Snowden’s Diary Gives Data
The nearest to an authentication of the Potts story of Washington’s prayer in the woods seems to be supplied by the “Diary and Remembrances” of the Rev. Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, an ordained Presbyterian minister, graduate of Princeton with a degree from Dickinson College. The original is owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Mr. Snowden was born in Philadelphia January 17, 1770 and died November 12, 1851. His writings cover a period from youth to 1846. In his records may be found these observations, in Mr. Snowden’s own handwriting:
“I knew personally the celebrated Quaker Potts who saw Gen’l Washington alone in the woods at prayer. I got it from himself, myself. Weems mentioned it in his history of Washington, but I got it from the man myself, as follows:
“I was riding with him (Mr. Potts) in Montgomery County, Penn’a near to the Valley Forge, where the army lay during the war of ye Revolution. Mr. Potts was a Senator in our State & a Whig. I told him I was agreeably surprised to find him a friend to his country as the Quakers were mostly Tories. He said, ‘It was so and I was a rank Tory once, for I never believed that America c’d proceed against Great Britain whose fleets and armies covered the land and ocean, but something very extraordinary converted me to the Good Faith!” “What was that,” I inquired? ‘Do you see that woods, & that plain. It was about a quarter of a mile off from the place we were riding, as it happened.’ ‘There,’ said he, ‘laid the army of Washington. It was a most distressing time of ye war, and all were for giving up the Ship but that great and good man. In that woods pointing to a close in view, I heard a plaintive sound as, of a man at prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling & went quietly into the woods & to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at Prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was ye Crisis, & the cause of the country, of humanity & of the world.
‘Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying.
‘I went home & told my wife. I saw a sight and heard today what I never saw or heard before, and just related to her what I had seen & heard & observed. We never thought a man c’d be a soldier & a Christian, but if there is one in the world, it is Washington. She also was astonished. We thought it was the cause of God, & America could prevail.’ “He then to me put out his right hand & said ‘I turned right about and became a Whig.'”
Mr. Snowden, as if to emphasize the piety of Washington sets forth in his records that he often saw Washington, that he accompanied seventy other clergymen to visit him on the anniversary of his birth February 22, 1792. Then Mr. Snowden adds:
“I felt much impressed in his presence and reflected upon the hand and wonderful Providence of God in raising him up and qualifying him with so many rare qualities and virtues for the good of this country and the world. Washington was not only brave and talented, but a truly excellent and pious man of God and of prayer. He always retired before a battle and in any emergency for prayer and direction.”
“When the army lay at Morristown, the Rev. Dr. Jones, administered the sacrament of ye Lord’s supper. Washington came forward at ye head of all his officers and took his seat at ye 1st table, & took of ye bread and wine, the Symbols of Christ’s broken body and shed blood, to do this in remembrance of ye L J C & thus professed himself a Christian & a disciple of the blessed Jesus.”
The Rev. Mr. Snowden’s use of “John” and not “Isaac” in referring to Potts may easily be due to momentary lapse of concentration on a single item, as happens frequently among writers who possess the correct facts but neglect their importance at the moment. In compiling a Valley Forge guide book recently the writer inadvertently placed Anthony Wayne’s birthplace in Delaware County, when as a matter of fact he had know since boyhood “Mad Anthony” was a native of Chester County.
Some published accounts of the Potts version of the “Prayer” have Potts addressing his wife as “Sarah.” True it is he had a wife by that name but she was his second spouse whom Isaac married at Abington Meeting March 10, 1803. Other writers claim Isaac Potts was a widower at the time of the Encampment and others that he did not reside at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777 and 1778. These claims would seem to be in error as substantiated by “The Potts Memorial” a worthy genealogical-historical account of the Potts family compiled in 1874 by Mrs. Thomas Potts (Isabella) James, after eleven years of painstaking work. In Mrs. James’ record Isaac Potts is shown as marrying Martha Bolton at Plymouth Meeting December 6, 1770, that she lived with Isaac at Valley Forge in 1777 and 1778 and died April 39, 1798 at Cheltenham, Montgomery County.
Respectfully submitted by SilenceDogood2010 this Twenty Fourth Day of December in the Year of our Lord, Two Thousand Eleven. Happy Birthday Lord.