Friday, August 8, 2008

Washington's Prayer Journal, A Fraud

Sorry, I have to put it so bluntly. No serious historian could accept the validity of George Washington's "The Daily Sacrifice" Prayer Journal. Handwriting experts have proven that the journal was not written in his own hand. And even pietists Peters Lillback and Marshall refuse to endorse it.

Brad Hart pointed to a very valuable source that irrefutably proves the journal a fraud. From that source, Frank E. Grizzard's assessment in an email he sent to Ed Brayton:

"The so-called prayer journal is not in GW's writing, although I'm not sure it's actually a forgery. The manuscript dealer (Burk I think) who first sold it when it came to light in the 19th century printed a facsimile edition in which he admits that the Smithsonian rejected it as a non-GW document, but it did have Washington family provenance, so he said. Thus it apparently was a descendant's. Johnson's version is taken from Burk. The prayers are based on the English prayer book."

-- Frank Grizzard (senior associate editor of the George Washington Papers collection at University of Virginia) [in an email he sent] to Ed Brayton (2004).

30 comments:

Dan Atkinson said...

Handwriting analysis is inconclusive in this matter because Washington's handwriting changed over the course of his life. Also, we are analyzing 18th century writing that has deteriorated over a very long period of time. It would be foolish for us to base everything on this singular issue.

As for other "historians" refuting the journal I am not all that surprised. Historians also used to refute the existance of King Authur in the historical record. Now we know that he was a real figure. History should not be seen as a certainty.

Af for your claim that, "No serious historian could accept the validity of George Washington's Prayer Journal" I can only rebut by saying, "what serious historian would be foolish enough to simply discard a document based on questionable handwriting analysis? Sounds like this person needs to understand the importance of primary source documents.

Oh, and your source is just another biased secular viewpoint. I've read Brayton's stuff and I am not impressed. What evidence does he offer??

Jonathan Rowe said...

It's not Ed Brayton, it's FRANK E. GRIZZARD, senior associate editor of the George Washington Papers collection at University of Virginia, whose words that were key. Most of those footnotes in Lillback's book of GW's official words have to go thru Grizzard. I've correspondence with Grizzard before (and he subscribes to Positive Liberty's feed). If you want me to get him to officially verify that he said what I quoted him as saying, I can.

Dan Atkinson said...

By the way, why did you have to create a new post? This could have been a comment. Is my post that threatening?

Dan Atkinson said...

Again, it is irrelevant who said it. Handwriting analysis in this matter is less than certain. I don't understand why everyone seems to base EVERYTHING on this one issue when it comes to the Washington Prayer Journal.

Jonathan Rowe said...

1. I actually created this new post to alert readers to the hyperlink that Brad noted: It's a good source.

2. I agree "everything" shouldn't come down to this prayer journal; however, there is nothing in the primary sources from GW's own words (search the John Fitzpatrick records) that evince explicit orthodox Christian terminology. This is the closest to it. And it turned out to be a fraud.

Dan Atkinson said...

But you have not proven that the journal is a fraud, Jon. The best that skeptics are able to do is bring up the same old "expert handwriting" garbage that does not prove anything.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well you haven't authenticated the prayer journal and the burden is on you to do so. I stand by Frank Grizzard's assessment.

Dan Atkinson said...

Jon,

I invite you (and anyone else) to visit my blog (http://godfounding.blogspot.com/) where I have posted an article on the "science" behind "expert" handwriting analysis. Being that this blog is dedicated to a specific topic, I felt that it would be inappropriate to post it here. Please check it out. It answers all the questions behind "expert" handwriting analysis.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Why don't you post it here?

Brad Hart said...

Ok, let's explore Atkinson's theory in greater detail.

Only one of two possibilities exist:

First, that George Washington wrote a secret prayer journal, which was COMPLETELY different in grammar, content, wording, etc. from all of his other diaries and known writings. This prayer journal then mysteriously disappears but resurfaces almost 100 years after Washington's death. The prayer journal then reveals to the world an unknown religious truth about our brave Commander-in-Chief, that is, that Washington was a passionate Christian, even though he never revealed such in any of his other writings, speeches, actions, etc. Maybe he was just shy. Oh, and by the way, EXPERT handwriting analysis from MODERN DAY forensic specialists all UNANIMOUSLY declare that the handwriting of the journal is not that of our first president.

Or...

The prayer journal is a fraud.

Your thoughts everyone. Am I WAY out in left field on this one???

bpabbott said...

Dan: "Handwriting analysis is inconclusive in this matter because Washington's handwriting changed over the course of his life. [...] As for your claim that, "No serious historian could accept the validity of George Washington's Prayer Journal" I can only rebut by saying, "what serious historian would be foolish enough to simply discard a document based on questionable handwriting analysis? Sounds like this person needs to understand the importance of primary source documents."

hmmm ... if not by handwriting, how might primary source documents be determined?

Specifically, how might we determine that the document in question was written by GW's hand?

Regarding your claim that GW's handwriting changed over the course of his life, where is the evidence for this claim, during what period was this journal written, and does the writing of the journal match GW's during that period of his life?

Please do not refer me to questionable sources. I'm happy to accept secular sources and would be pleased to see you post on this topic here where I'm confident it is open to peer-review.

bpabbott said...

Dan: "Again, it is irrelevant who said it [Ed Brayton of Frank Grizzard]."

It is not irrelevant. It is relevant because it is evidence that you are sloppy when making claims :-(

Dan: "Handwriting analysis in this matter is less than certain."

Agreed ... if the handwriting appeared to be that of GW, it is possible it was forged. If not in his hand, but written by him what would his motive be for such camouflage?

Dan: "I don't understand why everyone seems to base EVERYTHING on this one issue when it comes to the Washington Prayer Journal."

What is this "EVERYTHING" you mention?

Dan: "But you have not proven that the journal is a fraud"

As Jon pointed out, the evidence for the claim that it is in GW's hand is the burden of the claimant. Do you make such a claim? ... If so, where is the evidence.

We all have a vested interest in the truth. Personally, I ask that your enlighten us with any evidence you are aware of.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I would say that if the prayerbook were consistent with the rest of Washington's recorded life, it would be just another piece of evidence.

But since there is so little corroborating evidence of such religiosity in Washington's other writings and public statements, and this extremely devout prayerbook is presented as the decisive "smoking gun," I'm extremely skeptical even leaving out the handwriting analysis.

And I must also say, Jon and Brad, that even if every word therein is true, I find the slapdash appearance of the website you link to as alarming as the religious tracts shabbily-dressed men with dirty beards hand me on streetcorners. At best, it's a shoddy third-hand compendium of second-hand sources. For example, "Professor Paul" Henriques is actually Peter R. Henriques, and neither are scholars' opinions necessarily definitive, as they disagree all the time.

Surely we can do better.

There. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall hiss everyone off.

jimmiraybob said...

I posted this comment in the preceding post but all the action seems to be here now. And I think it has some bearing on one of the questions asked above. If I'm breaching etiquette please let me know.

Dan,

I don’t know what kind of rigor they may expect in the ASU Department of Religious Studies but your labeling of the images that you use are either intentionally mislabeled in an attempt to fudge evidence not supportive of your position or your scholarship is sloppy. It would greatly help if you would provide links (or citations if links aren't available) to your sources so that the evidence you present can be independently examined.

These are the captions – respectively – at this site for the images that you present:

1) GW's 1745 copy book: (your caption: Sample from 1735:[sic])

2) GW's 1752 diary: (your caption: Sample from 1752:)

3) Daily Sacrifice (Prayer Journal) handwriting (allegedly 1752): (your caption: Sample from 1792:[sic])

Since GW was not a youth in 1792 and your third sample appears to be from the prayer journal that you acknowledge is from his youth then something doesn't add up. Is your source wrong or is the one that I cited wrong?

If mine is right, then notice that the second and third of the examples that you present are each apparently from 1752. This does not bode well for your assertion that handwriting changes over time (and your secondary speculation that the war may have changed GWs writing). There is another example from GW's journal dated 1760 available at the site.

Dan - "...an alleged expert in handwriting..."

Do you have evidence to the contrary?

Dan - "I think it is a sign of secular arrogance for Brad and Jon to consider Lahaye's work to be nothing more than 'fiction.'"

Hmm, more ad hominem. No, it's a matter of scholarship.

-----end repost

And, from Dan's comment above: "Oh, and your source is just another biased secular viewpoint."

Again? Really? How does this contribute to a discussion or advance your argument?

jimmiraybob said...

Dan - " Again, it is irrelevant who said it. Handwriting analysis in this matter is less than certain. I don't understand why everyone seems to base EVERYTHING on this one issue when it comes to the Washington Prayer Journal."

Duh. You brought it up. So did this guy:

"That President George Washington was a devout believer in Jesus Christ and had accepted Him as His Lord and Savior is easily demonstrated by a reading of his personal prayer book (written in his own handwriting), which was discovered in 1891 among a collection of his papers. To date no historian has questioned its authenticity... An objective reading of these beautiful prayers verifies that were George Washington living today, he would freely identify with the Bible-believing branch of evangelical Christianity that is having such a positive influence on our nation." --Rev. Tim LaHaye in Faith of our Founding Fathers

As has been said, you entered the evidence.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "[...] Jon and Brad [...] I find the slapdash appearance of the website you link to as alarming as the religious tracts shabbily-dressed men with dirty beards hand me on streetcorners."

Tom, apparently the link is on another post/blog. Can your post a link to either Jon's post, Brad's post, or directly to the website in question?

Taking a wild guess, are your referring to the Separation of Church and State home page?

Tom Van Dyke said...

http://deb8n1.com/religion/George_Washington/index.html

Did I misclick?

bpabbott said...

Tom, thanks for that link.

Next question: Why do you find that site "as alarming as the religious tracts shabbily-dressed men with dirty beards hand me on street corners"?

The link in question includes photocopied evidence which is generally beyond the what is handed to *me* by shabbily-dressed men with dirty beards [...] on street corners".

What am I missing?

Are our suggesting that poorly formated evidence is evidence that of poor evidence? ... or just that such evidence should might be found on more presentable web site?

(its the latter, I'm sure ... but thought I'd ask for the clarification)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, Pinky. It looks amateurish. It is amateurish. I also don't know the provenance of the website. Who wrote it?

Third, I pointed out a sloppy and unforgivable error on Dr. Henriques, making the whole deal doubly suspect. Fourth, Henriques' opinion [although I agree with it] does not equal truth. It's opinion.

Now we can throw conflicting scholarly opinions at each other all day, but this blog [and Jonathan Rowe's scholarship in particular] have always emphasized primary sources, which enable the reader to judge for his or herself.

Scholars themselves are not above paraphrasing, quoting selectively, and themselves using secondary sources.

You know, the sort of people who got David Barton in trouble in the first place. He believed them as factual and authoritative, silly boy. Without an emphasis on primary sources, this blog will become a waste of everyone's time, just like the other 99.9% of the internet.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

Well, I have to confess. The main reason why I pointed to that source was that it contained Frank E. Grizzard's summary of the prayer book. I have corresponded with Grizzard and was a reader of Ed Brayton's blog when he sent that email, so I know it to be legit. The problem is Brayton is now on Scienceblogs and I don't believe that the original post with Grizzard's email is accessible. I know "appeal to authority" is one of Aristotle's logical fallacies. But, as an authority, given that Grizzard was, until recently, in charge of the archives of the Washington Papers (the newest ed is still in his name; that is just about everyone who wants to quote Washington's official words has to go thru Grizzard in their footnotes) he is as "authoritative" as it gets.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I understand, Jon. But had Mr. Atkinson trotted out such a shabby-looking website as "proof" of his contentions, he would not have been treated kindly, and rightfully so. And so, out of fairness (even though I saw nothing on the website that conflicted with my other studies), I lowered the boom.

It's your personal testimony that you've seen the email from the notable Washington scholar Frank E. Grizzard. That carries far more weight than a lunatic-looking website [author unknown] quoting some guy named Ed Brayton's---yes, I'm familiar with Ed, but that's not the point here---hearsay testimony on Grizzard.

I'd just like to clean up our epistemology around here, is all. If I were Master Atkinson [M.A., Ph.D. candidate], I would reject your "source" (your word, Jon, not mine) out of hand, and this blog will continue its current spiral down the epistemological toilet bowl. [See: Genesis 11.]

Jonathan Rowe said...

I gotcha Tom. I have to consistently hold myself to the highest standards if I am going to play the "gotcha" game with David Barton et al.

Barrett Walter said...

So, if his secretary wrote down his prayer and it was later decided that it was not his handwriting, then it must be a fraud? There are so many holes in proving this a fraud. It's impossible to say its a fraud simply based on the handwriting. All great men from every sector of the world have those who write letters and take notes for them.

Generic Cialis said...

It is interesting when reading about theories about creation, funny because they are just theories, no one knows the real truth.

bpabbott said...

Re: "It is interesting when reading about theories about creation, funny because they are just theories, no one knows the real truth."

Minor quibble ... As far as I know there are no scientific theories regarding creation.

Also, in science there is no "just a theory". Theories are the ultimate targets of a scientist. They represent man's pre-eminent understanding for observable phenomena.

In any event, I understand your point. Theories (scientific or otherwise) are no more than approximations of the truth.

Signature forgery said...

I can't find the words to express how I feel about handwriting. But your little paragraph really said what I can't. I am a HUGE fanatic of Handwriting expert , preferably from ancestors and it's always a treat when one is found that is handwritten. Those I cherish the most. They are priceless.

Anonymous said...

Tom Van Dyke said, "I would say that if the prayerbook were consistent with the rest of Washington's recorded life, it would be just another piece of evidence.

But since there is so little corroborating evidence of such religiosity in Washington's other writings and public statements, and this extremely devout prayerbook is presented as the decisive "smoking gun," I'm extremely skeptical even leaving out the handwriting analysis."

-----------------------

Regardless of whether this Prayer Journal are Washington's words or belongs to someone else, I find it strange to say that there is "so little corroborating evidence of such religiosity."

One could say the same of most documents we write that focus on subject matter beyond that of a religious or spiritual nature. If Washington flavored documents related to warfare, politics, etc. with religious terminology, it would appear to be a bit strange and excessive.

Anonymous said...

Washington expresses similar sentiments regarding spiritual humility and dependence on God in his First Inaugural Address.

Paragraph 2 "it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes."

Paragraph 3
"since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained;"

Paragraph 6
"I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquillity, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend."

Of course, given the personal nature of a Prayer Journal from that of a public speech may use different language, etc.

Also, regardless of whether one embraces the imagery of Washington's Prayer at Valley Forge, there appears to be evidence that it took place.

Anonymous said...

See Snowden's Diary account below.

"The nearest to an authentication of the Isaac 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.

Anonymous said...

'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.'"

http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/washington/prayer.html

The point being, regardless of whether public documents relating to non-religious documents use religious terminology or not, that ought not be deemed a standard for the man's faith.