Let’s Thank The Other Founding Fathers

Written by Steven Grant, Executive Director

When we celebrate America’s Independence Day, we must first give thanks and praise to Almighty God. In His Providence our nation came into being and He has used America as blessing to a multitude of our citizens and as a beacon of hope for the world. It is also quite natural and appropriate during our Fourth of July observances to recall the Founding Fathers who made our nation’s independence a reality. Usually we remember a mere handful of key participants such as George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and a few others. This short list of the more well-known patriots is far from the only founders. There are scores of significant contributors to the American story whom we should be remembering as well, such as John Witherspoon, Richard Henry Lee, Roger Sherman, James Wilson, John and Edward Rutledge, Stephen Hopkins, Caesar Rodney, John Hancock and a host of others. Their accomplishments and the principles they stood for have served not only as an inspiration for generations of Americans, but for the world.  

In addition to our remembrance of the more prominent players in the American Revolution, I would encourage us all to recall the story of that struggle for a different perspective. Recently I had the privilege to again visit Valley Forge, or the Valley of the Forge as George Washington would have referred the place. There are many sites and stories full of great meaning to be discovered there, but the part of the experience that always get to me most is when I stand before the reconstructions of the soldiers’ huts. These twentieth-century manifestations of those huts are no doubt much nicer than the originals, but as I observe those huts I cannot help but visualize the young men who occupied them. I do not know their names. They are buried somewhere in America, perhaps no one even knows where. But I know they were there, because this nation exists. If those young men had not done their duty, there would be no America. Those young men were true “founding fathers.”

It is often said that the greatest things that George Washington achieved is what he did not do. He did not accept the crown when it was offered to him, and he did not quit at the Valley of the Forge, though he easily could have and was even advised to. That young man in that freezing hut didn’t either. When General Washington looked over at his troops through the snow and freezing cold, that young man was there, steadfast to his duty. When it was time to move out, General Washington looked and there he was ready, musket in hand though no shoes on his feet.           

It is a tremendous credit to General Washington’s leadership that he could keep an army in the field for 7 years. Somehow, he was able to inspire his men to remain committed to a cause greater than themselves; the cause of a new nation with freedom and unalienable rights given by Almighty God as its creed.  But how easily that young man could have reached his limit and gone home, especially if his enlistment papers ran out. There he was in a little, freezing hut with 10 to 12 other men who also had not bathed in the past month, with little to no food, no adequate clothing for the winter, yet still expected to drill under the stern discipline of Baron von Steuben. Enduring these hardships, he knew his enemy was well supplied, living in warm, comfortable quarters since the British army now occupied Philadelphia. After seeing friends and comrades killed and maimed at Brandywine, Germantown and Paoli, he must have wondered what hope of victory existed.  He must have thought of his family at home concerned for their well-being, and if they were well. There was no doubt of a roaring fire in the fireplace and mother’s best recipes cooking on the hearth.

Would we blame that young man for throwing up his hands, leaving camp for home like any sensible person? Some did leave. Some left and came back later, while others left permanently. But many, like this young man, stayed. Because of this, we are free today to pursue every ambition, satisfy our self-indulgences and enjoy the freedom to live life as we see fit. We can afford to fuss over our daily aggravations and annoyances, and revel in the great benefits of the freedoms as outlined in the Bill of Rights. These blessings do not simply happen by themselves. It had to be earned. General Washington used to say that one could always track the path of the Continental Army, not by the soldiers’ footprints in the snow, but by the blood from their ill-clad feet.   

Unlike the more prominent Founding Fathers, we do not readily know the names of the common, ordinary soldiers and some have been totally forgotten throughout the march of time. But to them we owe a great debt of gratitude and the commitment to live our lives as American citizens worthy of their sacrifice. In God’s Providence, this nation was forged by the tenacity, perseverance and sacrifice of an extraordinary group of men in a forbidding place called the Valley of the Forge. Through George Washington’s leadership, the army that left Valley Forge in the summer of 1778 was completely transformed from the disheartened band of raw recruits that entered Valley Forge in the fall of 1777. The struggle at Valley Forge created a well-disciplined fighting force ready to face what was at the time the greatest army on earth. Against impossible odds, General George Washington, his officers and his faithful soldiers made it possible to bring the great ideas of Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues into a living reality. We owe the greatest debt of gratitude to Almighty God for His Providence that brought our nation into being. But as we revere the great work of the men who envisioned a new nation from Independence Hall, may we never forget the sacrifice of the one who actually achieved freedom’s goals: that nameless hero in a humble, freezing hut in the wilderness of Pennsylvania.

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