6: Patriot Women of the Revolution
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During the dangers and trials of early colonial life, the daughters learned
from the example of their mothers the lesson and the power of self-trust;
they learned to endure what their parents endured, to face the perils which
environed the settlement or the household, and grew up to woman's estate
versed in that knowledge and experience of border-life which well fitted
them to repeat, in wilder and more perilous scenes, the heroism of their
forefathers and foremothers.
The daughters again taught these, and added other lessons, to their
children. The grand-daughters of the first emigrants seemed to
possess—with the traits and virtues of woman—the wisdom, courage, and
strength of their fathers and brothers. Each succeeding generation seemed
to acquire new features of character, added force, and stronger virtues,
and thus woman became a heroine endowed with manly vigor and capable of
performing deeds of masculine courage and resolution.
The generation of daughters, fourth in descent from the first settlers,
lived during the stormy days of the Revolution; and right worthily did they
perform their part on that stage of action, and prove by their deeds that
they were lineal descendants of the first mothers of the Republic.
If we were to analyze the characters and motives of the women who lived and
acted in that great crisis of our history, we should better understand and
appreciate, in its nature, height, and breadth, their singular patriotism.
Untainted by selfish ambition, undefiled by greed of gain, and purged of
the earthy dross that too often alloys the lofty impulses of soldiers and
statesmen in the path of fame, hers was a love of country that looked not
for gain or glory, imperiled much, and was locked fast in a bitter
companionship with anxiety, fear, and grief. Her heroism was not sordid or
secular. Dearly did she prize the blessings of peace—household calm, the
security of her loved ones, and the comforts and amenities of an unbroken
social status. But she cheerfully surrendered them all at the call of her
country in its hour of peril. For one hundred and fifty years she had
toiled and suffered. She had won the right to repose, but this was not yet
to be hers. A new ordeal awaited her which would test her courage and
fortitude still more keenly, especially if her lot was cast in the frontier
It is easy to see that border-life in—"the times that tried men's
souls"—was surrounded by double dangers and hardships. Indeed it is
difficult to conceive of a more trying situation than that of woman in the
outlying settlements in the days of the Revolution. Left alone by her
natural protector, who had gone far away to fight the battles of his
country; exposed to attacks from the red men who lurked in the forest, or
from the British soldiers marching up from the coast; wearied by the labors
of the farm and the household; harassed by the cares of motherhood; for
long years in the midst of dangers, privations, and trials; with serene
patience, and with dauntless courage, she went on nobly doing her part in
the great work which resulted in the glorious achievement of American
The wonder is that the American wives and mothers of that day did not sink
under their burdens. Their patient endurance of accumulated hardships did
not arise from a slavish servility or from insensibility to their rights
and comforts. They justly appreciated the situation and nobly encountered
the difficulties which could not be avoided.
Possessing all the affections of the wife, the tenderness of the mother,
and the sympathies of the woman, their tears flowed freely for others'
griefs, while they bore their own with a fortitude that none but a woman
could display. In the absence of the father the entire education devolved
upon the mother, who, in the midst of the labors and sorrows of her
isolated existence, taught them to read, and instructed them in the
principles of Christianity.
The countless roll of these unnamed heroines is inscribed in the Book of
the Most Just. Their record is on high. But the names and deeds of not a
few are preserved as a bright example to the men and women of to-day.
While the husbands and fathers of Wyoming were on public duty the wives and
daughters cheerfully assumed a large portion of the labor which women could
perform. They assisted to plant, to make hay, to husk, and to garner the
corn. The settlement was mainly dependent on its own resources for powder.
To meet the necessary demand, the women boiled together a lye of
wood-ashes, to which they added the earth scraped from beneath the floors
of their house, and thus manufactured saltpeter, one of the most essential
ingredients. Charcoal and sulphur were then mingled with it, and powder was
produced "for the public defense."
One of the married sisters of Silas Deane, that eminent Revolutionary
patriot, while her husband, Captain Ebenezer Smith, was with the army, was
left alone with six small children in a hamlet among the hills of
Berkshire, Massachusetts. Finding it difficult to eke out a subsistence
from the sterile soil of their farm, and being quick and ingenious with her
needle, she turned tailoress and made garments for her little ones, and for
all the families in that region. She wrote her husband, telling him to be
of good cheer, and not to give himself anxiety on his wife's or his
children's account, adding that as long as her fingers could hold a needle,
food should be provided for them. "Fight on for your country," she said;
"God will give us deliverance."
Each section of the country had its special burdens, trials, and dangers.
The populous districts bore the first brunt of the enemy's attack; the
thinly settled regions were drained of men, and the women were left in a
pitiable condition of weakness and isolation. This was largely the
condition of Massachusetts and Connecticut, where nearly every family sent
some, if not all, of its men to the war. In the South the patriots were
forced to practice continual vigilance in consequence of the divided
feeling upon the question of the propriety of separation from the
mother-country. New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were battle grounds,
and here, perhaps more fully than elsewhere, were experienced war's woes
and desolation. But in every State throughout the thirteen colonies, and in
every town, hamlet, or household, where there were patriot wives, mothers,
or daughters, woman's claims to moral greatness in that crisis were
If we were to search for traits and incidents to illustrate the whole
circle of both the stronger and the gentler virtues, we might find them in
woman's record during the American Revolution.
In scenes of carnage and death women not seldom displayed a cool courage
which made them peers of the bravest soldiers who bore flint-locks at
Bunker Hill or Trenton. Of such bravery, the following quartette of
heroines will serve as examples.
During the attack on Fort Washington, Mrs. Margaret Corbin, seeing her
husband, who was an artillery man, fall, unhesitatingly took his place and
heroically performed his duties. Her services were appreciated by the
officers of the army, and honorably noticed by Congress. This body passed
the following resolution in July, 1779:
Resolved, That Margaret Corbin, wounded and disabled at the battle
of Fort Washington while she heroically filled the post of her husband, who
was killed by her side, serving a piece of artillery, do receive during her
natural life, or continuance of said disability, one half the monthly pay
drawn by a soldier in the service of these States; and that she now receive
out of public store one suit of clothes, or value thereof in money.
Soon after the commencement of the Revolutionary War, the family of a Dr.
Channing, being in England, removed to France, and shortly afterwards
sailed for the United States. The vessel, said to be stout and well armed,
was attacked on the voyage by a privateer, and a fierce engagement ensued.
During its continuance, Mrs. Channing stood on the deck, exhorting the crew
not to give up, encouraging them with words of cheer, handing them
cartridges and aiding such of them as were disabled by wounds. When at
length the colors of the vessel were struck, she seized her husband's
pistol and side arms and flung them into the sea, declaring that she would
prefer death to the spectacle of their surrender into the hands of the foe.
At the siege of one of the forts of the Mohawk Valley, it is related by the
author of the "Border Wars of the American Revolution," that an interesting
young woman, whose name yet lives in story among her own mountains,
perceiving, as she thought, symptoms of fear in a soldier who had been
ordered to fetch water from a well, without the ranks and within range of
the enemy's fire, snatched the bucket from his hands and ran to the well
herself. Without changing color or giving the slightest evidence of fear,
she drew and brought back bucket after bucket to the thirsty soldiers, and
providentially escaped without injury.
Four or five miles north of the village of Herkimer, N. Y., stood the
block-house of John Christian Shell, whose wife acted a heroic part when
attacked by the Tories, in 1781. From two o'clock in the afternoon until
twilight, the besieged kept up an almost incessant firing, Mrs. Shell
loading the guns for her husband and older sons to discharge. During the
siege, McDonald, the leader of the Tories, attempted to force the door
with, a crow-bar, and was shot in the leg, seized by Shell, and drawn
within doors. Exasperated by this bold feat, the enemy soon attempted to
carry the fortress by assault; five of them leaping upon the walls and
thrusting their guns through the loop-holes. At that moment the cool
courageous woman, Mrs. Shell, seized an axe, smote the barrels, bent and
spoiled them. The enemy soon after shouldered their guns, crooked barrels
and all, and quickly buried themselves in the dense forest.
Heroism in those days was confined to no section of our country. Moll
Pitcher, at Monmouth, battle-stained, avenged her husband by the
death-dealing cannon which she loaded and aimed. Cornelia Beekman, at
Croton, faced down the armed Tories with the fire of her eye; Angelica
Vrooman, at Schoharie, moulded bullets amid the war and carnage of battle,
while Mary Hagidorn defended the fort with a pike; Mrs. Fitzhugh, of
Maryland, accompanied her blind and decrepit husband when taken prisoner at
midnight and carried into the enemy's lines.
Dicey Langston, of South Carolina, also showed a "soul of love and
bravery." Living in a frontier settlement, and in the midst of Tories, and
being patriotically inquisitive, she often learned by accident, or
discovered by strategy, the plottings so common in those days against the
Whigs. Such intelligence she was accustomed to communicate to the friends
of freedom on the opposite side of the Ennosee river.
Learning one time that a band of loyalists—known in those days as
the—"Bloody Scouts"—were about to fall upon the "Elder Settlement," a
place where a brother of hers and other friends were residing, she resolved
to warn them of their danger. To do this she must hazard her own life.
Regardless of danger she started off alone, in the darkness of the night;
traveled several miles through the woods, over marshes, across creeks,
through a country where foot-logs and bridges were then unknown; came to
the Tyger, a rapid and deep stream, into which she plunged and waded till
the water was up to her neck. She then became bewildered, and zigzagged the
channel for some time, finally reaching the opposite shore, for a helping
hand was beneath, a kind Providence guided her. She then hastened on,
reached the settlement, and her brother and the whole community were saved.
She was returning one day from another settlement of Whigs, in the
Spartanburg district, when a company of Tories met her and questioned her
in regard to the neighborhood she had just left; but she refused to
communicate the desired information. The leader of the band then put a
pistol to her breast, and threatened to shoot her if she did not make the
"Shoot me if you dare! I will not tell you!" was her dauntless reply, as
she opened a long handkerchief that covered her neck and bosom, thus
manifesting a willingness to receive the contents of the pistol, if the
officer insisted on disclosure or life.
The dastard, enraged at her defying movement, was in the act of firing, but
one of the soldiers threw up the hand holding the weapon, and the uncovered
heart of the girl was permitted to beat on.
The brothers of Dicey were no less patriotic than she; and they having, by
their active services on the side of freedom, greatly displeased the
loyalists, these latter were determined to be revenged. A desperate band
accordingly went to the house of their father, and finding the sons absent,
were about to wreak vengeance on the old man, whom they hated for the sons'
sake. With this intent one of the party drew a pistol; but just as it was
aimed at the breast of the aged and infirm old man, Dicey rushed between
the two, and though the ruffian bade her get out of the way or receive in
her own breast the contents of the pistol, she regarded not his threats,
but flung her arms round her father's neck and declared she would receive
the ball first, if the weapon must be discharged. Such fearlessness and
willingness to offer her own life for the sake of her parent, softened the
heart of the "Bloody Scout," and Mr. Langston lived to see his noble
daughter perform other heroic deeds.
At one time her brother James, while absent, sent to the house for a gun
which he had left in Dicey's care, with orders to deliver it to no one,
except by his direction. On reaching the house one of the party who were
directed to call for it, made known their errand. Whereupon she brought and
was about to deliver the weapon. At this moment it occurred to her that she
had not demanded the countersign agreed on between herself and brother.
With the gun still in her hand, she looked the company sternly in the face,
and remarking that they wore a suspicious look, called for the countersign.
Thereupon one of them, in jest, told her she was too tardy in her
requirements; that both the gun and its holder were in their possession.
"Do you think so," she boldly asked, as she cocked the disputed weapon and
aimed it at the speaker. "If the gun is in your possession," she added,
"take charge of it!" Her appearance indicated that she was in earnest, and
the countersign was given without further delay.
In these women of the Revolution were blended at once the heroine and the
"Ministering Angel." To defend their homes they were men in courage and
resolution, and when the battle was over they showed all a woman's
tenderness and devotion. Love was the inspiring principle which nerved
their arm in the fight, and poured balm into the wounds of those who had
fallen. Should we have ever established our Independence but for the
countless brave, kind, and self-sacrificing acts of woman?
After the massacre of Fort Griswold, when it was found that several of the
prisoners were still alive, the British soldiers piled their mangled bodies
in an old cart and started it down the steep and rugged hill, towards the
river, in order that they might be there drowned. Stumps and stones however
obstructed the passage of the cart, and when the enemy had retreated—for
the aroused inhabitants of that region soon compelled them to that
course—the friends of the wounded came to their aid, and thus several
lives were saved.
One of those heroic women who came the next morning to the aid of the
thirty-five wounded men, who lay all night freezing in their own blood, was
Mrs. Mary Ledyard, a near relative of the Colonel. "She brought warm
chocolate, wine, and other refreshments, and while Dr. Downer, of Preston,
was dressing the wounds of the soldiers, she went from one to another,
administering her cordials, and breathing gentle words of sympathy and
encouragement into their ears. In these labors of kindness she was assisted
by another relative of the lamented Colonel Ledyard—Mrs. John Ledyard—who
had also brought her household stores to refresh the sufferers, and
lavished on them the most soothing personal attentions. The soldiers who
recovered from their wounds, were accustomed, to the day of their death, to
speak of these ladies in terms of fervent gratitude and praise."
Another "heroine and ministering angel" at the same massacre was Anna
Warner, wife of Captain Bailey. She received from the soldiers the
affectionate sobriquet of "Mother Bailey." Had "Mother Bailey" lived
in the palmy days of ancient Roman glory no matron in that mighty empire
would have been more highly honored. Hearing the British guns, at the
attack on Fort Griswold, she hurried to the scene of carnage, where she
found her uncle, one of the brave defenders, mortally wounded. With his
dying lips he prayed to see his wife and child—once more; hastening home,
she caught and saddled a horse for the feeble mother, and taking the child
in her arms ran three miles and held it to receive the kisses and blessing
of its dying father. At a later period flannel being needed to use for
cartridges, she gave her own undergarment for that purpose. This patriotic
surrender showed the noble spirit which always actuated "Mother Bailey" and
was an appropriation to her country of which she might justly be proud.
The combination of manly daring and womanly kindness was admirably
displayed in the deeds of a maiden, Miss Esther Gaston, and of a married
lady, Mrs. Slocum, whose presence upon battlefields gave aid and comfort,
in several ways, to the patriot cause.
On the morning of July 30th, 1780, the former, hearing the firing, rode to
the scene of conflict in company with her sister-in-law. Meeting three
skulkers retreating from the fight, Esther rebuked them sharply, and,
seizing the gun from the hands of one of them, exclaimed, "Give us your
guns, and we will stand in your places!" The cowards, abashed and filled
with shame, thereupon turned about, and, in company with the females,
hurried back to face the enemy.
While the battle was raging, Esther and her companion busied themselves in
dressing and binding up the wounds of the fallen, and in quenching their
thirst, not even forgetting their helpless enemies, whose bodies strewed
During another battle, which occurred the following week, she converted a
church into a hospital, and administered to the wants of the wounded.
Our other heroine, Mrs. Slocum, of Pleasant Green, North Carolina, having a
presentiment that her husband was dead or wounded in battle, rose in the
night, saddled her horse, and rode to the scene of conflict. We continue
the narrative in the words of our heroine.
"The cool night seemed after a gallop of a mile or two, to bring reflection
with it, and I asked myself where I was going, and for what purpose. Again
and again I was tempted to turn back; but I was soon ten miles from home,
and my mind became stronger every mile I rode that I should find my husband
dead or dying—this was as firmly my presentiment and conviction as any
fact of my life. When day broke I was some thirty miles from home. I knew
the general route our army expected to take, and had followed them without
hesitation. About sunrise I came upon a group of women and children,
standing and sitting by the road-side, each one of them showing the same
anxiety of mind which I felt.
"Stopping a few minutes I enquired if the battle had been fought. They knew
nothing, but were assembled on the road-side to catch intelligence. They
thought Caswell had taken the right of the Wilmington road, and gone toward
the northwest (Cape Fear). Again was I skimming over the ground through a
country thinly settled, and very poor and swampy; but neither my own spirit
nor my beautiful nag's failed in the least. We followed the well-marked
trail of the troops.
"The sun must have been well up, say eight or nine o'clock, when I heard a
sound like thunder, which I knew must be a cannon. It was the first time I
ever heard a cannon. I stopped still; when presently the cannon thundered
again. The battle was then fighting. What a fool! my husband could not be
dead last night, and the battle only fighting now! Still, as I am so near,
I will go on and see how they come out. So away we went again, faster than
ever; and I soon found, by the noise of the guns, that I was near the
fight. Again I stopped. I could hear muskets, rifles, and shouting. I spoke
to my horse and dashed on in the direction of the firing and the shouts,
which were louder than ever.
"The blind path I had been following, brought me into the Wilmington road
leading to Moore's creek bridge, a few hundred yards below the bridge. A
few yards from the road, under a cluster of trees, were lying perhaps
twenty men. They were wounded. I knew the spot; the very tree; and the
position of the men I knew as if I had seen it a thousand times. I had seen
it all night! I saw all at once; but in an instant my whole soul
centered in one spot; for there wrapped in a bloody guard cloak, was my
husband's body! How I passed the few yards from my saddle to the place I
never knew. I remember uncovering his head and seeing a face crusted with
gore from a dreadful wound across the temple. I put my hand on the bloody
face; 'twas warm; and an unknown voice begged for water; a small
camp-kettle was lying near, and a stream of water was close by. I brought
it; poured some in his mouth, washed his face; and behold—it was not my
husband but Frank Cogdell. He soon revived and could speak. I was washing
the wound in his head. Said he, 'It is not that; it is the hole in my leg
that is killing me.' A puddle of blood was standing on the ground about his
feet I took the knife, and cut away his trousers and stockings, and found
the blood came from a shot hole through and through the fleshy part of his
leg. I looked about and could see nothing that looked as if it would do for
dressing wounds, but some heart-leaves. I gathered a handful and bound them
tight to the holes; and the bleeding stopped. I then went to others; I
dressed the wounds of many a brave fellow who did good service long after
that day! I had not enquired for my husband; but while I was busy Caswell
came up. He appeared very much surprised to see me; and was with his hat in
hand about to pay some compliment; but I interrupted him by asking—'Where
is my husband?'
"'Where he ought to be, madam; in pursuit of the enemy. But pray,' said he,
'how came you here?'
"'O, I thought,' replied I, 'you would need nurses as well as soldiers.
See! I have already dressed many of these good fellows; and here is
one'—and going up to Frank and lifting him up with my arm under his head
so that he could drink some more water—'would have died before any of you
men could have helped him.'
"Just then I looked up, and my husband, as bloody as a butcher, and as
muddy as a ditcher, stood before me.
"'Why, Mary!' he exclaimed, 'what are you doing there? Hugging Frank
Cogdell, the greatest reprobate in the army?'
"'I don't care,' I said. 'Frank is a brave fellow, a good soldier, and a
true friend of Congress.'
"'True, true! every word of it!' said Caswell. 'You are right, madam,' with
the lowest possible bow.
"I would not tell my husband what brought me there I was so happy; and so
were all! It was a glorious victory; I came just at the height of the
enjoyment. I knew my husband was surprised, but I could see he was not
displeased with me. It was night again before our excitement had at all
"Many prisoners were brought in, and among them some very obnoxious; but
the worst of the Tories were not taken prisoners. They were, for the most
part, left in the woods and swamps wherever they were overtaken. I begged
for some of the poor prisoners, and Caswell told me none should be hurt but
such as had been guilty of murder and house-burning.
"In the middle of the night I again mounted my horse and started for home.
Caswell and my husband wanted me to stay till next morning, and they would
send a party with me; but no! I wanted to see my child, and I told them
they could send no party who could keep up with me. What a happy ride I had
back! and with what joy did I embrace my child as he ran to meet me!"
The winter at Valley Forge was the darkest season in the Revolutionary
struggle. The American army were sheltered by miserable huts, through which
the rain and sleet found their way upon the wretched cots where the
patriots slept. By day the half-famished soldiers in tattered regimentals
wandered through their camp, and the snow showed the bloody tracks of their
shoeless feet. Mutinous mutterings disturbed the sleep of Washington, and
one dark, cold day, the soldiers at dusk were on the point of open revolt.
Nature could endure no more, and not from want of patriotism, but from want
of food and clothes, the patriotic cause seemed likely to fail. Pinched
with cold and wasted with hunger, the soldiers pined beside their dying
camp-fires. Suddenly a shout was heard from the sentinels who paced the
outer lines, and at the same time a cavalcade came slowly through the snow
up the valley. Ten women in carts, each cart drawn by ten pairs of oxen,
and bearing tons of meal and other supplies, passed through the lines amid
cheers that rent the air. Those devoted women had preserved the army, and
Independence from that day was assured.
Fortitude and patience were exemplified in a thousand homes from which
members of the family had gone to battle for Independence. Straitened for
means wherewith to keep their strong souls in their feeble bodies, worn
with toil, tortured with anxiety for the safety of the soldier-father or
son, or husband or brother, and fighting the conflict of life alone, woman
proved in that great ordeal her claim to those virtues which are by common
consent assigned to her as her peculiar characteristics.
We may well suppose, too, that ready wit and address had ample scope for
their exercise in those perilous times. And who but woman could best
display those qualities?
While Ann Elliott, styled by her British admirers, "the beautiful rebel,"
was affianced to Col. Lewis Morris, of New York, the house where he was
visiting her was suddenly surrounded by a detachment of "Black Dragoons."
They were in pursuit of the Colonel, and it was impossible for him to
escape by flight. What to do he knew not, but, quick as thought, she ran to
the window, opened it, and, fearlessly putting her head out, in a composed
manner demanded what was wanted. The reply was, "We want the rebel." "Then
go," said she, "and look for him in the American army;" adding, "how dare
you disturb a family under the protection of both armies?" She was so cool,
self-possessed, firm, and resolute, as to triumph over the dragoons, who
left without entering the house.
While the conflict was at its height in South Carolina, Captain Richardson,
of Sumter district, was obliged to conceal himself for a while in the
thickets of the Santee swamp. One day he ventured to visit his family—a
perilous movement, for the British had offered a reward for his
apprehension, and patrolling parties were almost constantly in search of
him. Before his visit was ended a small party of soldiers presented
themselves in front of the house. Just as they were entering, with a great
deal of composure and presence of mind, Mrs. Richardson appeared at the
door, and found so much to do there at the moment, as to make it
inconvenient to leave room for the uninvited guests to enter. She was so
calm, and appeared so unconcerned, that they did not mistrust the cause of
her wonderful diligence, till her husband had rushed out of the back door,
and safely reached the neighboring swamp.
The bearing of important dispatches through an enemy's country is an
enterprise that always requires both courage and address. Such a feat was
performed by Miss Geiger, under circumstances of peculiar difficulty.
At the time General Greene retreated before Lord Rawdon from Ninety-Six,
when he passed Broad river, he was desirous to send an order to General
Sumter, who was on the Wateree, to join him, that they might attack Rawdon,
who had divided his force. But the General could find no man in that part
of the state who was bold enough to undertake so dangerous mission. The
country to be passed through for many miles was full of blood-thirsty
Tories, who, on every occasion that offered, imbrued their hands in the
blood of the Whigs. At length Emily Geiger presented herself to General
Greene, and proposed to act as his messenger: and the general, both
surprised and delighted, closed with her proposal. He accordingly wrote a
letter and delivered it, and at the same time communicated the contents of
it verbally, to be told to Sumter in case of accidents.
She pursued her journey on horseback, and on the second day was intercepted
by Lord Rawdon's scouts. Coming from the direction of Greene's army and not
being able to tell an untruth without blushing, Emily was suspected and
confined to a room; and the officer sent for an old Tory matron to search
for papers upon her person. Emily was not wanting in expedients, and as
soon as the door was closed and the bustle a little subsided, she ate up
the letter, piece by piece. After a while the matron arrived, and upon
searching carefully, nothing was found of a suspicious nature about the
prisoner, and she would disclose nothing. Suspicion being then allayed, the
officer commanding the scouts suffered Emily to depart. She then took a
route somewhat circuitous to avoid further detentions and soon after struck
into the road leading to Sumter's camp, where she arrived in safety. Emily
told her adventure, and delivered Greene's verbal message to Sumter, who in
consequence, soon after joined the main army at Orangeburgh.
The salvation of the army was due more than once to the watchfulness and
tact of woman.
When the British army held possession of Philadelphia, a superior officer
supposed to have been the Adjutant General, selected a back chamber in the
house of Mrs. Lydia Darrah, for private conference. Suspecting that some
important movement was on foot, she took off her shoes, and putting her ear
to the key-hole of the door, overheard an order read for all the British
troops to march out, late in the evening of the fourth, and attack General
Washington's army, then encamped at White Marsh. On hearing this, she
returned to her chamber and laid herself down. Soon after, the officers
knocked at her door, but she rose only at the third summons, having feigned
to be asleep. Her mind was so much agitated that, from this moment, she
could neither eat nor sleep, supposing it to be in her power to save the
lives of thousands of her countrymen, but not knowing how she was to carry
the necessary information to General Washington, nor daring to confide it
even to her husband. The time left was short, and she quickly determined to
make her way as soon as possible, to the American outposts. She informed
her family, that, as they were in want of flour, she would go to Frankfort
for some; her husband insisted that she should take with her the servant
maid; but, to his surprise, she positively refused. Gaining access to
General Howe, she solicited what he readily granted—a pass through the
British troops on the lines. Leaving her bag at the mill, she hastened
towards the American lines, and encountered on her way an American,
Lieutenant Colonel Craig, of the light horse, who, with some of his men,
was on the lookout for information. He knew her, and inquired whither she
was going. She answered, in quest of her son, an officer in the American
army; and prayed the Colonel to alight and walk with her. He did so,
ordering his troops to keep in sight. To him she disclosed her momentous
secret, after having obtained from him the most solemn promise never to
betray her individually, since her life might be at stake. He conducted her
to a house near at hand, directed a female in it to give her something to
eat, and hastened to head-quarters, where he made General Washington
acquainted with what he had heard. Washington made, of course, all
preparation for baffling the meditated surprise, and the contemplated
expedition was a failure.
Mrs. Murray of New York, the mother of Lindley Murray, the grammarian, by
her ceremonious hospitality detained Lord Howe and his officers, while the
British forces were in pursuit of General Putnam, and thus prevented the
capture of the American army. In fine, not merely the lives of many
individuals, but the safety of the whole patriot army, and even the cause
of independence was more than once due to feminine address and strategy.
Patriotic generosity and devotion were displayed without stint, and women
were ready to submit to any sacrifice in behalf of their country.
These qualities are well illustrated by the three following instances.
Mrs. William Smith, when informed that in order to dislodge the enemy then
in possession of Fort St. George, Long Island, it would be necessary to
burn or batter down her dwelling-house, promptly told Major Tallmadge to
proceed without hesitation in the work of destruction, if the good of the
country demanded the sacrifice.
While General Greene was retreating, disheartened and penniless, from the
enemy, after the disastrous defeat at Camden, he was met at Catawba ford by
Mrs. Elizabeth Steele, who, in her generous ardor in the cause of freedom,
drew him aside, and, taking two bags of specie from under her apron,
presented them to him, saying, "Take these, for you will want them, and I
can do without them."
While Fort Motte, on the Congaree River, was in the hands of the British,
in order to effect its surrender, it became necessary to burn a large
mansion standing near the center of the trench. The house was the property
of Mrs. Motte. Lieut. Colonel Lee communicated to her the contemplated work
of destruction with painful reluctance, but her smiles, half anticipating
his proposal, showed at once that she was willing to sacrifice her property
if she could thereby aid in the least degree towards the expulsion of the
enemy and the salvation of the land.
Pennsylvania had the honor of being the native State of Mrs. McCalla, whose
affectionate and devoted efforts to liberate her invalid husband,
languishing in a British dungeon, have justly given her a high rank among
the patriot women of the Revolution.
Weeks elapsed after the capture of Mr. McCalla, before she was able, with
the most assiduous inquiries, to ascertain the place of his confinement. In
the midst of her torturing anxiety and suspense her children fell sick of
small-pox. She nursed them alone and unaided, and as soon as they were out
of danger, resumed her search for her husband.
Mounting her horse, she succeeded in forcing her way to the head-quarters
of Lord Rawdon, at Camden, and obtained reluctant permission to visit her
husband for ten minutes only in his wretched prison-pen. Though almost
overcome by the interview, she hastened home, having altogether ridden
through the wilderness one hundred miles in twenty four hours.
She proceeded immediately to prepare clothing and provisions for her
husband and the other prisoners. Her preparations having been completed,
she set out on her return to Camden, in company with one of her neighbors,
Mrs. Mary Nixon. Each of the brave women drove before her a pack-horse,
laden with clothes and provisions for the prisoners. These errands of mercy
were repeated every month, often in company with other women who were
engaged in similar missions, and sometimes alone.
Meanwhile she did not relax her efforts to effect the release of her
husband. After many months she succeeded in procuring an order for the
discharge of her husband with ten other prisoners, whose handcuffs and
ankle chains were knocked off, and who left the prison in company with
their heroic liberator.
Examples are not wanting, in our Revolutionary annals, of a stern and lofty
spirit of self-sacrifice in behalf of country, that will vie with that
displayed by the first Brutus.
We are told by the orator of the Society of the Cincinnati that when the
British officers presented to Mrs. Rebecca Edwards the mandate which
arrested her sons as "objects of retaliation," less sensitive of private
affection than attached to her honor and the interest of her country, she
stifled the tender feelings of the mother and heroically bade them despise
the threats of their enemies, and steadfastly persist to support the
glorious cause in which they had engaged—that if the threatened sacrifice
should follow they would carry a parent's blessing, and the good opinion of
every virtuous citizen with them, to the grave; but if from the frailty of
human nature—of the possibility of which she would not suffer an idea to
enter her mind—they were disposed to temporize and exchange this liberty
for safety, they must forget her as a mother, nor subject her to the misery
of ever beholding them again.
As among the early Puritan settlers, so among the women of the Revolution,
nothing was more remarkable than their belief in the efficacy of prayer.
In the solitude of their homes, in the cool and silence of the forest, and
in the presence of the foe, Christian women knelt down and prayed for
peace, for victory, for rescue from danger, and for deliverance from the
enemies which beset them. Can we doubt that the prayers of these noble
patriot women were answered?
Early in the Revolutionary War, the historian of the border relates that
the inhabitants of the frontier of Burke County, North Carolina, being
apprehensive of an attack by the Indians, it was determined to seek
protection in a fort in a more densely populated neighborhood, in an
interior settlement. A party of soldiers was sent to protect them on their
retreat. The families assembled; the line of march was taken towards their
place of destination, and they proceeded some miles unmolested—the
soldiers forming a hollow square with the refugee families in the center.
The Indians had watched these movements, and had laid a plan for the
destruction of the migrating party. The road to be traveled lay through a
dense forest in the fork of a river, where the Indians concealed themselves
and waited till the travelers were in the desired spot.
Suddenly the war-whoop sounded in front and on either side; a large body of
painted warriors rushed in, filling the gap by which the whites had
entered, and an appalling crash of fire-arms followed. The soldiers,
however, were prepared. Such as chanced to be near the trees darted behind
them, and began to ply the deadly rifle; the others prostrated themselves
upon the earth, among the tall grass, and crawled to trees. The families
screened themselves as best they could. The onset was long and fiercely
urged; ever and anon, amid the din and smoke, the braves would rush out,
tomahawk in hand, towards the center; but they were repulsed by the cool
intrepidity of the backwoods riflemen. Still they fought on, determined on
the destruction of the destined victims who offered such desperate
resistance. All at once an appalling sound greeted the ears of the women
and children in the center; it was a cry from their defenders—a cry for
powder! "Our powder is giving out!" they exclaimed. "Have you any? Bring us
some, or we can fight no longer."
A woman of the party had a good supply. She spread her apron on the ground,
poured her powder into it, and going round from soldier to soldier, as they
stood behind the trees, bade each who needed powder put down his hat, and
poured a quantity upon it. Thus she went round the line of defense till her
whole stock, and all she could obtain from others, was distributed. At last
the savages gave way, and, pressed by their foes, were driven off the
ground. The victorious whites returned to those for whose safety they had
ventured into the wilderness. Inquiries were made as to who had been
killed, and one, running up, cried, "Where is the woman that gave us the
powder? I want to see her!" "Yes! yes!—let us see her!" responded another
and another; "without her we should have been all lost!" The soldiers ran
about among the women and children, looking for her and making inquiries.
Others came in from the pursuit, one of whom, observing the commotion,
asked the cause, and was told.
"You are looking in the wrong place," he replied.
"Is she killed? Ah, we were afraid of that!" exclaimed many voices.
"Not when I saw her," answered the soldier. "When the Indians ran off; she
was on her knees in prayer at the root of yonder tree, and there I
There was a simultaneous rush to the tree—and there, to their great joy,
they found the woman safe and still on her knees in prayer. Thinking not of
herself, she received their applause without manifesting any other feeling
than gratitude to Heaven for their great deliverance.
An eminent divine whose childhood was passed upon our New England frontier,
during the period of the Revolution, narrated to the writer many years
since, the story of his mother's life while her husband was absent in the
patriot army. Their small farm was on the sterile hill-side, and with the
utmost pains, barely yielded sufficient for the wants of the lone wife and
her three little ones. There was no house within five miles, and the whole
region around was stripped of its male inhabitants, such was the patriotic
ardor of the people. All the labors in providing for the household fell
upon the mother. She planted and hoed the corn, milked the cow and tended
the farm, at the same time not neglecting the inside duties of the
household, feeding and clothing the children, nursing them when sick and
instructing them in the rudiments of education.
"I call to mind, though after the lapse of eighty years," said the
venerable man, "the image of my mother as distinctly as of yesterday, and
she moves before me as she did in my childhood's home among those bleak
hills—cheerful and serene through all, though even with my young eyes I
could see that a brooding sorrow rested upon her spirit. I remember the day
when my father kissed my brothers and me, and told us to be good boys, and
help mother while he was gone: I remember too, that look upon my mother's
face as she watched him go down the road with his musket and knapsack.
"When evening came, that day, and she had placed us in our little beds, I
saw her kneeling and praying in a low tone, long and fervently, and heard
her after she had pleaded that victory might crown our arms, intercede at
the throne of grace for her absent husband and the father of her children.
"Then she rose and kissed us good-night, and as she bent above us I shall
never forget till my latest hour the angelic expression upon her face.
Sorrow, love, resignation, and holy trust were blended and beamed forth in
that look which seemed to transfigure her countenance and her whole
"During all those trying years while she was so patiently toiling to feed
and clothe us, and bearing the burdens and privations of her lonely lot,
never did she omit the morning and evening prayer for her country and for
the father of her children.
"One day we saw her holding an open letter in her hand and looking pale and
as if she were about to faint. We gathered about her knees and gazed with
wondering eyes, silently into her sad and care-worn face, for even then we
had been schooled to recognize and respect the sorrows of a mother. Two
weeks before that time, a battle had been fought in which father had been
severely wounded. The slow mail of those days had only just brought this
sad intelligence. As we stood beside her she bent and clasped us to her
heart, striving to hide the great tears that coursed down her wasted
"We begged her not to cry and tried to comfort her with our infantile
caresses. At length we saw her close her eyes and utter a low prayer. Ere
her lips had ceased to intercede with the Father of mercies, a knock was
heard at the door and one of the neighboring settlers entered. He had just
returned from the army and had come several miles on foot from his home,
expressly to tell us that father was rapidly recovering from his wounds. It
seemed as if he were a messenger sent from heaven in direct answer to the
silent prayers of a mother, and all was joy and brightness in the house."
The patriot father returned to his family at the close of the war with the
rank of Captain, which he had nobly won by his bravery in the battle's van.
The sons grew up and became useful and honored citizens of a Republic which
their father had helped to make free; and ever during their lives they
fondly cherished the memory of the mother who had taught them so many
examples of brave self-denial and pious devotion.
And still as we scan the pages of Revolutionary history, or revive the oral
evidence of family tradition, the names and deeds of these brave and good
women fill the eye and multiply in the memory. Through the fires, the
frosts, the rains, the suns of one hundred years, they come back to us
now, in the midst of our great national jubilee, vivid as with the
life of yesterday. That era, which they helped to make glorious, is "with
the years that are beyond the flood."
"Another race shall be, and other palms are won,"
but never, while our nation or our language endures, shall the memory of
those names and deeds pass away. In every succeeding year that registers
the history of the Republic which they contributed to build, brighter and
brighter shall grow the record of the Patriot Women of the Revolution.
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