“The calamities of a bloody war seem every year more nearly to approach us and there is just reason to fear that unless we humble ourselves before the Lord and amend our ways, we may be chastised with yet heavier judgments. We have thought fit to appoint a Day of Fasting & Prayer, exhorting all, both Ministers & People to join with one accord in the most humble & fervent supplications that Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the rage of war among the nations & put a stop to the effusion of Christian blood.”
When the British announced that they would blockade Boston Harbor on June 1, 1774, Thomas Jefferson drafted a “Day of Fasting,” which was introduced into the Virginia House of Burgesses by Robert Carter Nicholas with the support of Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee and George Mason, and passed unanimously:
“This House, being deeply impressed with apprehension of the great dangers, to be derived to British America, from the hostile invasion of the City of Boston, in our sister Colony of Massachusetts deem it highly necessary that the said first day of June be set apart, by the members of this House as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, devoutly to implore the Divine interposition, for averting the heavy calamity which threatens destruction to our civil rights Ordered, therefore that the Members of this House do attend with the Speaker, and the mace, to the Church in this City, for the purposes aforesaid; and that the Reverend Mr. Price be appointed to read prayers, and the Reverend Mr. Gwatkin, to preach a sermon.”
George Washington wrote in his diary on June 1, 1774: “Went to church, fasted all day.”
On April 15, 1775, four days before the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, led by John Hancock, proclaimed:
“In circumstances dark as these, it becomes us, as men and Christians, to reflect that, whilst every prudent measure should be taken to ward off the impending judgments the 11th of May next be set apart as a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer to confess their sins to implore the Forgiveness of all our Transgression.”
After the Continental Congress passing a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, on July 12, 1775:
“We have appointed a Continental fast. Millions will be upon their knees at once before their great Creator, imploring His forgiveness and blessing; His smiles on American Council and arms.”
Col. Knox’s cannons from Fort Ticonderoga were placed on Dorchester Heights overlooking the docked British ships. Gen. Washington then ordered, on March 6, 1776:
“Thursday, the 7th being set apart by this Province as a Day of Fasting, Prayer and Humiliation, ‘to implore the Lord and Giver of all victory to pardon our manifold sins and wickedness, and that it would please Him to bless the Continental army with His divine favor and protection,’ all officers and soldiers are strictly enjoined to pay all due reverence and attention on that day to the sacred duties due to the Lord of hosts for His mercies already received, and for those blessings which our holiness and uprightness of life can alone encourage us to hope through His mercy to obtain.”
The next day, a storm forced British Gen. Howe to abandon his plans of attacking the cannons on Dorchester Heights, and he soon evacuated Boston.
Facing 10,000 British troops aboard 400 British ships in the New York harbor, Gen. Washington ordered, on May 15, 1776:
“The Continental Congress having ordered Friday the 17th instant to be observed as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God, that it would please Him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the arms of the United Colonies, and finally establish the peace and freedom of America upon a solid and lasting foundation; The General commands all officers and soldiers to pay strict obedience to the orders of the Continental Congress; that, by their unfeigned and pious observance of their religious duties, they may incline the Lord and Giver of victory to prosper our arms.”
The British attacked Washington’s position, August 27, 1776, in the Battle of Brooklyn Heights. Despite the British advantage of a surprise attack from behind, Washington’s troops were able to be evacuated under cover of a providential fog.
After the surrender of 6,000 British troops at the Battle of Saratoga, the Continental Congress proclaimed the first National Day of Thanksgiving, Nov. 1, 1777:
“That with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feeling of their hearts join the penitent confession of their manifold sins that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance and under the providence of Almighty God secure for these United States the greatest of all human blessings, independence and peace.”
Benedict Arnold plotted to betray West Point. After his plans were thwarted, the Continental Congress issued a Day of Thanksgiving on Oct. 18, 1780:
“In the late remarkable interposition of His watchful providence, in the rescuing the person of our Commander-in-Chief and the army from imminent dangers, at the moment when treason was ripened for execution it is therefore recommended a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer to confess our unworthiness and to offer fervent supplications to the God of all grace to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth.”
British Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown on Oct. 19, 1781, and the Treaty of Paris in 1783 officially ended the Revolution.
Ronald Reagan stated Jan. 27, 1983, “In 1775, the Continental Congress proclaimed the first National Day of Prayer. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the long, weary Revolutionary War during which a National Day of Prayer had been proclaimed every spring for eight years.”
• William J. Federer is an American writer of over 20 books. “America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations” has sold more than a half-million copies. He hosts two daily syndicated radio programs: “Faith in History” and “The American Minute,” which summarizes what happened on a certain day in history.