“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Introduction: The hand of God was obvious in the life of George Washington, and even before he was born. Let’s look at some of these remarkable providences:
I. THE MARRIAGE
In 1657 John Washington, son of English preacher Rev. Lawrence Washington, travelled as mate on a ship to America. Upon leaving to return to Britain, his ship was damaged in a storm. While it was being repaired, John met a well-to-do man named Nathaniel Pope, who had a daughter named Anne. John Immediately fell in love with Anne and asked his commander to relieve him of duty that he might remain in Virginia.
Permission was granted, and soon John and Anne were wed. As a wedding gift, Mr. Pope gave them 700 acres. Hence, due to a storm, a shipwreck, love at first sight, and a marriage, Virginia had a Washington. On February 22, 1732, John and Anne’s great-grandson was born and named George.
II. THE MALADY
George idolized his older half-brother Lawrence, who suffered from a chronic lung disorder. When George was 19, he took his ailing brother to the warm climate of Barbados Island in the British West Indies. Even on this secluded isle–away from family and friends–George and Lawrence regularly attended Sunday worship services.
The trip proved to be in vain. Lawrence died soon after returning to Virginia. His death overwhelmed 20-year-old George with grief and caused him to spend much time in prayer seeking God’s comfort.
Though Barbados did not help Lawrence, something did happen there that proved to be a blessing. George caught the dreaded malady known as smallpox. He carried a few pox scars on his face the rest of his life, but he also carried an immunity to the disease that would later ravage his Continental Army. For the rest of his life he could travel the frontier, enter a camp, or visit a field hospital without fear of being struck down by the ancestral foe.
III. THE MESSAGE
In 1753 the French began to threaten the British in the Ohio Valley. Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia asked George to carry an ultimatum to the French commander at Presque Isle (now Erie, Penn.).
The 21-year-old Washington was a good choice because he had been a surveyor of western lands for five years. George’s formal school training had lasted no more than five years or so, but after that he had taught himself a trade. Using his own money to buy books on logarithms and trigonometry, George taught himself these difficult subjects and then mastered the techniques of surveying.
By the age of 16 George had a steady income and began to purchase property. By the age of 19 he owned 1459 acres of land. His life was headed for ease and security. But to George, that meant nothing but boredom. At 21 he was ready for a trip of adventure. The challenge of carrying Dinwiddie’s letter was the kind of excitement he craved.
However, there was one major obstacle–mother. For some strange reason, Mary was appalled at the thought of her son carrying a volatile message in the dead of winter through ferocious Indian territory to a hostile foe. She tried every argument to prevent him from going. George was adamant, however, and finally ended her oppositions with, “Madam, didn’t you above all others teach me the importance of duty?”
When George departed, Mary gave him these thoughts, “Remember that God only is our sure trust. To him I commend you. My son, neglect not the duty of secret prayer.”
With that, George was on his way. The round trip covered some 1000 miles and took 11 hazardous weeks. It is no exaggeration to say that almost daily George looked death in the face.
Nevertheless, there was good even in this flirtation with death. This trip helped him gain experience in dealing with the French, Indians, and wilderness conditions. The things he learned on this journey saved his life on numerous later occasions.
IV. MURTHERING TOWN
George and his men dealt with the French and Indian negotiators. It was obvious that an all-out assault on the Ohio Valley would occur once the Spring thaws came. The most conclusive evidence was the fact that the French had 220 large canoes under construction.
George knew he could not afford to lose a day in getting the bad news to Dinwiddie in Williamsburg. In mid-December the perilous trip home was begun. Their progress was hampered by deep snow, and they soon had to abandon their horses and proceed on foot.
By December 26 three of George’s party were so badly frost-bitten they could not go on. A temporary shelter was constructed for them to live in till the weather moderated. All but George and one other stayed behind. George was determined to get the message to Williamsburg.
George’s travelling companion was a jack-of-all-trades scout-trader-preacher named Gist. At Murthering Town, near the present site of Pittsburgh, the two men were befriended by an Indian who volunteered to lead to the nearest crossing of the Allegheny River.
Gist was suspicious, but gave in to George’s desire to follow the Indian. Washington wanted to find the fastest route. At a meadow in the woods, the Indian suddenly turned, lifted his rifle, and fired straight at George. Somehow he missed.
Gist immediately overcame the Indian, who was probably a French hireling, and started to kill him. George, however, could not stomach the thought and spared the Indian’s life.
V. THE MIRACLE
On December 29 George and Gist reached the Allegheny River. They had hoped it would be frozen solid. Instead, masses of ice were crashing down the stream. With one hatchet between them, the two men spent a whole day chopping down trees and building a raft. It was not the kind of work to which a young Virginia gentleman was accustomed.
They launched their raft from a spot now within the city limits of Pittsburgh. Half-way across, they became jammed in the ice. Washington later confessed that he expected the raft to sink and themselves to perish. George pushed his pole downward in about 10 feet of water. Suddenly the raft crashed against the pole with such force that the pole was jerked away–with George attached to its upper end!
In water 10 feet deep George saved himself by catching hold of a raft log that had somehow broken loose from the raft. Douglas Freeman, Washington’s foremost biographer, feels that George would have surely lost his life had not one of his long arms reached that log.
George and Gist, in freezing garments, reached a little island in the river. George was sheeted in ice; Gist’s toe and fingers were frost-bitten. The island was a miserable resting place, but at least they were alive. In exhaustion they fell asleep and slept all night. At dawn they were still alive, but barely able to move their muscles.
According to Freeman, the spot where they needed to cross would have ordinarily been intolerably forbidding at the end of December. However, that morning the two men saw a miraculous sight. The river was frozen solid only between their tiny island and the shore to which they were headed.
Both men immediately assessed the situation. They knew this would be the coldest part of the day and their best chance for ample thickness to carry their weight. hence, they decided to try a crossing. The ice supported them. They were spared.
Despite George’s heroic delivery of the message, the French and Indians captured the Ohio Valley. In the summer of 1755 the British sent a major expedition under General Braddock to drive out the intruders.
George decided to join the expedition. His mother again went into hysterics and raised every objection. This time George responded with an unanswerable argument: “The God to whom you commended me when I set upon a more perilous errand, defended me from all harm, and I trust He will do so now. Do not you?” Immediately, the discussion was ended. George became an aide to Braddock and served as a volunteer without pay.
On July 9, 1755, the British were marching beside the Monongahela River down a road that was 12 feet wide. These 1459 well-trained troops were marching into a trap. Some 300 French and Indians were hiding in the forest around them. Suddenly death belched forth from the trees. Artillery poured in among the British regulars from an unseen enemy.
The blood-curdling war whoops of the Indians made the Britishers shiver with fear. Screams of wounded men made the matter worse. The British soldiers broke rank in panic and began to run back down the road as sheep before hounds. They ran over each other and even began shooting each other in the confusion.
As the Britishers fled, they came in the direction of Braddock and Washington, who were to the rear of the procession. The two officers charged forward to meet the fleeing men and to restore order.
George’s horse was immediately shot out from under him. He grabbed a riderless horse and continued his efforts to rally the troops. Braddock was nearby, trying to do the same thing. By now the Indians had received orders to turn their guns toward officers on horseback. Braddock was one of the first to fall.
Washington’s second horse was shot out from under him, and bullets tore his clothes. Nevertheless, his person seemed to be protected by some invisible power. It wasn’t until late that night that he saw the bullet hole in his own hat.
Officers continued to drop right and left. Washington was left alone to salvage the situation. He was the only mounted officer who was not either disabled or killed. The young 23-year-old Virginian singlehandedly rallied the troops and conducted an orderly retreat.
Braddock soon died. Washington conducted the funeral service himself. Wagons were run back and forth over the fresh grave to keep it well-hidden from Indians. The next day Washington noticed smoke rising from the distant French post. British prisoners were being burned at the stake.
Washington tallied the casualties: of 1459 men, 977 were killed or wounded. This nightmare was one of the worst days of British military history. George immediately wrote a letter to his brother:
By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability of expectation; for I have four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me.
Rev. Samuel Davies of Hanover County soon preached that Providence had spared the young man for some further service to his country. Yes, his miraculous escape did preserve him for future tasks.
And on that battlefield another important thing happened. George learned a very valuable lesson: the British army could be beaten. He had even learned how to do it–with surprise attacks, ambushes, and avoiding open fields.
Some 15 years later Washington and his life-long friend Dr. Craik were exploring some wilderness territory. They suddenly were approached by a band of Indians, whose chief wished to speak with Washington.
The old chief had fought at Monongahela and wanted to share some recollections of the battle with George. The gist of the chief’s remarks has been preserved in Bancroft’s definitive history of the United States:
I have traveled a long and weary path, that I might see the young warrior of the great battle. It was on the day when the white man’s blood mixed with the streams of our forest, that I first beheld this chief.
I called to my young men and said, “Mark yon tall and daring warrior? He is not of the red-coat tribe–he hath an Indian’s wisdom, and his warriors fight as we do–himself alone is exposed. Quick, let your aim be certain, and he dies.
Our rifles were leveled, rifles which, but for him, knew not how to miss. . . . Twas all in vain; a power mightier far than we shielded him from harm. He cannot die in battle . . . .
Listen! The Great Spirit protects that man, and guides his destinies–he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire.
Conclusion: Remarkable Providences! “Who but an infidel does not see the hand of heaven in raising up and qualifying a Washington for the several important stations he so ably filled?”