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Isaac Potts and Valley Fore

Isaac Potts was born on May 20, 1750, into a family of Welsh immigrants that had settled in Pennsylvania. When Isaac was seven years old, his father, John Potts, purchased three plots of land on Mount Joy that came with an iron forge and a grain mill. Although Mount Joy was the legal name of the property, John Potts and the rest of the Potts family began to call the land Valley Forge in reference to the iron forge that they owned and operated. In 1765, John Potts transferred control of the iron forge to his eldest sons, Samuel and John Jr. Three years later, John Jr. sold the land to his brother, Joseph.[1] Physical documentation of the 1768 sale is part of the Mercury Collection of historic artifacts. The centuries-old document is a handwritten indenture that details the sale of Valley Forge to Joseph, and is signed by 18-year-old Isaac Potts, who served as a witness to the agreement. The document has held up so well over the years because it is made from vellum, rather than paper. Vellum, which is simply raw calf hide, was often used for important documents during this time period because of its durability.

Two years after Valley Forge was sold to Joseph, Isaac, aged 20, married Martha Bolton, and the two continued living on the property in a modest home. It was around this time in Isaac’s life that he converted to Christianity and became a Quaker preacher.[2] In the Potts family’s biography, the author, Isabella Potts James, recounts the story of Isaac’s conversion as it was told to her by “an elderly friend” who was “a descendant of the Moores of Moore Hall, near Valley Forge.”[3] According to this friend, one of Isaac’s slaves had died and Isaac decided to join the funeral procession out of respect but intended to turn around and go home once the graveside service began. When the mourners reached the cemetery, Isaac, feeling slightly guilty about his plan, proceeded to the grave with the mourners to watch the service. When they had reached the grave site, “the Spirit moved [Isaac] to speak”[4] and he preached a wonderful sermon – much to the surprise of everyone who witnessed it. From this moment forward, Isaac lived his life as a devout Quaker.[5]

Isaac Potts lived a relatively quiet life, but he earned his spot in the history for his role as an eyewitness to George Washington’s famed prayer at Valley Forge. During the brutal winter of 1777, when Isaac Potts was about 26, Washington and his troops set up camp on the Potts family land. Like most Quakers, Potts was staunchly opposed to violence, and therefore he also opposed the Revolutionary War, which he believed was “wicked and hopeless”.[6] However, all of that changed when Isaac stumbled upon George Washington on his knees praying to God in the woods of Valley Forge. According to one account of this story, written by Potts’ granddaughter, Washington prayed aloud and in his prayer he “utterly disclaimed all ability of his own for this arduous conflict; he wept at the thought of that irretrievable ruin which his mistakes might bring on his country, and with the patriot’s pathos spreading the interests of unborn millions before the eye of Eternal Mercy, he implored the aid of that arm which guides the starry host.”[7] After seeing and hearing this moving prayer, Isaac went home and told his wife what he had just witnessed. Stating, “I have seen this day what I shall never forget. Till now I have thought that a Christian and a soldier were characters incompatible; but if George Washington be not a man of God, I am mistaken, and still more shall I be disappointed if God do not through him perform some great thing for this country.”[8]

Isaac Potts was luckily not mistaken, and God did indeed perform great things for our country through George Washington. This event undoubtedly had a major impact on Isaac Potts, and he remained a loyal supporter of Washington for the remainder of his life. According to a letter from one of his grandsons, Isaac even preached a very moving and impressive sermon about the great George Washington when he heard the news of his death.[9] Following the Revolutionary War, Isaac Potts lived out the remainder of his life in peace until he passed away due to an illness at the age of 52.[10]

Below is a photo of the deed to Valley Forge signed by Isaac Potts.

Deed to Valley Forge

Works Cited:

[1] James, Isabella Potts. Memorial of Thomas Potts, Junior who Settled in Pennsylvania; With an Historic-Genealogical Account of His Descendants to the Eighth Generation. Cambridge. Privately Printed. 1874. p. 216.

[2] James, p. 213-216.

[3] James, p. 214.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] James, p. 222.

[7] James, p. 222-223.

[8] James, p. 223.

[9] Ibid.

[10] James, p. 224.

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