A true patriot, 98 year old John James, becomes a lieutenant after 76 years


Lt. James in full uniform.

Happy Independence Day! Today we celebrate the revolutionary values of resistance and freedom that led to the founding of our nation.

This blog today links those revolutionary values and those revolutionary patriots to last week’s revolutionary righting of a wrong that occurred 76 years ago for an African American man whose ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. That man is now known as Lt. Colonel John Edward James, Jr., a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and Sons of the Revolution because of his ancestors Revolutionary War service.

Lt. James attended officer’s candidates school in 1942 after he was drafted into the United States Army in 1941. The day before James was to receive his officer’s commission as a lieutenant, his commanding officer told James that he would not be receiving his commission because the African American soldiers were not allowed to be officers over white soldiers. He told James to get his gear and go to wherever his commanding officer sent him.

Fast forward to 2001, when James’ daughter, Dr. Marion Lane, found a picture of James with the other 200 men in uniform. Lane asked her father what the picture was. James never talked about this with Lane as she was growing up. But, now that she had seen the picture, he told Lane about how he was denied his commission because of racism.

Lane is a fighter and not one to let an injustice go. In 2015, she set about trying to right the wrong and get her father his commission. She researched records and found that some of the most important documents were lost in a fire of the Army Archives many years ago. She ultimately enlisted the help of Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Bob Casey after the Army twice turned down James’ request because of an alleged lack of documentation. Finally, with the help of Sen. Casey and others, the Army agreed that James earned his commission.

There was a commissioning ceremony for James on June 28 at the Muserum of the American Revolution (MAR) in Philadelphia. James was given the oath of office by General John Jumjper, four star general retired and Chair of the Board of the MAR. So many people were close to tears seeing this proud and humble man getting the commission that he should have gotten 76 years ago.

The wrong and its righting was covered by the New York Times, CBS News, and a host of local Philadelphia news media.

I’ve included a photo gallery of that wonderful day.

James comes from a long line of patriots. His ancestor Isaac Brown, born c. 1759 in Charles City County, Virginia, served as a Sergeant in the 7th, 11th, and 15th VA Regiments. He endured the Valley Forge Encampment. James descendant Abraham Brown, born c. 1745 in Charles City County, Virginia, furnished supplies to the patriots during the American Revolution. Both are buried at Old Elam Cemetery in Charles City County, Virginia. Other James ancestors served in the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World War I.

James daughter, Marion Lane, wrote about her ancestors Revolutionary War service in her children’s book, Patriots of African Descent in the Revolutionary War. She is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and former President of the Descendants of Wshington’s Army at Valley Forge, and the first African American to be inducted into The Heritage Society, which is composed of the presidents of the heritage groups like DAR.

So, as we celebrate the founding of our country today, the revolutionary values of resistance, freedom and justice are alive and well in people like Second Lieutenant John E. James, Jr. his daughter Dr. Marion Lane–true patriots who worked and fought to make our country live up to its ideals.



Dr. Marion Lane and Brenda Watts, daughters, pin lieutenant bars on Lt. James


Gen. Jumper administers oath of office to Lt. James while his daughters look on


Lt. James’ 1942 Officer Training Class


Lt. James (bottom rt.) at Officer Training School


General Jumper, Senator Casey, Lieutenant James and Dr. Marion Lane


Curtis Cheyney, Esq., General President Emeritus, Sons of the Revolution, who helped with securing the commission, congratulates Lt. James


Lt. James in 1941


Lt. James with fellow members of The Sons of the Revolution


Lt. John Edward James, Jr., US Army


Please join me today for this booksigning/lecture, 130-330, Moody Jones Gallery, Glenside, PA, on Philadelphia area African Americans in the Revolutionary War

Join me as we close out Black History Month and its theme of African Americans and the Military with this lecture on African Americans in the Revolutionary War. See you later at Moody Jones Gallery, 107B South Easton Road, Glenside, PA.

Day 7, Dec. 19, 1777 — Washington’s Army marches out of Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills and on to Valley Forge

  On December 19, 1777, at 10 a.m., George Washington and his Continental Army marched out of Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, past the Hanging Rock, and on to Valley Forge.  As one historian wrote, “These grounds were the threshold to Valley Forge, and the story of that winter–a story of endurance, forbearance, and patriotism which will never grow old–had its beginnings here, at the six days encampment by the old Gulph Mill.” (see  “The Gulph Hills in the Annals of the Revolution”, by Samuel Gordon Smyth, of West Conshohocken, in an address before the Montgomery County Historical Society, at Ashbourne, Pa., October 6, 1900; address included in Historical Sketches of Montgomery County, Volume 3, Montgomery County Historical Society (1905)).

Captured in the writings of the time and iconic paintings, we know that the March to Valley Foge was largely characterized by hardship for Washington’s 11,000 soldiers. William Trego, painter of the iconic painting The March to Valley Forge, is said to have been inspired by this characterization of the march from author Washington Irving’s Life of Washington. “Sad and dreary was the march to Valley Forge, uncheered by the recollection of any recent triumph. . . Hungry and cold were the poor fellows who had so long been keeping the field . . . provisions were scant, clothing was worn out, and so badly were they off for shoes, that the footsteps of many might be tracked in blood.”

A soldier in Massachusetts’ Eight Regiment, Lt. Samuel Armstrong, wrote: “Friday ye 19th. The Sun Shone out this morning being the first time I had seen it for Seven days, which seem’d to put new Life into everything — We took the Remains of two Days Allowance of Beef,…and two fowls we had left, of these we made a broth upon which we Breakfasted with half a loaf of Bread we Begg’d and bought, of which we shoud have had made a tolerable Breakfast, if there had been Enough!! By ten Oclock we [had]to march to a place Call’d Valley Forge being about five or six miles — about Eleven Ock we Sit out, but did not arrive there ’till after Sun Sit. During this march we had noting to eat or nor to drink.”

While getting his army on the move, General Washington was prolific with is writings on December 19. He wrote three letters at that time. One thanked Virginia patriot Patrick Henry for sending nine wagonloads of supplies for the Virginia troops. Two letter regarded sending soldiers down to Delaware on word on British activity in the area as well as encouraging patriotic residents of that state to take up arms and support the cause. Those letters follow:

To PRESIDENT GEORGE READ Head Quarters, Gulf Mill, December 19, 1777.

Sir: I have received information, which I have great reason to believe is true, that the Enemy mean to establish a post at Wilmington, for the purpose of Countenancing the disaffected in the Delaware State, drawing supplies from that Country and the lower parts of Chester County, and securing a post upon Delaware River during the Winter. As the advantages resulting to the Enemy from such a position are most obvious, I have determined and shall accordingly, this day send off General Smallwood with a respectable Continental force to take post at Wilmington before them. If Genl. Howe thinks the place of that Importance to him, which I conceive it is, he will probably attempt to dispossess us of it; and, as the force, which I can at present spare, is not adequate to making it perfectly secure, I expect that you will call out as many Militia as you possibly can to rendezvous without loss of time at Wilmington, and put themselves under the Command of Genl. Smallwood. I shall hope that the people will turn out cheerfully, when they consider that they are called upon to remain within, and defend, their own state.

In a letter, which I had the honor of receiving from you some little time past, you express a wish that some mode may be fallen upon to procure the exchange of Govr. McKinley. As this Gentleman will be considered in the Civil line, I have not any prisoner of War proper to be proposed for him. The application would go more properly to Congress, who have a number of State Prisoners under their direction for some of whom Sir Win. Howe would probably exchange the Governor. I have the honor etc.

P.S. Let the Militia March to Wilmington by Companies, or even parts of Companies and form their Battalions there; Because if the Enemy move, it will be quickly.

To GOVERNOR PATRICK HENRY Camp 14 Miles from Philadelphia, December 19, 1777.

Sir: On Saturday Evening I was honored with your favor of the 6th. Instant, and am much obliged by your exertions for Cloathing the Virginia Troops. The Articles you send shall be applied to their use, agreeable to your wishes.37 It will be difficult for me to determine when the Troops are supplied, owing to their fluctuating and deficient state at present; However I believe there will be little reason to suspect that the quantities that may be procured, will much exceed the necessary demands. It will be a happy circumstance, and of great saving, if we should be able in future to Cloath our Army comfortably. Their sufferings hitherto have been great, and from our deficiencies in this instance, we have lost many men and have generally been deprived of a large proportion of our Force. I could wish you to transmit the price of all the Necessaries, you may send from time to time. This will be essential, and the omission upon former occasions of the like Nature in the Course of the War, has been the cause of much unneasiness and intricacy in adjusting Accounts.

I am persuaded that many desertions have proceeded from the cause you mention. The Officers were highly culpable in making such assurances. The Expedient you propose might, and I believe would bring in several, but I cannot consider myself authorised to adopt it.

The Letters for the Marquis were sent to his Quarters as soon as they were received. I shall present you to him according to your wishes. He is certainly amiable and highly worthy of Esteem.

I have nothing material to inform you of, Except that we are told by the Boston paper that a Ship has arrived from France at one of the eastern Ports, with Fifty pieces of Brass Artillery, 5000 Stand of Arms and other Stores. There are letters also which mention her arrival, but not the particular amount of the Stores. I have the honor etc.

P.S. I sent the Express on to Congress, which occasioned me to write by this Conveyance. I wrote you on the 13th Ulto. two Letters — one a private one. I am fearful and uneasy lest they should have miscarried, as you have not mentioned the Receipt of them.39


Dr. Sir: With the Division lately commanded by Genl. Sullivan, you are to March immediately for Wilmington, and take Post there. You are not to delay a moment in putting the place in the best posture of defence, to do which, and for the security of it afterwards, I have written in urgent terms to the President of the Delaware State to give every aid he possibly can of Militia. I have also directed an Engineer to attend you for the purpose of constructing, and superintending the Works, and you will fix with the Quarter Master on the number of Tools necessary for the business; but do not let any neglect, or deficiency on his part, impede your operations, as you are hereby vested with full power to sieze and take (passing receipts) such articles as are wanted. The Commissary and Forage Master will receive directions respecting your Supplies, in their way; but I earnestly request that you will see that these Supplies are drawn from the Country between you and Philadelphia, as it will be depriving the Enemy of all chance of getting them; and in this point of view, becomes an object to us of importance.

I earnestly exhort you to keep both Officers and Men to their duty, and to avoid furloughs but in cases of absolute necessity. You will also use your utmost endeavours to collect all the straglers &ca. from both Brigades, and you are also to use your best endeavours to get the Men Cloathed in the most comfortable manner you can.

You will be particular in your observation of every thing passing on the River and will communicate every matter of Importance to, Dear Sir, etc.



While the main army left Rebel Hill and the Gulph on December 19, both places remained outposts for soldiers who could warn the army in Valley Forge if the British decided to approach from Philadelphia.

Aaron Burr remained at a picket post at the base of Rebel Hill on Gulph Road during the Valley Forge encampment.  General Lord Sterling, was in charge of the Gulph Mills encampment, and he spent the winter on Rebel Hill at the home of John Rees.  And, Gulph Mills was also used as the site for many court martials while the army was at Valley Forge.

Rebel Hill’s role in the Revolutionary War was not over on December 19.  In May 1778, General Washington and a large force of troops returned to Rebel Hill to provide backup for General Marquis de Lafayette, who was engaged in battle with the British in Conshohocken at the Battle of Barren Hill.  When Lafayette’s forces retreated, they retreated to Rebel Hill and its surroundings.  Lafayette’s forces included a number of Oneida Indians who had joined Washington’s Army.  (No wonder my siblings and I found many arrownheads as we played in the Rebel Hill woods, and we found buckshot that was used in muskets at that time, too.)

Of course, Hanging Rock remains a natural landmark of the Gulph Mills/Rebel Hill encampment.  Hanging Rock jutted far out over Gulph Road, much farther than it does today.  As cars got more prevalent and needed more room, Hanging Rock became a transportation problem.  In 1924, the owner of the Rock, J. Aubrey Anderson, donated it to the Valley Forge Historical Society, which put a plaque on it noting that Washington and his army passed by it and that is marked the spot of the December 13 – 18 encampment.  Stairs were built so people could climb up to the top of the rock to picnic at the small park that was up there until the P & W line was completed.  All of us who lived in the area as children remember the school bus stopping every day at Hanging Rock until oncoming traffic stopped and the bus could swing out onto the other side of the road and around the rock.  In 1995, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation finally decided to cut down the size of the rock (s0me of it got knocked off in many truck accidents).  In 1997, the Hanging Rock, also called the Overhanging Rock, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Hanging Rock

So, thus ends my daily diary of the role that my childhood home on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills played in the Revolutionary War on December 13 through 19, 1777.   And, by Rebel Hill, I don’t mean just what we now as Rebel Hill today.  Rebel Hill Road extended over into what we now call Union Hill (Hillside Rd., DeHaven St., etc.) during the Revolutionary War.  Rebel Hill was one large and long hill until 1952, when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation sliced through Rebel Hill to make way for the Schuylkill Expressway.

My Mom was right when she talked about George Washington and Rebel Hill.  We lived, and still own our family home, on historic ground.  I am proud of our history, and I hope that others are, too.  Tonight, I’m going to Valley Forge National Park to a program and reenactment commemorating Washington and his army’s march in to Valley Forge.  Maybe next year we can do a program and reenactment of Washington and his army’s march in to Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills.  Maybe at the community center on Rebel Hill?

It is this proud history that started me on my path to write my latest novel, Becoming Valley Forge, winner of the 2016 Regional Fiction Award, Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and soon to be available at Valley Forge National Park Encampment Store.  Called “a stunning saga” and “impressively well-written from beginning to end”, a description of the novel follows below.  If you have any more stories about Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills or artifacts, please get in touch with me at svance@TheElevatorGroup.com.  Read more about and order my other books and the other authors of The Elevator Group at http://www.TheElevatorGroup.com.  I’m happy to speak to your group or historical society about the Six Days in December.  Please email me at svance@TheElevatorGroup.com.


Becoming Valley Forge  by Sheilah Vance, ISBN: 0-9824945-9-2, $17.95, Trade Paperback, 565 pp; January 2016.  Also available as an ebook on Amazon.  On sale for $10 directly from The Elevator Group by clicking here.

Becoming Valley Forge 9780982494592

This epic historical novel shows how the lives of ordinary men and women who lived in the shadow of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, were changed forever during The Philadelphia Campaign in mid-1777, when the Revolutionary War battles came to their doorsteps, leading them and their loved ones to Valley Forge from winter 1777 through summer 1778. James, a former slave, lives as a blacksmith on Rebel Hill in Gulph Mills, with his patriot friend, Daniel. Daniel is reluctant to volunteer for the army because he supports his mother and sister. James questions the sincerity of patriots who fight for freedom when so many African Americans are still slaves. But, the Continental Army’s occupation of Rebel Hill in early December uproots their plans. Orland Roberts, a Paoli farmer, leads a local patriot spy network with the help of his wife Teenie, daughter Betsey, and brother Norman, who owns a local tavern. As soon as they come of age, the Roberts’ boys–Fred and Allen–enlist in the Continental Army under the command of their neighbor, General Anthony Wayne, which puts them in the thick of The Philadelphia Campaign battles. The family outcast, Connie, who runs a brothel in Philadelphia that services many British officers during their occupation of the city, views the presence of both the redcoats and the patriots in the area as just another challenge that she has to conquer to survive, until a series of events causes her to put family ties above all else. Their paths converge, along with many other people’s, at Valley Forge, where General George Washington’s Continental Army, a young nation, and the fascinating characters in the book are forced to confront the reality and the aftermath of war, revolution, and freedom as they grow and become the meaning of Valley Forge.

You can read more about these momentous six days in my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, and my nonfiction ebook, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, December 13 – 19, 1777.  #RevolutionaryWarRealness

Day 6, Dec. 18, 1777 — George Washington’s Army celebrates the new nation’s first Thanksgiving at Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills and prepares to set up camp at Valley Forge

   On December 18, 1777, General George Washington’s army celebrated the first national Thanksgiving in Gulph Mills and on Rebel Hill.  The celebration caused a one day delay in the army’s march to Valley Forge, which General Washington had decided a day earlier, was to be where the army would make its winter quarters.

The purpose of the Thanksgiving, according to the November 1, 1777 proclamation of the Continental Congress, was for “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise” and  “to inspire our Commanders both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States the greatest of all human blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE…”

Reverend Israel Evans, chaplin to General Poor’s New Hampshire brigade, preached at least one of the Thanksgiving sermons.  The text of his sermon was printed by Lancaster, Pa. printer, Francis Bailey, who is credited with being the first printer to name, in print, Gen. Washington as “the Father of His Country.”   General Washington received a copy of this Thanksgiving sermon on March 12, 1778.  The next day, he wrote this thank you note to Mr. Evans:


Head Qrs. Valley-forge, March 13, 1778.

Revd. Sir: Your favor of the 17th. Ulto., inclosing the discourse which you delivered on the 18th. of December; the day set a part for a general thanksgiving; to Genl. Poors Brigade, never came to my hands till yesterday.    I have read this performance with equal attention and pleasure, and at the same time that I admire, and feel the force of the reasoning which you have displayed through the whole, it is more especially incumbent upon me to thank you for the honorable, but partial mention you have made of my character; and to assure you, that it will ever be the first wish of my heart to aid your pious endeavours to inculcate a due sense of the dependance we ought to place in that all wise and powerful Being on whom alone our success depends; and moreover, to assure you, that with respect and regard, I am, etc.”

This first national Thanksgiving celebration was nothing like the Thanksgiving celebrations that we know today with abundant food and comfort.  The 11,000 soldiers in Washington’s Army still had very little food and very little comfort, although conditions had improved for some over the last few days.

Their diaries explain:

Dr. Algibence Waldo writes, “Universal Thanksgiving – a Roasted pig at Night. God be thanked for my health which I have pretty well recovered. How much better should I feel, were I assured my family were in health. But the same good Being who graciously preserves me, is able to preserve them and bring me to the ardently wish’d for enjoyment of them again.”

Jospeh Plumb Martin, a private from Massachusetts, wrote about the first Thanksgiving in his 1830 book, A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Danger and Suffering of a Revolutionary Soldier, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Incidents that Occurred Within His Own Observation.  (His diaries have since been republished under the title, “Private Yankee Doodle”, i.e. as edited by George F. Scheer and published by Little, Brown, and Co., 1962.)

Martin writes, “While we lay here there was a Continental Thanksgiving ordered by Congress, and as the army had all the cause in the world to be particularly thankful, if not for being well off, at least that it was no worse, we were ordered to participate in it.  We had nothing to eat for two or three days previous, except what hte trees aof the fields and forests afforded us.  But we must now have what Congress said, a sumptuous Thanksgiving to close the year of high living we had now nearly even brought to a close.  Well, to add something extraordinary to our present stock of provisions, our contry, every mindful of its suffering army, opened her sympathizing heart so wide, upon this occasion, as to give us something to make the world stare.  And what do you think it was, dear reader?  Guess.  You cannot guess, be you as much of a Yankee as you will.  I will tell you; it gave each anevery man half a gill [note:  a gill is about four ounces] of rice and a tablespoonful of vinegar!!

After we had made sure of this extraordinary superabundant donation, we were ordered out to attend a meeting and hear a sermon delivered upon the happy occasion.  We accordingly went, fo we could not help it.  I heard a sermon, a ‘thanksgiving sermon’, what sort of one I do not know now, nor did I at the time I heard it.  I had something else to think upon.  My belly put me in remembrance of the fine Thanksgiving dinner I was to partake of when I could get it.  Well, we had got through the services of the day and had nothing to do but to return in good order to our tents and fare as we could.  As we returend to our camp, we passed by our commissary’s quarters.  All his stores, consisting of a barrel about two-thirds full of hocks of fresh beef, stood directl in our way, but there was a sentinel guarding even that.

However, one of my messmates purloined a piece of it, four or five pounds perhaps.  I was exceeding glad to see him take it; I thoguht it mught help to eke out our Thanksgiving supper, but alas!  How soon my expectations were blasted!  The sentinel saw him have it as soon as I did and obliged him to return it ot the barel again.  So I had nothing esle to do but to go home and meke out my supper as susual, upon a leg of nothing and no turnips.

The army was now not only starved but naked.  The greatest part were not only shirtless and barefoot, but destitute of all otehr clothing, especially blankets…I was to endure this inconvenience (moccassins made of cowhide) or to go barefoot, as hundredso f mycompanions had to, till they might be tracked by their blood upon the rough frozen ground.

The army continued at and near the Gulf for some days, after which we marched for teh Valley Forge in order to take up winter quarters.  We were now in a truly forlorn condition–no clothing, no provisions and as disheartned as need be.”

General Washington’s orders for that day largely focus on setting up the camp at Valley Forge, where the army will march to on December 19.  (The first part of his orders focus on military discipline–court martials.)  His is particularly focused on the procedure for “hutting”–building the huts where the army will spend the winter. His very specific orders follow, including an award of $12 for a soldier in each regiment who finishes his hut first, and an award of $100 for any officer or soldier who comes up with a covering for the huts that is cheaper and quicker made than boards, which are in short supply.

“GENERAL ORDERS Head Quarters, at the Gulph, December 18, 1777

The Major Generals and officers commanding divisions, are to appoint an active field officer in and for each of their respective brigades, to superintend the business of hurting, agreeably to the directions they shall receive; and in addition to these, the commanding officer of each regiment is to appoint an officer to oversee the building of huts for his own regiment; which officer is to take his orders from the field officer of the brigade he belongs to, who is to mark out the precise spot, that every hut, for officers and soldiers, is to be placed on, that uniformity and order may be observed.

An exact return of all the tools, now in the hands of every regiment, is to be made immediately to the Qr. Mr. General, who, with the Adjutant General, is to see that they, together with those in store, are duly and justly allotted to the regimental overseers of the work; who are to keep an account of the men’s names, into whose hands they are placed, that they may be accountable for them. The Superintendents and Overseers are to be exempt from all other duty, and will moreover be allowed for their trouble.

The Colonels, or commanding officers of regiments, with their Captains, are immediately to cause their men to be divided into squads of twelve, and see that each squad have their proportion of tools, and set about a hut for themselves: And as an encouragement to industry and art, the General promises to reward the party in each regiment, which finishes their hut in the quickest, and most workmanlike manner, with twelve dollars. And as there is reason to believe, that boards, for covering, may be found scarce and difficult to be got; He offers One hundred dollars to any officer or soldier, who in the opinion of three Gentlemen, he shall appoint as judges, shall substitute some other covering, that may be cheaper and quicker made, and will in every respect answer the end.

The Soldier’s huts are to be of the following dimensions, viz: fourteen by sixteen each, sides, ends and roofs made with logs, and the roof made tight with split slabs, or in some other way; the sides made tight with clay, fire-place made of wood and secured with clay on the inside eighteen inches thick, this fireplace to be in the rear of the hut; the door to be in the end next the street; the doors to be made of split oak-slabs, unless boards can be procured. Side-walls to be six and a half feet high. The officers huts to form a line in the rear of the troops, one hut to be allowed to each General Officer, one to the Staff of each brigade, one to the field officers of each regiment, one to the Staff of each regiment, one to the commissioned officers of two companies, and one to every twelve non-commissioned officers and soldiers.


The army and baggage are to march to morrow in the time and manner alreadydirected in the orders of the 15th. instant, Genl. Sullivan’s division excepted, which is to remain on its present ground ’till further orders.”

Thanksgiving now over, it’s on to Day 7 and Valley Forge….

You can read more about these momentous six days in my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, and my nonfiction ebook, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, December 13 – 19, 1777.  #RevolutionaryWarRealness