Dear Friends and Family,
Thanksgiving! We have so much to be thankful for what God has done for us in the past year. Yet I have to ask if any of you know about one of the first National Days of Thanksgiving? I am not asking if you know about George Washington's degree as President to set aside Nov. 26 as a public Day of Thanksgiving annually, but the very first National Day of Thanksgiving?
The first National thanksgiving day was set by the Continental Congress for Dec. 17 ,1777 to commemorate the American colonies victories in the Battle of Saratoga. In early December, General Washington tried to break contact with the British (General Howe) and withdraw to winter quarters at Valley Forge. As the American Army retreated they ran into another British Army. The British, possibly scenting victory, refused to break contact and pursued after Washington and his 11,000 men. (3,000 of which we wounded or ill.) The army stopped six miles short of the river, not wanting to be trapped, at a place called Millers Glen. Facing him Washington learned was General Cornwallis, one of the leading English commanders. General Cornwallis had been foraging for supplies when he has been informed of the retreating army. He followed the army, surrounding it, and waited for help from General Howe's army.
Surrounded on three sides, with their backs to the river, they American army took its stand and waited. General Washington had promised his men a daily ration of 4oz of dried meat, an apple and a pint of cider. At Millers Glen the food ran short, after 2 day without food, Washington met with his general staff to discuss sending the Army home and abandoning the cause. During the discussions a dispatch arrived from congress proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving and Praise for the Victory at Saratoga. (45 days earlier)
Washington was upset. How could he ask his men to commemorate a day of Thanksgiving and Praise when they were going on their third day without food and looking at the possible end of their dreams. He found his encouragement in Gods word.
This Psalms that God lead him to was Psalm 136. This Psalm encourages all to “give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” It concludes with these words “25Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever. 26O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.” Washington was encouraged to trust God and wrote a general order to the army on the 17th of December 1777.
At the time the general order was issued on the 17th, the troops hadn't been fed in three days. There were supplies available, but the British were blocking the way. General Washington wrote that the eighteenth had been set aside by the honorable congress as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise. He states that it was “duty” “calling us to express our grateful acknowledgements to God.” Washington's men did not wait till the 18th, but started thanking the Lord for His mercies after hearing the order read on the 17th. Even after three days without food, they offered praise and thanksgiving to God.
As this was happening the Army's scouting parties continued to probe the British lines looking for a way to get the desperately needed supplies to the army. The British, knowing nothing of what was happening were overcome with confusion and a spirit of fear gripped them. The surrounding lines broke and started a retreat. The retreat became general and the army, fearing that reinforcements were coming to the Americans retreated to winter quarters. That night the men ate, as the supplies were able to arrive.
Unbeknown to them, God was also at work in other places. On that very day, the French as persuaded by Benjamen Franklin, signed a document declaring the United States to be a nation and committing their armies to help the colonies in their fight with Britain. That was truly a Thanksgiving Day to be remembered.
You see, God has commanded us to remember Him and His great works. We get concerned with the economy or our problems, but God asks for our hearts in faith. May we remember Him and His Great Works today. Truly His mercies are as great today as they ever were and He deserves our praise. As Washington said, “
“To morrow being the day set apart by the Honorable Congress for public Thanksgiving and Praise; and duty calling us devoutely to express our grateful acknowledgements to God for the manifold blessings he has granted us. The General directs that the army remain in its present quarters, and that the Chaplains perform divine service with their several Corps and brigades. And earnestly exhorts, all officers and soldiers, whose absence is not indispensibly necessary, to attend with reverence the solemnities of the day. “
As I sit at my desk and think, I realize we have so much to be thankful for. I will close with a short list.
- My Lord and my God whose mercies endure forever.
- My family who are growing in the Lord and well and healthy.
- The Work in Sekenani which is starting after a long time to bear fruit.
- Our Churches and friends who are our partners, both outwardly and inwardly.
- Our Nation, that was founded on God's Word and the desire for freedom to worship him.
May all of you have a blessed day as you remember the Lord whose “Mercies endure forever!”
Sincerely and with many prayers for you all,
Jon and Almi
PS. This material for this letter comes from lectures delivered by Vision Forum on Washington. (The final closing ceremony of their Boston, Celebration 500 series.) It has been checked and reference on the Internet with Washington's Orders, and several different sights. It is accurate to the best of my knowledge.