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Militia Service Certificate from Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania
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Captain George W. Ryan of the Independent Guards of Fredericksburg issued this discharge certificate to his brother-in-law Simon Stroh, who had served as a corporal and drummer for seven successive years from May 2, 1842, to May 7, 1849. With this certificate, Stroh was discharged from compulsory militia duty, “except in time of an Invasion, Insurrection, or Actual War,” according to the Pennsylvania militia law of 1818.

[MILITARY]. Partially Printed Document, George W. Ryan, Certificate of Discharge from Compulsory Militia Service for Simon Stroh of the Independent Guards of Fredericksburg, May 7, 1849. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Young. 1 p. 11 x 15 in.

Inventory #27483       Price: $695

Historical Background
When William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania in 1681, he abolished all military organizations and obligations. He and his fellow Quakers made no provision for a militia in their 1682 “Frame of Government.” In 1747, Benjamin Franklin organized the “Associators,” an all-volunteer force of 1,200 men that eventually grew to 10,000, to counter threats of a Spanish and French invasion, because of their war with England. Not until 1755 did the Pennsylvania government recognize the Associators when it passed the Militia Act of 1755, legalizing a military force of volunteers. Two years later, it enacted its first compulsory militia law. The result was a parallel set of volunteer and compulsory militia units.

In 1792, the new federal Congress of the United States passed a Militia Act that divided control over state militias between the federal and state governments. However, over the next several years, militia training grew increasingly sporadic and ineffective, which the War of 1812 made evident. Pennsylvania’s two militias conducted their campaigns in the war independently, with little or no coordination.

Over the next forty-five years, the compulsory militia in Pennsylvania deteriorated further, with annual training days becoming little more than picnics with the families of those in the militia present. Citizens also protested against the fines for non-participation. Although Pennsylvania collected more than $5,100 in fines in 1816, fines fell below $825 after 1837. Often, Pennsylvania’s adjutant generals could not even file annual reports to the governor. After the Mexican War, the compulsory militia served only as a draft-registration system, and virtually all training ceased, until the legislature abolished the compulsory militia in 1858.

As the compulsory militia in Pennsylvania faded into insignificance in the first half of the nineteenth century, the state increasingly encouraged and regulated the volunteer militia. It authorized the creation of additional militia units in 1803 and abolished all fines related to the voluntary militia. In 1818, the commonwealth exempted from compulsory service any citizen who had served for seven successive years in a volunteer unit. In 1849, another act of the Pennsylvania legislature excused all volunteers from the drills, musters, and parades of the compulsory militia if they attended a minimum of four training and muster days per year of their choice.

Volunteer militia organizations were free to establish their own membership rules, elect their own officers, and resign at any time, though they had to provide their own uniforms, weapons, and equipment.

A volunteer militia company in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania, called the “Fredericksburg Guards,” was in existence as early as 1826, commanded by Captain John L. Miller as part of the “Independent Battalion of Jonestown.” Captain Joseph Long succeeded Miller in command of the Guards. In 1844, the militia was called to quell the Kensington anti-Catholic riots near Philadelphia. However, the rioting was over before the Fredericksburg Guards were ready to respond. George W. Ryan succeeded Long as captain of the Independent Guards of Fredericksburg by 1848. According to one recollection, “though somewhat below the medium height,” Ryan “looked every inch the soldier in his picturesque uniform of blue and white, with a bunch of gracefully drooping ostrich feathers overtopping his chapeau.”

George Washington Ryan (1818-1862) was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In December 1842, he married Sarah Stroh (1824-1889), and they had seven children. He was a laborer in 1850 and a teacher in 1860 in Fredericksburg. In 1861, he moved with his family to Middleburg in Snyder County, Pennsylvania, forty miles northwest of Fredericksburg, where he operated the Washington House. He joined the 131st Pennsylvania Infantry as captain of Company F in August 1862, and he was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862.

Simon Stroh (1826-1890) was born in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania. In 1845, he married Wilhelmina Wutz, and they had at least two children. He was a carpenter in Fredericksburg and served in the local militia. During the Civil War, he served as a musician and private in Company B of the 173d Pennsylvania Infantry, a drafted militia unit, from October 1862 to August 1863. He began receiving an invalid pension in 1885.

Joseph J. Holmes, “The Decline of the Pennsylvania Militia, 1815-1870,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 57 (April 1974): 199-217.

E. Grumbine, Stories of Old Stumpstown: A History of Interesting Events, Traditions and Anecdotes of Early Fredericksburg. Lebanon, PA: Lebanon County Historical Society, vol. 5, no. 5 (1910), 214-216.

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