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By Rebecca Price Janney, Apr 19 2018 04:02PM

Yesterday as I was driving in the Philadelphia suburbs and the Lehigh Valley, I kept seeing a billboard featuring a three-strand pearl necklace against a black backdrop. The second time I read, “Barbara Bush” and her dates. How fitting!

Of course, many other tributes are pouring in from around the country, and the world, expressing condolences over the passing of one of America’s favorite First Ladies. I think what stood out most about her was how “real” she was. One commentator said, “There was only one Barbara Bush. She wasn’t one way with one person and another way with someone else.”

She was fiercely loyal to her family and her country, and she spoke her mind with a quick wit, minus the sharp-tongue. She was a champion of literacy, volunteerism, patriotism, and family. People on both sides of the aisle adored her.

Two weeks ago at the Pennsylvania State Society of the DAR (Barbara Bush was a DAR), a woman came up to me smiling over something she’d read in my book, Great Women in American History about Abigail Adams. When I wrote this in 1996, Adams was the only woman to have had both a husband and a son in the White House. When George W. Bush was inaugurated in January 2001, Barbara Bush became the second woman in American history to hold that distinction.

She holds another record as well. She and her beloved husband, George H.W. Bush, were married the longest of any American President and First Lady at 73 years. Imagine!

In her 1994 memoir she said she considered herself and her husband, "the two luckiest people in the world, and when all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends. We have been inordinately blessed, and we know that."

She most certainly blessed us, and we are profoundly grateful.

By Rebecca Price Janney, Apr 9 2018 01:29PM

Initially State Librarian Maggie Everly told me to plan for about 75 people for last Thursday’s Book Club event. Last week she emailed me—registration rose to 133! I knew we were in for an exciting evening at the Wyndham Gettysburg.

The hotel staff did a top-flight job setting up the room, including two tall chairs with a table in between for Maggie and me. At the back, DAR Pages proficiently managed the book table. In the front row, members of my Valley Forge Chapter waited expectantly with others occupying different parts of the room. I felt such warmth being surrounded by old friends and new, as well as the presence of my sixth cousin, another direct descendant of Peter Kichline, Miles Kachlein Dechant and his wife Betty.

Maggie and our enthusiastic State Regent, Cynthia Sweeney, brought such energy to the room. I couldn’t help but be jazzed, and then Maggie’s questions were so meaningful and fun: “Tell us about an Aha Moment during your research” and “How do you view the Revolution differently after writing this book?” Then the audience got to participate.

One of the things that touched me the most was how much they love Peter Kichline and Erin Miles. A few said they identified with these characters’ lives. The books I’ve treasured the most have had winsome characters whom I came to care about deeply. Many said they either had already read Easton in the Valley or couldn’t wait to read it, and how much they’re looking forward to book three, Easton at the Crossroads.

A really fun part was when I got to give a shout-out to a dear friend from my chapter who inspired the character of Sydney Stordahl, Christyn Olmstead, former Regent and current Registrar for the Valley Forge Chapter.

I’ve done many events over the years to promote my books, and this one will be right up there with my favorites. Thank you Pennsylvania Daughters for a magical evening!

Rebecca Price Janney with Maggie Everly
Rebecca Price Janney with Maggie Everly

By Rebecca Price Janney, Apr 3 2018 01:10PM

I'm very much looking forward to discussing EASTON AT THE FORKS at the annual Book Club for the Pennsylvania State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. The event is this Thursday night at the Wyndham in Gettysburg, and I hope to see many of you there.

Lately I've been meeting other descendants of Colonel Peter Kichline, one of two main characters in the novel. What a joy to get to know others who share this special connection!

By Rebecca Price Janney, Mar 27 2018 12:50PM

This past month we in the Northeast have dealt with the challenges of repeated snow storms. When I woke up to energetic flurries on Palm Sunday, well, that just didn’t seem right! Our weather, as well as the 240th anniversary of Valley Forge, have led me to reflect upon the patriots’ ordeal during the miserable winter of 1777-1778. As promised, here is part two of my account:

The soldiers at Valley Forge endured the crucible of that terrible winter and emerged stronger, more tempered and ready to face an enemy soft from cozy nights before fires in homes they had commandeered from Philadelphians. The American patriots even made sport of their conditions: “A French volunteer remembered a dinner party to which no one was admitted who possessed a whole pair of trousers.”

Still, when conditions reached an intolerable peak in February, the long, dark shadow of despair stretched over the pinnacle of their suffering. Washington that something had to give or the fight for independence would be irretrievably lost. What kept the situation from completely deteriorating? Washington’s inspired leadership, grounded in a strong Christian faith, was a critical factor.

Many historians contend he was a deist who believed in a “clockmaker God,” one who created the mechanism of the universe, wound it up, then put it exclusively in the hands of men and women. Yet stories about Washington during that winter portray a man who believed in a God who actively intervened in human affairs. According to one, Isaac Potts, whose home Washington rented at Valley Forge, saw the general’s horse tired in an isolated thicket and stopped to investigate. While at a distance, Potts noticed Washington on his knees in prayer. The Quaker didn’t want to disturb him, so he waited to leave until Washington finished and rode off on his horse. Potts returned to his wife, telling her, “If George Washington be not a man of God, I am greatly deceived—and still more shall I be deceived if God do not, through him, work out a great salvation for America.”

In addition to Washington, God used another person to lift the soldiers’ spirits and make them into a top-flight army. Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus Baron von Steuben arrived at the end of February at the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin. The colorful von Steuben was the son of a Prussian army officer and had enlisted at the age of sixteen. In America he became the Continental Army’s inspector general and quickly rose to the rank of major general.

The intrepid con Steuben spoke little English and had no training manuals with which to work, but that didn’t slow him down. His aides worked late for many nights translating into English a manual von Steuben wrote as he went, then made sure each regiment and company had copies by the following day’s drill. The Prussian required the soldiers to get into their formations by sunrise each day, teaching them how to use bayonets and maneuver in ranks.

Von Steuben won the men’s hearts with his faulty English and his unfailing sense of humor. “Drilling with (him) became the favorite sport at Valley Forge.” He brought “vigor and humor to the thinning and hungry ranks.”

Another break came for the patriots as the spring thaw allowed more supplies of food, clothing and weapons to get to Valley Forge. Other regiments joined them, and new recruits arrived. Morale rose. By May the French had rallied to the American cause, joining them in the battle against the British.

In mid-June the continental army successfully engaged the British at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey. Washington remarked on the transformation:

“It having pleased the Almighty Ruler of the universe to defend the cause of the United American States, and finally to raise up a powerful friend among the princes of the earth, to establish our liberty and independence upon a lasting foundation, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine goodness, and celebrating the important event, which we owe to His divine interposition.”

(Excerpted from Great Stories in American History, Rebecca Price Janney, 1998)

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