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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)



By Rebecca Price Janney, Mar 14 2018 03:56PM

Northampton Community College Presents:


Update Presentation: "How Easton & Northampton County Earned Starring Roles in New Book Series"

With Dr. Rebecca Price Janney


Wednesday morning, March 21


10:30 – Noon, Main Campus, Gates Center, Alumni Hall, Room 130



Registration Information:

 Lectures only: $59.00 - Course Code: UPDAT200.

 Lectures with lunch on May 9 at NCC’s Hampton Winds Restaurant: $86.00 - Course Code: UPDAT201.

To register, go to www.northampton.edu/lifelearn. For online assistance, call 1-877-543-0998 while at your

computer, Mon-Thu 8AM-7PM, Fri 8AM-4:30PM. If you have general questions about Update Program, call

NCC Community Programs Office at 610-861-4175.

By Rebecca Price Janney, Mar 8 2018 01:30PM


Those of us in the Northeast have experienced back-to-back Nor’easters this last week. Each of us who’ve lived through this weather event have stories to tell, and while mine is a rather small contribution, my mind has been focused on the winter of 1777-78 to a place just a few miles up the road.


This is the 240th anniversary of George Washington’s winter encampment at Valley Forge, and I want to give you a two-part look into what those Patriots endured. . .


Washington’s exhausted troops arrived at Valley Forge on December 19, 1777 in bitter cold and snow. A few days later, the commander-in-chief wrote to President of Congress Henry Laurens, “I am now convinced beyond a doubt that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place in that line, this Army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these three things. Starve, dissolve or disperse.”


The general immediately ordered the men to begin constructing small cabins for themselves. The work generally went slowly, though. The men had inadequate tools with which to work, and trees had to be cut down and honed for the shelters.


As the building of crude huts continued for several weeks, General Washington spent the nights sleeping in his own leaky tent so he could be closer to the men—not the healthiest of environments, to be sure. Under those conditions he could fall victim to pneumonia or one of the diseases spreading through the encampment.


Tools were in short supply, and when it was time for a man to stand guard duty, his fellow cabin mates had to scrounge to come up with one complete outfit for him to wear. Some men went completely naked. Amputations of frozen, blackened limbs was common—without the aid of anesthesia.


Food was also scarce, owing to a poor road system that conspired with the weather to make it difficult for supply wagons to get to Valley Forge. Then there was the problem of money. While the British paid area merchants in gold, the patriots had nearly worthless paper currency to offer.


Disease and lack of clothing made one out of every four men unfit for duty. Many soldiers wrapped pieces of blankets around their feet in a futile attempt at protection and warmth. The blood of their feet stained the snow at Valley Forge.


While Washington inspired his men, the reverse also was true; he gained strength from observing them as well. Their patience and courage in the midst of incredible suffering moved him to write, “Naked and starving as they are we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery.”


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


By Rebecca Price Janney, Mar 1 2018 03:44PM

An article in a recent edition of the Allentown Morning Call addressed an issue that is very close to my heart. The steeple of Easton’s First United Church of Christ is in dire need of repair, and funds are needed to preserve this treasure.


Since I was old enough to be aware of my surroundings, the slim, elegant steeple has been a landmark for me of faith, hope, stability, rootedness. Actually, I’m guessing several generations of my family would gladly say the same.


The church itself has served the community for nearly 300 years, most famously during the Revolutionary War as a hospital for wounded soldiers. It also hosted any number of Indian treaties. My six times great-grandfather was an elder of the church when the congregation worshiped in a log school, then the courthouse at the center of the village. He helped build this, Easton’s first dedicated house of worship, right before he served as Colonel of the Northampton County Flying Camp at the Battle of Brooklyn.


This Greek Revival church has been, and remains, a sanctuary for the community in the truest sense of the word. Generations of my family have worshiped and served in this church, and I am honored to carry on the line as an associate member. Each time I arrive in Easton from my home near Philadelphia, I look to the skyline for the elegant steeple, a beacon of light and hope for Easton across the centuries.


According to the newspaper article, the 160 foot steeple was built in the early 1800s by Thomas Ustick Walter, the same architect who designed the U.S. Capitol Dome. In 1971 the steeple was last restored and is now greatly in need of repair with significant decay inside and out. The total cost will be around $350,000, and the church is appealing for a Keystone Historic Preservation Construction Grant through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.


In order to help save this treasured landmark, I hope and pray the grant will come through, as well as many more funding sources so future generations can continue looking to the skies and drawing strength from this historic and cherished steeple.



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