An Addendum to My AOL News Op-Ed on George Washington’s Religion

AOL News has recently added this addendum to my op-ed: Was George Washington a  Christian?

UPDATE: Several of the comments on my article have challenged my assertion that Washington did not mention Jesus Christ in his personal and public writings. These commentators appeal to the multiple references that they say Washington made to Jesus Christ in a “Prayer Journal” from 1752. Unfortunately, most reputable scholars, including Frank Grizzard Jr., a former senior editor of the George Washington Papers, believe that this journal was not written by George Washington. I would ask readers to consult Grizzard’s book “The Ways of Providence: Religion and George Washington.”

In that book, Grizzard writes (p. 51): “On April 21, 22, 23, 1891, there was sold at the auction rooms of Thomas Birch’s sons, 1110 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, a collection of Washington relics owned by Washington descendants Lawrence Washington, Bushrod C. Washington, Thomas B. Washington, and J.R.C. Lewis. Included in the sale was ‘The Daily Sacrifice,’ a twenty-four page manuscript document written in a pocket memorandum book and subsequently circulated as ‘Washington’s Prayers,’ ‘Washington’s Prayer Book,’ or ‘Washington’s Prayer Journal.’ The catalog of the sale was prepared by Philadelphia auctioneer Stan V. Henkels, who asserted that the manuscript was not only in Washington’s own handwriting, written when the future Father of His Country was about twenty years of age, but that Washington even composed the prayers himself. Both claims are patently false. The prayer book had been among a group of papers already rejected by the Smithsonian Institute as having no value, and at the time of the sale others continued to challenge its authenticity. Tens of thousands of genuine Washington manuscripts have survived to the present, including many from the youthful Washington, and even a cursory comparison of the prayer book with a genuine Washington manuscript reveals that they are not the same handwriting. Nevertheless, the prayers continue to be disseminated under Washington’s name, thanks to their publication in the early twentieth century by William Herbert Burk (1867-1933) as ‘Washington’s Prayers’ (Norristown, PA, 1907) and later republication by William Jackson Johnston in ‘George Washington: The Christian’.”

One thought on “An Addendum to My AOL News Op-Ed on George Washington’s Religion

  1. Jon,

    Do you believe GW was a Christian? And do you believe in Major Popham's testimony?

    Here is a first-hand account witnessing GW taking communion:

    Extract From Major Popham's Letter To Mrs. Jane Washington

    New York, March 14, 1839. My Dear Madam: You will doubtless be not a little surprised at receiving a letter from an individual whose name may possibly never have reached you; but an accidental circumstance has given me the extreme pleasure of introducing myself to your notice. In a conversation with the Reverend Doctor Berrian, a few days since, he informed me that he had lately paid a visit to Mount Vernon, and that Mrs. Washington had expressed a wish to have a doubt removed from her mind, which had long oppressed her, as to the certainty of the General's having attended the communion while residing in the city of New York subsequent to the Revolution. As nearly all the remnants of those days are now sleeping with their fathers, it is not very probable that at this late day an individual can be found who could satisfy this pious wish of your virtuous heart except the writer. It was my great good fortune to have attended St. Paul's Church in this city with the General during the whole period of his residence in New York as President of the United States. The pew of Chief-Justice Morris was situated next to that of the President, close to whom I constantly sat in Judge Morris's pew, and I am as confident as a memory now laboring under the pressure of fourscore years and seven can make me, that the President had more than once—I believe I may say often—attended at the sacramental table, at which I had the privilege and happiness to kneel with him. And I am aided in my associations by my elder daughter, who distinctly recollects her grandmamma—Mrs. Morris —often mentioned that fact with great pleasure. Indeed, I am further confirmed in my assurance by the perfect recollection of the President's uniform deportment during divine service in church. The steady seriousness of his manner, the solemn, audible, and subdued tone of voice in which he read and repeated the responses, the Chrisitan humility which overspread and adorned the native dignity of the saviour of his country, at once exhibited him a pattern to all who had the honor of access to him. It was my good fortune, my dear madam, to have had frequent intercourse with him. It was my pride and boast to have seen him in various situations—in the flush of victory, in the field, and in the tent—in the church and at the altar, always himself, ever the same.

    –Bishop Meade, Old Churches Vol. II. p. 490. George Washington The Christian by William J. Johnson. Andover-Harvard Theological Library Cambridge, Mass. 1919.


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