May 2005


30 May 2005 10:55 am


William Faxon Whitmarsh

30 May 2005 10:53 am


My Brothers in the Gulf War

28 May 2005 12:33 pm


William Faxon Whitmarsh, my second great grandfather died of malaria at the age of 32 shortly after the Civil War ended.

28 May 2005 07:13 am
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen
may cry, “Peace! Peace!” — but there is no peace. The
war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from
the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding
arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand
we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? — What
would they have? Is life so dear, — or peace so sweet,
as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?
Forbid it, Almighty God! —— I know not what course
others may take; but as for me, — give me liberty, or
give me death! —–Patrick Henry —– March 23, 1775
As with most Americans our family has a heritage that has been sometimes acknowledged but not always remembered during the Memorial Day festivities. Since I am the family historian I am going to remedy that lack of knowledge with some notes about our many ancestors and family members who have served and in some cases died for our country.

Many of our New England, Puritan, Pennsylvanian and Southern ancestors were citizen soldiers and here is a list of some of them…….

“They trusted in God and kept their powder dry”


This article was written in 1848 by Levi Purviance, a member of the Purviance family about one of my ancestors through the paternal Bowling/Fletcher line.

COLONEL JOHN PURVIANCE the father of David Purviance, was a native of Pennsylvania, and was married to Jane Wasson, Aug. 2d 1764. Shortly after marriage, they settled on the south fork of the Yadkin River. Rowan (now Iredell) County, North Carolina. The country was new, but by industry and frugality, he procured a comfortable living for himself and family. He and his wife were both respectable members of the Presbyterian Church. He filled the office of Justice of the peace, for a number of years, with general approbation.

At the commencement of the Revolutionary war, he volunteered in defence of his Country’s Rights, and was appointed Lieutenant in the army. He behaved himself valiantly during the war, and was gradually promoted to the office of Colonel. He fought bravely for the liberty of his country, and rejoiced to see the Colony free. He returned with a thankful heart to the bosom of his family, and lived happily there until the fall of 1791.

CAPTAIN SAMUEL WOODS

Our direct ancestor through the paternal Bowling Woods line, Samuel Woods was born in 1741 in Augusta Co., VA. He married Margaret Holmes in 1768. Samuel was a Capt. in the Revolutionary War and commanded a company in the famous Battle of Kings Mountain. After the war they moved to Kentucky and later to Fort Nashville, TN. they had eleven children.


ZACHARY ISBELL, my ancestor through the maternal NOLEN-ISBELL line fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain in the Revolutionary War. He was a founding member of the Watauga Association.
MATTHEW PAYNE

Matthew Payne, my ancestor through the maternal PAYNE-MABRY line was one of the most interesting Winston County, Alabama settlers. According to family legend, he volunteered as a youth in the Revolutionary War, was wounded in the shoulder and lost an eye by a British saber thrust at Brandywine. He was at Yorktown when the British surrendered. By 1783 he was in Davidson County, Tennessee, where he received a land grant of 640 acres on the north side of the Cumberland River at the mouth of Gaspers Creek.

In Davidson County he married Amelia (Milly) Cooper on June 17, 1791. By 1811 Matthew Payne and family were residents of Madison County, Missisippi Territory (now Alabama), where court records indicate he was active in land speculation, traffic in furs, hides, and frontier commodities, often in partnership with his son, John B. Payne.

According to an affidavit on file in the National Archives, executed by him November 7, 1850, at Lawrence County, Alabama, he volunteered in the War with the Creek Nation of Indians in 1813 in the regiment commanded by Colonel John Coffee. He was in Captain Russell’s Company, one of General Andrew Jackson’s spy companies, and was mustered into service at Fort Williams on the Coosa River a short time before the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

He stated that he had “followed the Army from home with his son John B. Payne (now dead) and upon catching up with it, at Fort Williams, he found Gen. Jackson there in command, who was his neighbor and friend at home and that gallant and distinguished soldier, knowing affiant’s qualities as an experienced woodsman, frontierman, and Indian fighter, pressed him to enlist in Captain Russell’s Company of Volunteers, who acted as Spies, and affiant did so, and continued in actual service in the War with the Creek Nation of Indians until the Battle of the Horse Shoe (Horseshoe Bend) on the Tallapoosa River, on the 27th March 1813 (March 27, 1814) in which battle affiant was left among the wounded at Fort Williams where he remained unable to be moved for about forty days, afterwards he was carried to Fort Strother, and thence home, an invalid for life……

Affiant was left at Fort Williams by General Jackson’s order with his son, John B. Payne to attend on him, where it was expected he would have died in consequence of his wound….”

He was placed on the pension rolls April, 1816, at $96 per annum. In August 1854 he executed a power of attorney appointing a representative in Washington D.C., “my true and lawful agent and attorney to prosecute the claim of my pension for any amt. of Revolutionary Pension or increase of pension that may be due….”

The judge of the Hancock County, Court of Alabama certified on September 11, 1856, that Matthew Payne died in that county on August 17, 1856, leaving a widow, Milly. Preston Payne (another son) was named attorney for the widow. He was buried in what is now a five-grave cemetery about two miles northeast of Pleasant Hill in Range 8 West, Township 9 South, Section 19, the same cemetery containing the grave of Stephen Garrison.’

WILLIAM WHITMARSH, an ancestor through the maternal WHITMARSH - WRIGHT line was born at Abington, Massachusetts, Sept. 22, 1723. He married Jan. 8, 1746-7, Elizabeth, daughter of Benjamin and Elizabeth (Faxon) Hayden, of Braintree. Farmer, sometimes called “gentleman.” In Braintree records he is called Lieut. William Whitmarsh. In the Muster Roll of Capt. Samuel Thaxter’s company, William Whitmarsh of Braintree is Lieutenant, in 1755, in the Crown Point Expedition.

CHARLES WHITMARSH, son of William Whitmarsh and Elizabeth Hayden was born at Braintree, Mass., July 12, 1763; married Nov. 27, 1782, Anna Faxon and removed to Lyndeboro, N. H. He was a Private in the Revolutionary War.

WILLIAM FAXON WHITMARSH, grandson of Charles Whitmarsh (in my maternal line) was born January 27, 1829, in Milford, New Hampshire. William Faxon Whitmarsh died of malaria following the Civil War. He was in the Union Army CO D 1st Iowa Calvary and part of Union occupation troops in Arkansas. He is buried in the National Cemetery in Little Rock, Arkansas.

JAMES GREEN NOLEN, ancestor in the NOLEN-WEBSTER maternal line is listed as having served in the First Alabama Infantry Regiment, CSA, Company E as a Private.

FIRST ALABAMA INFANTRY REGIMENT
“This was the first regiment organized under the act of the State legislature authorizing the enlistment of troops for twelve months. The companies rendezvoused at Pensacola in February and March 1861, and about the 1st of April organized by the election of regimental officers. Transferred to the army of the Confederate States soon after, it remained on duty at Pensacola for a year. It was chiefly occupied in manning the batteries and took part in the bombardments of November 23, and January 1, 1862. A detachment was in the night fight on Santa Rosa Island.

Being the oldest regiment in the Confederate service, it was first called on to re-enlist for the war, at the end of the first year, and seven of the companies did so. Ordered to Tennessee, the regiment, 1000 strong, reached Island Ten March 12, 1862. In the severe conflict there, all but a remnant of the regiment were captured. Those who escaped were organized into a battalion, which was part of the garrision at Fort Pillow, and afterwards fought at Corinth.

Those captured were exchanged in September, and the regiment rendezvoused at Jackson, Miss., having lost 150 by death in prison, 150 by casualties since and during the siege of Island Ten. At once ordered to Port Hudson, they participated in the privations of that siege. They were captured, after losing 150 killed and wounded.The privates were paroled and the officers kept in prison till the peace. The men were exchanged in the fall, and joined Gen. Johnston in Mississippi, 610 strong.

The regiment was then at Mobile and Pollard, and joined Gen. Johnston at Alatoona. In Cantey’s brigade, it fought at New Hope, and was afterwards transferred to the brigade of Gen. Quarles, in which it served till the end. It participated at Kennesa, and lost considerably at Peach Tree Creek.In the terrible assault on the enemy’s lines at Atlanta, July 28, the regiment won fresh renown, but lost half of its force in killed and wounded.

Moving with Hood into Tennessee, it again lost very heavily at Franklin and Nashville. Transferred to North Carolina, it took part at Averysboro and Bentonville, and about 100 men surrendered at Goldsboro. Upwards of 3000 names were on its rolls at different times during the war, including the companies that did not re-enlist.”
The above information is from the CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS AND SAILORS SYSTEM and “Brief Historical Sketches of Military Organizations Raised In Alabama During the Civil War.”

THOMAS WEIR FORD

Thomas Weir Ford, my second great grandfather in the Ford - Mackey paternal line was born October 20 1833 in Tennessee. He was said to be a “brave soldier in the camps, on the march and on the the field of battle and of death.” His family was on different sides in some battles and in the Battle of Chickamauga Thomas’ brother was facing him on the other side.Thomas was in the 28th Infantry Regiment, CSA. The 28th was originally the 2nd Mountain Regiment, Tennessee Volunteers. He made corporal in October,1861. He was in the battle of Shiloh. He told his grandson, Harold Ford Sr. that he was at Shiloh where they “Fit the Yankees and fit em and fit em.”

2ND LT. JOHN R. BOWLING, my third great grandfather in the paternal Bowling-Fletcher line was the son of Jeremiah and Mary Russell Bowling and was born in Tennessee in 1842. He married Martha Woods and they had one daughter, Margaret Clementine before he went off to war to fight for the Confederates. He never returned home and is said to have died in a Yankee prison camp.

DAVID MILTON WOODS, the father-in-law of John R. Bowling and father of Martha Woods in the Bowling - Woods paternal line was born 24 DEC 1805 in Wilson Co., TN and died 20 AUG 1866 in Pea Ridge,Benton Co., Ark. He was married to Elizabeth Kelsey Copeland. David Milton Wood’s death was due to injuries received during the Civil War when bushwhackers beat him unconscious and the bottoms of his feet burned, in an effort to make him reveal where his money was hidden. By the time this incident occurred he had spent all his money on support of the families of two of his sons and three daughters. His two eldest sons and three of his sons-in-law were with the Southern forces and their families were living with David and his wife.

OSCAR JAMES MACKEY, my second great grandfather in the Mackey - Drew paternal line was born July 29, 1843 in Cattaraugus County, New York and married Avis Wilhelmina Drew. Oscar J. Mackey was a veteran of the Civil War, having served as a private in Company I, Thirty-seventh regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry. He died February 8, 1919 in Bentonville, Arkansas.

HENRY MAXIE WEBSTER, the brother of my grandfather, Guy Smith Webster in the maternal Webster - Whitmarsh line served in the Pacific Theater of World War ll. Sgt. Henry Maxie Webster fought in the battles of Tarara and Cypan in the South Pacific.

SGT.MAX FLETCHER, my uncle in the Fletcher - Mackey paternal line served in the Army Air Force, 500 Bombardment Squadron, Pacific Theater in World War ll. He was a tailgunner on a plane that was shot down twice. Here is a letter he wrote home to his folks.

SGT Max E. Fletcher, Army Air Corps, 500 Bombardment Squadron, Pacific theater.The following letter was read aloud on the radio after the war was over on “The Hunt Salute to Our Boys in the Armed Forces” in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Dear folks, I received a letter from you yesterday. As always I was very glad to hear that you were all well. Now that censorship is lifted, I can write anything I see fit. First, I’ll try to tell you all the places I have been. I left the states on the last day of March and by the 16th of April I was in San Marcelino, on Luzon in the Phillipines.

During these short 16 days and nights of constant travel, I stopped and visited several islands, Hawaii, Tarawa, Kwajalin, Bisk, New Guinea, Lae, Layte, Los Negroes, Guadalcanal, Nadjab, and the Christmas Islands. After arriving at San Marcelino, I learned to be a radio man. I didn’t fly any there. In five weeks we moved to Clark Field and on that one I lost two very good friends, my navigator and co-pilot- Swallow and Graham.

The day they went down, I had a feeling that someone on the crew would be lost. You see there were only four ships on the mission to Formosa, and that island was just one big gun. My crew was split up into all four ships: Baker in one, Swallow and Graham in one and me in the third. I knew that if any one of the planes went down it would get one of us. All of the planes picked up holes from ack ack.

Swallow had just made Squadron Navigator and was flying lead ship. I was third over the target. Beker was second. I was riding in the tail strafing houses and gun positions when I spotted their plane on the ground, burning. As far as I know, no one got out, but of course, I couldn’t look too good as I was covering our tail as we were leaving the target. You can imagine how I felt.

I knew it was one of my crew, and I didn’t know which one for several minutes. Our plane got 57 holes from ack ack. Our upper turret was blown away. The gunner had just bent down to get his flak helmet. Lucky! More than luck. It sure is hard to think of your buddies being killed every day, but we must all die sometime and we can’t all die for something.

After leaving Clark Field, we moved to Ie Shima. On this island, Ernie Pyle was killed. It is only a mile and a half from Okinawa, the closest of our possessions from Japan. I flew four combat missions to the Japanese sea, searching for Japanese shipping. We found it too. My plane sank several ships. In all, over two each mission. In all, I only flew five combat missions and I’m thankful I don’t have to fly anymore.

I will fly patrol for a while. Pray? I thought I had prayed before, but now I know I hadn’t. I have received four combat stars and have been put in for the Air Medal, but it hasn’t come through yet. It was to be awarded for outstanding performance. In my case it was for participating in sinking several ships. I don’t see why I should get it- I didn’t drop any bombs.

I don’t have enough points to come home just yet, but I hope it won’t be too long. I think we are going to Korea. I wondered if you heard the program directly from here about our group leading the Jap planes to Ie Shima? I have some good pictures I made of them. Hope they come out okay. We worked on the point basis. When we collected one hundred points we got to go back to the states. It worked this way:

For every ten hours you get three points, for fighter interception, without fighter cover, we got three points. If a plane in our flight went down, we got two points, and for holes we got one point. If we got one hundred holes we got only one point. If we got one hole, we got one point. Doesn’t sound logical does it? Our losses were very high. Since I came into the squadron we have had one hundred percent losses.

Thank God the Japs didn’t have the atomic bomb. One bomb can do as much damage as six million infantrymen can do in four to five months. I know. I’ve seen what they can do. Nagasaki looks like a big black flat piece of slate. All the fellows you know that came here are alright excepting Swallow and Graham. However,there were only three crews of us and you didn’t know some of the ones who went down. Jack Crossland and Jimmy are okay.

Jimmy has flown one time and is still scared. He almost went to pieces. We have had several fellows blow their tops. One shot himself night before last. War is Hell! And you’ll never know it until you have seen it. I must get some sleep. I have to get up very early in the morning to fly. Take care of yourselves, and I have a feeling we will all be together again before too long. There doesn’t seem to be much more to write, so I’ll close for now.

As ever, Max

P.S. Why didn’t you tell me Grandpa was sick before he was sent home from the hospital!

28 May 2005 07:02 am

Photo by ANDREW LICHTENSTEIN / CORBIS FOR TIME

Washington Hall

A Fine Mess:

Four thousand cadets eat lunch in less than 20 minutes under the watchful eye of General George Washington

28 May 2005 06:22 am

Time Magazine has an excellent article about the 2005 graduating class of West Point. This is the class that had just completed Beast Barracks when September 11th happened. Today 911 cadets will graduate. From the article……..

What, after all, could be tougher than West Point, where failure to have your books arranged by descending height on your desk can earn you hours of forced marching in the rain? “That’s how they get us fired up for Iraq,” says one. “After four years here, anything’s better.” Another suspects that for all the training, they still don’t know what they are in for. “West Point is an academic institution, not a training ground,” he says. “I think a lot of us are going to be surprised to find that it’s a no-s___ business when you leave here.

I smiled when I read the “After four years here, anything’s better.” because that is essentially what my husband and my son said when they graduated from West Point. But I think that is what West Point was supposed to do. I do know that for my husband and son and many of their friends, they were well prepared.

Here is another sobering quote…….”Twenty-three times since 9/11, the cadets have stood in the mess hall at silent attention for a fallen graduate.”

And this is another “where do we find such Americans?” quote……

Just after Sept. 11, Lennox was walking around the post with his command sergeant when a cadet approached him. The cadet told the general that he wanted to leave, enlist, get out there in the fight.
The instinct made Lennox proud, but as more and more reports surfaced of students wanting to quit so they could be deployed right away, Lennox grew concerned. At dinner on Sept. 13, he stood looking out over the entire corps from the balcony high above the mess hall and delivered his message. “I preached tactical patience,” he says. “I told them that they’d be needed. As officers.”


Anyway, this is a great read.

23 May 2005 08:54 pm

Bill Frist whimped again. Good Lord. Couldn’t he at least go a round with McCain? Punch him or something? It’s discouraging I suppose to those who had hopes for Frist. I just didn’t. He’s always seemed too dainty. Too Sense and Sensibility - like. I knew he and Lindsey Graham Cracker along with John (one of millions who bedded Elizabeth Taylor) Warner had no guts. They are a bunch of old maids in pants. Pathetic.

Really pathetic.

23 May 2005 05:05 am

Sensible Mom did a little bit of searching around and found a telling campaign donation by the husband of Indra Nooyi.

22 May 2005 04:51 am

I just received the May 23rd edition of the Weekly Standard in the mail yesterday and stayed up late last night reading David Gelernter’s article about Bible illiteracy in America. It is a powerful read and has me thinking.
Gelernter writes:

“Here is a basic question about America that ought to be on page 1 of every history book: What made the nation’s Founders so sure they were onto something big? America today is the most powerful nation on earth, most powerful in all history–and a model the whole world imitates. What made them so sure?–the settlers and colonists, the Founding Fathers and all the generations that intervened before America emerged as a world power in the 20th century? What made them so certain that America would become a light of the world, the shining city on a hill? What made John Adams say, in 1765, “I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence”? What made Abraham Lincoln call America (in 1862, in the middle of a ruinous civil war) “the last, best hope of earth”?

We know of people who are certain of their destinies from childhood on. But nations?

Many things made all these Americans and proto-Americans sure; and to some extent they were merely guessing and hoping. But one thing above all made them true prophets. They read the Bible. Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and thousands of others found a good destiny in the Bible and made it their own. They read about Israel’s covenant with God and took it to heart: They were Israel. (”Wee are entered into Covenant with him for this worke,” said Winthrop. “Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us.”) They read about God’s chosen people and took it to heart: They were God’s chosen people, or–as Lincoln put it–God’s “almost chosen people.” The Bible as they interpreted it told them what they could be and would be. Unless we read the Bible, American history is a closed book.


Gelernter hits on the reality that very few teenagers are learning about the Bible today. If the Bible is studied at all it is as literature but no spirituality is allowed. He writes:

Evidently young Americans don’t know much about the Bible (or anything else, come to think of it; that’s another story). But let’s not kid ourselves–this problem will be hard to attack. It’s clear that any public school that teaches about America must teach about the Bible, from outside. But teaching the Bible from inside (reading Scripture, not just about Scripture) is trickier. You don’t have to believe in the mythical “wall of separation” between church and state–which the Bill of Rights never mentions and had no intention of erecting–to understand that Americans don’t want their public schools teaching Christianity or Judaism.

But can you teach the Bible as mere “literature” without flattening and misrepresenting it? How will you address the differences (which go right down to the ground) between Jews and Christians respecting the Bible? (The question is not so much how to spare Jewish sensibilities–minorities have rights, but so do majorities; the question is how to tell the truth.) What kind of parents leave their children’s Bible education to the public schools, anyway? How do we go beyond public schools in attacking a nationwide problem of Bible illiteracy?

Tricky questions.

Gelernter makes note of the decades of ridicule of the Puritans:

AMERICAN HISTORY STARTS with the emergence of Puritanism in 16th-century Britain. The Bible was central to the founding and development of Puritanism. It was central to the emergence of modern Britain in the 16th and 17th centuries–and modern Britain was important in turn to America and to the whole world.

“Puritan” has been an insult for hundreds of years. (Where are the revisionists when you need one?) It suggests rigid, austere, censorious–exactly the kind of religion that secularists love to hate. The Puritans were rigid and censorious to a point; most caricatures are partly true. But mainly they were Christians who hoped to worship God with their whole lives, body and soul; with a dazzling fervor that still lights up their journals, letters, and poetry 300 years later. In the early 18th century the young Jonathan Edwards (eventually one of America’s greatest theologians) writes of being “wrapped and swallowed up in God.” “The Puritans wanted that fullness of life that made David dance before the ark” (thus J.D. Dow in 1897). America was born in a passionate spiritual explosion. The explosion was created and fueled by the Bible.

Gelernter details the rich history and influence of the Bible in the history of Western Civilization and concludes that to even understand the writings of many historic figures in American history one must understand the Bible.

MEANWHILE, ANGLICAN SETTLERS founded Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607; Pilgrims arriving on the Mayflower founded Plymouth in 1620. Boston and Salem, 1630. The goal of the early Puritan settlers, writes the historian Sidney Ahlstrom, was “a Holy Commonwealth standing in a national covenant with its Lord.” Ahlstrom mentions also that “an ‘Anglicanism’ deeply colored by Puritan convictions would shape the early religious life of Virginia”; so it seems fair to describe the first stages of the invention of America as a basically Puritan affair. The early settlers founded a series of colleges to provide them with pastors and theologians, starting with Harvard in 1636. By 1700, a quarter of a million ex-Europeans and their descendants lived in the future United States.

America’s earliest settlers came in search of religious freedom, to escape religious persecution–vitally important facts that Americans tend increasingly to forget. A new arrival who joined the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1623 “blessed God for the opportunity of freedom and liberty to enjoy the ordinances of God in purity among His people.” America was a haven for devoutly religious dissidents. It is a perfect reflection of the nation’s origins that the very first freedom in the Bill of Rights–Article one, part one–should be religious freedom. “Separation of church and state” was a means to an end, not an end in itself. The idea that the Bill of Rights would one day be traduced into a broom to sweep religion out of the public square like so much dried mud off the boots of careless children would have left the Founders of this nation (my guess is) trembling in rage. We owe it to them in simple gratitude to see that the Bill of Rights is not–is never–used as a weapon against religion.

You cannot understand the literature and experience of 17th-century American Puritans unless you know the Bible. The Pilgrim father William Bradford reports in his famous journal, for example, that his people had no choice but to camp near their landing-place on the Massachusetts mainland. There was no reason to think they could do better elsewhere; after all they could not, “as it were, go up to the top of Pisgah to view from this wilderness a more goodly country.”
Bradford saw no need to explain that he was referring to Moses gazing at the Promised Land from atop Mount Pisgah before his death (Deuteronomy 34:1). To 17th-century readers, the reference would have been obvious–and so too the implied message: These Pilgrims are like biblical Israelites. They are a chosen people who made a dangerous crossing from the house of (British) bondage to a Promised Land of freedom. Other Puritan settlers expressed themselves in similar terms. There is a fascinating resemblance between these Puritan writings and the Hebrew literary form called “melitzah,” in which the author makes his point by stringing together Biblical and rabbinic passages. The Puritans’ world, like traditional Jewish society, was permeated and obsessed with the Bible.

Bradford’s comparison between Puritans and ancient Israel is central to the American revolution and the emergence of the new nation. Americans saw themselves as Israelites throwing off a tyrant’s yoke. Most historians look to the British and Continental philosophers of the Enlightenment, Locke especially, as the major intellectual influence on America’s Founding Fathers and revolutionary generation. To rely on Locke is to rely (indirectly) on the Bible. Yet the Bible itself, straight up, was the most important revolutionary text of all. Consider the seal of the United States designed by a committee of the Continental Congress consisting of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. (They don’t make congressional committees like they used to!) Their proposed seal shows Israel crossing the Red Sea, with the motto “Rebellion to kings is obedience to God.” The pastor Abiel Abbot proclaimed in 1799, “It has been often remarked that the people of the United States come nearer to a parallel with Ancient Israel, than any other nation upon the globe. Hence Our American Israel is a term frequently used; and our common consent allows it apt and proper.”

That Britain and America should both have been inclined to see themselves as chosen peoples made a subterranean connection between them that has sometimes–one suspects–been plainer to their enemies than their friends. Down to the war in Iraq, enemies of America and Britain have suspected an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy to rule the world. In part this is paranoia; but it might also have something to do with Britain’s and America’s Bible-centered cultural histories. The two nations speak of a “special relationship” with each other–besides which, each has a history of believing in its own “special relationship” with the Lord Himself.

THE BIBLE CONTINUED TO SHAPE AMERICAN HISTORY. Some Americans saw the great push westward as fulfilling the Lord’s plan for the United States, modeled on Israel’s settlement of the holy land. Meanwhile, many have noticed that the history of modern Israel resembles earlier American experience. Harassed Europeans arrive in a sparsely settled land in search of freedom. They build the place up and make it bloom. They struggle with the indigenous inhabitants, some of whom are friendly and some not. At first they collaborate with the British colonial authorities; each group winds up in a push for independence and a deadly fight with Britain.

But long before Israel resembled America, America resembled Israel. It’s true that Manifest Destiny–the idea that America was predestined to push westwards towards the Pacific–was less a Bible-based than a “natural rights” approach to America’s place in God’s plans. You didn’t have to consult the Bible to learn about America’s Manifest Destiny; it was just obvious. But America was called back to her biblical faith by no less a man than Abraham Lincoln himself.

As the Civil War approached, both North and South saw their positions in biblical terms. Southern preachers sometimes accused abolitionists of being atheists in disguise. Lincoln rose above this kind of dispute. “In the present civil war it is quite possible,” he wrote in 1862, “that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party.”

Lincoln was America’s most “biblical” president–”no president has ever had the detailed knowledge of the Bible that Lincoln had,” writes the historian William Wolf. Lincoln turned to the Bible more and more frequently and fervently as the war progressed. His heterodox but profound Christianity showed him how to understand the war as a fight to redeem America’s promise to mankind. Lincoln never joined a church, but said often that he would join one if “the Saviour’s summary of the Gospel” were its only creed. He meant the passage in Mark and Luke where Jesus restates God’s requirements in terms of two edicts from the Hebrew Bible: to love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Lincoln’s religion was deeply biblical–and characteristically American.
In modern times the Bible was no less important as a shaper and molder of American destiny.

Woodrow Wilson, another intensely biblical president, spoke in biblical terms when he took America into the First World War–on behalf of freedom and democracy for all mankind. Harry Truman’s Bible-centered Christianity was important to his decisions to lead America into the Cold War, and make America the first nation to recognize the newborn state of Israel–to the vast disgust of the perpetually benighted State Department. Reagan’s presidency revolved around Winthrop’s Gospel-inspired image of the sacred city on a hill. George W. Bush’s worldwide war on tyranny is the quintessence of a biblical project–one that sees America as an almost chosen people, with the heavy responsibilities that go with the job.

There is no agreement whether God created the world, but the Bible’s awe-striking creative powers are undeniable. There is no agreement whether God “is not a man that He should lie” (Numbers 23:19), but the Hebrew Bible’s uncanny honesty respecting Israel and its many sins is plain. The faithful ask, in the words of the 139th psalm, “Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?” And answer, “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” Secularists don’t see it that way; but the Bible’s penetration into the farthest corners of the known world is simple fact. Most contemporary philosophers and culture critics are barely aware of these things, don’t see the pattern behind them, can’t tell us what the pattern means, and (for the most part) don’t care.

There is so much more in this richly researched work. I have noticed in my study of family history that even documents such as wills and deeds mention God or verses from the Bible. My own Puritan ancestors named their children biblical names such as Mehitable, Hannah, Ebenezer, Ezra, Onesephorus, John (also called Increase) etc. I have several ancient family Bibles in my possession which have been well read and are full of old family history and names as well as favorite verses.

The study of family history has been rewarding for me not only to learn about my ancestors but also to learn what mattered to them. God mattered to them.


19 May 2005 07:00 pm

Out of curiosity I did a Google search on The Wide Awake Cafe and found this site. What in the world is this?

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