The Oaths of Allegiance taken across Pennsylvania during the American Revolution from 1777 - 1788 provide both information on individual ancestors and the opportunity to dig further into their circumstances and political persuasion during this conflict.
On June 3, 1777, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted a new policy in which all male inhabitants over the age of 18 were required to subscribe an oath before a Justice of the Peace renouncing all allegiances to Great Britain and King George III. The Justices of the Peace were required to keep all names in a register and submit them annually to the Register of Deeds. He would have received one shilling for every person who recorded an oath and the Recorder’s office received five shillings for every hundred names recorded.
The majority of these records are dated 1778, however they start in 1777 and continue through 1788. Note that some years during that range have very few entries, such as 1780 with only 2 records identified. Most of the entries in these registers will include an exact date in the left column of each page.
These records will give you three key pieces of genealogical information: a name, a date, and a place. They will also tell you that for whatever reason, they have signed an oath to the new State of Pennsylvania government.
Motivation for their oath is not necessarily because they agreed with the new Continental Congress, the Patriot cause, or even that they wanted war at all. They could have been motivated by business needs, political or religious pressure, or they could have signed under duress – it was common for threats to come from both sides of the conflict. Earlier oaths can generally be considered to be those of dedicated patriots, supporting the Continental Congress and Continental Army. Later years, as various areas of Pennsylvania are disputed, should be considered questionable. In all cases, one should not make any conclusions on the political leanings of any oath taker without additional evidence.
Remember this was, at its essence, a Civil War and emotions were running high between opposing sides. Civilians were often left to make choices of allegiance based on survival and prudence versus personal opinion. Researchers will benefit from studying the local community year by year during the war to understand the situation in which citizens found themselves; alliances could change frequently depending on which side had control of that territory. These nuances can add a great deal of background for understanding the day-to-day lives of our ancestors during this turbulent era.
While these Oaths were taken in Pennsylvania, it is possible to find other locations or men from other areas. Careful researchers will not assume that an Oath signed in Pennsylvania equates to a residence in Pennsylvania but will compile additional evidence to add detail to their family tree. The legislation behind these oaths did also extend to undocumented visitors that traveled through Pennsylvania during the period.
Copyright: Findmypast, images courtesy of Historical Society of Pennsylvania