Bet You’ve Never Researched This! 1

Most wars throughout history have had a number of people or groups, whose religious convictions prohibited them from fighting. Living by their pacifist beliefs or doctrine these groups would not take up arms and fight when their government called upon them. This was also true during the Civil War. Both North and South had their share of conscientious observers who would not join the military due to their religious beliefs. Pennsylvania was home to a large portion of this population in the north.

Quaker, Mennonite and Dunkard communities had been established in eastern Pennsylvania since early colonial times. Once the draft was instituted in 1862 they sought exemption due to their long-practiced and deeply-held religious beliefs. The Pennsylvania Constitution at this time in history allowed for conscientious objection due to religious dogma. Yet it required the objector to make a public oath of his faith and pay a fee that went to the relief of wounded soldiers. Many men could not make a government instituted oath due to their beliefs so they signed a written affirmation of their faith and their objection to military service.

The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania has compiled the depositions of those potential soldiers drafted by Pennsylvania who sought exemptions. The index can be found at Information in the depositions include names, ages, residences and occupations of those seeking refuge from military service.

Located mainly in Lancaster, Bucks, Chester, Philadelphia and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania the groups represented as conscientious objectors came from the Amish, Mennonite, Quaker and Dunkard communities. Also included but lesser known were the Schwenkfelders and the Christadelphians religious groups. All of these groups stated they felt bearing arms in an act of war was against Christ's teachings in the New Testament.

If you have ancestors who lived in eastern Pennsylvania during the Civil War or could have been a member of one of these religious groups you may want to check this database. It's arranged alphabetically by surname and lists the objectors' county and township as well. Once you've located your ancestor in the index you can get a copy of his signed deposition for a fee. Contact the Reference Section, Pennsylvania State Archives, 350 North Street, Harrisburg, PA 17120-0090

The Pennsylvania Civil War Conscientious Objectors index is unusual. It may be the only database of it's kind listing the names of those who sought refuge from military service due to their religious beliefs. Certainly another tool as you research your Civil War ancestor who might have been living in Pennsylvania during the war.


Good Luck!

Cindy Freed

About Cindy Freed

Cindy Freed is a genealogist, researcher and writer. Her blog Genealogy Circle ( documents her personal family research as well as her continuing interest in the Civil War. Along with her monthly IDG column, Tracing Blue and Gray, Cindy is a regular contributor to 4th Ohio, First Call quarterly magazine for the 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Descendants Association.

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One thought on “Bet You’ve Never Researched This!

  • Mariann Regan

    You are absolutely right — I have never researched this! I did not even know such a database existed. I wonder what a “government instituted oath” involved? I fully respect these religious objections, and I can see how people reach that conclusion. I’ve heard of the Quakers, Amish, and Mennonites, but new to me are the Dunkards, Christadelphians, and Schwenkfelders. Like the names — they are a mouthful.