The Revolutionary War and giving thanks.
As I lay in the hayloft between chores, I began to think of the men I saw marching by me today. They were a ragged bunch indeed, and other than the muskets they carried on their shoulders, had no soldierly way about them at all. The sight of them marching north towards New York brought memories of my brother to mind, and had me wishing away the year that remained before I could join these men in battle.
My brother joined the Continental Army two years ago and has not been heard from since heading south in late November of 1775 to join Colonel Woodford’s 2nd Virginia Regiment near Great Bridge, Virginia. I begged and pleaded with my father to go, but he would not allow me to join until my 16th birthday. Soon after my brother’s departure, we began to hear from the many riders passing by that a large battle had taken place there that December, and that the Colonials were victorious. We also had received word that Col. Woodford was moving his regiment towards Norfolk to reinforce the Whig troops currently there. The news of Norfolk being burned by the British was the last we have heard of my brother’s regiment.
Each evening after dinner, the chores done for the day and the fireplace roaring, my father would tell us the stories he had heard of the colonies epic battle of freedom from the British Empire. My thoughts begin to wander during these stories, to visions of what my brother must be seeing, and to the dream of fighting for freedom, side by side with him, against the Redcoats. I drift so far into this daydream that I am often times brought out of it by my mothers’ hand snapping me to attention, and then she hurrying me off to bed.
One morning, while my father and I were cleaning the stables, a post rider arrived carrying a letter from my brother, as well as news from the Continental Congress. My father invited the rider to stay, as the light snow that had started earlier in the morning had begun to grow much heavier. The rider declined, as he had many letters from the Congress to deliver, and was soon on his way up the road.
My mother and I pressed him to open my brother’s letter first, my father boldly proclaimed that a letter from the Congress was a higher priority and should be read first. He sat near a lamp, opened the letter, and read: “For as much as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending…and so on and so on…it is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise.” My father paused and asked for his tobacco pouch, which I quickly rose to get from the back of the house. When I returned, he had already resumed reading, so I heard only this one last sentence: “And it is further recommended, that servile labor, and such recreation, as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.”
No one said a word after this, and the only sounds in the air were my father tapping tobacco into his pipe and the wind howling outside. It seemed as if the entire evening went by before my father spoke up. “I wonder what the cause of this is”, he muttered. “It seems to me that this Congress of ours feels the need for us to reflect on our struggle for freedom, and perhaps to garner further support of the effort. I only hope that they are not ahead of themselves in making such proclamations.” He stared silently at the fire for a minute before striking a match to light his pipe. After a couple of puffs, he set this letter aside and reached for the letter from my brother.
Little did we know we would not have to wait long to find out the reason for this proclamation. My father decided it was time to put the matter to rest, and did so by grunting loudly and furiously ripping open my brother’s letter. This time he read silently, and my mother and I grew anxious as he read, and nervous as his eyes grew wide. He suddenly jumped from his chair, grabbed mother by the waist and twirled her around every which way. “What is father? What did he say”, I shouted. My father tried to speak, but had a hard time catching his breath. Finally, he spoke: “Your brother is perfectly fine. The Continentals won a large battle in a place called Saratoga, someplace in New York. He was transferred to General Gates command soon after the Norfolk battle, and was unable to get word to us. They were able to surround the British army, forcing General Burgoyne to surrender to General Gates. This is the reason for the proclamation from the Continental Congress!”
It was such a wonderful day to hear of the great patriotic victory, the day of thanksgiving, and most importantly, to hear that my brother is alive and well. As we begin to make preparations for our Thanksgiving observance, our thoughts turn to the hope that one day soon, my brother will return home to us unharmed. Upon his return home, the hope is that his return is as an American soldier, and that the tyrannical British have long since left for home, never to be seen again.
You can see the original “Proclamation of Thanksgiving”at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/vc006494.jpg