I’m sure that all families have at least one notable person whom everyone talks about, whether they are famous outside of the family or memorable for another reason. Amongst my mother’s side of our family, my “cousin seven times removed” — Philip Marsteller — is the major notable, having been a personal friend of George Washington and the only non-Mason pallbearer at President Washington’s funeral.
Born Philippus Balthasar Marsteller on January 4, 1742 in Philadelphia County (now Montgomery County), Pennsylvania, Philip received a good German and English education and attended the Augustus Evangelical Lutheran Church in Trappe, PA. His father, Frederick Ludwig Marsteller, died when he was 12 and his mother, Anna Barbara Stark, finished raising him on the family homestead. Both parents immigrated to America from Pfungstadt, Hesse, Germany in 1729, joining Frederick’s brother, Johann Georg Marsteller.
When he reached the age of 21, Philip received his portion of his father’s estate which he used to purchase; a tract of land in what is now Mill Creek Township in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania where he remained several years.
On April 22, 1766, Philip married Magdalena Reiss in Trappe, Philadelphia County, who was born on December 22, 1745, in Berks County, Pennsylvania. She died in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1809, aged 63. They had two children: Barbara, born after 1767 in Mill Creek Township, Lebanon County, and died after 1796 in Alexandria; and Philip Gotthelp, born on February 11, 1770, in Mill Creek Township.
At the outset of the American Revolution, he became one of the earliest “associators” and he was very active in raising troops for George Washington’s army in 1775-1776. A Battalion of Associators was formed within Lebanon County in the autumn of 1775. It was commanded by Col. Philip Lorentz Greenwaltz. Philip Marsteller was the Lieutenant Colonel (second in command) of this battalion. In 1776, Philip Marsteller was a member of the Associators Second Battalion, Lancaster County, commanded by Colonel Curtis Grubb.
Philip was a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention of 1776 (which adopted the first state Constitution), and during that and the following year he was chosen to the Assembly. In 1777, he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Battalion, Lancaster County Associators. He was appointed Paymaster of the militia on August 20, 1777, and, on July 13, was appointed agent to superintend the purchase of flour for the French fleet. He was appointed Assistant Forage-Master on April 5, 1780, for which he received a personal letter of commendation from George Washington thanking him for faithful and prompt performance of his duties. This letter was addressed to Major Philip Marsteller and is in the Library of Congress. He was later named Assistant Deputy Quartermaster General.
Philip settled in the Alexandria, VA area after the war (approximately 1783). With his son, Philip Gotthelp, he engaged in the commission business. He was the auctioneer of Alexandria, and accumulated much valuable furniture, silverware, china, fowling pieces, saddles, pistols, a rare print of Washington, and similar items.
Colonel Marsteller was Mayor of Alexandria, Virginia, from 1790-1792. He was also a member of the Sun Fire Company. In 1793, he advertised as “to let” the property known in 1790 as 130 Prince Street in Alexandria. He lived in a house that was reportedly still standing in 1928 at the southeast corner of Washington and Wolfe streets. The Alexandria Academy stood next to this house built by Col. Marsteller shortly after his arrival in Alexandria. In 1882, the Board of Trustees of the Academy bought the adjoining Marsteller property and used it for the primary grades up to, at least, 1928.
Philip Marsteller long enjoyed the friendship of George Washington. Washington’s last birthday was celebrated at a gathering at Wise’s tavern (northeast corner of Fairfax and Cameron Streets) on February 22, 1799. Both George and Martha attended the observance. Col. Marsteller participated in the arrangements, while ladies listed as attending this “Birth Night Ball” included Mrs. Marsteller and a “Miss” Marsteller, one of Philip’s daughters.
Philip served as a pallbearer at George Washington’s funeral at Mount Vernon on the afternoon of December 19, 1799. Two Masonic lodges of Alexandria and Washington D.C. officiated at the funeral. Mrs. Washington specifically requested Col. Marsteller, who was not a Mason. The honorary pallbearer’s included six Colonels, who had served under General Washington during the Revolutionary War. The other pallbearers in the funeral cortege were Col. Charles Little, Col. Charles Simms, Col. William Payne, Col. George Gilpin, and Col. Dennis Ramsey. Marsteller was joined at Washington’s funeral by his son, Philip Marsteller, Jr., and his grandson, Samuel A. Marsteller.
Philip also served as a Lieutenant in a Military Company of Elders in Alexandria called the “Silver Grey’s” and composed of older veterans of the Revolution. This organization appeared in full uniform with arms for the first Washington’s Birthday Parade through the streets of Old Alexandria on February 22, 1800.
In July and August 1800, noted early American folk artist Jacob Frymire painted portraits of Philip, his wife Magdalena, and grandson Samuel Arell. There were included in a painting exhibition in Washington D.C., in 1975-1976, as was a painting of Philip’s granddaughter, Charlotte. These are the oldest known images of members of the Marsteller family from Pfungstadt. The painting of Charlotte is now in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. A descendant of Philip Marsteller privately owns the other three paintings. These images were all copied from a book called Jacob Frymire, American Limner by Linda Crocker Simmons.
Col. Marsteller attended Christ Church, where he occupied pew number 38 (old numbering). He died at his home in Alexandria in December 1803, and was buried in Christ Church yard under a large sycamore tree near the west line of the fence. Col. Marsteller, one of two of Washington’s pallbearers buried there, had a handsome table stone monument. The monument was carried off during the Civil War and disappeared.
Shortly before his own death, Marsteller acquired a pair of matched flintlock pistols had once belonged to George Washington. The pistols were bought from the estate of Bartholomew Dandridge, former Private Secretary to George Washington. They were 14 inches long, with brass barrel, full-length walnut stock and seven solid silver inlays, including a grotesque mask on the butt; a rolled edge and engraved trigger guard; a panoply of arms on the cut-out side plates which show cannon, flags, drums, pole arms, a lion, and a unicorn.
Richard Wilson and John Hawkins, gun makers in London, had made the pistols in 1748. Thomas Turner, whose grandfather had known Washington as a youth, gave the pistols to Washington in 1778. The pistols remained in Washington’s possession during much of the Revolutionary War. Before he died, Washington gave the pistols to Bartholomew Dandridge, his wife’s nephew and his secretary for six years. Dandridge survived only a few years after Washington’s death, and, after his death, Philip purchased the pistols.
In 1902, the pistols were sold to an antique arms dealer — Francis Bannerman — at an estate auction near Warrenton, VA. In 1914, the pistols were sold to collector Edward Litchfield. In 1951, the Litchfield collection was sold to Clendennin Ryan. In 1953, he presented them to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where they currently reside in the West Point Museum. In 1978, the U.S. Historical Society with headquarters in Richmond Virginia, commissioned a limited edition of 975 pairs of commemorative replicas of the pistols, which were offered to the public for $2,600.
Currently, there are five letters between Philip Marsteller and George Washington in the National Archives available for reading online:
- From George Washington to Philip Marsteller, 27 November 1786 (Washington Papers)
- To George Washington from Philip Marsteller, 27 November 1786 (Washington Papers)
- From George Washington to Philip Marsteller, 15 December 1786 (Washington Papers)
- To George Washington from Philip Marsteller, 17 February 1787 (Washington Papers)
- From George Washington to Philip Marsteller, 25 July 1787 (Washington Papers)