Friday, June 23, 2017

Washington's Prayer at Valley Forge

Arnold Friberg painted "The Prayer at ValleyForge" in 1975 in time for the Bicentennial of American Independence. The painting has become a modern icon.  Friberg visited Valley Forge during the winter to immerse himself in the conditions faced by Washington and the American patriots.
The original  story of Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge may be apocryphal, having originated with an account by Reverend Nathaniel Snowden which began to circulate in the early 1820s.  Reverend Snowden recounted that one of Washington’s soldiers, a man named Isaac Potts testified to him: 
“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. She also was astonished. We thought it was the cause of God, and America could prevail.”
Many historians question Reverend Snowden’s story, if not that Washington was a man who prayed.  Snowden is seen as another storytelling clergyman like Mason Locke Weems (1759 -1825), known to history as Parson Weems, who invented the famous story of George Washington and the cherry tree in 1800 (“I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.”).  Weems wrote biography to amplify his subject. His subject was “... Washington, the hero, and the demigod.”  It has been said of his writing, “If the tales aren’t true, they should be. They are too pretty to be classified with the myths.” 
There are numerous examples of Washington invoking the blessings and protection of the Almighty, including at the time of his leaving the Army:
“I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.”

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