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First Name: Joseph

Last Name: Reed

Birthplace: Trenton, NJ, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Continental Army (1775 - 1784)

Date of Birth: 27 August 1741

Date of Death: 05 March 1785

Rank: Major General

Years Served:
Joseph Reed

•  Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783)


Joseph Reed
Adjutant General, Continental Army

Joseph Reed was born on 27 August 1741.

Reed became a leading lawyer in Trenton, NJ, in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. Initially a proponent of compromise with England when conflict brewed in America, he became a full supporter of independence, and became the President of the 2nd Continental Congress in January 1775. When the war started in April 1775, he became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Pennsylvania Militia. When George Washington was made commander of the Continental forces by the Congress, Joseph Reed became his Military Secretary. On 5 June 1775, he was made Adjutant General of the Continental Army (a position he held for much of the war).

He served with Washington in the disastrous campaign on Long Island and in New York in the summer of 1776, and was the General's representative when British commander Admiral Howe tried to negotiate the surrender of the Americans. He was critical of the capture of Forts Washington and Lee on the Hudson River by the British, and for the fact that New York City was left standing for the British to occupy. A letter Joseph Reed wrote to General Charles Lee detailing these criticisms produced a corresponding critical letter from General Lee that fell into George Washington's hands. Reed was much vilified by many in the Army and Government for his critical views, but George Washington continued to fully support his adjutant, and the criticism died out.

Because he was intimately knowledgeable about Trenton, Joseph Reed's participation in the Christmas 1776 surprise attack there was of immense value. He continued to serve with Washington's army through the Battles of Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth.

In 1777, he was elected as a Delegate from Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress. In December 1778, he was chosen as President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania (which at the time was the chief executive of the State), serving to 1781. His administration was highlighted by his abolishing slavery in Pennsylvania, the placing of Revolutionary soldiers on half pay for life, and the prosecution of Benedict Arnold (in absentia) for his corruption while commander of Philadelphia.

In 1778, he became embroiled in a scandal when he was erroneously accused of traitorous correspondence with England. This led to the belief that he had questionable loyalties until historians in the 1880s corrected the fallacy. He was one of the few officers and figures of the Revolution who had the respect and trust of George Washington.

Death and Burial

Joseph Reed died on 5 March 1785. He was originally buried at the Arch Street Presbyterian Burial Ground in Philadelphia, but was removed to Laurel Hill Cemetery when the Arch Street Burial Ground was built over.

Honoree ID: 2990   Created by: MHOH




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