Valley Forge, inside a Quaker farmhouse down the road from Gen. Washington’s winter encampment at Valley Forge, Feb. 1778
Look across the valley — their fires dot the hills as far as the eye can see. I know what you said, but how can we ignore them? If you would only go and see for yourself — see how they suffer. Last summer I never conceived our peaceful fields would be invaded by men at war. But like it or not, they’re our neighbors this terrible winter.
Did you know Isaac saw Washington in the woods yesterday? The general was all alone, kneeling on the ground, his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. Isaac said he was crying out to the Almighty, beseeching him for divine aid. Isaac said he had never heard such a prayer from the lips of man. I, too, plead with the Lord to show his mercy, for the soldiers’ anguish follows me like a shadow. How can I eat my soup when these wretched souls have nothing but fire-cakes and water? How can I sleep when there’s such affliction at our door-step? Even in my dreams I see their wasted remains, huddled ’round a smoky fire, nearly naked without even a blanket to ward off the chill.
Oh, dear husband, I pray your patience for I feel your reproach each day when I go to visit them. You know I don’t mean to bring discord into our home, but tis so cold outside… Have you ever asked yourself what cursed cause drove them to this valley of death? Could you imagine embracing a death of misery and starvation, forsaking the children and me for the idea of “liberty”?
For weeks I’ve had a lump in my throat each time I swallow my tea, knowing that just beyond the hill, one by one, the Continentals are perishing. It’s pitiful, and if you must know the truth, I’m shocked at your disregard for their plight. They’re abandoned, even by their own Congress, without so much as an axe to cut wood for their fires. Many are younger than our John. I wouldn’t blame them for running away, but still, they stay and wait…
Yesterday a soldier wept and called me an angel of the Lord when I delivered a crust of bread and a few potatoes. As I walked home I wondered, does my charity help or only prolong their agony? I do not know, but of this I am certain: I am my brother’s keeper, and in their filthy rags, they are someone’s father, husband or son!
These boots? You know very well who they belonged to — my father. They’ve lain in the trunk for years. I know a young man who will lose both feet without them. I’m asking you once more to reconsider, for I swear, if you won’t take them to him, I will!
Disown me. Put me aside if you must. But I say to you something of extraordinary importance is happening in these frozen fields of Valley Forge and our future is intertwined with the soldiers!
Wait! Wait! Before you turn away from me — today I spoke with a boy no older than 16 who lay dying. I couldn’t hold back my tears as I held his hand and prayed over his gaunt body. As I said goodbye, he pulled a letter from his pocket and begged me to have it delivered. When I got home, I opened the letter to see what he had written. Please, open your heart, my husband. Listen to his words:
My letter comes with a heart full of fond remembrance. I look forward to the day I return home to help you carry the load, but for now, it is my duty to guard the flame of liberty. Always remember me to Abigail and my sisters, and do not fret, Mother, for we are living off the fat of the land.
Your dearest Son, Jacob.