The original author and publisher are unknown.
Taken from the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.,
by Guy W. Ballard in the early 1930’s.
Near Philadelphia, on the banks of the lovely Wissahikon River, there was once a Protestant monastery where lived a brotherhood of noble men who had left Europe and sought a home in the wilderness where they might worship God in their own way, far from the courts of kings. They were known as Fanatics.
About one mile from the old monastery, there lived a man who was of the brotherhood in belief, but not with them because he had brought with him to the new world his young son and baby daughter. He was a nobleman of wealth and position, whose religious beliefs were tolerated neither by Protestants nor Catholics. He had lived patiently and quietly in the Old World doing his best and faithfully serving his king, until his beloved wife died. Then he had given up his castle, his lands, his title and most of his great possessions, and fled across the sea with his young son and baby daughter, to make a home in an old time blockhouse of the Wissahikon wilderness. There he lived and studied the book of Revelations for seventeen years. Meantime his little son became a noble youth who shared in his father’s every hope and conviction; his baby daughter became a fair maiden, lovely beyond words; with gold hair which fell not in ringlets nor curls, but in soft, wavy profusion to her shoulders.
We are told that when the shadows were beginning to lengthen on the last day of 1773, the little family might have been seen walking arm in arm along the banks of the Wissahikon, beneath trees bending under their weight of snow. The father, who was then known and loved far and near as the Priest of the Wissahikon, wore a velvet cloak with a silver cross suspended by a cord around his neck. The girl, with a look of adoration upon her face, listened without questioning to the conversation between father and brother in whose eyes shone the light of immortality. For seventeen years the old man had studied Revelations and again he repeated what he had affirmed so many times before, as the result of these years of study.
“The Old World,” said he, “is sunk in all manner of crime, as was the Antediluvian World; the New World is given to man as a refuge, even as the ark was given to Noah and his children.
“The New World is the last altar of human freedom left on the surface of the globe. Never shall the footsteps of Kings pollute its soil. It is the last hope of man. God has spoken and it is so. Amen.”
It was the girl who urged a return to the house, and it was she who sought its warmth and shelter for the sake of her loved ones, and drew the curtains at the windows of the living room to shut out the gloomy forest and coming night. It was the girl who tried to bring cleer to the little group and to lighten the sadness of her father and brother; to distract them from their somber thought and study. That night she tried in vain; she knew that passing hunters again would hear the voice of prayer late into the night, and see the chapel lights streaming across the snow until the dawn.
The hour of separation came when father and son bade the maiden good night and together sought the chapel where two tall candles were already burning on the white altar. It was a circular chamber with oak panels. Between the candles on the altar was a slender silver flagon, a wreath of laurel, freshly gathered from the Wissahikon hills, and a velvet bound Bible with clasps of gold. Behind the altar was an iron cross. The Priest of the Wissahikon was the first to break the silence.
Said he: “At the third hour after midnight, the Deliverer will come!”
Then as the young man stood pondering, the father responded, “Tonight he will come. At the third hour after midnight he will come through yonder door and take upon himself his great mission to free the New World from the yoke of the Tyrants. All is ready for his coming. Behold the crown, the flagon of anointing oil, the Bible and the Cross!”
Hours passed. The lad knelt in prayer; but the father paced up and down the chapel waiting until the clock of the great hall struck twelve and the New Year dawned. Then the lad arose and gently tried to prepare his father for disappointment. Perhaps they were mistaken; perhaps they were not right in believing that the time for the deliverer was at hand.
“At the third hour after midnight the Deliverer will cone!” was the father’s answer.
The lad returned to his prayers and the Priest of the Wissahikon continued his lonely watch while the clock struck one, two, three. Then there came footsteps in the hall, and a tall stranger of commanding presence entered the door of the chapel and spoke these words:
“Friends, I have lost my way in the forest. Can you direct me to the right Way?”
Answered the Priest of the Wissahikon, “Thou hast found the way to usefulness and immortal renown!”
Wondering, the stranger came a step nearer to see if he were being mocked; but the Priest of the Wissahikon rapidly questioned him. Did he come from the city? Yes. What was the burden upon his heart; was it not his country’s welfare? Yes. Was he not troubled about the right of a subject to raise his hand against his King? Yes! Then said the Priest of the Wissahikon to the amazed stranger:
“Thou art called to a great work Kneel before this altar and here, in the silence of the night, amid the depths of these wild woods, will I anoint Thee, Deliverer of this great land!”
Immediately this peerless stranger before whom ten thousand might bow their heads, knelt before the white altar in the old blockhouse and placed his hands on the Bible.
Then, says the legend, these words fell from the lips of the Priest of the Wissahikon:
“Then art called to the great work of a Champion and Deliverer! Soon thou wilt ride to the battle at the head of legions – soon thou wilt lead a people on to Freedom – soon thy sword will glean like a meteor over the ranks of war!”
The candle light cast weird shadows on the wall, the silver cross of the Priest shone, the white altar cloth waved in the wind from the open outer door, the trees moaned outside, while the Priest, so the story goes, continued thus:
“Dost thou promise that when the appointed time arrives, thou wilt be found ready, sword in hand, to fight for thy Country and thy God?”
Solemnly came the answer, “I do!”
“Dost thou promise in the hour of thy glory, when a nation shall bow before thee, as in the fierce moment when thou shalt behold thy soldiers starving for want of bread, to remember the great truth written in these Words, ‘I am but the minister of God in this great work of a Nation’s freedom’?”
Clearly, firmly, came the answer, “I do promise!”
“Then in His name who gave the New World to millions of the human race, as the last altar of their rights, I do consecrate thee its Deliverer!”
The Priest of the Wissahikon dipped his fingers in the anointing oil and described the outlines of a cross upon the stranger’s forehead and was about to place the laurel wreath upon his head after saying: “When the time comes, go forth to victory. On thy brow no conqueror’s blood-red wreath, but this crown of fadeless laurel,” when the girl appeared, took the wreath and crowned the stranger.
Unable to sleep, she had hastily donned a white robe, and putting a dark cloak around her, had gone down to the chapel and had witnessed the scene unnoticed until she had seized the laurel crown from her father’s hands. Fearing she had been presumptuous, the girl bowed her head; but the father smiled.
“It is well,” said he, “from whom should the Deliverer of a Nation receive his crown of laurel, but from the hands of a stainless woman.”
Then spoke the lad: “Rise, the Champion Leader of a People. Rise, sir, and take this hand which never yet was given to man. I know not thy name, yet on this Book I swear to be faithful to thee even to the death.” Then Paul, for that was his name, buckled a sword to the Stranger’s side.
When the ceremony was over, the stranger stood in the chapel in towering strength and majesty and said these final words:
“From you, old man, I take the vow. From you, fair girl, the laurel. From you, brave friend, the sword. On this Book I swear to be faithful unto all!”
A moment later the stranger vanished into the outer wilderness of the Wissahikon and the sound of his retreating footsteps mingled with the moaning of the wind. That was New Year’s Night of the year 1774. In the darkest hour of the American Revolution; the blockhouse was burned; and while smoke still rose from the ruined home, three were sleeping in their graves by the Wissahikon; one was an aged nobleman; one was a fearless lad; and the other, a fair girl with a wealth of golden hair.
Years later, when America was a nation, and George Washington was her President, again came the stranger of noble presence to the banks of the Wissahikon, seeking the blockhouse and the three who sent him on his mission that New Year’s Eve of 1774. He found the ruined blockhouse and the graves. That night, at a party in the bright city of Philadelphia there were many who wondered why, at a time when a nation bowed before him, the Father of our Country was sad and thoughtful, and bowed his head as if in memory of grief when a fair maid, with a wealth of golden hair, sang a song of the Wissahikon.