On a hot day in August, 1774, Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton set out for Philadelphia. They traveled on horseback over a bridle path through the forest, and swam all the streams.
At length they came to Mount Vernon, where Colonel Washington lived. Here they passed the night, and the following morning, after an early breakfast, Washington mounted his horse to go with them to Congress.
As the two guests, with their three-cornered hats in their hands, were bowing low to Martha Washington, she said, "I hope you will both stand firm. I know George will."
And you may be sure they started off more determined than ever to demand justice of the king.
They soon crossed the Potomac at the Falls, and then followed the path toward Baltimore. They were a noble group of men. Edmund Pendleton was much the oldest. His hair was gray and his face was earnest.
George Washington was in the prime of manhood. He sat his horse like a true cavalier, and in the uniform of a British colonel he looked like a soldier.
Patrick Henry was thirty-eight years old. The great orator stooped forward as he rode, and his clothes hung loosely about him. He was not very handsome, but when he spoke his face lighted up, and you would have said he was almost beautiful.
They talked very earnestly over the troubles with the king, and all three agreed that a crisis had come. They reached Philadelphia just in time for the convention; and so they did not become acquainted with many of the members from the other colonies before the meeting began.
After the delegates had assembled in a large brick building, called Carpenters' Hall, the roll was read and officers were elected. Then the place became very still. The delegates were almost all strangers to one another. Each feared to say anything lest he might offend some one else.
At last a member moved to open the convention with prayer. John Jay, of New York, hurried to oppose the motion. "No man," he said, "can expect Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Quakers, and Catholics to unite in worship."
But Samuel Adams, from "stiff-necked" Massachusetts, arose and said: "I, for my part, am no bigot. I can listen to a prayer from a gentleman of piety who is a patriot. I have heard that the reverend Mr. Duché, an Episcopalian, deserves that title: therefore, Mr. President, I move that Mr. Duché read prayers to-morrow morning."
The motion was carried. And then again the place became very still. Each man had the same complaints to make against the king, yet no one liked to speak of them.
The silence became so intense that some said afterwards they could hear their hearts beat.
At last a tall young man arose. Everybody turned about to look at him. He was dressed in dark grey homespun, his wig was unpowdered, and his sleeves had no frills.
He began very calmly to state why they had met together. But soon his voice swelled, his form became erect, his eyes glowed. All leaned forward to read his wonderful face. He closed with the words: "The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American!"
The delegates were amazed at his eloquence.
"Who is he? who is he?" they cried.
It was Patrick Henry, and from that day the best orator in Virginia was known as the best orator in America. He argued with the rest of the delegates not to import any more goods from England nor to export them to England until Parliament should respect the rights of Americans.
Henry spoke many times during the Congress; and when it was decided to appeal again to the king to allow the colonies to vote their own taxes, he was one of the committee chosen to write the petition.
Soon after this the first Continental Congress adjourned to meet when the king should send his reply.