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York-commissioned Baron von Steuben credited with shaping up Continental Army

This painting of Baron Steuben is one of 16 commissioned as part of the 1927 observance of the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the Articles of Confederation in York. That placed him in the pantheon of luminaries honored in York, site of the Continental Congress during its nine-month visit in 1777-78. (See photo below.) Background posts: Famed Anglican William White ministered to Continental Congress in York, Declaration signer’s marker mounted in obscurity and Lawmakers shared in American Revolution’s adversity.

Baron von Steuben has long been a major figure in York County history.
The drillmaster largely credited with turning around the moribund Continental Army shivering at Valley Forge received his commission in early 1778 from Continental Congress, then meeting in York Town.
A new biography of Steuben is at the bookstores with York mentioned prominently in several places.
Paul Lockhart’s “The Drillmaster of Valley Forge” confirms many points commonly accepted by local writers, including myself in “Nine Months in York Town.”

Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben’s statue sits atop a hill at Valley Forge.
For example:
1. He noted that Steben was surprised that fewer than two dozen men governed the young nation during his York visit:

Lockhart: “It would come as a great shock to Steuben that domestic affairs of an entire nation and the conduct of a war against one of Europe’s great powers would be directed by a mere handful of men.”

My comment: Well said. At times, it was actually less than a dozen. Sixty-four delegates served during that visit to York, but the largest contingents made roll call at the beginning and end of that stay.
2. The delegates found that York was no Philadelphia.

Lockhart: “York was a small and unattractive town, with less than two thousand inhabitants, yet this makeshift capital of the United States was nonetheless a welcome sight for the weary travelers.”

My comment: Any immediate relief turned to grief. The delegates soon grew weary of scarcities in a frontier town combined with a withering work load.
3. The winter of 1777-78 deserved the term “gloomy” more than any other during the American Revolution. Contributing factors: Uncertainty of the French Alliance, bad weather, a shortage of manpower in the Continental Army and a conflict within the rebel leadership.

Lockhart: “The Revolution seemed to be tearing itself apart from the inside.”

My comment: Lockhart was referring to a period of discontent put forth by certain members of Congress and the army toward commanding Gen. George Washington, commonly called the Conway Cabal. With all the other developments taking place during that nine-month visit – the adoption of the Articles and the ratification of treaties with France – Washington’s weathering of a loosely knit conspiracy against him is often overlooked.
Top photo courtesy York County Heritage Trust; bottom photo, York Daily Record/Sunday News.