George Washington in Prayer at Valley Forge

In General Washington’s letter to Congress in December, 1777, he makes abundantly clear that his army is at the edge: “It is with infinite pain and concern, that I transmit Congress the Inclosed Copies of Sundry Letters respecting the State of the Commissary’s department. If these matters are not exaggerated, I do not know from what cause, this alarming deficiency or rather total failure of Supplies arises: But unless more Vigorous exertions and better regulations take place in that line, and immediately, this Army must dissolve”

Over 2,000 soldiers would die that winter from a variety of diseases and the hardness of the winter. In other letters, it was stated that many of the troops had no clothes, shoes, or general protection from the weather. Adversity created the need for a Quartermaster Corp and much was learned about the logistics of managing an army of 12,000 patriotic citizens.

The conditions could not have been more adverse. Washington had never commanded anything larger than a regiment and now he was leading an army of citizen patriots against an army of professional soldiers. [2] It is most likely his lowest point.

It was during the cold and long winter of 1977-78 at Valley Forge that General George Washington sought God’s help in prayer.

The Eye Witness Testimony of Isaac Potts

This story is well documented in the historical records. Isaac Potts, 26 years old, was a resident of Valley Forge, and as a Quaker was opposed to the war. He supervised the grinding of the grain which George Washington ordered the neighboring farmers to bring to his army. The fullest account of Potts’ testimony is in the “Diary and Remembrances” of Rev. Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, a Presbyterian minister and a Princeton graduate (Original Manuscript at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Call no. PHi.Am.1561-1568).

“I was riding with him (Mr. Potts) near Valley Forge, where the army lay during the war of the Revolution. Mr. Potts was a Senator in our state and a Whig. I told him I was agreeably surprised to find him a friend to his country as the Quakers were mostly Tories. He said, “It was so and I was a rank Tory once, for I never believed that America could proceed against Great Britain whose fleets and armies covered the land and ocean. But something very extraordinary converted me to the good faith.”

“What was that?” I inquired. “Do you see that woods, and that plain?” It was about a quarter of a mile from the place we were riding. “There,” said he, “laid the army of Washington. It was a most distressing time of ye war, and all were for giving up the ship but that one good man. In that woods,” pointing to a close in view, “I heard a plaintive sound, as of a man at prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling and went quietly into the woods and to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at Prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was ye Crisis and the cause of the country, of humanity, and of the world.

“Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying. I went home and told my wife, ‘I saw a sight and heard today what I never saw or heard before’, and just related to her what I had seen and heard and observed. We never thought a man could be a soldier and a Christian, but if there is one in the world, it is Washington. We thought it was the cause of God, and America could prevail.” [3] See END NOTE

[1] “The Prayer at Valley Forge”, painting by Arnold Friberg, 1975. “The Prayer at Valley Forge” was painted to serve the cause of liberty, to remind Americans of the deep spiritual roots of our beloved country, to recall a place of cold, and pain and sacrifice, to pay tribute to the tall and lonely man who alone held the struggling nation together, General Washington, driven to his knees there in the bitter snows of Valley Forge. “We trust that this painting will create a lasting legacy that can be viewed and remembered by all citizens and visitors as a symbol of this nation’s birth that eloquently communicates the need for prayer in guiding the people and leaders of the United States of America.” – Peter Dominy C.E.O. Friberg Fine Art, Inc.
[2] Library of Congress
[3] As quoted on fribergfineart.com;

END NOTE: The Isaac Potts account of Washington’s prayer and another account “Ex-Pension Agent’s Version” from an old file of “The Aldine Press,” a periodical published in New York, 1878, contains an informative series captioned “The Spur of Monmouth” lack substantial sources that render historical accuracy. What is not in dispute is General George Washington did pray and often called upon and encouraged others as to God’s Divine providence. The evidence of Washington’s faith is sufficiently established to satisfy a layman, if not an historian. He called a general thanks to God for December 18, 1777, as provided by Congressional resolution, but more to the point are his words written to the Rev. Israel Evans, Chaplain to Poor’s New Hampshire Brigade. Mr. Evans had caused his sermon, as delivered at Gulph Mills the day before the entry into Valley Forge, to be printed by Francis Bailey at Lancaster and one of these imprints reached Washington March 12, 1778. From Headquarters, Valley Forge, the next day, March 13, Washington wrote Mr. Evans as follows:

“Revd. Sir: Your favor of the 17th. Ulto., inclosing the discourse which you delivered on the 18th. of December; the day set a part for a general thanksgiving; to Genl. Poors’ Brigade, never came to my hands till yesterday.

“I have read this performance with equal attention and pleasure, and at the same time that I admire, and feel the force of the reasoning which you have displayed through the whole, it is more especially incumbent upon me to thank you for the honorable, but partial mention you have made of my character; and to assure you, that it will ever be the first wish of my heart to aid your pious endeavors to inculcate a due sense of the dependence we ought to place in that all wise and powerful Being on whom alone our success depends; and moreover, to assure you, that with the respect and regard, I am, etc.”

Is it too hard to believe a man who sets down in writing the first wish of his heart is “to inculcate a due sense of the dependence we ought to place in that All wise and powerful Being on whom alone our Success depends,” may have sought Divine Guidance, through prayer, in the darkest hour of the conflict for human rights.

Above all else at Valley Forge Washington held to his faith, and prayer was an essential of his belief — whether vocal in the wooded tract, silent in the stable stall, on bended knee at the bedside or in concert with associates at public service. It is well for men’s souls to feel that a leader of men sought and obtained guidance from the Son of Man. [“Washington Avowed God’s Blessing,” UShistory.org, Independence Hall Association, Historic Valley Forge]

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