Philadelphia (1774 - 1775)
First Continental Congress met in September 1774,
in the Hall of Carpenters' Company, Philadelphia.
A Committee of Correspondence was elected by the
citizens of Philadelphia to determine the most effective
means of resisting the British and to carry out
the nonimportation resolutions of the Congress.
The Committee first met on the afternoon of Thursday,
November 17, 1774, in the Pennsylvania State House.
That evening three of the members, together with
twenty-five other gentlemen, gathered according
to tradition in Carpenters' Hall and associated
as the Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia,
a name that was later changed to First Troop Philadelphia
This purely volunteer cavalry troop was the first
organized in defense of the colonies. Today the
Troop is certainly the oldest mounted military unit
and quite possibly the oldest military unit of any
kind that has been in continuous service to the
Republic. The times that called it into being, and
the character of the original members who fought
through the seven years of the American Revolution,
together forged concepts of service and a body of
tradition that have given it a continuity of purpose
for 230 years.
The gentlemen of the Philadelphia Light Horse were
professional men, shipowners, importers, or traders,
generally of conspicuous prominence in the affairs
of the day. The membership was not to confine itself
to public or civil life, for many were to hold commissions
in the Continental service and in the Army and Navy
of the State. The Rolls of the Troop ever since
have been enriched by outstanding individual records
in all branches of military life.
A number of social organizations played an important
part in forming the new cavalry unit. The oldest
of these was the Schuylkill Fishing Company, a club
that numbered many Troopers among its officers.
Other organizations from which the Light Horse drew
its members were the Schuylkill Company of Fort
St. Davids, the St. Andrew's Society of Philadelphia,
the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick,
and the Society of the Sons of St. George. The Gloucester
Fox Hunting Club had especial influence. The "round
black hat bound with silver cord and buck's tail"
and the dark brown short coat faced and lined with
white worn by the Trooper of the Revolution were
similar to the hunting coat and cap in which its
club members rode to hounds. Captain Samuel Morris
was Gloucester's first president and Captain Robert
Wharton its last, and twenty-five Troopers were
among its members during the War.
The associates who met on the evening of November
17, 1774, voted to equip and support themselves
at their own expense and to offer their services
to the Continental Congress. The company prepared
for active duty by holding drills at five in the
morning and five in the afternoon several times
Abraham Markoe, a Danish subject, was chosen to
be the first Captain because of his energy in organizing
the Troop and his previous Danish military experience.
Though prevented from open participation in the
War as a result of the Neutrality Edict issued by
then King Christian II of Denmark, Captain Markoe
took an active part in the defeat of the enemy by
all other available means.
At the time there was no common flag in use by
any of the colonies. Not long after the news of
the Battle of Lexington reached Philadelphia, Captain
Markoe presented the Troop with the Standard that
was to be carried in the battles of Trenton, Princeton,
Brandywine, and Germantown, and on all parades until
about 1830, when it was retired for safekeeping.
When George Washington was appointed Commander
in Chief of the Continental Army in June of 1775,
the Troop assumed varied duties. Close personal
contact with the General developed as he was escorted
to distant points in the Colonies. The command was
frequently called upon to provide detachments to
accompany prisoners and spies, to bear dispatches
for the Committee of Safety, and to march with money
for delivery to the Army.
Trenton (26 Dec 1776)
Captain Samuel Morris at its head, the Philadelphia
Light Horse reported to General Washington in late
1776. The Troop covered the rear of the Continental
Army as it retreated across the Delaware pursued
by Lord Cornwallis and his British and Hessian troops.
On Christmas night, 1776, the Troop recrossed the
Delaware with the Continental Army. The craft in
which the Troop embarked could not reach shore and
the cavalrymen were forced to take to the water
and make their way with their horses through the
darkness and floating ice.
Approaching Trenton at dawn, the Troop rode near
Washington in the column under Major General Nathaniel
Greene. During the Battle of Trenton, the Troop
served as escort to General Washington and his staff.
A detachment of the Troop captured a body of Hessians
fortified in a barn during a fierce engagement.
The battle lasted forty-five minutes with the capture
of about a thousand Hessians and the loss of two
Americans. The Troop served as the Army's rearguard
as it recrossed the Delaware, patrolling the roads
until dark. A statue of a Trooper serves as the
Trenton Battle Monument to this day.
Princeton (3 Jan 1777)
Trenton was reoccupied on December 30. The Troop
performed critical reconnaissance the next day.
Twelve Troopers under Colonel Joseph Reed, the Adjutant
General, captured eleven dragoons within sight of
the enemy's main army. As Lord Cornwallis occupied
the lines across from Trenton, Washington slipped
the Army out at night and marched on Princeton.
Units of Pennsylvania Militia, the rear of the Continental
Army, were panicked and routed by fifty British
dragoons during the night march. The dragoons then
encountered twenty-two Troopers aligned abreast
blocking the road. After consideration the dragoons
withdrew and the Troop marched on Princeton.
During the climax of the Battle of Princeton, General
Washington, with many Troopers by his side, led
the counterattack against the British. The Troop
charged in "the fine Fox-chase" and the
Army routed three British regiments that day. General
Washington withdrew the Army to Morristown before
Cornwallis could bring up his superior forces. The
successful rear guard action by the Troop saved
the artillery train. "The ten days that changed
the world" were over. It would be four long
years until Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown but
the Republic would prevail. General Washington relieved
the Troop on January 23rd and they returned to Philadelphia.
Brandywine (11 Sep 1777) - Germantown (4 Oct 1777)
- Valley Forge
After its return to Philadelphia the Troop engaged
in months of arduous service. The Troop served under
Maxwell's command at the Battle of Brandywine and
assisted in maintaining communications during the
unsuccessful Battle of Germantown. The Troop served
as detachments during the winter at Valley Forge.
One group narrowly escaped capture with General
Lafayette and his small force when they were nearly
surrounded in the woods at Barren Hill. When the
British withdrew from Philadelphia, the first troops
to reenter the city were the Philadelphia Light
Horse with the city's new commander, the hero of
Saratoga, Major General Benedict Arnold.
Philadelphia (1779 - 1799)
Troop suppressed a serious riot in Philadelphia
in October 1779. Troopers subscribed over one-quarter
of the £300,000 to organize a bank in 1780. In January
1781, the Troop assisted Generals Lafayette and
St. Clair in suppressing a mutiny and administering
Yorktown surrendered on October 19, 1781 and the
captured standards were placed in the care of the
Troop. Eighty-three Troopers, including Honorary
Captain Markoe, led a parade through the streets
of Philadelphia to the State House and surrendered
the trophies to Congress. At the cessation of hostilities
on April 11, 1783, the Troop enrollment was eighty-eight
Following Washington's death on December 14th,
1799, the Troop participated in the funeral pageant
and paraded, dismounted, assembling "in compleat
uniforms at the State House for the purpose of paying
the sad tribute of veneration to the remains of
their late Commander in Chief."