Thursday, December 27, 2007

As Promised....A Few Sources

Yesterday I wrote about academic controversy and how it can be used in the classroom. I promised a list of various sources and you can find it below.

A few things need to be clarified about this list, however. I would never use the online sources I provide here by merely printing them off “as is” and hand them to students. I would not use blog entries as classroom resources nor would I direct students to websites unless they were of the scholarly type such as online journal articles or sites belonging to the National Parks Service. I’ve used information from many of these sources but have repackaged them to fit the needs of students.

When preparing an academic controversy type lesson for students it is very important to provide information from both sides of an issue. This should not be an activity where the instructor is attempting to guide all students to one particular point of view. The point is for students to examine and analyze the information presented in order to come up with their own opinions and to be able to state those opinions in a clear and logical manner.

Sources to consult when using Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge in the classroom:

1. Supporters of the story regarding Washington’s prayer at Valley Forge use the following eyewitness testimony of Isaac Potts, a Quaker and a Loyalist which was given to Rev. Nathaniel Randolph Snowden. Snowden later recorded the event in his diary: " I was riding with Mr. Potts near to the Valley Forge where the army lay during the war of ye Revolution, when Mr. Potts said, 'Do you see that woods & that plain? There laid the army of Washington. It was a most distressing time of ye war, and all were for giving up the Ship but that great and 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 & went quietly into the woods. 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 & the cause of the country, of humanity & of the world. Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying. I went home & told my wife. We never thought a man could be a soldier & a Christian, but if there is one in the world, it is Washington. We thought it was the cause of God & America could prevail.' (source)

Snowden’s diary entry is a good example for students to use when determining reliability of a source and when determining the type of source such as a primary document or secondary source. In the past I’ve used activities where one student tells a short account of an event to another student out of the hearing of the rest of the class. The second student then goes to his/her desk and writes down what they were told. The second second student then visits a third and reads his/her account to a third student who in turn writes down what he/she heard in order to read it to a fourth student. This process continues until all students have been told and have written down the account ending with the first student who writes down the last account. Then we compare the original story to the the final account. Students are amazed at what has been left out and what has been embellished in the account.

2. This site supports Pott's story and also includes the fact that he supervised the grinding and delivery of the grain which Washington had requested that local farmers provide for the army. I have not seen this mentioned in a scholarly account.

3. This site mentions Potts and his home... that some state Washington used as his headquarters while at Valley Forge (the image I present with this post). However, the editors of the Washington Papers at the Library of Congress state bluntly that "no evidence" exists in his records to document the claim, insisting that the association "appears to rest largely upon tradition" and the "recollection of aged individuals." As the marker text suggests, prior to the arrival of the Americans, a British raiding party had destroyed several buildings at Valley Forge. There could not have been too many inhabitable residences from which the commander in chief could select his headquarters. The general's expense accounts indicate that he left his tent on Christmas Day 1777 to establish more permanent quarters at the home of Deborah Hewes, a widow. Isaac Potts himself was not then present at the Forge, living instead at nearby Pottsgrove. Records from the period also suggest that William Dewees, who had married into the Potts family, was actually considered the owner and operator of Valley Forge during the wartime period. (source)

The National Parks Service site currently states the Potts home was Washington’s headquarters.

4. Chapter 13 from A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington by Mason Locke Weems better known as Parson Weems. It is Parson Weems who has the honor of spreading the cherry tree myth as well and the account of the prayer at Valley Forge.

5.Arnold Friberg, the artist who completed the painting of Washington in prayer, explains in his own words the reasons why he completed the painting and the research he conducted in the process. From the site Friberg states The well known American legend is without documentation. But from Washington's own words there can be no doubt of his deep and humble dependence upon whom he chose to call "that all wise and powerful Being on whom alone our success depends.

6. A stained glass image of Washington in prayer

7. Over at Boston, 1775 J.L. Bell provides information regarding the story that Washington saw an angel at Valley Forge.

8. Washington's Prayer Journal---taken from a book published in 1919 called George Washington, the Christian which is a collection of prayers that supposedly Washington compiled and used. When a California teacher used the prayer journal along with other documents in his fifth grade classroom there were complaints, the items were eventually banned, and the teacher filed a lawsuit which was eventually settled. The prayer journal itself is highly suspect. (check out Liz’s links marked “Library of Congress and George Washington’s Papers)

9. Did Washington Pray at Valley Forge?---an article from Coral Ridge ministries which mentions Paul Boller, a historian and noted presidential expert, who discounts the story. The article also mentions five people who gave account of the event. Jared Sparks, an early Washingtion biographer, is also mentioned.

10. Taking the Measure of Washington....Once More---an online article by Michael J. Lombardi at the Journal of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. This article examines the painstaking efforts historians go to to make sure we are getting an accurate and not romanticized picture of Washington.

11.Information regarding a book by Michael and Jana Novak titled Washington’s God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of our Country and an article written by the Novaks for USA Today provides an account written by Gilbert Starling Jones from The Picket Post, published by the Valley Forge Historical Society (April, 1945, No. 9)

13.The National Parks Service site for Valley Forge provides An account of the conditions at Valley Forge, and at this parks service site we are told the Potts home was Washington’s headquarters while this article advises where all of Washington’s officers slept.

14.Wayne Bodie’s Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers in War provides a very different picture of Washington’s winter in Pennsylvania---one that revises both popular and scholarly perceptions. Here is a link to a review from The Journal of American History and information from Penn State Press

15. From the National Valley Forge Park site----an article titled New Interpretations at Valley Forge states subsequent research among primary source materials revealed very few seferences to soldiers being buried at Valley Forge, but many references to the need to dispose of the remains of butchered cattle and dead horses….Says park historian Joseph Lee Boyle, "No substantiated human graves have ever been found in the park," which is a significant shift in interpretation from what was being written at the turn of the century

16.American Heritage Magazine---reviews the book American Creation by Joseph Ellis and recounts the chapter on Valley Forge is the book’s strongest. He points out that Washington’s army was made up not of the sturdy Massachusetts farmers of Lexington and Concord fame but rather of “indentured servants, recently arrived immigrants from Ireland or Scotland, emancipated slaves, landless sons from New England, mechanics from Philadelphia. They represented the poorest strata of American society, there because, truth be known, they had no brighter prospects.” Neither were they all huddled together en masse at Valley Forge. “The headquarters of the Continental Army was located there, to be sure, but the army itself was deployed in a wide arc, stretching from northern Delaware up through Valley Forge, then around to southern New Jersey.” That winter, as Gen. William Howe’s British troops stayed warm and ate well in Philadelphia, Washington’s ragtag army starved and froze. From an initial troop level of about 12,000, the force was depleted by early spring to about 5,000 before reinforcements arrived.

17. In an online interview John Ferling author of Almost a Miracle: An American Victory in the War of Independence states I don't agree that the army nearly collapsed [at Valley Forge]or that America verged on having to end the war during the Valley Forge winter. After the great victory at Saratoga in October, two months before Valley Forge, it was generally presumed that France would enter the war. It was also thought that with French assistance, the war could be won, and probably fairly quickly. During the Valley Forge winter I think most Americans believed that they were too close to winning independence to throw in the towel.

I would also suggest that if you are interested in further resources please refer to my original post and take a look at the comments section where many great opinions and ideas were put forth and The Tour Marm and Ed over at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub provided some additional sources/links as well.


Anonymous said...

Happy 2008! Thank you for making 2007 an inspiring year, history and blog-wise!

Gaspare Armato said...

Happy new year from Italy.
I always follow your blog.


P.s.:sorry for my bad english.

EHT said...

Happy New Year to you Frumteacher. You inspire me as well.

Thanks for following my blog babilonia61. I'd love to travel to Italy sometime. No need to apologize for your english....I'm sure I have scared of many an grammar teacher with my own mistakes. :)

Freddie L Sirmans, Sr. said...

Just browsing the internet. You have a very, very interesting blog.

EHT said...

Thanks for visiting Freddie. It's great to hear from a Georgia boy even if it is a south Georgia boy. :)

I'm going to add your site to my blogroll over at Georgia on My Mind.

The Tour Marm said...

Happy New Year!

You and Jennie have done an admirable job keeping me informed and entertained.

And thanks for this posting, you can bet I'll be using this on tour!

Jeremy Lowe said...


Interesting subject and flow concerning Washington and prayer. Your observation is right, many such subjects rise the ire of people and spark debates that while interesting may not advance the education of our youth.

Let our young people see history, not hide it and present our own side or viewpoints... our money still bears the motto "In God We Trust" and I know few agnostics, atheists, or religiously inclined individuals who will turn down a $100 bill because of that motto on the bill. :-)

It reminds me of little known issues such as the legal fights that surrounded the issue of the flag salute and the right to an education in the 40's with Barnete V Louisianna (sp?) which has faded into obscurity, yet played a pivital point in securing free education for all students regardless of religious, or non religious inclination.

I think your point of teaching the research basis and the facts of history is the key. Leave the religious interpetation for the students to make as they mature and build values to make them from.

Excellent series of posts!

EHT said...

I need to get by Jennie's site and see what she's done. I'm working on a project this week and I'm having to focus totally on it....that makes blog time short.

Jeremy, thanks for the comment. You make several thoughtful comments. I'm glad you have been part of the conversation.