In honor of Independence Day, I want to devote this column to the brave men of colonial America who were most responsible for our country’s successful separation from Great Britain, namely, the patriot pastors and stalwart statesmen of 1775 and 1776. It was the pulpit as much as the politician and soldier that birthed this great country. Without the Black Regiment–the mostly Protestant pulpits of colonial America–there would never have been a Lexington Green, Concord Bridge, or Bunker Hill. Of course, the moniker Black Regiment or Black Robed Regiment was given by the British Crown, which demonstrated how important and effective the Crown believed the pulpits of colonial America were to the cause of independence.
The names John Witherspoon, John Leland, Jonathan Mayhew, Isaac Backus, Samuel Cooper, and Ebenezer Baldwin are as important to the success of the American Revolution as are the names of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Josiah Quincy, Dr. Joseph Warren, John Hancock, and Richard Henry Lee.
On the occasion of tomorrow’s celebration of Independence Day, I want to honor these great men by sharing with readers some examples of their nobility and sacrifice.
James Caldwell was called “The Rebel High Priest” or “The Fighting Chaplain.” Caldwell is most famous for the “Give ’em Watts!” story.
During the Springfield (New Jersey) engagement, the colonial militia ran out of wadding for their muskets. Quickly, Caldwell galloped to the Presbyterian church, and returning with an armload of hymnals, threw them to the ground, and hollered, “Now, boys, give ’em Watts!” He was referring to the famous hymn writer, Isaac Watts, of course.
The British hated Caldwell so much, they murdered his wife, Hannah, in her own home, as she sat with her children on her bed. Later, a fellow American was bribed by the British to assassinate Pastor Caldwell–which is exactly what he did. Americans loyal to the Crown burned both his house and church. No less than three cities and two public schools in the State of New Jersey bear his name.
John Peter Muhlenberg
John Peter Muhlenberg was pastor of a Lutheran church in Woodstock, Virginia, when hostilities erupted between Great Britain and the American colonies. When news of Bunker Hill reached Virginia, Muhlenberg preached a sermon from Ecclesiastes 3 to his congregation. He reminded his parishioners that there was a time to preach and a time to fight. He said that, for him, the time to preach was past and it was time to fight. He then threw off his vestments and stood before his congregants in the uniform of a Virginia colonel.
Muhlenberg later was promoted to brigadier-general in the Continental Army, and later, major general. He participated in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, and Yorktown. He went on to serve in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate.
Joab Houghton was in the Hopewell (New Jersey) Baptist Meeting House at worship when he received the first information regarding the battles at Lexington and Concord. His great-grandson gives the following eloquent description of the way he treated the tidings:
“[M]ounting the great stone block in front of the meeting-house, he beckoned the people to stop. Men and women paused to hear, curious to know what so unusual a sequel to the service of the day could mean. At the first, words a silence, stern as death, fell over all. The Sabbath quiet of the hour and of the place was deepened into a terrible solemnity. He told them all the story of the cowardly murder at Lexington by the royal troops; the heroic vengeance following hard upon it; the retreat of Percy; the gathering of the children of the Pilgrims round the beleaguered hills of Boston; then pausing, and looking over the silent throng, he said slowly, ‘Men of New Jersey, the red coats are murdering our brethren of New England! Who follows me to Boston?’ And every man in that audience stepped out of line, and answered, ‘I!’ There was not a coward or a traitor in old Hopewell Baptist Meeting-House that day.” (Cathcart, William. Baptists and the American Revolution. Philadelphia: S.A. George, 1876, rev. 1976. Print.)
Jonas Clark was pastor of the Church of Lexington, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775, the day that British troops marched on Concord with orders to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, and to seize a cache of firearms. It was Pastor Clark’s male congregants who were the first ones to face-off against the British troops as they marched through Lexington. When you hear the story of the Minutemen at the Battle of Lexington, remember those Minutemen were Pastor Jonas Clark and the men of his congregation.
On the one year anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, Clark preached a sermon based upon his eyewitness testimony of the event. He called his sermon, “The Fate of Blood-Thirsty Oppressors and God’s Tender Care of His Distressed People.” His sermon has been republished by Nordskog Publishing under the title, “The Battle of Lexington, A Sermon and Eyewitness Narrative, Jonas Clark, Pastor, Church of Lexington.”
Order the book containing Clark’s sermon at:
Of course, these four brave preachers were not the only ones to participate in America’s fight for independence. There were Episcopalian ministers such as Dr. Samuel Provost of New York, Dr. John Croes of New Jersey, and Robert Smith of South Carolina. Presbyterian ministers such as Adam Boyd of North Carolina and James Armstrong of Maryland, along with many others, also took part.
So many Baptist preachers participated in America’s War for Independence that, at the conclusion of the war, President George Washington wrote a personal letter to the Baptist people saying, “I recollect with satisfaction that the religious societies of which you are a member have been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously, the firm friends to civil liberty, and the preserving promoters of our glorious Revolution.” It also explains how Thomas Jefferson could write to a Baptist congregation and say, “We have acted together from the origin to the end of a memorable Revolution.” (McDaniel, George White. The People Called Baptists. The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1918. Print.)
Without question, the courageous preaching and example of colonial America’s patriot-pastors provided the colonists with the inspiration and resolve to resist the tyranny of the Crown and win America’s freedom and independence.
I invite readers to visit my Black Regiment web page to learn more about my attempt to resurrect America’s Black-Robed Regiment. Go to:
This is the fighting heritage of America’s pastors and preachers. So, what has happened? What has happened to that fighting spirit that once existed, almost universally, throughout America’s Christian denominations? How have preachers become so timid, so shy, and so cowardly that they will stand apathetic and mute as America faces the destruction of its liberties? Where are the preachers today to explain, expound, and extrapolate the principles of liberty from Holy Writ?
Called “The Father of His Country,” George Washington was, perhaps, the most important man of the founding era. Supernaturally spared during the American Indian Wars, Washington became the military leader who held the Continental Army together when it was virtually impossible for any man to do so. Without his leadership at Valley Forge and elsewhere, there is absolutely no doubt that the Continental Army would have fallen apart and the fight for independence would have been lost.
Equally significant is the leadership that George Washington demonstrated in the Continental Congress. Without question, Washington was the glue that held the political bodies of the colonies together. Then, add the fact that George Washington was America’s first President, whose leadership solidified the colonies into a new United States, and his value to the cause of American independence cannot be in any way overstated.
Think of it: George Washington was the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. And he led that inferior army to victory over the greatest military force in the world at the time: Great Britain. Afterward, Washington rebuffed a strong effort to inaugurate him as America’s king, and led the fledgling nation to embrace republican government instead. Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the US Constitution. He was America’s first President. Washington’s Farewell Address formed the compass and rudder of America for at least the next 75 years, and in many respects, its influence is felt even today. In my opinion, this address is the greatest political dissertation ever submitted to the American people.
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of America’s birth certificate: the Declaration of Independence. In my mind, there is no greater document of liberty ever written by man. When it came to the understanding of human rights, individual liberty, State rights, and Enlightenment philosophy, Jefferson had no peer.
President John F. Kennedy once held a dinner at the White House for a group of the brightest minds in the nation at that time. He made this statement: “This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” He was probably right.
Jefferson served in the Continental Congress; he was the first Secretary of State; he was the third President of the United States; he commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition; he was the author of the Virginia Statute For Religious Freedom, which is regarded as one of the greatest declarations of religious liberty ever written; he spoke five languages and could read two others; he knew and influenced virtually every man who would be regarded as a Founding Father today; and he wrote nearly 16,000 personal letters. Had not the British burned much of it in the War of 1812, his library would probably go down as the greatest personal collection of literary works ever collected by one man.
Patrick Henry was the colonies’ most ardent advocate of liberty–bar none! In oratorical genius, he has never had an equal. Henry was a self-educated lawyer, successful farmer, devoted father of 17 children, and five-term governor of Virginia. Henry was the first Founding Father to defy British taxes, and in so doing was the first who was willing to risk death as a traitor.
Patrick Henry’s immortal speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond to a gathering of the Virginia legislators in 1775 is regarded yet today as the most influential speech ever delivered on American soil. Probably more people are acquainted with that “Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death!” speech than any other public address ever delivered.
Henry’s contribution to the War for Independence cannot be overestimated. As Governor of Virginia (the richest and most populated of the 13 colonies), he supplied the largest share of arms and munitions to the outnumbered and poorly provisioned Continental Army. It was also Patrick Henry and his fellow Anti-Federalists who were primarily responsible for the first ten amendments to the Constitution (the Bill of Rights) being drafted and ratified.
Samuel Adams is rightly called “The Father of the American Revolution.” He was a cousin to President John Adams and a graduate of Harvard. He was perhaps the most influential member of the Massachusetts State legislature. He succeeded John Hancock as Governor of Massachusetts. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He, along with men such as Dr. Joseph Warren, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and Josiah Quincy, Jr., created the “Committees of Correspondence,” which became the principal conduit of articles and letters of pro-revolution, pro-liberty, and pro-independence communication between the colonies. Adams was also very influential in the now-famous Boston Tea Party.
Sam Adams was so hated by the British government that they used military force to try to apprehend him, which led to both the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, and the “Shot Fired Heard ’Round The World” at Lexington Green and Concord Bridge on April 19, 1775.
James Madison is properly called “The Father of The US Constitution.” He was the fourth President of the United States and was the principal author of the Bill of Rights. Madison authored more than a third of the Federalist Papers. Thomas Jefferson referred to the Federalist Papers as “The best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written.” Madison served as US Representative from Virginia and as Secretary of State under Jefferson. George Washington considered Madison to be the preeminent authority on the US Constitution in the entire country.
Madison was a fervent proponent of the principle of divided power. He believed government (especially the federal government) could not be trusted with too much power and worked to ensure the separation of powers within the federal government. He also was a major proponent of State rights and sovereignty. Madison broke with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton over Hamilton’s promotion of the State Bank, and together with Thomas Jefferson, formed what became known as the Democrat-Republican Party. Madison also co-authored with Jefferson two of the most prominent documents of liberty: the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions.
As we celebrate Independence Day tomorrow, I trust and pray that each of us will reacquaint ourselves with the principles upon which the Declaration of Independence was written, and upon which the United States of America was founded. And while we are doing that, let’s be sure we are passing these principles on to our children and grandchildren.
[This article was first posted the day before Independence Day at www.chuckbaldwinlive.com. Even though it is a few days after the fact, the ideas still have value for us.]