The Men Who Fought and Paid the Price for our Freedom. The Authors Collection.

The Continental Army. Photo courtesy of the Army Heritage Center Foundation.
The Continental Army. Photo courtesy of the Army Heritage Center Foundation.

 

This week our nation celebrates its 237th birthday. We’ll experience various degrees of travel, fireworks, and cookouts. Ours is a way of life made possible because some brave people decided to create something entirely new. They were motivated by the desire to be free, for sure, but also, I think, by something deeper, as well.

David R. Stokes
David R. Stokes

In September of 1775, five months after the battles of Lexington and Concord, and while the shot heard ‘round the world later immortalized by Ralph Waldo Emerson still echoed, some Continental Army volunteers gathered at a church in the small coastal Massachusetts town of Newburyport, located almost 30 miles northeast of Boston. They were about to go to battle—an initiative led by, of all people, Benedict Arnold. The men decided that a little prayer accompanied by an extemporaneous sermon might be a good idea.

The town’s Old South Church had found a bit of recent fame as people proudly pointed out that the bell in its clock tower had been cast by a fellow named Paul Revere, who had just months before made a name for himself on horseback. Revere, of course, is better known for his connection to a certain Old North Church. But some of the citizen-soldiers listening to Chaplain Samuel Spring’s challenge that day knew that they were also in the presence of another important bit of history—something they saw as very relevant to the emerging War of Independence.

Back in 1740, the famous preacher George Whitefield had died while engaged to preach there. He was buried in a crypt in the church basement (where his grave remains to this day). Whitefield was one of the leaders of what was known as The Great Awakening—a spiritual movement that both fueled the American Revolution and tempered it so that it didn’t devolve into something like the French version.

CamelotsCousin-3dLeftWhen the sermon was done at Old South Church that September day in 1775, some of the citizen-soldiers sought out the church’s sexton and asked to see where Whitefield was buried. The sexton actually opened the coffin and a few of the officers obtained tiny bits of material from the dead preacher’s collar and wristband, carrying them into battle as good luck charms.

Of course, I am not all that into amulets and such, but I find myself cutting these men some slack. Their simple excision of fabric was really an exercise in remembrance and connection. They knew that what they were going to do soon in battle was somehow, someway tied to what Whitefield and others had been part of years before.

I read a lot. It’s all grist for the writing mill. And I love history.  But when I read about the 18th century these days, I get the idea that too many Americans have long-since forgotten the spiritual roots of the political revolution we sort of remember this week.

And here’s another Newburyport, Massachusetts footnote. In 1805 another future visionary and liberator was born to grow up there. His name was William Lloyd Garrison—the famous abolitionist. There may, in fact, be something to faith DNA.

Please click the book cover to read more about the new novel from David Stokes on Amazon.

 

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