This article will look at those settlers who became, through the Revolutionary War, the first Americans (as defined by their allegiance to the newly formed United States of America).
National identity (and patriotism to that national identity) is not something that is just based on a shared language, racial features or religious viewpoints. National identity is more deeply rooted in the common goals and ideals of the people. If the people possess the same ideals they will stand together and defend those ideals whether or not they are of the same race or religion; they become a nation through the process of identifying one with another. A national identity came to exist in the hearts and souls of the men and women who had emigrated from Europe to reside in the New World. That national identity was one of a desire for independence from European dominance and dependence on their own abilities to survive in the New World. The desire for self-government was encouraged by the various acts of the Parliament of Great Britain which aimed at stifling the growth of America's mercantile system. Even those individuals who were not directly involved in the merchant and trading industry were affected by the restrictive measures levied by the British Parliament. And so, without any conscious effort, the American national identity formed and matured. As noted above, national identity is not based solely on physical characteristics of race or solely on psychological characteristics of theology. The Native Americans who inhabited this land before the coming of the Europeans had more than one national identity, even though they possessed any physical characteristics of race in common with each other. The Europeans, on the other hand, varied in national identities ranging from the Germans to the Italians to the British, and so forth, although they all possessed similar viewpoints derived from the same Christian Church. The thing which separated each European nation from her sister, and each Indian nation from her sister was the ideals and goals that each nation's members possessed in common. The fact that one Bedford County settler spoke English while his neighbor spoke German was of little consequence; they were both becoming Americans through their life experience - through the developing national identity.
The title of this article asks a question: Who were the pioneers of Bedford County who became Americans in the Revolutionary War? Another way of stating this question would be: Who were the early Bedford County settlers who empathized with the national identity that was developing in the colonial period and would result in the War for American Independence?
The First Census of the United States, taken in 1790, gives us clues as to the ethnic origins of the settlers at that time. The names recorded for the region reveal that English residents made up only about seventeen percent of the total population. The Welsh made up roughly seven percent while thirteen percent were Scotch. The Irish elements, combined, made up fourteen percent. These "Irish elements" included the Ulster-Scots, English-Irish and Ulster-Celts. The Germans comprised roughly thirty-two percent of the Bedford County population. The remaining seventeen percent was made up of various other Europeans such as the French and Dutch.
It is a generally accepted notion that the Revolutionary War was fought between the English natives of Great Britain and the English colonists. In many of the colonies that might have been correct and factual, but for the Bedford County region it was not totally accurate. As seen in the above figures, the Bedford County region was more German in ethnic make-up than English. The same is true of some of the eastern counties of Pennsylvania, most notably York and Lancaster. The fact of the matter is that each of those counties contributed a large number of recruits (especially German recruits) to the Patriot army.
The question might be asked: Why, if the majority of settlers in the Bedford County region were of German origin, did so many of them join in the Patriot struggle? I think the answer lies in the idea of national identity. Despite where they had come from, despite their language differences and their physical features, and despite their previous allegiances and loyalties, those early settlers held bonds of goals and ideals in common. The English and the Germans and the Irish, along with everyone else, experienced the same hardships and the same joys of frontier life, and because of that they understood what was necessary and essential for their survival - their mutual survival. It wasn't a case of the German settlers in the Bedford County region who joined the militia and the Continental Line fighting alongside English settlers; they were fighting alongside their American brothers.
When European emigrants arrived at the docks of American port cities, such as Philadelphia, they had a choice to make: they could either swear allegiance to the king and government of Great Britain, or they could return back to the land they had left. The Colonial Records of Pennsylvania contain a transcript of one such Oath of Allegiance which reads as follows.
"We Subscribers, Natives and Late Inhabitants of the Palatinate upon the Rhine & Places adjacent, having transported ourselves and Families into this Province of Pensilvania, a Colony subject to the Crown of Great Britain, in hopes and Expectation of finding a Retreat & peaceable Settlement therein, Do Solemnly promise & Engage, that We will be faithful & bear true Allegiance to his present MAJESTY KING GEORGE THE SECOND, and his Successors, Kings of Great Britain, and will be faithful to the Proprietor of this Province; And that we will demean ourselves peaceably to all His said Majesties Subjects, and strictly observe & conform to the Laws of England and of this Province to the utmost of our Power and best of our understanding."
By taking the Oath of Allegiance, the European emigrant forswore all allegiance and fidelity to the country from which he had come. A sincere expression of allegiance to Great Britain might have been secondary to that emigrant's primary desire to reside in the New World. (If France would have controlled the colonies on the North American continent, the emigrant might have just as energetically stated his allegiance to her king.)
The German emigrant who came to settle in the Bedford County region of Pennsylvania did not really change all that much after taking the Oath of Allegiance to the king of Great Britain. He continued to eat the same types of food that he had eaten in the German homeland; he continued to to speak his German dialect; he practiced the trade that he had engaged in prior to his journey. The German emigrant would remain basically that - a German emigrant to America - until the American national identity began to emerge. It was the emergence of common ideals, influenced by common hardships and common experiences and needs which transformed the German emigrant, the Irish emigrant and the English emigrant into kindred souls. When those kindred souls shouldered their muskets and headed off to defend their families and homesteads they put aside, once and for all, their past allegiances. It was because of (and for the sake of) the Revolutionary War that the emigrants truly forswore their prior allegiance to their European homelands.
To the question: "Who were the pioneers of Bedford County who became Americans in the Revolutionary War", we can answer: They were men from many different nations who believed in the ideal that a separate, unique nation could be created in which a national identity of freedom and democracy would guide the actions of its citizens.