Bringing up the Rear...With Faith
By Karen L. Hayden
Religious freedom was one of the reasons people left Europe for the New World. It was no accident that each colony was formed around groups of people sharing their beliefs.
By the time of the War for Independence, religion was still VERY important. Many speeches were made saying that God would help right injustice and freedom would prevail. Everyone, from George Washington to the ordinary soldier, prayed in times of trouble. Church call attendance was mandatory in the army. In the "Massachusetts Army," besieging Boston following the battles of Concord and Lexington, the first regulation on the books called for the loss of a week's pay for soldiers not attending Divine Services, and loss of a rank for officers failing to do so.
Private citizens had more choice in the matter. In her diary, Jemima Condict Harrison of New Jersey admitted that on Sunday, May 7, 1775, "instead of going and praying to God for a heart, I gave way to my wicked thoughts and spent the day in idleness."
When Jemima was ill during that July, she began to repent and went to meeting at her Mountain Society Church. She wrote that the minister preached from Psalms 62. "Trust in Him at all times. Pour out our hearts before Him. God is a refuge for us."
During the rest of that year, she would praise God for restoring her health each time she was ill. But apparently, she didn't always attend meeting on Sunday. On December 20, she wrote, "He in mercy has spared me another week, and tho' I sinned away the last Sabbath I am brought to see the light of another. Sing praises to the Almighty!" She was dead at age 24.
Margaret Hill Morris was born a Quaker and after she was widowed, settled in Burlington, NJ., where her sisters lived with their husbands. She wrote of the tragedy and loneliness of the life, often asking God for guidance. In June of 1770, she wrote, "Yet if thou strengthen me, oh God! to overcome the vileness of my own nature, we shall be comforts and supports to each other. For I know the goodness of my darling sister's heart and if causes of uneasiness arise between us the fault must be mine."
She attended the Friends Meeting House and clung to the Quaker belief of non-violence. In 1776, she looked forward "to the desirable period when the now contending parties shall shake hands and all be friends once more."
Hessians, British Regulars and Washington's Army all trampled through this area of New Jersey. It was frightening for many residents. Margaret wrote on December 19, "We may burn a candle all night and sleep secure. This evening I received a letter from Dr. Charles Moore [her brother-in-law], inviting me to move to his neighborhood, but my mind is easiest while I conclude to abide where Providence has cast my lot. He has preserved us in great dangers, and I dare not distrust His future care." She reached the age of 79.
Belief in God sustained many through this time of war, disease, insecurity and tragedy. Young Sally Wister showed wisdom beyond her 15 years in this passage of December 5, 1777: "I fear we shall be in the midst of it. Heaven defend us from so dreadful a sight. The battle of Germantown and the horrors of that day are recent in my mind. It will be sufficiently dreadful, if we are only in hearing of the firing, to think to think how many of our fellow creatures are plunged into the boundless ocean of eternity, few of them prepared to meet their fate. But they are summoned before an all-merciful judge, from whom they have reason to hope."
A few days later, she wrote, "Rejoice with us my dear. The British have returned to the city...May we ever be thankful to the Almighty Disposer of events for his care and protection of us while surrounded by dangers." Described by her nephew as a very religious woman, Sarah died at age 42.
Loyalist Mary Gould Almy of Newport, RI, fled as the King's troops set fire to "sixteen buildings" on August 8, 1778. "...what an agony I was in, when I had time to recollect my scattered thoughts. Heaven that ever has been kind to me, sent the captains of the transports to see me. They ...sent me two truly valuable sailors for my safeguards, whose kind care I hope I never shall forget." During the next few weeks, she lamented there was "no church" on Sundays.
Her husband had chosen to join the patriot cause, as did some of her other relatives. Her diary is addressed to him. "...the anxious look, the distressed countenance. the melancholy tale, which every poor soul had to tell, made me more unhappy than when I sat brooding over my own peculiar situation," she wrote on August 15. After several British regiments and Hessian units chased down and slaughtered some patriots on August 29, she was horrified that her "country" had done such a despicable thing. "The horrors of that day will never be quite out of my remembrance...At last I shut myself from the family, and implore Heaven to protect you, and keep you from imprisonment and death." Her prayer was answered, and they were together until her death at age 73.
In times of crisis, our patriot and Loyalist ancestors cried out to heaven for deliverance. These four women, whose diary passages so eloquently bring their faith alive, shared the belief that God would help them. This element is an important one to recognize in our recreation of the past. Church call, and the observance of the Sabbath need to be acknowledged in our activities. We need to remember that it was their desire to have our country's motto be: "In God We Trust."
"Weathering the Storm: Women of the American Revolution" by Elizabeth Evans, 1975
Copyright © 1997 Karen L. Hayden. All rights reserved.