|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
6th Sunday after Pentecost
July 8, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
I’m going to skip the original introduction to this sermon that I had prepared – explaining what, exactly, gave
rise to it. Let it suffice to say it comes out of the very historically oriented experience Mary and I had at our
NNECA conference two weeks ago at Williamsburg, Virginia, in this 400th year since the founding of the
Jamestown colony, and the fact that this is the weekend Aston Township has chosen for its celebration of
the 4th of July – so it’s still timely!
The sermon arises, specifically, from a conversation I had at the conference that has repeatedly come back
to me during this July 4th week. It was with one of our NNECA members, Tony Clavier, who recently wrote an
article in preparation for a special celebration coming up next year at the other end of this state: the
celebration of the establishment of a little military installation that was named for one of the great English
249 years ago, this week (1758, making next year the 250th anniversary of the event), English General John
Forbes established a Fort on a point of land between two rivers that had been contended and fought over
for five years by the British and the French, since a young Major in the King’s colonial army had recognized
its future strategic importance and recommended building a fort on it. The area where the Fort was built was
named by General Forbes for Prime Minister William Pitt – Pittsbourg – and the young major who had first
recommended it in 1753 was George Washington.
Between 1753, though, and 1758, another event had occurred that involved that same young major – an
event not often remarked, but that ought to be well known to all Americans, and should be taught in our
schools, because it provides a perspective that’s missing in most of our understandings.
The story, briefly, goes like this: Washington made his recommendation to the Governor of Virginia in 1853,
who, the next year, sent a small force to begin building the fort at the site that would become Pittsburgh. The
French, meanwhile, had noted the English interest in the confluence of the two rivers, and, with a much
larger force, marched in and took the half-built fort, without a single shot being fired. They finished building
the fort and named it Fort Duquesne!
That little semi-skirmish was just one more incident in the already long story of run-ins between the French –
who controlled what is now Canada – and the British, who with their colonials controlled the east coast of
what is now the United States. The two European countries had long jockeyed for position in the struggle to
control the great western lands all the way to the Pacific, and down to the Gulf. But things would heat up,
and they began to when George – now a Lt Colonel – was sent back just a year later to build a road that the
British/colonial troops could use to move back into the area. After a brief skirmish with a small contingent of
French, Washington built a small fort near what is now Farmington, PA, to defend against the French attack
he knew would come.
That attack came at the beginning of July, in what has been called, variously, the Battle of the Great
Meadows or the Battle of Fort Necessity!
Every year this country celebrates, with great fanfare, partying and fireworks, the events of the 4th day of
July in 1776, but the man whom we call the Father of our Country, didn’t seem, at the time, to hold that date
or its events in all that much esteem. In fact, in a letter that (now General) George Washington wrote on July
20, 1776, as he awaited the British invasion of New York, he didn’t even mention the independence
proclaimed just sixteen days earlier, but noted only his "grateful remembrance" of "escape" at the battle of
Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754 – a date still on his mind after 22 years. It was that important!
During that War, France and Britain and their allies fought not only in North America – the only part that’s
taught about (if at all) in our schools – but in the West Indies, Europe, Africa, India and the Philippines –
which actually leads some historians to call it the real first world war – the first war global in scope! Today
Americans barely remember it, and only as “the French and Indian War,” and we don’t think twice about it.
And by it’s proper name – the name it’s known by in the rest of the world – the Seven Year War, it’s not
known at all.
In fact this great war, fought world-wide, was also a watershed in North American history – perhaps the great
watershed! Washington, acting in the name of King George II, tried to exert military control over the
confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers to form the great Ohio River where Pittsburgh now
stands because that river represented the main avenue to the heart of the continent, and both sides knew
the empire that controlled that site would in all likelihood determine North America's future.
Over the next three years, the French and their Indian allies continued to advance. They made big gains
along the Anglo-American frontiers — from Maine all the way to the Carolinas— driving settlers back to
within 100 miles of the Atlantic.
In 1758, the tide finally began to turn in Britain's favor – but only after a great mobilization of colonial
populations, and with huge commitments of British military resources, phenomenal amounts of British money
spent to subsidize the colonies, and determined diplomatic efforts to woo the Indians away from their
But the efforts did pay off: Quebec fell in 1759, and the following year, Montreal – France's last bastion in
North America – surrendered. Fighting continued for two more years, though, around the world, from the
Caribbean to the Philippines, with further victories for England – but at great expense. The Treaty of Paris
ended France's empire in North America in early 1763, and Britain emerged as master of everything from the
Atlantic to the Mississippi, from Hudson’s Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, and the world’s greatest sea power.
Note the date: 1763
The problem was, Britain was also “broke.”
Largely because of that war debt, it took the British only a little more than a decade to squander that victory
by alienating the very colonists who had fought so hard for them to such a degree that thousands of them
took up arms against the king's troops in 1775 – with who else but George Washington – once a loyal soldier
of the Empire – at their head.
The Americans' complaints centered on Parliament's attempts to tax them, as it tried to impose order and
fiscal stability on a vastly extended, and virtually bankrupt empire.
We all know the “taxation without representation” part, but we can’t REALLY grasp the colonists' willingness
to resort to violence in defense of their rights without seeing the Revolution, as they did, in light of the
imperial war just past: the French and Indian War; the great Seven Years’ War!
The French and Indian War had convinced the colonists that they had achieved full partnership in a British
empire that stood for liberty and individual rights under the rule of law. When Parliament tried to impose
order on the colonists between 1763 and 1775, though, it treated them not as partners, but as mere subjects.
The greatest misunderstanding we Americans harbor, today, is the fact that the colonists' sense of betrayal
came not because they understood themselves as AMERICANS at the time – not at all – but because they
saw themselves as BRITISH PATRIOTS who had shed their blood to preserve the rights that Parliament was
now trying to destroy!
The unfortunately all but forgotten memory of the Battle of Fort Necessity should remind us that imperial
victories can endanger the victor as much as the vanquished. Success in the Seven Years' War rightly
convinced Britain's leaders that their nation possessed the world's greatest military power. But from that
perception, they drew the fatal inference that they had nothing to lose by using force against colonists
whose genuine affection for British institutions, rights and liberties had, up until that time, constituted the
empire's strongest bond.
In this light, the Revolution can be seen as a paradox – an unintended consequence of imperial victory: an
empire shattered when leaders, backed by tremendous military might, failed to understand that their only
real basis of control, and ultimately their power to rule, lay not in the force of arms, but in the consent of the
governed, and in their fair, just and equal treatment!
A few minutes ago, we prayed in the Collect for Independence Day,
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us,
and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may
have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace;
And just before that, we had prayed in the Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost,
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor….
These two prayers fit well together, and fit, too, with the little bit of history we’ve just looked at.
And I pray that the people of this country will remember and realize that our Nation is still an experiment in
government, as well as an unfinished product; that our future and the judgment OF the future ON us will
depend in large measure on how well we have learned the lessons our mother country, England, failed to
learn over two centuries ago; and that if we really believe the words of our prayer – that it was in God’s
Name that our liberty was established, and “the torch of freedom (lit) for nations then unborn” – we must
carry that torch with the utmost care, in the knowledge that all humankind are our neighbors, worthy of our
love; and that God’s precious gift of freedom can never be enforced by armed might and iron will, but only
shared amongst brothers and sisters.
In Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen.