January 1

This Day in History

American Revolution

Jan 1, 1781:

Mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line

On this day in 1781, 1,500 soldiers from the Pennsylvania Line--all 11 regiments under General Anthony Wayne's command--insist that their three-year enlistments are expired, kill three officers in a drunken rage and abandon the Continental Army's winter camp at Morristown, New Jersey.

British General Henry Clinton sent emissaries from New York to meet the mutineers and offer them full pardon and the pay owed them by the Continental Army in exchange for joining the Redcoats. Instead, the men turned south towards Princeton, which they captured on January 3, intending to march on Philadelphia and Congress. From Princeton, the mutineers dispatched envoys to meet with General Wayne, who was following behind them. They aired their grievances and handed over Clinton's men for eventual execution.

With this show of devotion to the Patriot cause, the mutineers strengthened their position in negotiations with Congress. General Wayne and Congressional President Joseph Reed met with the mutineers to hear their grievances on January 7; they came to an agreement three days later. Half the men accepted discharges, while the other half took furloughs coupled with bonuses for reenlistment. Those who reenlisted formed the Pennsylvania Battalion, which went on to participate in the southern campaign.

These excellent terms prompted 200 New Jersey men stationed at Pompton to follow suit with their own mutiny. This time, the response was quite different. General George Washington used New England soldiers to disarm their New Jersey compatriots and executed two of the leading mutineers.

These actions kept the Patriot army from disintegrating, but it still faced severe challenges--early 1781 saw more Americans fighting for the British than fighting for Washington.

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