Today, Sept. 27, is Capitol Day in the City of Lancaster, marking the 243rd anniversary of the day Lancaster served as host of the Second Continental Congress.
Following the crushing British victory at the Battle of Brandywine, on Sept. 11, 1777, Congress, then settled in Philadelphia, wakened to the danger of its eminent capture as forces of the Crown moved on the city.
One week later on Sept. 18, as recounted in 2017 by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Alexander Hamilton is said to have warned his fellow patriots that if Congress has not left, “they should do it immediately without fail.”
And John Adams, heeding that advice in the middle of the night, noted, “Congress was chased from Philadelphia like a covey of partridges.”
By then the state government, also seated in Philadelphia, had relocated to Lancaster, as had hundreds of Philadelphia citizens turned refugees.
In Lancaster, they joined two regiments of Virginia troops, who were passing through, as well as more than 1,000 prisoners of war and the 2,000 permanent residents of the city, now bursting at its seams.
It was into this teeming mass that 28 members of Congress arrived on Sept. 27 and, with enough members present to constitute a quorum, met at the Lancaster County Courthouse, located in Penn Square.
(A replica of that courthouse now sits in Buchanan Park, along Race Avenue.)
Conducting business, Congress passed a resolution directing the Board of War to cooperate with Gen. George Washington in supplying the Continental Army.
With no place to stay, even for the short term, and desiring to put the Susquehanna River between themselves and a possible British advance, Congress loaded the wagons once more and decamped to York, where lodging was abundant. It would remain there until the British abandoned Philadelphia in June of 1778.
Since 1952, the Lancaster County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution has commemorated Capitol Day. (The Society of Sons of the Revolution is composed of lineal descendants of ancestors who participated in the Revolutionary War in a military or naval capacity in behalf of American independence, or descendants of officials or individuals whose service was sufficient importantly to have rendered them liable to being convicted of treason against Great Britain.)
Supported by the Pennsylvania chapter of that organization and local businesses, the first celebrations were grand affairs with participation by local schoolchildren and high school bands.
In recent years, the celebrations have been dialed back, with notable exceptions. In 2001, the Pennsylvania Society, its color guard and the Lancaster chapter presented the city with a flagpole and plaque located in Binns Park commemorating the sacrifices of Lancastrians in the Revolutionary War. That celebration featured the Pennsylvania 276th Army National Guard Band and an artillery salute with one of Mayor Charles Smithgall’s cannons.
In 2006, after Binns Park was renovated, the flagpole and statue were rededicated in a Capitol Day celebration featuring the J.P. McCaskey High School Band.
In 2011, a plaque was placed on the base of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, dedicated to the men and women who served in the Revolutionary War, joining similar plaques that recognized those who served in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm.
In 2017, then-Mayor J. Richard Gray signed a law recognizing Capitol Day as a holiday in the City of Lancaster.
It will be celebrated quietly today, but celebrated nonetheless.
David C. Hill Byrne is regent of the Lancaster County Chapter, Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution, and an LNP | LancasterOnline correspondent.