The George Washington Who was Headed for Boston

Philadelphia State House (Independence Hall)

Philadelphia State House (Independence Hall)

Part one

On June 23, 1775, General Washington and the men who would be going with him, which included General Charles Lee, General Philip Schuyler, Thomas Mifflin, who would serve as Washington’s aide, and Joseph Reed who would serve as his secretary, gathered at the State House in Philadelphia just after sunrise. And after a ceremony involving members of the Continental Congress, they left that city behind them and headed for the American army surrounding Boston.

General Charles Lee, who would be Washington’s second-in-command, was a man who had spent twenty years in the British army, having served in Europe and in the French and Indian War. He had served with Washington under Braddock during the French and Indian War, and was injured in the battle with the French at Fort Ticonderoga. He was known to be very well educated on the arts of warfare. In fact, Washington considered Lee the best officer the Continental army had in terms of knowledge and experience. No one doubted he had the expertise to be a general.

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What he was also known for were his quirks. For one, wherever he went, he took his pack of dogs with them. It was said that he liked dogs more than he like people.

Another of his quirks was his appearance. For he was a very unattractive man, tall and very thin with a homely face and slovenly and unkempt in his dress. He was also coarse in his language. And so, he sounded like he looked.

General Philip Schuyler was the general chosen to head up the northern department of the army. It would be his army that was assigned the mission of going to Quebec and defeating the British there.

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The other two men who left Philadelphia with General Washington on June 23rd were Thomas Mifflin and Joseph Reed, two young Philadelphians. Thomas Mifflin, who was going to serve as Washington’s aide, was a former member of congress who was a businessman. Joseph Reed, who was going to serve as the general’s secretary, was a graduate of Princeton and an attorney. Obviously, both came with good backgrounds for their positions.

These were the men who left Philadelphia with General Washington. Where was George Washington heading when he was riding towards Boston? He was heading into the future, a future where he would be the commanding general of the army surrounding Boston. And with that in mind, no doubt, he rode north with his thoughts focused on what he would do when he got there. And with his new duties in mind, no doubt, there was also the desire to get there as soon as possible.

This could be why on their eight-day trip, they averaged 40 miles a day. For 40 miles a day for eight days by carriage or by horseback, (322 miles total according to my calculations) would be moving at a pretty good pace in 1775. It would be pushing with a determination to get where they were going.

We can see this when we consider the fact that Martha Washington took more than a month to get to Boston from Mount Vernon, which would have been only another 154 miles. If she had been traveling at their pace, she would have made it in twelve days. But she didn’t. She took more than a month to get there.

Make no mistake about it. George Washington and the men with him were in a hurry. General Washington was not traveling to Boston to see friends or because he was on a vacation and wanted to see the tourist sights there. He was traveling towards a future with many challenges, a future with great issues at stake, and great responsibility. He was being called upon to use all the soldiers under his command to drive the British out of Boston, and after that, out of the colonies.

That would be like General Dwight Eisenhower heading for England during World War II with the responsibility of being commander of the allied forces in Europe and overseeing the D-Day Invasion and the defeat of Germany. Washington was a man on a mission.

As Washington traveled north and considered what he would do when he got there, Washington knew he was also heading into a future where he and the soldiers under his command would be facing the greatest army in the world. This meant he was heading into a future where, despite the fact he was a man who could cope with mortal danger, and despite the fact that he was for adventure and could endure hardship, he was also a man who would soon face challenges too great for him to handle in his own strength. He understood that. Therefore, he would need God’s help.

This understanding can be seen in two statements Washington made at that time. The first statement was made in a speech to the Continental Congress on June 16, 1775, the day after he was selected as commander-in-chief. He began this statement by saying:

Though I am truly sensible of the high honour done me in this Appointment, yet I feel great distress from a consciousness that my abilities and Military experience may not be equal to the extensive & important trust.[1]

Notice here, Washington did not enter into the position with great confidence. Instead, he felt great distress. For he saw it as an “extensive and important trust.” And he recognized that he could very well not be equal to the task. In fact, in this statement to congress, he goes on to say:

However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous duty and exert every power I Possess in their service and for Support of the glorious Cause…..

But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavourable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every Gentleman in the room, that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with. [2]

Notice the final thought here. “I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.” It is important to notice what he says here because it shows his train of thought at that time, and the distress that is being produced by that train of thought.

Now, situations of distress always drive us to decisions concerning what we are going to do to cope with the distress, and Washington was no exception. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to us that following his statement to the Congress on June 16th, he wrote a letter to his wife Martha on June 18th. In that letter, he included a statement telling her what he was going to do to cope with having this great responsibility:

I shall rely, therefore, confidently, on that Providence which has heretofore preserved and been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return safe to you in the fall. [3]

Then, just before leaving Philadelphia for Boston early in the morning on the 23rd of June, he dashed off another note to Martha. Obviously, the purpose of the note was to once again reassure her that he would be all right. With that in mind, he wrote the following loving words:

My dearest,

As I am within a few Minutes of leaving this City, I could not think of departing from it without dropping you a line; especially as I do not know whether it may be in my power to write again till I get to the Camp at Boston—I go fully trusting in that Providence, which has been more bountiful to me than I deserve, and in full confidence of a happy meeting with you sometime in the Fall.

I have not time to add more, as I am surrounded with Company to take leave of me—I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time or distance can change.

My best love to Jack and Nelly, and regard for the rest of the Family concludes me with the utmost truth and sincerity. [4]

Anyone who thinks George Washington did not love his wife needs to read this over and over, and remind themselves that even though Washington was surrounded with delegates to the Continental Congress (for there was a ceremony before he left) and even though those who were going with him to Boston were, no doubt, present too, and there was a press of things to do, his thoughts were of Martha and his desire to reassure her that he would he all right, and was looking forward to a happy meeting with her in the fall.

Also notice in both these letters, Washington clearly states both his decision to trust in God’s providence and the reason he will be able to do that. The reason is he knows from personal experience and can affirm in his heart that God’s providence has preserved him and been bountiful to him in the past. Here, Washington could have been calling to mind a number of past incidents where God protected him. Certainly the battle in 1755 against the French and the Indians in the Pennsylvania woods, in which God miraculously protected him, would have been one of those incidents.

Also notice in the second letter he says, “I go fully trusting in that Providence, which has been more bountiful to me than I deserve.” Notice those words, “more bountiful to me than I deserve.” Surely, in those words we see a clear indication of Washington’s appreciation for God’s grace and mercy.

[1] The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, Theodore J. Crackel, ed. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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Bob Wittstruck was a pastor for 33 years, was the associate director of the Black Hills Creation Science Association, and is a supporter of both Christian schooling and home schooling. His latest book, The Forgotten Factor of History God Rules, is being printed in February or March of 2016. His email address is [email protected]
Bob Wittstruck
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