The month of December is filled with religious celebrations; the birth of Jesus, the birth of Mohammed, the Jewish festival of lights, the winter solstice, the death of Zoroaster, and a time of meditation as Buddha did. All of these events include a time of prayer.
In 1928 and again in 1977 new stamps were issued commemorating the encampment of the Continental Army at Valley Forge, December 1777 – June 1778 (150th & 200th anniversaries). The depiction on both stamps was of General George Washington praying.
The 2-cent stamp (Scott 645) depicting Washington kneeling at Valley Forge was first available on May 26, 1928.
First Day sales were at the Philatelic Agency in Washington D.C. and in Lancaster, Norristown, Philadelphia, West Chester and Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
First Day sales were timed to coincide with the Midwest philatelic Exhibition in Cleveland, where the stamp was also sold First Day.
The 13-cent Washington at Valley Forge Christmas stamp was first available on October 21, 1977, at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
The stamp (Scott 1729), designed by Steven Dohanos, is based upon the painting by J.C. Leyendecker (1874-1951).
Unlike today when events are immediately documented and posted online, there is no photo of George Washington kneeling in the snow praying. Nor is there any document recording the event though there are several diary/letter accounts of oral histories being passed down from colonial soldiers to family members.
If you look closely at the Scott 645 stamp you can see an assistant peeking out behind a tree and a group of soldiers talking around a campfire. What is known about George Washington was that his faith in the moral righteousness of the American cause never faltered.
Following two defeats against the British, including a battle at Philadelphia, Washington retreated with the Continental Army to Valley Forge. It located about 25 miles west of Philadelphia, and is a “defendable position with trade routes, and access to farm supplies.”
With approximately 11,000 soldiers in Valley Forge, Washington immediately oversaw the layout and construction of first crude huts for shelter and then log cabins which housed 12 men each. Not until his soldiers had adequate shelter did he vacate his tent for a local’s stone house. It was bitterly cold and there was a shortage of food, clothing and shoes.
During the 18th century, battles were not normally fought during the winter, so Washington would ask for his wife, Martha (Dandridge Custis) Washington (Scott 306) to join him at the camp.
It is 110 miles from Mt. Vernon to Valley Forge and took ten days using carriage and supply wagons.
When she arrived at Valley Forge, her wagons were filled with food, medicine, cloth, wool, and sewing supplies.
At the stone house, which served as headquarters and home, Martha was called upon to write letters, stand with her husband at official events, organized a massive donation campaign for funds and clothing on behalf of the troops.
With other wives, she organized a Woman’s Relief Squad, which knitted caps, mittens and socks and repaired pants and coats, as well as tending to the sick soldiers. The local Oneida tribe provided over 600 bushels of dried corn and taught the women how to prepare it for food.
General Washington’s letters to Congress describe these shortages as well as the desertion by some soldiers: "We had in Camp, on the 23rd Inst. by a Field Return then taken, not less than 2898 men unfit for duty, by reason of their being barefoot and otherwise naked. Besides this number, sufficiently distressing of itself, there are many Others detained in Hospitals and crowded in Farmers Houses for the same causes.” (Washington, Dec. 29, 1777)
But by using eventual Congressional appropriations and supplies provided by the soldier’s wives, along with the military expertise of General Baron Von Steuben, Washington was able to turn the soldiers at Valley Forge into a disciplined fighting force.
As you bring this event into your December conversations by showing these stamps, pretend it is soon to be Washington’s birthday (February 22, 1732).
Imagine a dinner time conversation between Martha and George:
- What would be his wish as he prepares to blow out his birthday candles?
- What might be a present that Martha has wrapped for him?
- What prayer request might be raised around the table?
It is fascinating to think about what the future first President and First Lady would talk about!