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Commemorating the 240th Anniversary of
French Alliance with the United States
1778 – 2018
Washington at Valley Forge
French Alliance with the United States
The Treaty of Alliance between France and the United States was concluded at Paris, February 6, 1778 and ratified by Congress May 4, 1778. The treaty provided for a defensive alliance to aid France should England attack, and that neither France nor the United States would make peace with England until the independence of the United States was recognized. The knowledge of the Alliance came to Washington at Valley Forge on May Day, 1778. This news from Congress brought great elation to Washington who, with his troops, had endured a dreadful extreme winter.
One week later General George Washington issued the following general order:
“It having pleased the Almighty Ruler of the universe propitiously to defend the Cause of the United American States, and finally raise up a powerful Friend among the Princes of the Earth, to establish our Liberty and Independence upon a lasting foundation, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine Goodness, and celebrating the important event which we owe to his benign interposition.
The several Brigades are to assemble for this purpose at nine o’clock tomorrow morning, when their chaplains will communicate the information contained in the postscript of the Pennsylvania Gazette of the 2nd instant, and offer up a thanksgiving and deliver a discourse suitable to the occasion. At half past ten o’clock a cannon will be fired which is to be a signal for the men to be under arms. The Brigade Inspectors will then inspect their dress and arms, and form the battalions according to the instructions given them, and announce to the commanding officers of the brigade that the battalions are formed. The commanders of brigades will then appoint the field officers to the battalions, after which each battalion will be ordered to load and ground their arms. At half past seven o’clock a second cannon will be fired as a signal for the march; upon which the several brigades will begin their march by wheeling to the right by platoons, and proceed by the nearest way to the left of their ground by the new position. This will be pointed out by the Brigade Inspectors. A third signal will then be given, on which there will be a discharge of thirteen cannon; after which a running fire of the infantry will begin on the left of the second line and continue to the right. Upon a signal given, the whole army will huzza, ‘Long Live the King of France.’ The artillery then begins again and fires thirteen rounds; this will be succeeded by a second general discharge of musketry, in running fire, and a huzza, ‘Long Live the Friendly European Powers.’ The last discharge of thirteen pieces of artillery will be given, followed by a general running and huzza, ‘The American States.'”
The Commander-in-Chief and staff were the guests of the Jersey troops during the religious services of the day, after which the general officers of the command joined him at the Potts mansion, whereat was served one of those famous dinners for which Washington always manifested a fondness.
The length and breadth of Washington’s exuberance upon the arrival of the good news cannot be more effectively shown than in the fact that two soldiers awaiting execution in camp were pardoned and restored to the ranks by him in testimony of his joy. When we consider how rarely the Commander-in-Chief modified or reversed the finding of his courts martial, we may realize the meaning of this gift of life to men who, perhaps, did not deserve it.
From The Picket Post, 1953.
Courtesy National Center for the American Revolution/Valley Forge Historical Society