westward and had stopped,

“at tavern between York and River.”

Once in York, he was able to get the commissary to settle his accounts:

“December 21 1777 this day Settled that the wagon are be ready on Thusday the first day of January”

Soon afterwards, Henry Vanderslice was back foraging for the soldiers camped at Valley Forge.  However, several of his diary entries suggest that local settlers were not all eager to part with their goods. This may have been due to the recent American defeats and the occupation of Philadelphia by the British. It appears that some colonists were hedging their bets in favor of the British. Of these difficulties, Henry would write,

 “On the Seconday of Aprile in the evening, Snow. I come Collinder place that Col Bird purchased of the Collender executor on the 1 day of april. the man that lived in the house, George Sacket, would not Giv possession I wase oblige To go to the widow.

In another entry, Henry wrote about one farmer who hid his grain under a mat of straw so that it could not be found by the foragers,

“Jacob Kaffman Snider he has his wheat in Little house covered with strow [straw] in Berne Township”

In still another entry, a diary entry describes another who was withholding his grain for the British,

“Christian Houck he having Great quantity wheat un Trashed I am informed by federick Weber that Houck will not Trash his wheat til How [Howe] comes”.

After a long, hard winter of supplying the troops, Spring arrived and the snows melted. France allied itself with the Americans, and the British abandoned Philadelphia in June 1778. Of this, Henry writes,

“on the 17 or 18 of June the Inleish went out of phila in the Jerseys with part of their Army for news we wait with Pasons [patience]”

One day later, on June 19, 1778, the Continental Army vacated its encampment at Valley Forge and reoccupied Philadelphia. The American forces then turned north, back into New Jersey where, on June 28, 1778, Washington’s would engage the British at the Battle of Monmouth to achieve a victory.

After the American reoccupation of Philadelphia, there were no more entries made in Henry Vanderslice’s diary. It is presumed that he left the army and did not march with Washington back into New Jersey.  Rather, he stayed behind to return to civilian life in Berks County, Pennsylvania. In 1779, Henry Vanderslice became deputy surveyor in Berks County. Among his responsibilities in that role was the liquidation of confiscated Tory estates. He was later appointed to the position of Deputy Surveyor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on November 19, 1789. Henry Vanderslice, patriot and former owner of the Neebor Lee property, died February 10, 1797.


1 Pennepacker, S. W. (1894) Hendrick Pannebecker; Surveyor of Lands for the Penns, 1674-1754, Flomborn, Germantown and Skippack. Private Printer, Philadelphia. 217 pages.

2 Castner, C.S. (1976) Berksiana 1776-1976. Berksiana Foundation; 1st Ed. Edition. 350 pp.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Henry Vanderslice is my 6th great grand father. I will be in Pittsburg next month for a conference but will not have the ability to travel to key places in my family history. Maybe I will have an opportunity on my next trip.
    Thank you for caring about history and the objects from the past.


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