Herman Husband: The Forgotten Founder

Herman Husband.(Author’s note.  The original head photo was John Adams.  This composite sketch was lent to me courtesy of http://wethepeoplegame.com/ and Bob Snizek.  They hold all legal rights to it.)

 

His hair was unkempt for it had not been brushed in years.   His clothes were tattered and mended; they were meant for farm work and not for addressing the members of the Pennsylvania Assembly.  Yet he stood before the assembled leaders of colonial Pennsylvania and he preached fire and brimstone.   He called down the wrath of God upon the crowned heads of Europe and the land speculators in New York.  He preached the New Jerusalem on the American Continent.  His America was one that Superman would be proud of for it was founded on Truth and Justice. Staring at his audience, no, his congregation, with eyes of fire, he preached the damnation of slaveholders, and condemned those who abused the natives to eternal hellfire. When he was finished, his audience rose to applaud their hero. His name was Herman Husband. His detractors called him the Mad Man of the Mountains, but his fellow members of the Pennsylvania assembly called him a man of God.

Born to a wealthy family in Maryland, Husband got religion from working for his tavern keeper uncle. That same uncle also taught him the value of hard work. Those lessons were so well learned that young Herman could not readjust to the frivolous life of a Maryland plantation owner’s son. He found their vapid imitation of British court life sinful, and he could not abide slavery. He soon moved away and bought his own plantation. He left the Anglican Church, which he felt was the home of the antichrist, and joined the Quakers. Proving that there was no fanatic quite like a convert, Husband became the most dedicated of Quakers. Forsaking all vanity, he refused to brush his hair and wore only work clothes. Even though his plantation and business interests made him a very wealthy man, he lived as frugally as a pauper. Despite his frugality and his uncompromising religious beliefs, his children adored him, and all three of his wives felt he was the world’s greatest mate.

His first wife gladly converted to the Society of Friends, his second wife joined him in exile when the Quaker elders banished him, and his third wife and all his children helped him escape when King George had a price on his head. Husband refused to compromise when it came to religion. It was his firm belief that God spoke to each and every human being regardless of race or gender. When he criticized the Quaker elders for forbidding revelation contrary to Quaker doctrine, the elders banished him. Husband could care less. His church was the invisible church on the right hand of God. No earthly authority had the right to tell him he wasn’t one of the elect.

Husband joined with fellow banished Quakers, angry Baptists, defrocked Methodists, and other heretics who became what is known as the Regulators. They did not earn that name for their religious beliefs. On the contrary, religion was the most unregulated thing about them. To them, accepting Jesus as their lord and savior automatically made them the equals of any popes or bishops. They could not care less about historic inaccuracies in the Bible. To them, the book was a divination tool. The will of God was revealed through relating the Bible stories to the modern world. It mattered not to them that there was no historic Moses, the Ten Commandments were still God’s own truth.

While the Regulators could not agree on dogma or ritual, they did agree on politics. Amazingly, the Regulators were in total agreement that God wanted a progressive tax on wealth. It also came to a surprise to George Washington that God hated land speculators and wanted title given to the people who actually developed the land. Alexander Hamilton was not amused to hear that God demanded low interest loans to farmers. Imagine Thomas Jefferson’s outrage when he discovered that the Almighty not only wanted him to free his slaves, but to pay reparations for the indignities of being owned. The Regulators also felt that Africans and Native Americans had equal rights in the eyes of God and both should enjoy full civil rights on earth.

The name Regulators came from their belief that good government was government that protected the rights of the poor from the depredations of the wealthy. Laws should be passed to assure everybody of equal opportunities, and that everybody had an equal voice in government. Back when George Washington was still having tea with the Royal Governor of Virginia, and John Adams was campaigning for a British peerage, the Regulators were calling for an America free of European tyranny. The King was not happy, nor were the governors of Maryland and Virginia. It was not long before the Regulators became an illegal organization and Herman Husband fled into the mountains of Pennsylvania.

Husband the fugitive came to settle in the Allegheny Mountains. Known only as the Quaker, he worked amongst the the trappers and hunters who settled around Pittsburgh. Eventually he built a homestead where his wife and children joined him. His neighbors respected him not just as a farmer but as a preacher. He shared his vision of the American West as a new Jerusalem, and his dream of welcoming the reign of Christ through establishing just laws. In those days before the Rapture became dogma, Christians believed that the reign of Christ could be brought into existence through the efforts of human beings. Husband had a vision of the New Jerusalem ruled through a complex legislature based on strict term limits. His neighbors so loved his vision that they elected him to the Pennsylvania legislature twice.

There was no greater champion of the American Revolution than Herman Husband. To him, George Washington was a latter day Joshua, bringing down the walls of the British Jericho. Later, Husband would be shocked and dismayed by his hero. Not only was Washington an absentee land owner in Husband’s own beloved Alleghenies, but Washington’s presidency was a repudiation of everything Husband lived and worked for. The grand old man of the Regulators saw the Constitution as a work of Satan, and a means for the rich to exploit and abuse the poor. Having the general who led the revolution as the first president under that Satanic document almost shattered Husband’s belief in God.

Almost, but not quite. Despite the unfair taxation that exploited his neighbors, and laws that protected land speculators from prosecution from their tenants, Husband continued to believe. He continued to preach his New Jerusalem based on the equality of man. He continued to preach a progressive tax against wealth, civil rights for all, and an end to the damnable institution of slavery. When his neighbors rebelled against the Federal Government over Hamilton’s Whiskey Tax, which provided the likes of George Washington with a lucrative monopoly, Herman Husband was the first to join in.

He was also to be the first of many to be arrested without due process and the only one to be prosecuted for the crime of sedition. There were many Federalists who heard him preach against a government that forced hard working farmers off their land, and imposing taxes that sent working men into the poor house. Worse of all, he preached against slavery, and in the early days of the US government, that was a constitutional violation. Out of the 28 people to be prosecuted for the Whiskey Rebellion, Herman Husband was one of two to be found guilty. The rest were found not guilty despite judge’s orders to enter a guilty verdict. Washington, adroit politician that he was, pardoned him so he would not become a martyr to the anti Federalist cause. The pardon didn’t come a minute too soon. Herman Husband contracted pneumonia from being kept in an unheated cell in December and died soon after being released.

Poor Herman Husband never lived to see his American Jerusalem and was betrayed by the very heroes he prayed for. The religious movement he helped to found transmuted into today’s religious right. The social movement he helped start continued after his death, and later influenced such thinkers as Karl Marx and Charles Dickens. I find it funny that the only founding father I have any affection for was the great-grandfather of today’s born again movement. If there was any Christian who truly deserved heaven, it was Herman Husband, because it was he and not Washington or Jefferson, and especially not Hamilton, who embodied the American spirit of Liberty and Equality. Only Herman Husband embodied the best qualities of the religious and of the socialist. May his memory be restored as an example to us all.

Footnote

John Adams

Those White Savages Actually Think They Can Rule Themselves?

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37 Comments on “Herman Husband: The Forgotten Founder”

  1. Bob says:

    FYI — the picture you have next to your article on Herman Husband, is of John Adams

  2. billdunlap says:

    You may be right. Husband and Adams were related through their mothers, and their images are frequently confused. Thank you for being so observant. I’ll replace the picture as one with Husband as a young man. There is also one of Husband’s tracts on line, and I will put the URL in the link section.

    • Robert says:

      FYI, I am making a history board game, and have been searching for images I can use legally of various figures in American history. I have spend quite a bit of time looking, but have not been able to find a picture of Husband. If you have one/know of one in the public domain, please let me know. I have already looked on Flickr, Library of Congress, Clipart.com (and a few other sources I know.)

      If I cant find a picture, I will likely comission an artist to make one…where did you get the description of his hair being unkept? Today I have spent some time looking for descriptions of his appearence…just in case I need to make a portrait of him.

  3. vivian husband bruce says:

    I have enjoyed reading all of your blog posts, but this one holds particular interest for me. My father, our family historian, passed several years ago, and I only recently wondered what might be found online about our ancestors (since we had many that were important at this time in American history). I had no idea the wealth of information to be found, enough , through articles like yours, to let me get to know someone like my gggg grandfather, Herman Husband. My father had told us about Grand Pa Husband’s role in the Whiskey Rebellion, but liked to stress the part about the “full pardon from George Washington.” The “full pardon” being a key words because he didn’t want us or anyone else to think we came from criminal stock, just a distinguished line of whiskey distillers. Little did I know, just doing a simple Google search on three of them showed that all three had been tried for treason. None were actually hanged though, thank God. I never knew what a radical bunch they were and it was kind of cathartic for me. No wonder I am the way I am, it’s in my blood (so I can’t help it at all) and I have to tell you it made me proud to be related to him when I read this.

  4. vivian husband bruce says:

    BTW this is the first I have heard about being related to John Adams, I’ll check it out. And I would like to see the one of Herman Husband as a young man, before the six years of not bathing.

    • billdunlap says:

      I have been neglecting this blog of late due to real time problems and I am contracted for a novel. Bill Hogeland goes into great detail on Husband’s ancestry in his book on the Whiskey Rebellion. I will post the photo soonest.

      And Vivian, I am a great admirer of your ancestor, and your comment is an honor. Thank you for taking the time.

    • Deb says:

      Vivian, this guy does not know what he is talking about. He appears to be highjacking Herman Husband and some of his beliefs to suit is own purpose, which are left wing, socialist, I am thinking back when the country was being run by England, and taxing us to death, everyone was against this, and they would take the taxes and build lavish mansions , while the people become more poor, The people got sick of it, sort of like now days. My GGGGrandfather Herman Husband, was against the high taxes, and resented the mansions and the taxes, that were collected to pay for them. He was a man of honor and of God, he was not vain, but he was a man of simple needs, but always was a wealthy man, and no one ever discribed him as not ever bathing, and combing his hair, most men of the time, were not all slicked up like the british with their powdered wings and fancy dress. People worked hard, and he was one of those. they did not have a lot of time to primp … I am really upset at this mans posting, and use of my GgggggGrandfather for his own left wing ideas.. unreal.. sorry you had to get miss informed by this, it is sad… i would love to see it off the internet.. Take care, and good luck searching for the real truth about Herman Husband.

      • billdunlap says:

        Sorry to burst your libertarian comic-book history bubble, but Husband was arrested for sedition by no less a person than Alexander Hamilton and at the age of 79, placed in an unheated cell in January by order of George Washington. Yes, Husband and Franklin were indeed close friends. Franklin was one of the people who wrote the original Pennsylvania constitution which was the most democratic document ever penned. However, with friends like Washington and Hamilton, Husband did not need any enemies. As a matter of fact, with criminals like Hamilton and Washington, America did not need any enemies. Personally, I want to see Aaron Burr get a posthumous sharp shooter’s medal.

        Herman Husband and the Regulators are the true heroes of the American Revolution. Washington and Hamilton were the creators of the very Wall St. that is sucking the life out of this nation.

  5. Deb says:

    This article is not very accurate, My GGGGrandfather, did not think the constitution was written by satan, and he was very friendly and corresponded with Franklin and Washington, they were all friends. I have done research on Him for three years., and I have not found this to be true . Looks like this is slanted in a left wing way. Looks like there is a little truth mixed with a lot of left wing propaganda.. And using the wrong picture is really disappointing, I have been searching for years for a picture.. sad thing, that the picture is wrong….

  6. vivian husband bruce says:

    Dear Deb,

    It’s nice to meet someone else searching for more information on Herman Husband. I would like to share anything we have found with each other if that is possible, current politics aside, of course.

    That being said, I agree with the Grumpy Old Man in his beliefs about Herman Husband, the past, and where he might fit in to the political climate of today. I haven’t found the errors you write about, although he may never have actually said (can’t find it) the Constitution was written by “Satan” it seems he certainly felt betrayed by the authors, to put it mildly.

    I don’t think anyone’s legacy has been hijacked at all. I like what Mr. Dunlap postulates, and I certainly don’t think that leaning to the left ever made anyone a Socialist.

    This ancestor is important to me in many ways and I will share with you a silly aside as to just one of the reasons why:

    Growing up with the surname of Husband in south Texas was not easy. Every schoolkid, store clerk, and random person off the street had to make a joke about it. When I was about 12 my older sister and I begged to have him change our last name, or at least alter the spelling. My father refuse to do it and shared with us stories about Herman Husband. He was so proud of his family name that we kept it and I survived adolescence in spite of it. I am a whole lot older now and, over the years, have grown proud to be related to him. Now, it’s hard to say exactly my grandfather would have thought about political issues 200 years after his death, but……after all I have read about him and his peers, I believe he would surly have been a member of the Democratic Party today.

    It is too bad the picture is wrong, I wanted to print it for my mother.

  7. Irene says:

    I have recently been doing research on my grandmothers maternal ancestors and lo and behold have found my line goes back to Herman Husband. Really enjoying reading all I can about this man. Is the picture that is currently on this site a picture of Herman or is it John Adams?

    • billdunlap says:

      Be proud, Irene, be very proud. The true American spirit of liberty, equality, and rule by law was expressed by Herman Husband. Don’t believe it when you hear that slavery was simply accepted during the Revolution. Husband gives proof of these lies. Husband demanded full civil rights for captive Africans and for Native Americans all the way back in 1760. Civil rights for slaves would have cut into Jefferson’s lifesyle and Washington’s profits.

  8. Doug Harvey says:

    I mainly agree with this post Bill, and am not particularly threatened by your crazed left-wing rant. (that’s a joke) I’ve been reading Herman’s sermons that he wrote around the Whiskey Rebellion period although the folder their in at the Pitt archive says “Sermons 1750-1760” — I don’t know that anyone but maybe Mary Lazenby ever read them. Anyway, I would disagree that he was father of the religious right. He had very ideosyncratic views that conflated republican government and “end times” prophecy in the Books of Daniel and Revelations. He was rather well-to-do but objected to working people paying for “ministers and Place-men,” i.e., people who did not work for a living — kinda like Wall Street and their pals in Washington, (they may work very hard indeed, but they don’t add value to anything. How’s that for a Marxist rant?). Anyway — happy to find your site — sounds like we agree on much — best wishes — and put me down as someone looking into information on HH — I’m writing a book in which he figures prominently. I am a historian, incidentally; interested in facts.

    • billdunlap says:

      A real live historian commenting on my blog? I haven’t been so excited in I don’t know how long. Please keep me posted on your project as I would love to read your book.

      As far as Husband being the father of the religious right, alas, I have to defend that. Even though Husband would have deplored Pat Robertson and his evil brood, they do hearken back to the religious tradition Husband helped to found. Religion was more progressive in those days before the rapture.

  9. Robert says:

    I wanted to comment about the “left” v. “right” dynamic in relation to Herman Husband, which might have some relevance to other Founders as well. Sorry about the length of the post, but I thought it necessary in order to do the topic justice.

    For the past three years outside of my day job, almost all of my spare time has been spent researching American history with an emphasis on the Founding Fathers in the attempt to create something (a board game) that is intellectually honest and historically accurate.

    I think that there is a tendency (especially in today’s political climate) to frame the Founders in “right” or “left” terms. I am pretty confident that the vast majority Colonial Americans did not see the world, or the framing of the Republic in right and left terms. The whole notion of “right” and “left” is a European construct, (literally where members sat in chambers while performing their legislative duties.) Those that sat on the left side of the chamber were typically communists/socialists, while those that sat on the right were typically fascists.

    The Founders, including Husband I believe, would think in “up” and “down” terms. Up represents maximum control, or tyrannical government, which they had been living under and fighting against. While “down” could represent maximum freedom. The precursor to the Constitution, as you know was the Articles of Confederation, which only provided a loose confederation of friendship between the states, the federal government was too weak (many felt) to work long term. It would not surprise me if Husband had a problem with the Constitution as it was initially proposed (without a Bill of rights.) Many great Founders were worried about setting up a new government that could only too quickly become just like the one they fought to free themselves from; Founders like Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Thomas Paine had their concerns – they felt the Constitution pushed the line too far “up” the scale they ideologically operated under.

    What always seems hard (or maybe impossible) to do is to understand the Founders on their own terms, and not attempt to plop them down in 21st century America, amid the constructs we have created to understand the world today with our definitions – not theirs. In my opinion, that if Husband were Resurrected today, and we defined him with our words like “Progressive, Communist, Socialist, right and left, he would look at us like we just sprouted a second head.

    • Bill Dunlap says:

      Robert, please forgive me for replying by email before I approved your comment. The novel is on deadline now, and the stress is getting to me. 🙂

      A brief question regarding your post. America was a European culture and European culture and language dominated American society until quite recently. So why do you say that the left vs. right dichotomy did not exist here? I think it is pretty well reflected by the Regulator vs. Federalist disagreements.

      • Bob says:

        I guess my take is that both “right and left” now days frequently trend toward expanding federal powers beyond what most Founders would have felt would be healthy for the Republic. Yes, the left and right dynamic dichotomy clearly exsists in America, I would suggest that for the most part the terms divide and improperly define Americans. When a right of center guy holds the highest office in the land, or when a left of center guy gets elected, for the most part they both seek to expand federal powers beyond what the constitution allows. My opinion is that if 1/2 the population are alternitively taking turns falling asleep to various abuses. I hope I’m wrong, but am convinced that Americans will someday wake to find that we are all (regardless of party) on the same Titanic — and will kick ourselves for fighting over the positioning of chairs on the deck, while never (at the same time) holding the Pres and Congress accountable.

  10. Dana Husband Prater says:

    Very interesting article and discussions and I look forward to more. Bill, please post the portrait of Herman if you have it. Thanks, Dana Husband Prater

    • Bill Dunlap says:

      Darn, still another descendent of the great man himself? Thank you for your comment. Positive or negative, it is always an honor to have a grandchild of the Father of American Liberty post on this blog.

  11. Thurman says:

    Wow, impressive work here overall, and especially regarding Mr. Husband. Though not a descendent, I live within a mile or so of where the great man lived in North Carolina (I could throw a rock and drop it in Sandy Creek from my front yard).

    Looking forward to much time spent pilfering through your archives.

  12. Rich says:

    Excited to come across this site/blog about one of my ancestors – and further excited to see that some very, very distant cousins have posted some replies (my part of the tree comes through his son Isaac’s line). I’ve never seen any kind of photo or likeness of Herman/Harmon other than artist renditions and would love to see something genuine if it exists (I do have one of Isaac as an old man). Also, if any one has some detailed info of a maternal connection to John Adams, that would be great to share – that’s the first I’ve heard that one…one rumor in our family has been that Husband was related to Benjamin Franklin and not just close friends, though I have not yet seen proof.

    Proud to be a Husband descendant!

    • Bill Dunlap says:

      My dear friend, I am always excited when a descendent of the great Husband says a kind word on my blog. He was the true founder of American Freedom, and it is past time he receives the credit he deserves.

  13. Kara Altman says:

    How exciting to find your blog!! I started researching my ancestry a few weeks ago, and found out today that Herman is my ggggg-grandfather through his son, William. I have been telling my family what an incredible man he was! Thank you so much for writing about him.
    Kara Altman
    Juneau, Alaska

    • Bill Dunlap says:

      And thank you for your kind words. Please remember that Herman was the true father of American freedom, so stand tall!

  14. Joanna says:

    Though not a direct descendant of HH, his next-to-youngest sister Ann was my 5th gr-gm. She was something of a firebrand herself, although not to the same degree as her eldest brother. Not sure which side of their family their rebellious spirit came from, but I inherited quite a (sometimes unhealthy) dose of it!

    I’m tickled pink HH’s views on democracy, civil rights and taxation are getting so much attention now and am thrilled AND proud to have Kinkey and Husband blood in my veins!

  15. Doug Harvey says:

    I just wanted to let folks at this blog know that I am still working on a biography of Herman Husband (when I get the time — I teach a full load every semester). I am planning a trip over Thanksgiving week to Somerset County, PA and Cecil County, MD. (NC will be the next trip.) Any family stories anyone has, knowledge of archival materials at the county/city level, specifics about where exactly Herman’s various landholdings were (especially where he lived) — anything you might think useful to a professional biographer — can be sent to me at dharvey@ku.edu and/or tenstring@sunflower.com. I live in Lawrence, KS, btw. I agree, to some extent, with the point that his place on the political spectrum is ambiguous by today’s so-called standards. Husband puts me in mind a bit of MLK, Jr. — he was first and foremost a “preacher,” however you want to define it. He believed in the benevolence and fairness of Christianity — there seems to be little doubt about this. “Left” and “Right” were products of the revolutionary French legislature, and the influence of these came later, especially during and after the Industrial Revolution. Anyway — thanks to all for the information and enthusiasm about a man we all admire for his integrity and resolve.

    Best wishes,
    Doug Harvey
    Lawrence, KS

  16. Brad V. says:

    I am enthralled with Husband, thanks for the portrayal. I would agree with Bob that left-right, socialist-capitalist terminology was largely a product of industrial Europe. Husband favored land taxation, as did the French physiocrats, is my understanding- but the physiocrats were observing conditions in America of democratic land-holding. Husband was an agrarian radical similar to the physiocratic Paine, Jefferson, and Franklin. Historian Henry Bamford Parkes also emphasized that American radicalism is always agrarian at its best, not capitalism or socialism. He was definitely a radical democrat for his times. Agrarians believed in small proprietorship, not collective ownership.

  17. Charles Hoover says:

    Just learned I am a descendent. My daughter and grandkids have previously visited the site of the Battle of Alliance (they live close by) and I know they’ll be surprised to learn a great grandpa was heavily involved. Thank you for this blog and looking forward to reading the book.

  18. Ben Arnold says:

    Getting ready to visit Philly in a few weeks. Please let me know where I should go to look for things relating to Herman. He was my ancestor as well. My mother’s mother was a Husband. Thanks, Ben

  19. Z. Gwain says:

    I enjoyed this read. In trying to research the matter further I have hit a road block. I can’t find any copies of Mr. Husbands pamphlets on the New Jerusalem. Google gives nothing but endless commentary.

    Where may I find Herman Husbands writings on his vision of New Jerusalem? And did any of his contemporaries share such a vision?

  20. Doug Harvey says:

    Just an update to my above comment of a couple of years ago. Bio of Herman is moving forward — should have at least a paper on it published in the near future. If anyone has any info on Herman they’d like to share, my email address has changed to tenstring@twc.com. I’m in Kansas City if anyone wants to meet F2F. Thanks!


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