Using quill and ink in a polite cursive, John Conrad, a God-fearing soldier under General George Washington's command, used words to paint a picture of hope and reassurance to his mother.


"I am well assured," Conrad wrote on Sept. 12, 1776 from a camp near Kingsbridge, N.Y., "for our officers and men are of the opinion that we can deal with them [the British] if we get them on the mainland. Be that as it may, the Lord only knows the way of things to come, and He alone it is that can give us victory."


This communication before the Battle of New York has been in Russell Blewett's family since it was written by an ancestor almost 235 years ago. Passed through the generations on Blewett's maternal side, the yellowed and frayed letter tells of service and reverence during one of America's most hallowed chapters. And it serves as a lesson for today, Blewett suggests.


"Particularly now because people are asked to sacrifice," said Blewett, a San Bernardino County planning commissioner. "People really sacrificed then."


In August of 1776, the British transported more than 20,000 soldiers to Long Island. On Aug. 27, the British pushed back the Americans, who also had 20,000 or more, to Brooklyn Heights. Facing General William Howe of England, Washington, who would become the first president of the United States, led his soldiers back across the East River. The next month, when Conrad penned his letter, the American military leader placed 5,000 troops in what is now the lower part of Manhattan and sent the remainder to Harlem.


Over the course of the following months the Americans were forced to retreat, eventually backtracking through New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Blewett doesn't know the exact fate of Conrad, but he believes he died several months later, perhaps in battle. In all, an estimated 4,400 Americans were killed, wounded or captured. "It was a very bloody battle," Blewett said. Despite the loss, Washington would lead the American soldiers to victory in New Jersey and ultimately the entire war, which led to the birth of a nation.


Besides appearing dramatically different than today's letters, Conrad's possesses a tone that shows the utmost respect and formality. Beginning with "Honored Mother," the letter is polite yet honest. "I take this and every other opportunity that presents to let you know that I am well, and hope these few lines may find you and all my relations, friends and acquaintance well."


Most of all, Conrad places his faith in God.


"In Him I trust, hoping that I shall be at home to see you all sometime this winter...."


His letter concludes: "You would think very odd if you you was here to see how we live as unconcerned as if there was no enemy on the continent till the drums beat to arms and then three minutes is sufficient us to be ready to face our enemy. When we were on Long Island we were a firing when we were off duty, and cook our victuals and eat it without dreading the messenger of death which were often whistling over our heads. I must conclude, with my love to you sister Abigail my relations, friends and acquaintance these from your son, John Conrad."


After it was in the hands of Conrad's mother, it was passed along to his sister Abigail Conrad Burson, then her daughter, Sarah Burson Ritchey, and then Ritchey's daughter Susanna Ritchey Mitchell. Mitchell's son, Albert C. Mitchell had it next followed by his daughter Erma B. Mitchell Grimes. Then it was inherited by Kathryn E. Grimes, Blewett's mother.


"We'd like to display it some place," Blewett said. "Maybe the [Hesperia Public] library."


Blewett's ancestors have fought in every war except the Gulf War because no family members were the appropriate age, and his brother spent more than 40 years in the military, he said.


"My family's first war not fought was the Gulf War. Either we were too young or too old for that one."


And as the country celebrates another Independence Day, Blewett suggests it's always good to remember those who fought for our freedom.


"I think we need to be reminded perpetually," Blewett said. "There were some great sacrifices made."