Historic Oath of Allegiance Comes Home to Valley Forge National Historical Park

Historic document - oath of allegiance

This historic Oath of Allegiance was recently donated to Valley Forge NHP. NPS photo.

Military personnel, federal employees and elected officials take an oath of allegiance or oath of office, but during the American Revolution there was a lot at stake for those who promised "true allegiance to the United States of America"—in writing. One of those historic documents was recently donated to Valley Forge National Historical Park.

In an effort to weed out Loyalist sympathizers during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress established oaths for the enlisted men and officers of the Continental Army. After reading the version of the oath for officers signed at Valley Forge, I can only conclude it was written by a committee that included several attorneys.

"I _____, do acknowledge the United States of America to be Free, Independent, and Sovereign States, and declare that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the Third, King of Great Britain; and I renounce, refute and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him; and I do swear that I will to the utmost of my power, support, maintain, and defend the said United States, against the said King George the Third, his heirs and successors, and his and their abettors, assistants and adherents; and will serve the said United States in the office of...
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There were plenty of those "abettors, assistants and adherents" around to complicate life for Washington and his army during the American Revolution, and even a signature on an oath wasn't a guarantee of the person's true intentions. A park publication provides a little background on the oath process, and on one famous weaseler in the bunch:

General Washington was faced with a monumental task in complying with this resolution. Morale among officers was low. Pay was either nonexistent or in arrears, and officers’ appointments lacked security as reorganization of the army threatened an officer’s position of authority. Resignations became a daily occurrence among officers. The problems became epidemic at Valley Forge.

Understanding the temper and displacement of his officers, Washington choose to deliberately delay the oath of allegiance effort until officers became more receptive to its requirements of loyalty to the United States of America. By early May of 1778 Washington felt the time was right.

On May 7, Washington issued a General Order from headquarters urging that the oaths be administered promptly to officers of the 3rd and 4th New Jersey regiments. Many of these officers had now overcome their indignation and were ready to sign their allegiance to the new nation. Washington hoped others would follow the New Jersey example. The process began on May 12, 1778.

To accomplish the work, Washington selected high-ranking generals to administer the oaths to the officer staff. Among those selected was Brigadier General Henry Knox, who would administer oaths to officers of the artillery and military stores. The site chosen to administer the oaths was the artillery park. Apparently, General Knox served as witness to many oaths taken by officers of the Continental Army. His signature appears on a similar oath of allegiance administered to Major General Benedict Arnold on May 30, 1778, also at the artillery park.

Fortunately for the cause of independence, the vast majority of those swearing their allegiance to the new nation were sincere. One of them was a Pennsylvania soldier, and thanks to a generous donation by his family, the document will be preserved at Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Descendents of a Continental Army officer have donated to the park a United States oath of Allegiance that was issued at the Valley Forge encampment. The oath was issued to First Lieutenant Lawrence Allman, a Pennsylvania native and member of the Continental 4th Artillery. On it is hand-written “Sworn before me at the Artillery Park, Valley Forge this 15th day of May 1778,” and is signed “HKnox B.G. Artillery.”

Lieutenant Allman’s oath, carefully protected for more than two centuries by his family, now has returned to Valley Forge. The certificate is a valuable addition to the park’s archival collection.