Category archives: History

After 246 Years, Old Glory Still Endures

by Molly Carman

June 14, 2021

One of the most identifying symbols of a nation is its flag. In the United States, the stars and stripes that fly over federal buildings, schools, and on our front porches remind every American of the price of freedom. Although the design has changed over the years as the union grew, Old Glory has represented America since 1775. Because of the significance of this patriotic symbol, Americans observe Flag Day each year, remembering the history of the flag and the nation it represents, how it was made, and what the flag symbolizes.

The first design of an American flag was presented on December 3, 1775 and it was known as the Grand Union Flag. While the designer of the flag is not known for certain, it was first hoisted on the Continental Navy man-of-war USS Alfred, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 2, 1775, by Lieutenant John Paul Jones. On the first design, the section where the blue background and the stars now reside was originally occupied by a small British flag. This design was used until June 14, 1777 when the 13-star design was adopted as the official flag of the United States of America. According to the Library of Congress, “To date, there have been twenty-seven official versions of the flag, but the arrangement of the stars varied according to the flag-makers’ preferences until 1912 when President Taft standardized the then-new flag’s forty-eight stars into six rows of eight. The forty-nine-star flag (1959-60), as well as the fifty-star flag, also have standardized star patterns.”

The original design of the 13-star flag is credited to Elizabeth Griscom, more commonly known as Betsy Ross. Although no official documentation exists to confirm she was commissioned to design and manufacture the first American flag, it is accepted because of the accredited testimonials from her grandchildren. Betsy was born on January 1, 1752, as the eighth of 17 children in a Quaker family. After completing her education, she was apprenticed to an upholsterer named John Webster. She broke from her family when she married John Ross who did not follow the Quaker faith. Tragically, John died three years into the marriage, leaving Betsy a childless widow. According to the testimony of her grandson, it was soon after her husband’s death that she was visited and commissioned by George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross in the summer of 1776 to make the flag for the new nation.

Our flag has been celebrated in various ways throughout our nation’s history. However, the first official celebration of the flag was on June 14, 1870, which was the 100th anniversary of the Flag Resolution which declared Ross’s design to be the national flag of the United States. Bernard J. Cigrand was the first schoolteacher to organize a flag day event at a school and later was recognized as the “Father of Flag Day.” He inspired other teachers to add the holiday to their school calendars. This movement later led to an order by New York governor Frank S. Black in 1897 when he ordered that all public schools have an American flag displayed outside their building.

Flag Day continued to be recognized by various states throughout the following years and was consistently observed in 36 state and local governments until 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a Presidential Proclamation declaring June 14 as National Flag Day. Thirty-three years later, on August 3, 1949, President Harry Truman officially signed the holiday into law and the motion passed Congress that June 14 be recognized as National Flag Day.

Flag Day recognizes the banner that charged into battle as the united colonies fought for their independence in the Revolutionary War. As we salute the flag of the United States of America, we demonstrate our respect for those who laid the foundation of our nation. It is to the flag of the United States that we pledge our loyalty, our liberty, and our sacred honor. On Flag Day, it is appropriate to recite The Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The Prayer That Saved America

by Worth Loving

May 12, 2021

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln gave a now-famous speech to the Illinois Republican Party as he accepted their nomination for the U.S. Senate. In this speech he referenced Matthew 12:25, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Indeed, the nation would quite literally split in half a little over two years later. But less than 100 years prior, we nearly ceased to be a nation.

The United States was a mere six years old and was on the brink of collapse. Our first form of government, the Articles of Confederation, proved to be an abysmal failure due to a weak central government that failed to keep the young nation united. In May of 1787, the states decided to send delegates to Philadelphia to draft a new governing document—what is today known as the Constitutional Convention.

The convention dragged on for weeks amid the stifling heat and humidity of the Philadelphia summer. There was fierce debate among the delegates regarding representation in the new Congress. Delegates from the small states favored equal representation, known as the New Jersey Plan. Delegates from larger states, on the other hand, favored a more proportional representation based on population, known as the Virginia Plan. Apparently, there was such vigorous debate that it sometimes descended into a shouting match. Some delegates left and never returned. By late June, it was an open question whether an agreement could be reached to save the young nation.

It was at this point that the aged delegate from Pennsylvania offered his sage advice. Benjamin Franklin, now 81 years old, was a frail figure compared to his younger self who spent years frolicking in France as the U.S. ambassador. In fact, he was now so weak and feeble that he often had to be carried into the convention on a sedan chair. Additionally, he would write out his speeches and have a fellow Pennsylvania delegate deliver them in his stead. What makes this speech unique is that Franklin actually rose from his chair and delivered the speech himself.

Mr. President:

The small progress we have made after four or five weeks close attendance and continual reasonings with each other—our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection.—Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move—that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service. 

As a result of Franklin’s speech, the rest of the Convention proceeded smoothly. Although a chaplain was never appointed, likely because the Convention couldn’t afford to pay one, the delegates gathered a few days later on the anniversary of our independence at the Reformed Calvinist Lutheran Church for a sermon and prayer. A few weeks later, the delegates reached a compromise, known as the Connecticut Compromise, that gave birth to the House and Senate prescribed in our Constitution today. On September 17, 1787, the U.S Constitution was signed by 39 of the 55 delegates. While there were still great disagreements among the delegates, they chose to put aside those differences for the greater good. The “miracle at Philadelphia” was birthed through prayer. The new Constitution also honored Franklin’s request—a chaplain was appointed for both the House and Senate. To this day, both houses of Congress are opened in prayer by a chaplain before they proceed to business.

While Franklin was publicly a professed Christian, privately he did not believe in Christ’s saving work on the cross. Franklin believed he could live a virtuous life and perform enough good works to gain Heaven. Again, this makes his call to prayer at the Constitutional Convention even more unique. 

Over 240 years later, Benjamin Franklin’s call to prayer is just as relevant today. Perhaps we are even more divided today than we were in 1787. Have we forgotten “that powerful Friend” who gave this nation our independence? Have we thought of “humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings”?

James 5:16 says that “the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” We need Christians to offer up prayers for our nation, that our leaders would set aside their differences for the common good. Prayer literally saved our nation, and it can do so again today.

4 Reasons Why the Founders Valued Religious Freedom

by Arielle Del Turco

May 10, 2021

Contemporary debates over proposed legislation like the Equality Act and over COVID-19 church restrictions draw attention to the so-called “first freedom” listed in the Bill of Rights—religious freedom. This core right in the U.S. Constitution has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and passed down to contemporary Americans intact.

But as debates over how Christians and those of other faiths should live out their faith in the public square increase, questions about religious freedom will remain relevant. Understanding how religious freedom became a core value of the American Founders is critical to understanding its place in the United States today.

Here are four reasons that Americans in the Revolutionary era valued religious freedom and protected it for future generations:

1. The truth concerning religion is deeply important.

In advocating for religious freedom, its proponents did not embrace moral relativism. Isaac Backus, a Baptist preacher, argued that it is precisely because there is objective truth concerning religion that every individual deserves the freedom to discover that religious truth for themselves. Backus wrote:

The true liberty of man is, to know, obey and enjoy his Creator, and to do all the good unto, and enjoy all the happiness with and in his fellow-creatures that he is capable of; in order to which the law of love was written in his heart, which carries in its nature union and benevolence to being in general, and to each being in particular, according to its nature and excellency, and to its relation and connection to and with the supreme Being, and ourselves.

For Backus and others of his day, part of the definition of liberty itself is the freedom for an individual to “know, obey and enjoy his Creator.” Thus, policies protecting the ability to seek religious truth were a natural extension of this understanding of truth and the freedom to pursue it.

2. Respect for individuals’ consciences.

Former diplomat Tom Farr argues that human nature “impels us to seek answers to profound questions about ultimate things. If we are not free to pursue those answers… we cannot live a fully human life.” Many of the American Founders understood religious freedom in much the same way.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1776, was drafted by George Mason and was influential when Thomas Jefferson was drafting the Declaration of Independence. The Virginia Declaration of Rights stresses the importance of religious freedom to each individual’s conscience:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

The declaration affirms the importance for all individuals to choose their religious beliefs for themselves, according to the “dictates of conscience.” This highlights how the lack of religious freedom is a very personal assault on the rights of every individual. It is wrong for the government to try to control what goes on in someone’s head, heart, or soul.

John Leland, a Baptist minister, argued for robust conscience protections and asserted that the state had no right to be involved in religion in part because every individual must make himself right with God and no government can answer for the souls of men. In 1791, Leland said:

It would be sinful for a man to surrender that to man which is to be kept sacred for God. A man’s mind should be always open to conviction, and an honest man will receive that doctrine which appears the best demonstrated; and what is more common than for the best of men to change their minds?

Creating a political order with a state-established religion is not fair to the children and grandchildren who will come later because it may violate their conscience, which was not free to choose their faith since it was mandated by the government.

3. Establishment of religion is harmful for religion.

Many early American pastors were at the forefront of societal protests against the establishment of religion. They did so not for secular but religious reasons. Backus famously argued that a legally established religion or church corrupts “the purity and life of religion.”

Many religious leaders promoted religious freedom not just because the freedom to believe affects the conscience of individual Christians, but because the state establishment of religion can have negative affects on the established religion itself. When a state forces religious practice, it waters down churches with individuals who do not truly believe but rather are practicing the faith externally because they are compelled to do so.

Utilizing the force of government to require individuals to practice a religion is ineffective at making true religious believers. In 1675, William Penn said, “force makes hypocrites, ‘tis persuasion only that makes converts.”

Religious persecution doesn’t only harm those outside the religious majority, it harms the authentic practice of the majority religion. This makes the establishment of a state religion not only pointless, but also oppressive and detrimental to the religion the government associates with.

4. All people are equal under the law.

George Washington affirmed the inherent natural right to freedom of religion in a letter to a Jewish congregation. While president, he told the congregation, “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” Washington strongly repudiates religious persecution and emphasizes the equality of all religious groups and believers under the law.

***

The embrace of religious freedom has contributed to what makes the United States unique in the world. Wherever religious freedom is not protected around the world, oppression and misery clouds society.

The world is better off because of the successful example of religious freedom that the United States has set. America’s promotion of international religious freedom has released religious prisoners, rebuilt religious communities devastated by genocide, and offered hope to the oppressed.  

This serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining religious freedom here at home. Our Founders enshrined robust religious freedom protections into law because they believed everyone’s right to seek the truth and live according to their beliefs was deeply important. This is worth protecting—for ourselves, for future generations, and for those around the world relying on our advocacy on their behalf. 

It’s Past Time for the U.S. to Formally Acknowledge the Armenian Genocide

by Lela Gilbert

April 23, 2021

Saturday, April 24 marks Armenian Genocide Memorial Day. And, reportedly, U.S. President Joe Biden is preparing to formally acknowledge that the systematic murder and deportation of millions of Armenia’s Christians by the Ottoman Empire more than a century ago was, in fact, genocide.

At the time of this writing, no official acknowledgement has occurred. And if Biden makes that declaration, he won’t be the first world leader to do so.

During a Sunday sermon in April 2015, Pope Francis referred to the 1915 Turkish mass killings of Armenians as the “first genocide of the 20th century.” Unsurprisingly, this papal declaration instantly flared into a diplomatic uproar. It absolutely infuriated Turkey’s Islamist President Tayyip Erdogan, who “warned” the Pope against repeating his “mistaken” statement.

Pope Francis was not mistaken. Those early 20th century massacres cost 1.5 million Armenian Christians their lives, along with another million Assyrian and Greek believers. Thanks to the Pope’s pronouncement and Erdogan’s outrage, the rest of the world was once again effectively reminded of the genocide’s terrors.

The tragic story began on April 24, 1915, when Turkish authorities arrested hundreds of Armenian professors, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other elites in Constantinople (now Istanbul). These revered members of the community were jailed, tortured, and hastily massacred.

After killing the most highly educated and influential men in the community, the Turks began house-to-house searches. Ostensibly they were looking for weapons, claiming that the Christians had armed themselves for a revolution. Since, in those days, most Turkish citizens owned rifles or handguns for hunting and self-defense, of course the Turks would find arms in Armenian homes. And this served as sufficient pretext for the government to arrest enormous numbers of Armenian men who were subsequently beaten, tortured, and murdered.

The family members who survived these home invasions—mostly women, children, the ill, and the elderly—were forced to embark upon what has been described as a “concentration camp on foot.” They were told they would be “relocated.” Instead, they were herded like animals with whips and cudgels. And at gunpoint, they were sent on a death march to nowhere.

The captives were provided with little or no food or water. Old people and babies were the first to die. Women were openly raped; mothers were gripped with insanity, helplessly watching their little ones suffer and succumb; more than a few took their own lives. Eyewitness accounts and photographs remain today, and they are heart wrenching. Corpses littered the roads; nude women were crucified; dozens of bodies floated in rivers.

On Jan. 5, 2015, Raffi Khatchadourian published a personal essay in The New Yorker about his Armenian grandfather, who somehow survived the Armenian Genocide. He described the brutality:

Whenever one of them lagged behind, a gendarme would beat her with the butt of his rifle, throwing her on her face till she rose terrified and rejoined her companions. If one lagged from sickness, she was either abandoned, alone in the wilderness, without help or comfort, to be a prey to wild beasts, or a gendarme ended her life by a bullet.

Some Turks claim that World War II-era Armenian Christians had aligned themselves with Russia and were therefore a threat to Turkish security. But although the excuse that Armenian Christians were “enemies of the Turkish State” is still bandied about, German historian Michael Hesemann has carefully documented that it was not only a genocide of Armenians, but also an extermination of the Christian element in the Ottoman Empire. It was an ethnic and religious cleansing.

In fact, the Armenian Genocide has been described as a jihad in numerous accounts. Armenian women were even told they would be spared if they would convert to Islam. It is noteworthy that at the genocide’s beginning, on November 13, 1914, a call to jihad—a holy war against Christian “infidels”—was officially announced by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V Resad. The carnage began just days later.

And in the eyes of some Armenians, it has never stopped. I learned in October 2020—during a conversation with a friend in Yerevan—that Azerbaijan’s ongoing invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh was perceived by many Armenian Christians as the continuation of that same Islamist jihad against them.

Last October, the combined armies of Azerbaijan and Turkey, supported by Syrian mercenaries, ferociously attacked Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian enclave. Historic churches, ancient carved cross-stones called khachkars, monasteries, and other Christian shrines and properties were defaced, demolished, and dispossessed. Meanwhile, an estimated 100,000 refugees frantically fled across Armenia’s border.  

It is a well-known story but worth repeating that in 1939, as he planned his “Final Solution” to rid the world of Jews, Adolf Hitler notoriously said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Hitler was very wrong indeed. The world certainly will remember that annihilation on Armenian Genocide Memorial Day. Countless voices will speak out in remembrance of Turkey’s murdered Christian population. Will one of those voices be that of the President of the United States, Joe Biden?

If Biden has chosen to be the first U.S. President to officially declare that the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians was historically a genocide, he will most certainly deserve our thanks and applause.

Rosa Parks: A Woman of Quiet Strength and Faith Who Galvanized the Civil Rights Movement

by Molly Carman

March 31, 2021

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of God-fearing women in American history. Women have played an important role in our nation’s history and the women in this series represent those who have faithfully, courageously, and humbly served their families, communities, and our nation. Don’t miss our previous installment on Abigail Adams, Fanny Crosby, Harriet Tubman, and Clara Barton.

Born and raised during the Jim Crow era, Rosa Parks became known as “The Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement.” Although she is best remembered for refusing to give up her seat on a bus, she also believed that taking a stand for equal rights was invaluable. Rosa had a tenacious and fiery disposition, but she believed that her strength was not her own, once declaring, “God has always given me the strength to say what is right.” Her endurance and faith spurred her on through the darkest nights and the lowest valleys, and her legacy continues to inspire today.

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her parents separated when Rosa was only two years old, shortly after her brother Sylvester was born. She and her mother and brother moved to live with her maternal grandparents on their farm outside Montgomery. Rosa’s grandparents were former slaves and early advocates of the civil rights movement. She recalled her grandfather standing by the front door with a gun as the Ku Klux Klan marched down their street.

Rosa’s life with her grandparents was extremely formative. In her autobiography, she reflected:

Every day before supper and before we went to services on Sundays, my grandmother would read the Bible to me, and my grandfather would pray. We even had devotions before going to pick cotton in the fields. Prayer and the Bible became a part of my everyday thoughts and beliefs. I learned to put my trust in God and to seek Him as my strength.

Rosa would continue to attend church her whole life. She was greatly inspired by the stories of other Christians who took a stand for their rights as she considered how she would stand up for her own.

When Rosa was 11, she began attending Miss White’s Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, a private Christian school. Her education continued at Booker T. Washington Junior High and Alabama State Teachers College, a high school. However, Rosa returned home before graduating to care for her dying grandmother and ill mother. Because she had not finished her education, Rosa took a position as a seamstress.

When Rosa was 19, she met Raymond Parks, a barber, who proposed to Rosa on their second date. They were married on December 18, 1932, and never had any children together.

Raymond encouraged Rosa to go back to school the following year and earn her high school diploma. After graduation, she worked as a secretary at Maxwell Air Force base, which was going through desegregation. Rosa and Raymond both became members of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1934. As chapter secretary, Rosa documented the most violent acts committed against blacks. The Racy Taylor case became national news because of Rosa’s work. In 1947, her reputation as a fiery activist grew, and she was asked to speak at the NAACP convention, where she received a standing ovation.

However, the civil rights movement began to change when Brown v. Board of Education was decided on May 17, 1954. As desegregation began in the schools, the NAACP believed it was time for the buses to desegregate as well. Rosa Parks was not the first black woman to refuse to give up her seat, but her story lit the flame.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa boarded a Montgomery city bus after a long day of work and sat in the middle section next to three black men. The bus driver, James Blake, was notorious for harassing black passengers. When a white man boarded the bus, Blake approached Rosa’s row and asked her and the other three black passengers to move to the back to make room for the white passenger. They all refused at first, but after the harassment continued, the other three all moved. Rosa did not move and remained seated alone. Blake threatened to call the police, to which she calmly replied, “You may do that.” Rosa later recalled:

I instantly felt God give me the strength to endure whatever would happen next, God’s peace flooded my soul, and my fear melted away. All people were equal in the eyes of God, and I was going to live like a free person.

Rosa was arrested and taken into police custody but was released on bail that same evening. She was later fined $14 but never paid the fine. Martin Luther King Jr. heard what happened and initiated plans for a bus boycott in Montgomery. Thirty-five thousand flyers were distributed, and the boycott began on the morning of Rosa’s trial. The boycott lasted for 381 days and was nearly 100 percent successful.

Although in many ways Rosa was the spark of the boycott, she was ignored and abandoned by many of her fellow black friends who said she was just stirring up trouble for them. She also lost her second job as a seamstress in January 1956. Rosa and Raymond’s reputations began to be slandered, and they received numerous death threats. Her husband was so overwhelmed that he suffered a nervous breakdown. In November 1956, a federal court ruled in favor of desegregating buses in Montgomery. After the law was first implemented, Rosa was photographed riding the bus next to reporter Nicholas C. Chriss, a white man, on December 21, 1956 (see image above).

Due to their continued harassment and financial struggles, Rosa and her husband moved to Hampton, Virginia and then Detroit, Michigan in 1957 to live with her brother and his family. While there, her health declined and she developed stomach ulcers, but struggled to afford the necessary medication. Thankfully, Raymond found employment and they became more financially stable for a time. The civil rights movement that Rosa helped spark led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race.  

Between 1977 and 1979, Rosa’s husband, brother, and mother all died of cancer. Rosa dedicated herself to civil rights advocacy and continued to receive death threats for most of her life. President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996. In 1999, she was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Rosa Parks died on October 24, 2005 in Detroit, Michigan. She was the first woman and the second African American to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. On February 4, 2013, on the centennial of her birth, her statue was unveiled in the Capitol. In life, Rosa saw it as her duty to stand strong in the face of grave injustice but also realized that the strength she needed could only come from God.

Clara Barton: Red Cross Founder and Civil War’s “Angel of the Battlefield”

by Molly Carman

March 26, 2021

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of God-fearing women in American history. Women have played an important role in our nation’s history and the women in this series represent those who have faithfully, courageously, and humbly served their families, communities, and our nation. Periodically throughout the month of March, we will be sharing some of these inspiring stories. Don’t miss our previous installments on Abigail Adams, Fanny Crosby, and Harriet Tubman.

Clara Barton is primarily known for being the founder of the American Red Cross. However, she was also a pioneer for women working in the fields of nursing, government, and humanitarian aid. Throughout her long life, Clara was deeply dedicated to serving those in need. She wasted no time waiting to be told what needed to be done; instead, she took the initiative and saw to the needs of others herself. Today, she is remembered as one of the greatest humanitarians our country has ever known.

Clarissa (“Clara”) Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas Day 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts, the youngest of five children by 10 years. Her two older brothers, Stephen and David, taught her mathematics and how to ride bareback and climb trees. Her two older sisters, Sarah (“Sally”) and Dorothea (“Dolly”), taught her to read and write. Sadly, the Barton home was not a happy one. Mrs. Barton suffered from a mental illness (most likely bipolar disorder) and was unkind to Clara as a child. Older sister Dolly spent most of her life locked away in an upstairs bedroom after suffering a mental breakdown when Clara was six. However, Clara’s father, Captain Stephen Barton, loved Clara and gave her an example of hard work, persistence, and compassion. This example provided a foundation for the humanitarian efforts for which she would later become famous. Clara was raised in the Universalist church, and her autobiography gives testimony to the role her faith took in her work.

When Clara was 11, her older brother David fell off the roof of the family barn. His injuries rendered him bedridden, and doctors believed that he would not survive. Clara refused to accept their prognosis and spent the next two years nursing her brother back to full health. This was her first exposure to nursing, but it would not be her last.

Clara did not initially pursue a career in nursing, as it was a predominately male profession at the time. Instead, she acquired a teaching license and worked as an educator for 12 years before furthering her education at the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York. In 1852, she founded the first free school in the state of New Jersey. The school was successful, so much so that when it expanded and a new building was built, the board hired a male principal to run the school instead of Clara. She continued to teach at the school but suffered from health problems and her first of many mental breakdowns, and eventually resigned.

In 1855, Clara moved to Washington, D.C., and was the first female clerk in the U.S. Patent Office, earning a salary equal to that of her male peers. The adjustment was difficult, and some of her male coworkers harassed and slandered her on account of her being a woman. Her position was later reduced to a copyist, and then her job was terminated altogether with the election of President James Buchanan in 1857. She moved home to Massachusetts but later returned to D.C. when Abraham Lincoln took office, resuming her position at the Patent Office.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Clara was extremely aggravated by the lack of care given to Union soldiers traveling from the northern states to the southern battlegrounds. Many of these men were packed into train cars and not given food, water, or shelter when they stopped in the capital. Clara went to work acquiring supplies and helping in whatever way she could when the trains stopped at the station. She became particularly concerned with the number of wounded men who had been on the battlefield for days before receiving medical attention once on the train to a hospital. Because women were not allowed on the battlefield, she worked diligently to receive permission to transport supplies and medical care herself to the front lines.

Many women served as volunteer nurses during the Civil War, but their services were generally relegated to military hospitals, not the battlefield itself. On August 9, 1862, at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Clara Barton performed her first field duty. As she carried supplies to the wounded, comforted the dying, and stayed calm and collected through it all, the male nurses and surgeons working alongside her marveled at her instincts and gentleness. Clara’s service at the Battle of Antietam earned her the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield,” and her fame began to grow. She would go on to serve on a total of 16 battlefields, including every major battle in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. General Benjamin Butler named her head nurse of his unit in 1864, even though she had no formal medical training. She would go on to instruct other female nurses as the war continued.

After the war, Clara coordinated efforts to locate lost soldiers. She and her colleagues received over 63,000 inquiries and were able to locate 22,000 soldiers, bringing closure to their families. The D.C. boarding house that she lived in is now home to the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum.

The stress of the war and recoveries of missing persons caused Clara to suffer a second mental breakdown, and she traveled to Europe for rest. While in Europe, she was exposed to the work of the organization that would become known as the International Committee of the Red Cross. Determined to provide similar humanitarian relief in the United States, Clara would later found the American Red Cross on May 21, 1881. The organization’s first relief operation was in response to the Great Michigan Fire of 1881, and it received its first congressional charter in 1900. Clara remained president of the Red Cross until 1904. She would then go on to found the National First Aid Society.

Clara Barton died of pneumonia on April 12, 1912, in Glen Echo, Maryland. Despite suffering from depression and physical and mental illnesses for most of her life, her pioneering work as a nurse and the immense compassion she showed for those in need inspired a wounded nation and continues to be a shining example of selfless love.

Harriet Tubman: A Leader to Freedom and a Servant of God

by Molly Carman

March 19, 2021

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of God-fearing women in American history. Women have played an important role in our nation’s history and the women in this series represent those who have faithfully, courageously, and humbly served their families, communities, and our nation. Periodically throughout the month of March, we will be sharing some of these inspiring stories. Don’t miss our previous installment on Abigail Adams and Fanny Crosby.

Harriet Tubman, the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, has been called “the Moses of her people.” Born into slavery, she started with nothing—no freedom, no education, and no riches. However, despite these deficiencies, she eventually acquired her freedom and led others to theirs. Abolitionist William Still said, “in point of courage, shrewdness and disinterested exertions to rescue her fellow-men, by making personal visits to Maryland among the enslaved, she was without her equal.” Harriet’s life and legacy were marked by her trust in God to guide and protect her.

Araminta “Minty” Ross, the woman who would eventually become known as Harriet Tubman, was born in Dorchester County, Maryland, to Benjamin Ross and Harriet “Rit” Green. She was the fifth of nine children. The exact date of her birth is unknown, but it is estimated to be around 1822. Three of Minty’s sisters were sold away from the family unit, two of them having to leave young children behind.

She experienced one of her worst beatings after getting caught with her finger in a sugar bowl and hiding for several days. Life on the plantation was hard, but Minty was taught spirituals from childhood that kept her spirits up. She attended church and believed that God was good no matter her circumstances.

Minty suffered a traumatic head injury as an adolescent when an overseer aimed a metal weight at a runaway boy and hit Minty instead. She would suffer from seizures and headaches for the rest of her life. This event likely played a role in igniting Minty’s fierce desire to be free.

Around 1844, Minty married John Tubman, a free man about five years her senior. Their marriage, though genuine, had no legal standing on account of Minty’s enslaved status. Minty still had to live on her enslaver’s land, apart from her free husband, and any children they would have had together would have been considered the property of her master. It was around this time that Minty changed her name to Harriet Tubman.

In 1849, Harriet’s master died suddenly and left the estate in considerable debt. Knowing that she would likely be sold away from her husband and family, Harriet resolved to escape to freedom. She later recounted, “I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.” Harriet wanted her husband to go north with her, but he did not share her dreams and refused to go threatening to report her, but Harriet was determined.

Harriet made her first contact with the Underground Railroad when a Quaker woman visited the plantation and told Harriet that if she ever needed help—wanted to escape—then she could come to her house. On the night of September 17, 1849, Harriet ran away with two of her siblings, Ben and Henry. However, her brothers had second thoughts and turned back while Harriet continued on alone. Several historians believe that Harriet first took refuge on the farm of Jacob and Hannah Leverton.

Harriet was given assistance and provisions by members of the Underground Railroad, who advised her to chart her course by the North Star. She traveled over 100 miles before reaching Philadelphia—and freedom. She later recounted, “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.” Harriet got a job as a maid, and while she loved her newfound freedom, she desired that her family could be free, too. “I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land; and my home after all, was down in Maryland; because my father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were there. But I was free, and they should be free.”

Harriet began to make plans for the dangerous journey back to Maryland. Although highly discouraged to take the trip, she believed that God would protect her. The following quote has been attributed to Harriet: “Twasn’t me, ‘twas the Lord! I always told Him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me,’ an’ He always did.” After bringing her sister and her sister’s children safely north, Harriet knew she wanted to help others. Eventually, she helped most of her family to freedom. She had wanted to bring her husband John north as well but was heartbroken to discover that he had remarried in her absence.

In 1850, the second Fugitive Slave Act was enacted, which allowed anyone to capture runaway slaves anywhere, even in the north—and there were hefty rewards. Free men resorted to fleeing to Canada to maintain their freedom. Harriet was scared, so she turned to her faith: “I prayed to God to make me strong and able to fight, and that’s what I’ve always prayed for ever since.” Harriet used her savings to buy a house in Canada for fugitive slaves, and in the winter months, she traveled back to Maryland in order to guide others to freedom. She never traveled the same route twice and depended on the Quaker farms along the way to assist her. Legend says slave owners despised her so much that they posted a $40,000 reward for her arrest, although this figure is disputed by some modern historians.

Harriet may have taken as many as 19 trips and rescued or otherwise helped upwards of 300 slaves. She recounted her stories and life events to her friend Sarah Bradford, who published her memoir, Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People. Of her rescue efforts, Harriet said, “I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say—I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

During the Civil War, Harriet worked for the Union army as a nurse, scout, cook, and spy and became the first woman to lead a military operation in the United States. She rejoiced when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863. After the war, she returned to New York, married her second husband, Union veteran Nelson Davis, and adopted a daughter named Gertie. She would go on to work as a humanitarian and suffragist alongside the likes of Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and Thomas Garret. The latter said of Harriet, “I never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul … her faith in a Supreme Power truly was great.”

When Harriet’s husband died in 1888, she received a widow’s pension. She also received a nurse’s pension but was denied a scout’s pension. She struggled financially for the rest of her life but continued to be thankful and serve others. Together with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, she established the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged in 1908. Harriet died on March 10, 1913, at approximately 90 years of age. She was laid to rest with military honors in Fort Hill Cemetery in New York. Her gravestone is inscribed with the words, “Servant of God, Well Done.”

Harriet was a servant her whole life—first to her enslavers, then as a free woman to her fellow men and country. But ultimately, she was a servant of God.

Fanny Crosby: One of History’s Most Prolific Poets and Songwriters

by Molly Carman

March 16, 2021

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of God-fearing women in American history. Women have played an important role in our nation’s history and the women in this series represent those who have faithfully, courageously, and humbly served their families, communities, and our nation. Periodically throughout the month of March, we will be sharing some of these inspiring stories. Don’t miss our previous installment on Abigail Adams.

On March 24, 1820, Francis “Fanny” Jane Crosby, one of the most accomplished, well known, and sung poets and songwriters in history, was born. Her parents, John and Mercy Crosby, were devastated when at just six weeks old, Fanny developed a cold that caused her eyes to swell and a local country doctor prescribed a hot mustard poultice that rendered their daughter completely blind. Fanny Crosby never resented her blindness, but later in life she wrote, “In more than eighty-five years, I have not for a moment felt a spark of resentment against him [the doctor], for I have always believed from my youth up that the good Lord, in His infinite mercy, by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do.”

Fanny Crosby’s childhood was not easy, but she was determined to find joy and live life to the fullest. Tragically, her father died before her first birthday. She was not allowed to attend school because of her blindness, and at age five, after visiting an eye doctor in New York, she learned that her blindness was irreversible. Crosby’s grandmother took it upon herself “to be her eyes” and teach her Scripture and how to navigate life without her sight. As a child, she memorized large passages of the psalms and proverbs which would later be the foundation for writing many of her hymns.

In 1835, the New York school for the blind opened its doors and Fanny Crosby was one of the first students. Over time, she was considered one of their best students. When guests came to the school, Crosby was frequently asked to recite poetry. During her time as a student, 22 of the men that she met would serve, or had served, as America’s presidents, from John Quincy Adams to Woodrow Wilson. But her favorite guest was the poet William Colon Bryant who encouraged her poetry.

Upon graduation, she was offered a teaching position at the school. Crosby would go on to teach for 11 years during which time she mastered several instruments, learned musical techniques, and practiced her poetry. In 1843 the school asked Crosby and other faculty members to go to Washington, D.C. to ask for more financial assistant to further the work of the school. Crosby was the first woman to ever testify before the Senate and Congress. Her presentation and poetry moved many to tears, and her testimony increased awareness for citizens with disabilities.

Tragedy struck New York in the Autumn of 1848 when the Asiatic Cholera pandemic reached its shores. Crosby cared for the students in the blind school, even when ill herself. She lost her favorite student to the disease one night while rocking her to sleep, and in the morning carried her to the church for burial. This disease drew many to the church, including Crosby. Her new friend Theodore Camp inspired her to reconsider the gospel and examine her own life. She later had a dream where a friend was dying and asked if he would see her again in heaven. From this experience she realized, “I was trying to hold the world in one hand and the Lord in another.” At age 30, Fanny Crosby gave her life to Christ.

She married Alexander van Alstyne in 1858, a fellow blind teacher at the school in New York. They were married for 44 years. She became Fanny van Alstyne legally, but was known publicly as Fanny Crosby her whole life. Their only child suddenly died as an infant. In her grieving she wrote, “Safe in the arms of Jesus,” originally a poem that was later put to music.

Crosby worked for the famous composer Mr. William B. Bradberry for four years before he died, at which point she was hired on by L. H. Brigalow and Sylvester Maine at their publishing firm, where she remained for 34 years. Brigalow and Maine became the largest publishing company of hymns and gospel music. Philip Philips approached Crosby in 1866 with 40 hymn titles in need of lyrics for his new hymnal. She composed and memorized all of them in her mind before dictating them in one setting. One of her most famous hymns, “Blessed Assurance,” was written in just five minutes and debuted at the crusades of Dwight L. Moody and Iris Sanky.

In her lifetime, Crosby contributed to “Gospel Hymns” and “Sacred Songs” hymnals which sold over 15 million copies worldwide before her death, and she donated all of her royalties to charities. She was such a prolific songwriter, often writing up to six hymns in a day, that she acquired over 200 pen names to give author variety in publications. By age 43 she had written over 10,000 poems (most of which are now hymns).

Her husband passed away in 1902 and Crosby continued to write and serve for the rest of her life. Even the night before she died, she wrote to a friend who had just lost her daughter, thinking of others to the very end. Fanny Crosby saw her savior on February 12, 1915, and on her epitaph is the chorus of “Blessed Assurance.” Today, a hymnal is often considered incomplete without one of her hymns. Her final hymn points to the testimony of her life, “To God be the glory, great things He has done; so loved He the world that He gave us His Son, who yielded His life an atonement for sin, and opened the life-gate that all may go in.”

Abigail Adams: A Force for Women’s Rights and Abolition

by Molly Carman

March 11, 2021

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of God-fearing women in American history. Women have played an important role in our nation’s history and the women in this series represent those who have faithfully, courageously, and humbly served their families, communities, and our nation. Periodically throughout the month of March, we will be sharing some of these inspiring stories.

Abigail Smith Adams is best known as the wife of our nation’s second president, John Adams, and the mother of our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. She served as the close advisor and confidant of her husband and the first teacher of her son. But Abigail was also a formidable public figure in her own right. She was among the first to advocate for equal rights for American women. She also promoted formal education for girls and staunchly opposed slavery.

Abigail was born on November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Her father was a Congregationalist minister, and her mother was the daughter of John Quincy, who served as Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly for over 40 years. Abigail was the second oldest of five children and stood barely over five feet tall. She did not receive a formal education as a young woman (this was common at the time); however, she was taught to read and write by her mother at home and availed herself of the family library, where she learned philosophy, theology, government, and law. She also read the classics and Shakespeare’s plays. Abigail was raised on the family farm, but her poor health as a child relegated her to spending most of her days indoors, writing letters and reading books.

On October 25, 1764, 19-year-old Abigail Smith married 28-year-old lawyer John Adams, who is said to have greatly admired her for her intellect and opinionated nature. They had six children together (one was stillborn). The oldest, Abigail (“Nabby”), was born nine months after their marriage. Her second oldest and most famous child, John Quincy Adams, was born in 1767. Sadly, Abigail buried four of her children over the course of her life—only John Quincy and Thomas, her second youngest, outlived her. Aside from the large task of raising and educating her children, Abigail also worked closely with her husband to run the series of farms they rented before finally buying their own farm, “Peacefield,” in 1787.

In 1774, John headed to Philadelphia to join the First Continental Congress. The couple began a long correspondence, wherein John would ask his wife’s advice and opinions on various political matters. They also provided each other with updates on the family farm, Congress, the war for independence, and personal matters. In one letter, Abigail expressed her disdain for the institution of slavery:

I wish most sincerely there was not a Slave in the province. It allways appeard a most iniquitious Scheme to me-fight ourselfs for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this Subject.

In 1775, Abigail was appointed to serve as a judge of Tory ladies by the Massachusetts Colony General Court. The governor’s wife, Hannah Winthrop, and poet and playwright Mercy Warren were other prominent appointees. During this time, Abigail also worked alongside Judith Sargent Murray, who wrote one of the earliest books on women’s equality, On the Equality of the Sexes. Adams and Murray both wanted women to have the opportunity for formal education, property rights, and control of their earnings.

In July of 1776, the Continental Congress agreed upon the Declaration of Independence, and freedom from Britain was on the horizon. It was at this time that Abigail wrote her most famous piece of correspondence to her husband, a letter that has since been referred to as “Remember the Ladies.” In this letter, she pleads with John to do what he can to allow women equal opportunity to participate in the new union. She notes, “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.” Although Abigail’s wishes were not immediately realized, her words of wisdom encouraged the creation of public policies to protect women’s rights down the road.

From 1778-88, John served as a U.S. ambassador to England and France. During the first five years of his time abroad, Abigail kept her husband informed of the young country’s new policies and progress while he confided in her on international affairs. She joined her husband in London in 1783, and they remained there until shortly before John was elected to serve as the first vice president under George Washington, from 1789-1797. John greatly respected his wife, and when he was elected the second president of the United States (1797-1801), he wrote her these words, “I never wanted your Advice and assistance more in my life.” John and Abigail Adams were the first presidential family to occupy the White House, although it was later burned down by the British during the War of 1812 and had to be rebuilt.

Although her husband was the president, the public was equally familiar with Abigail, due to her nature of speaking her mind on any and every matter. Her support for her husband’s positions, bills, and opinions on various political issues resulted in her own reputation being criticized in public. While serving as first lady, she went as her husband’s proxy and inspected a military regiment, continued to advance women’s rights to education, and promoted the abolition of slavery. In a particularly memorable incident, Abigail sought to have a free black boy named James admitted to an evening school to learn cyphering. She recounted the story in a letter to John:

The Boy is a Freeman as much as any of the young Men, and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? Is this the Christian principle of doing to others, as we would have others do to us?

Throughout her letters to her husband during their 54 years of marriage, Abigail frequently referenced Scripture to encourage him and as a reminder of the Lord’s grace and sovereignty to guide the country. Her devotion to her husband and her country is commendable, but her true loyalty was to God, who guided her through the toils of life and enabled her to stand strong. Abigail Adams died at the age of 73 on October 28, 1818, at her home in Quincy, Massachusetts.

90 Years Ago Today, a Rousing Poem Became Our National Anthem

by Molly Carman

March 3, 2021

Ninety years ago today, on March 3, 1931, Congress officially designated “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key as the national anthem of the United States of America. Key’s song is a reminder of the fight for freedom and the patriots who gave their lives during the founding of our country. Key wrote this poem as a tribute to our flag as a beacon of hope and liberty for all American citizens and the world. On the anniversary of this poem becoming our national anthem, it is appropriate to remember the price so many have paid throughout our history to secure our rights and liberty.

Francis Scott Key did not anticipate that his poem would one day become the anthem and make him famous, but his poetic words and reputation proceeded him. He was born to a wealthy family in Frederick County, Maryland on August 1, 1779. He attended St. John’s College in Annapolis. After finishing his studies, he learned and practiced law under his uncle for several years. In 1802 he married Mary Tayloe “Polly” Lloyd and the couple moved to Georgetown where he practiced law. Key gained notoriety when he defended Justus Eric Bollman and Samuel Swartwout who had been charged with treason. He would go on to serve as the District Attorney for the District of Columbia and even an advisor to President Andrew Jackson in the 1860s.

During the War of 1812, the British attacked Fort McHenry on September 13, 1814. For over 25 hours, cannon fire, bombs, and militia tested the resilience of the fort. The British attacked the fort after successfully marching through Washington, D.C. where they burned the Capitol and the White House. During the assault, Key made an agreement with the British and boarded one of their ships to rescue his friend who was a prisoner of war. As the battle continued into the night, the British forced Key to remain on the ship to prevent him from aiding his countrymen. From the ship it seemed as though all hope was lost for America. However, it was the sight at dawn that inspired Key to pen the famous words to his short poem, originally titled, “Defense of Fort M’Henry.”

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight

O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The poem describes the beautiful sight of liberty overcoming tyranny as the United States flag soared over the fort at dawn declaring an American victory. The banner was specifically commissioned by Major Armistead who was in command of Fort McHenry. Mary Pickersgill along with her daughter, two nieces, and servant all worked for over six weeks to complete the flag. They made two flags, one to charge the garrison that was 17 by 25 feet, and another to fly over the fort that was 30 by 42 feet. Both had 15 red and white stripes and 15 stars to represent the 15 states at the time. It is estimated that they used over 300 yards of wool; she was paid nearly $600 when it was complete. When it was clear that America had claimed the victory, the larger of the flags was raised. This flag was passed down through the Armistead family. Over time, pieces were cut off and shared with veterans, family friends, historians, and political figures. Today what is left of the flag is preserved in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Within a week, the poem that Key wrote describing the victory at Fort McHenry was published in the Baltimore Patriot, a local newspaper, and its popularity soon spread. Key’s brother-in-law set the poem to music and took the tune from a men’s social club song called, “To Anacreon to Heaven.” After the poem was put to music it was renamed, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Because of the vulgar connotation of the tune as a “drinking song” and its association with the social club, Congress rejected it when the song was first proposed as the national anthem in 1930. Its leaders wanted the national anthem to have more wholesome and honorable origins. Further some members did not agree with adopting the song because it was difficult to march or dance to the rhythm. Other well-known patriotic songs such as “America the Beautiful,” “Hail, Columbia,” and “My Country, Tis of Thee” where all close contenders in the debate for America’s anthem. Finally, in 1931 they came to a consensus and “The Star-Spangled Banner” was declared the national anthem.

Our national anthem is a testimony of our nation’s history and founding. As we sing the words together before a ball game, in our schools, on Independence Day, and at political events, it’s a great opportunity to take the time to remember that freedom is never free. It is our sacred duty to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so that the next generation might benefit from the freedom that we have because of the sacrifice of the generations before us.

Archives