Monday, March 24, 2014

Jonathan Custer - A Revolutionary soldier in Pennsylvania

(Family Lineage: 1 Jonathan Custer; 2 Benjamin Custer; 3 Isaiah Custer; 4 John William Custer; 5 Corda Belle Custer;6 William Frederick Franklin; 7 Edna Bethel Franklin; 8 Judith Ann Hayward)

(1734 – 1823)

      Jonathan Custer, a second generation American, was the second of six sons of Paul and Sarah Ball Custer. His grandfather, Arnold Kuster, immigrated from Germany in the late 1600s and settled his family in a predominantly German community in what is now Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. In 1759, at age 25, Jonathan married Hannah Peters Kendell, the widow of Benjamin Kendell. Together they had four sons and one daughter.

      As the Revolution gained momentum in other colonies, Pennsylvania was way behind the curve in preparing to fight the British if necessary. The reason for this was the existing political situation under the influence of the peace-loving Quakers who had settled the area and controlled most of the decisions made by the governing body. 

      Inevitably, as the crisis spread, it became painfully apparent that a fighting force had to be quickly pulled together and trained to go against the efficient British Army. The following excerpts from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission website explains what decisions and plans were made once the danger could no longer be ignored by the governing body of the colony. (

Continental Army Soldiers
" The Pennsylvania Militia was organized under an Act of the Assembly of March 17, 1777 that required compulsory enrollment by constables of all able-bodied white males between the ages of 18 and 53 'to repel invaders . . . be capable of bearing arms and serve two months of militia duty on a rotating basis.' Refusal to turn out for military exercises would result in a fine, the proceeds from which were used to hire substitutes. . . as a practical matter anyone could avoid serving either by filing an appeal to delay their service for a period of time or by paying a fine to hire a substitute.

 "The Act called for battalion districts to be created in Philadelphia and in each of the eleven extant counties. The County Lieutenants ensured that militia units turned out for military exercises, provided the militia units with arms and equipment at the expense of the state, located substitutes for those who declined to serve, and assessed and collected the militia fines. 

 "The men in each battalion elected their own field officers who carried the rank of colonel, lieutenant colonel and major, and these officers were expected to serve for three years. Within each county, the colonels drew lots for their individual rank . . . When new elections were held for field officers in 1780 and 1783, the colonels again drew lots for their rank and this resulted in a new order for the battalions. The names of men in each company of each battalion were listed on a roll called "General Returns of the Battalion". On these permanent billet rolls, the men in each company were listed as being first class.  

"The 1777 Militia Act was replaced in 1780 and again in 1783 . . . The company commanders could also change. For this reason, a particular private might be listed in a different battalion in 1781 than he was in 1778 but this does not necessarily mean that he was transferred between units or changed residence. Most of the service rendered by members of the Pennsylvania Militia fell into one of these categories: second class, third class, etc. and were required to show up for their two months of active duty at the time and in the order that their class was called up (Jonathan was recorded as 4th Class).  

Most of the service rendered by members of the Pennsylvania Militia fell into one of these categories:
  • They were used to augment the operations of the Continental Line such as when some of the Associators (volunteers who were eventually incorporated into the Pennsylvania militia) accompanied General Washington in crossing the Delaware in January 1777.
  • Large numbers of Pennsylvania militia were employed in the summer and autumn of 1777 to oppose the British invasion at Brandywine and on the flanks at the battle of Germantown, though in neither case did they actually see action.
  • The militia provided a significant defensive force patrolling the south side of the Schuylkill River and engaged in occasional clashes with British outposts and scouting parties, including heavy skirmishes at Whitemarsh on December 7. Due to the sixty-day turnover practice, however, none of the men who were at Brandywine in September would have been present at Whitemarsh in December. No Pennsylvania militia served at Valley Forge, Monmouth, or Yorktown."
     Jonathan's name shows up twice on Philadelphia County muster rolls, the first  being between 1777 and 1780 serving under Captain Benjamin Brooke in the 6th Battalion, 2ndCompany, and the second in 1781 under Captain Isaiah Davis who also reported to Benjamin Brooke.  (

    Pennsylvania Archives caution that the Archive muster rolls include only a sampling of the records stored, so we have no way of knowing exactly how often Jonathan actually  participated as a soldier during that time.

Jonathan was 99 years old when he died in 1833.  His military service has been certified by the Daughters of the Revolution.