Imagine a hot, steamy summer day in 1777. Thousands of British and Hessian (German) troops in red uniforms get off ships at the head of the Chesapeake Bay with orders to march overland to the American capital at Philadelphia. It’s the largest military invasion ever on American soil. When news of this invasion reaches American General George Washington, he realizes that his local militia forces will be out-manned and out-gunned. A battle with the invaders could spell disaster for his young army and doom any chance for American independence.
Worried, Washington orders a series of skirmishes and guerilla attacks on the British forces as he and his troops slog through the swamps and forests of northern Delaware. The most famous of these skirmishes is the battle at Cooch’s Bridge, which happened near present-day Newark, Delaware.
About 225 years later, the teens of the Wilmington Delaware Stake returned to Cooch’s Bridge and other Revolutionary War sites for their “Youth Conference 2002: Build upon the Rock.” For the conference, they worked on many different projects such as painting and cleaning historical sites.
The teens helped repaint battle monuments at Cooch’s Bridge, cleared brush away from 300-year-old barns and homes at the Elk River invasion site, and cleaned at nearby Dayette Mills, a commercial center in Delaware’s colonial era.
Dayette historian and curator, Ray Johnson, was thrilled to see hundreds of Latter-day Saint youth arrive to help wash the walls and restore the grounds of the old mill. “These Mormon kids have no idea how much good they’re doing. Not only are they helping fix things up, they are also drawing community attention to all this history we have in the area,” he said.
Kathy Sullican, 16, from Wilmington said it helped to know the history before they started working. “Before the work projects, the groups were given historical information on each work site, which really gave us a greater appreciation of the service we were providing,” she said.
The teens pulled together and worked hard. It was supposed to take them three days to fix up Elk Landing, but it took them only half a day. Some of the teens worked so hard they forgot to eat lunch—at least until the job was done.
In the evenings, they returned to the stake center in Newark for dinner, dances, and special “building block” classes where guest speakers gave classes on local history, the restored gospel, and Book of Mormon prophecies concerning America. The youth were treated to historic reenactments and to testimonies from modern members of the armed forces.
Marcus Strange, 15, from the Rising Sun Branch in Maryland, enjoyed learning about Nephi’s vision of the New World in 1 Nephi 13. “I knew Nephi was a prophet, but learning about his revelations about the American Revolution reinforced my testimony of him,” he said.
The classes helped Leslie Little, 14, from the Cambridge Branch appreciate her freedom more. “I am so grateful for the freedom that we enjoy. I was glad I got to help preserve the past,” she said.
Stake President Gary Hollingshaus reminded the teens that they face similar challenges today. “We’re all part of the same war against evil and temptation,” he said. “In our battle we will use different tools. Instead of cleaning our muskets or sharpening our bayonets, the armor we have is personal righteousness, daily prayers, and reading the scriptures.”
As the conference drew to a close, many of the teens expressed an appreciation for the challenges that confronted the early Americans as they settled the colonies and battled for independence.
Sarah Sturgell, 16, from the Wilmington Ward said, “Whoever thought that pulling trees and weeds in the hot sun with sweaty youth would be one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve had? What I’ve learned about the Revolutionary War has really strengthened me.”
The conference was more than a bunch of teens having a lot of fun fixing things up and pulling weeds. Now the Delaware teens have more courage to fight their own battles against sin. Their memories of youth conference will always remind them that they can be as valiant in their fight for right as the Revolutionary War soldiers were at Cooch’s Bridge.
Speaking of the small American army in the Revolutionary War, President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) said: “The Lord permitted these few poorly armed and ill-clad men at Valley Forge and elsewhere to defeat a great army, … a few against the many, but the few had on their side the Lord God of heaven, that gave them victory. With it there came political liberty and religious liberty, all in preparation for the day when a young boy would come forth and would seek and make contact with the Lord and open the doors of heaven again” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 1982, 403).