An outspoken Patriot, Michael Widman hated the British with a passion. However, the Revolutionary War era tavern owner would find himself accused of treason against America and be sentenced to death.
One man would step forward to help…but Widman hated him even more than the Redcoats.
Widman’s troubles began soon after the Battle of Brandywine in the fall of 1777. Unbeknownst to Widman, two of General Howe’s British spies were staying overnight at Cocalico, Widman’s inn, on an undercover mission. During the course of the evening, Widman became boisterous and disparaging towards General Howe, which prompted his spies to pull a gun on the tavern owner.
Widman managed to escape the life-threatening situation by breaking through one of his windows and running off into the night. He went into hiding, and for three days he suffered hunger and sleep deprivation. In desperation, he decided to go to the British, apologize for his outburst, and beg for mercy. Bolstering courage, he emerged from hiding and made his way to Philadelphia where the British general was headquartered. Widman had no sooner arrived in the city when he was recognized by the same two spies who immediately seized him, and dragged him before the very general he’d verbally defamed.
Realizing his plan was unraveling before he could even get started, Widman offered up the location of Rebel munitions depots and other sensitive information that could seriously jeopardize the Revolution. However, the British general, thoroughly disgusted by the trembling bar owner, ignored the information and dismissed the “cowardly and contemptible man,” even allowing him to retreat back to Rebel territory.
Aware of Widman’s betrayal, he was promptly arrested by colonial militiamen, brought to trial, and found guilty of treason against the United States. His death sentence was signed by none other than Gen. George Washington, himself.
Hearing of Widman’s fate, Rev. Peter Miller, a pastor with the Seventh Day Baptists, began the long trek to Valley Forge to speak with Gen. Washington on behalf of the condemned man. Rev. Miller hoped Washington would remember the many favors rendered by the pastor and his church. After all, the pastor had often donated food to the starving Continental Army and had even transformed church buildings into hospitals to care for wounded soldiers. Beyond that, Rev. Miller had translated the Declaration of Independence into several foreign languages for distribution and allowed the fledgling nation to freely use their printing press to produce America’s first money.
Arriving at camp, Miller raced to Washington’s tent where the general invited his saintly friend to sit and chat. Respectfully refusing Washington’s offer, the pastor launched into an eloquent and passionate request for Widman’s pardon. The pastor’s oratory was so compelling, according to one historian, that he completely “subdued the military idea of retaliation almost entirely in every breast.” Deeply moved, but aware of his duty, Washington replied, “Friend Miller, there is scarcely anything in this world that I would deny you, but such is the state of public affairs that it would be fatal to our cause not to be stringent, inexorable in such matters, and make examples of renegades to the cause of liberty. Otherwise I should most cheerfully release your friend.”
“Friend?” blurted Rev. Miller! “He is my worst enemy – my incessant reviler.” The impassioned pastor then recounted the persecutions he’d suffered at the hands of the condemned man: scathing words and public slander at every turn, being tripped and punched, as well as being spat upon on a routine basis.
With tears streaming down his face, Washington reached out to the minister and said, “My dear friend, I thank you for this lesson of Christian charity. I cannot resist such a manifestation of our divine religion; the pardon shall be granted on one condition…that you be the bearer of it yourself, and hand it to the commanding officer in Widman’s presence.”
Taking the life-saving document in hand, the aged pastor set off again for the twenty mile journey to Turk’s Head where the condemned man was to die the following day. Arriving at the fort hours later, he found the gallows surrounded by soldiers with Widman standing at the top, a noose around his neck. Using his last words to apologize for his many failures, Widman then spotted the exhausted pastor in the crowd. Turning his attention to the man on whom his undue vengeance had fallen for so many years, he publically repented of his guilty deeds directed towards the pastor.
By that time, the officer had finished reading Washington’s pardon that Rev. Miller had put in his hand. Pointing to Miller, the soldier said to Widman, “Here is your deliverer.”
Forgiveness changes lives. Our lives were changed by Jesus’ willingness to forgive. Who will you forgive?
Click here for the online report.
Topics Illustrated Include:
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)