Author Archives: Heather Frey Blanton

Mollie Fly–The Woman at the OK Corral

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Mollie Fly

Mollie Fly

Not much is known about Mollie. You’ve probably never heard of her. But you know her husband. C.S. “Buck” Fly was THE photographer in Tombstone when the shoot-out at the OK Corral went down.

Mary “Mollie” McKie moved with her family to San Francisco sometime in the 1850’s, when she was around 8 or 10. The boisterous town may well be what fostered her desire for adventure, but a good upbringing kept her from falling into vice. In Defiance of the times, she took up the male-dominated hobby of photography. She also took up a husband, Samuel D. Goodrich. Apparently he wasn’t a good fit and, in a day when divorce was rare, Mollie showed him the door after only two years.

Soon, she met the dashing and adventurous Camillus Sidney “Buck” Fly, a young man who had grown up in the Napa Valley. He also loved capturing still life. We don’t know how they met. It’s a shame because they made a lasting impression on each other. We do know they married in Sept. of ‘79 and by December had arrived in the silver boomtown of Tombstone, AZ.

Within a year, they had gone from working in a tent to owning a 12-room boardinghouse that also housed the famous photography studio (the door of which was within spitting distance to the OK Corral). Buck spent a great deal of time riding the range, snapping beautiful photographs of the landscapes, as well as capturing historically valuable pictures of the Indian campaigns. A tiny gal known for her spunk, Mollie accepted the long absences and kept things humming at home. She ran the boardinghouse, took portraits for customers, and raised a daughter. Sometime in the early 1880’s, a young girl by the name of Kitty appeared on the census as a member of their household. It is not known whether she was Fly’s daughter or a simply a child they adopted, but Mollie loved her and took care of her like she was blood.

Part of that care included removing Kitty and herself from a bad situation when Fly’s drinking spiraled out of control. In ’87, Mollie divorced him and the famous photographer left Tombstone. Soldiering on, she kept the studio and boardinghouse running, but there is clear evidence she was nursing a broken heart. Mollie never remarried. She was at Fly’s side in Bisbee, AZ in 1901 when he breathed his last. She then arranged to have him buried in Tombstone, and bought him a nice, well, tombstone.

Mollie was Fly Gallery until 1912. Feeling her age, she retired to Los Angeles and died there in 1925. Prior to her death, she donated all of Fly’s negatives to the Smithsonian, well aware of the contribution her husband had made to history by chronicling the West.

Queen of the Klondike…A Great Ride While it Lasted

One of the few pretty faces in the Klondike.

One of the few pretty faces in the Klondike.

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Freedom. A true lady in Defiance cries out for it. Refuses to live without it. Pursues it at any cost. Society, propriety—even common sense won’t stop her from wrapping her slender fingers around it.

In the end, she may only have her memories of it, but at least she tasted it. For a time, Kate lived free.

Kathleen Eloise Rockwell (1873-1957) came from an unstable home, growing up in at least four different states. Perhaps the shifting sand beneath her feet contributed to her headstrong ways and desire for adventure. Dubbed a tomboy by the neighborhood kids, Katie played better with the boys than with the frilly little girls. She was a bit sassy and, arguably, incorrigible—at least according to the boarding school that kicked her out.

In the early1890’s, Kate’s mother divorced her father and the two girls wound up in New York City. The young girl got involved with the theater scene and learned to sing and dance, but eventually even the Big Apple wasn’t big enough for the free spirit. The siren call of the Alaska Gold Rush reached her ears and Kate headed off for the Klondike.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however, denied her entry. Because she was a woman. Alone. On the frontier.

Can’t you hear the wheels turning in her head? Kate lived to circumvent rules and live her life on her terms.

So she dressed up like a boy and waltzed right into the Klondike. (Well, actually she took a boat.) I can see her waving at the RCMP as she sailed by.

Now, it’s one thing to try to make it on the Great White Way. Lots of competition and all that. Kate had a suspicion that in Alaska she could be a big fish in a little pond. I mean, really, how many pretty girls could there be willing to face the wild frontier? Sub-zero temperatures, knee-deep spring mud, lawless towns. Sounded like her kind of party. Kate just wanted to sing and dance. It didn’t matter if the audience was comprised of desperately hungry, cold, mud-encrusted miners who hadn’t seen a woman, much less a pretty one, in months.

She intended to mesmerize them and had a grand plan. For her “Flame Dance” she came on stage wearing an elaborate gown covered in red sequins and trailing an enormous cape. She took off the cape to reveal a cane that was attached to more than 200 yards of red chiffon. Kate leaped and twirled with the shimmering, floating fabric, spellbinding the hapless men. At the end she would dramatically drop to the floor, as did the men’s jaws.

Yeah. She was a big hit. For three years, she was the belle of the ball. Parisian gowns, gold jewelry, men falling at her feet. They called her Klondike Kate and Queen of the Yukon.

But the gold eventually petered out and Kate drifted around, along with a few different husbands. She ran a movie theater, even coached starlets in the 1940’s. Time and age catch us all, though. Kate slowed down then finally finished the ride in Oregon in 1957.

By no means an angel, Kate was a woman who defied conventionality, shook her fist at the lack of social mobility for women, and cut her own path through life.

I tip my hat to this trailblazer.

Betsy Ross — She Found the Beauty in the Ashes

besty

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2013 Heather Blanton

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“Sugar and spice and everything nice
That’s what little girls are made of.”

My curiosity about our Founding Mothers has certainly led me to one inarguable conclusion: the above  statement just ain’t so. Our Founding Mothers each had an iron will, the patience of Job, and perseverance and stubbornness enough to shame a mule.

In researching Betsy Ross, I truly came to respect those last two traits.

One of seventeen children and born into a Quaker home, Elizabeth Griscom married her first husband, John Ross, in 1773. The young man she had fallen in love was NOT a Quaker and therefore, the union was not sanctioned. Wisely or not, the couple took the matter into their own hands and eloped. Upon her return, the 21-year-old Betsy was “read out” of her congregation. Clearly not one to curl up like a wilted flower, she instead rolled up her sleeves and helped her husband open an upholstery shop in Philadelphia.

She also supported John’s decision to join the Philadelphia militia in 1775, since their love of liberty was one of the things that had brought them together. Sadly, less than a year later, he was killed in a munitions explosion. The couple had no children. Once again, Betsy rose to the occasion. She squared her shoulders and took over the business. Surely, this fiery widow had to be the talk of Philadelphia. A pretty woman and a patriot running her own business amidst turbulent political times.  It was unheard of.

Not long after the death of her husband in 1776, George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross (her husband’s uncle), made their historic request of Betsy. This is not a legend. History confirms that Betsy and her husband knew George Washington as all three attended Christ Church, plus she had sewn some flags for the Navy, and her husband’s uncle knew George, as well. The couple was married by William Franklin, son of Benjamin, so it’s pretty obvious they moved in the right circles for Betsy to have received this request. Not to mention, she could sew like a fiend.

Whispers down through history have also suggested Betsy may have been the “beautiful young widow” who distracted Carl Von Donop. Donop was the Hessian commander who lost the opportunity to reinforce the troops at Trenton on Dec 26, 1776, allowing George Washington a resounding victory. Quite the morale booster for the Colonial Army. Was it due in part to Betsy?

Besty married again in 1777 to mariner Joseph Ashburn. He was in Betsy’s life long enough to father two children with her. In 1780, his ship was captured by the British and Ashburn was thrown into prison, charged with treason. Not only would Betsy never see him again, but she lost her nine-month old daughter Zilla during this time, while she was pregnant with their second child Eliza.

Betsy had to have been an incredibly strong woman to keep forging ahead the way she did. She never stopped running her business and even managed to sew uniforms for the Colonial Army for several years. In 1783, she married again (this time for the last time). John Claypoole, an old friend of her family, had actually been imprisoned with her husband and was the one who delivered the news of his death.

Prison took the starch out of Claypoole, though, and he suffered from poor health for years. Still, the couple did manage to bless the world with 5 daughters. I think there is some poetic justice in that, considering all that Betsy had been through and lost to the war. Claypoole passed away in 1817 and Betsy ran the family business for another 10 years, before turning it over to her daughters.

Betsy Griscom Ross Ashworth Claypoole lived to be 84 years of age, but, of course, her story is immortal. She was a true lady in defiance!

When it’s all Coming Apart — Bake a Pie in Alaska

Harriet in front of her hotel with her new stage coach.

Harriet in front of her hotel with her new stage coach.

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2013 Heather Blanton

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Feeling a little low today? Like the world is sucker-punching you? Well, you can mope…or you can fight. Learn a lesson from a true lady in defiance.

“I only had seven dollars to my name. I didn’t know a soul in Alaska. I had no place to go. So I stood on the beach in the rain, while tented Skagway of 1897 shouted, cursed, and surged about me.”

Abandoned and nearly bankrupted by her husband, Harriet Pullen pulled herself up by her bootstraps and vowed to make a living somehow. To get started, she placed her four children with friends in Seattle and headed north to Alaska to look for work. Her desperation for employment must have shown on her face because only moments after making it to the beach, a man tapped her on the shoulder and asked her if she could cook.

Could she cook.

Capt. William Moore was building a wharf and had a crew of eighteen hungry men, a kitchen, and a problem. To his dismay, and Harriet’s good fortune, the cook had run off. With grim determination, Harriet rolled up her sleeves. But she couldn’t stand up. Moore’s “kitchen” consisted of a tarp pulled across some logs that, because of hanging hams and heavy sides of bacon, drooped so low she literally had to bend over to cook. Adding to the misery, the previous chef had left the dirt floor littered with food scraps and a table buried under a mountain of dirty plates.

Harriet said she broke down and sobbed when she saw the mess. I suspect it was the last time she cried over her situation.

By dusk, she had scrubbed the dishes with ashes from the fire, cooked a mouth-watering meal, baked apple pies for dessert…and earned her first $3.00 in Skagway. Not to mention applause from the crew.

It didn’t take her long to earn enough money to have her three young sons join her (the daughter stayed in Seattle as Skagway was no place for ladies—of any age). It also didn’t take her long to realize $3.00 a day was not enough for her and her boys to live on. So she started baking pies…at night…after working all day to feed the crew of eighteen carpenters. She baked hundreds of pies and sold them to miners and a local restaurant. She not only made enough money doing this to take care of her family, the funds made it possible for Harriet to ship seven of her horses up from Seattle.

Harriet used the horses to pack freight over the notorious White Pass Trail, lovingly nicknamed by the locals The Worst Trail This Side of Hell. It was a wee bit steep, to say the least. Harriet was the only woman EVER to move freight over it. She did so quite successfully and word got around. So maybe it was no surprise her worthless husband showed up during this time. He didn’t stay long, choosing instead to brave the cold temperatures of the Klondike rather than the chill in Skagway.

When the railroad finally made pack mules obsolete, our heroine still managed to land on her feet. She bought a big house, rented out the rooms, and sold her pies. The Pullen House eventually became one of the most famous hotels in Alaska.

Harriet never re-married and raised four good kids on her own, two of them war heroes. This “Mother of the North” died in 1947. Probably with her boots on. So no matter what is going on in your life, I suggest first that you pray, and then roll up your sleeves and get to work.

The First Female Lawyer in America Took the Bar Illegally. A True Lady in Defiance.

Can you imagine practicing law in this get-up?

Can you imagine practicing law in this get-up?

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2013 Heather Blanton

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Arabella Mansfield. You’ve probably never heard of her unless you’re from Iowa, but Arabella was the first woman in America to become a lawyer. She passed the Iowa bar in 1869, illegally. Still, Arabella’s milestone proves that behind many a good woman there often stands a supportive man.

Arabella was actually born Belle Aurelia Babb in in 1846 in Burlington, IA. Only three years later her father left to hunt gold in the west, leaving Mrs. Babb to raise Arabella and her brother Washington on her own. Her father was kind enough, however, to send home some money, enabling both children to attend college. Perhaps since her mother was such a stalwart example of what a woman could do, Arabella never saw a barrier she couldn’t conquer. John Mansfield, her high school sweetheart, was smart enough to realize that and, instead of trying to hold her back, encouraged her to reach for the stars.

After graduating from Iowa Wesleyan College, Arabella taught at Simpson College, but returned home only a year later. She married John and studied law in her brother’s office. Two years later, despite the fact that only white men over the age of 21 were allowed to take the bar, Arabella took the exam and passed it with a high score.

This didn’t sit well with some attorneys in the state and so they did what attorneys do: they challenged Arabella’s status. Fairly quickly, the court ruled women and minorities should not be denied the right to practice law in the state, the first ruling of its kind in the USA. Arabella never used the license she fought so hard to acquire—as she preferred teaching—but she involved herself in the fight for women’s rights till she died in 1911. Not a rabid feminist, she did support the suffragette movement. Arabella resented having her intelligence insulted. Clearly, if women were smart enough to become lawyers, she thought it only reasonable they should have the right to vote.

Thank you, Arabella.

When a Puritan Woman Won’t Bend, Break Her. At Least, You Can Try…

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2013 Heather Blanton

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America was built on the idea of religious freedom. The Puritans, the Quakers, and others came here with the desire to worship God as they saw fit. But what happened when one feisty, strong-willed woman challenged the beliefs of her own denomination?

Admittedly, the story of one Ann Marbury Hutchinson doesn’t have a happy ending. She wasn’t vindicated in her lifetime for her faith, courage and stubbornness. She was smeared and her violent death was celebrated by men in the pulpit. She may have been bent, but she wasn’t broken.

Ann Hutchinson arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634 with her husband  and eleven children. One of the reasons for their move from England was they wanted to follow the controversial minister John Cotton. Cotton was known for preaching that we are saved by grace, rather than our good deeds. Ann, an ardent Christian, knew this to be the truth when she heard it and the truth did set her free, especially her mouth.

A mid-wife, Ann had plenty of contact with women in the colony. She started Bible studies for them in her home. With a lively personality and keen mind, she spent hours dissecting and discussing Cotton’s sermons and this idea that we are saved by grace alone. When her meetings grew to as many as 60 people, including men, the church leaders had had enough. They vowed to take her down. (Why does this story sound so familiar?)

I’m no Bible scholar and don’t know much about the deep details of theology, but I do believe salvation is a simple gift. So did Ann and she was passionate about trying to get the word out. She was even brought up on charges by the church for her blasphemy and, by all historical accounts, held her own quite skillfully. After all, a woman who could survive 15 pregnancies, raise 11 of the children, run a home, deliver other women’s babies, find time to pray, and learn the Bible backwards and forwards was a force to be reckoned with. According to court records, a group of men in wigs did not scare her.

Still, a woman with a mind of her own, an abiding affection for her Lord Jesus Christ and an equal hatred of legalism was bound to run afoul of the men in power. Ann was ruled a heretic and an “instrument of the devil”, separated from her children, banished from the colony, and excommunicated from her church. For a time she and her family lived in Rhode Island, but on the passing of her husband, she decided to move to what is now Bronx, New York. A fateful decision. Sometime in August of 1643, Indians raided her farm, killing Ann, six of her children, a son-in-law, and her servants. One surviving child, a daughter, was taken during the attack and ransomed back some years later.

Like I said, not a happy ending. At least on our side of Heaven. As a Christian living in a world where most liberals would do to us what was done to Ann, I believe there is a lesson to be learned from this tough lady. We may never know the number of lives we impact for Christ. We don’t have to know. Just be strong and do the work.

Putting it All on the … Hem! Elizabeth Poindexter and Her Innocent Needle

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2013 Heather Blanton

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Elizabeth and Thomas Poindexter lived in Yadkin county, North Carolina, eventually having 12 children total. Ardent patriots, when the revolutionary war began Thomas Poindexter served as a captain in charge of a regiment of farmers and shop owners. Talented soldiers, they were critical to the American forces in the skirmishes around the Yadkin River, especially in the battle of Shallowford.

Since Thomas Poindexter was away with the revolutionary forces, Elizabeth was left alone at home with the British in close proximity. To aid the war effort, crafty Elizabeth sewed secret messages and military correspondence into her daughters’ dresses, and then would send them on “errands” right through British lines. She did this throughout the conflict and neither she nor her daughters were ever even questioned.

The rumor was was she was a sweet, pretty thing with such well-behaved daughters that she and her girls were simply above suspicion. Reason for cultivating a positive, lady-like reputation (MIley Cyrus, are you listening?).

After the war, Elizabeth was recognized for her bravery in wartime. Today she is an official hero of the Daughters of the American Revolution and they, as well, have recognized her contribution in the revolutionary war in the North Carolina region.

Keep the needle sharp and respect the lace!grave

The Sager Sisters — Were They the Inspiration for the Duracell Bunny?

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2012 Heather Blanton

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Catherine, Elizabeth, Matilda.

Catherine, Elizabeth, Matilda.

Through the lens of history, you can scan a lifetime in the blink of an eye. This learning from a distance, though, not only insulates us from the anguish of dreams left in ashes, it prevents us from appreciating the hard-fought victories.

So put yourself in the shoes of a Sager sister.

I stand in awe of Catherine Sager, a pioneer of the toughest stock. Born in Ohio, she was the eldest daughter of Naomi and Henry Sager. In 1844, after having moved his family three times, Henry set his eye on the Oregon Territory. Naomi, pregnant, and already a mother of six, went grudgingly. Catherine was nine when the family departed from St. Joseph, Mo.

Along the trail in May, her mother gave birth to Little Naomi. As if that wasn’t enough of a hardship, in July, the wagon overturned crossing a shallow stream, severely injuring her (apparently the baby was fine). Still, the family pushed on. Then, only a few hours from a good rest at Fort Laramie, Catherine jumped from the wagon. The hem of her dress caught on an ax handle, throwing her under the huge, lumbering wheel of a fully-loaded Conestoga. Her leg was broken in at least seven different places. Little more than a month later, her father contracted a fever and died.

Death, however, wasn’t through hunting the Sager family. Naomi succumbed to the fever as well and died in Oregon—so close to the goal. She had requested that the wagon master take care of her children and he kept his promise, or at least he tried. By October, the train had made it to the Whitman Mission in Oregon. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman happily adopted all the Sager children. The couple ran a school, farm, trading post, and doctor’s office. The settlement, however, was smack dab in the middle of Nez Perce and Cayuse territory. Due to the treachery of a white man, the Cayuse were manipulated into attacking the settlement in 1847. Catherine again lost loving parents, along with her two older brothers, in the massacre. The surviving women and children were held for ransom by the Indians. In the month-long siege, her six-year-old sister Louisa contracted measles and died.

Four Sager girls survived. Catherine, Elizabeth, Matilda, and Naomi, the baby girl born on the trail. After the massacre, they were separated and shipped off to foster homes. One more untimely death, however, awaited the sisters. A stray bullet struck down Naomi at the age of 26.

Finally, Death took a holiday from its unnatural greed for the Sager family. And like Job, had much of “wealth” restored to them. Catherine, Elizabeth and Matilda married good men, had large families, settled into blissfully normal lives, and lived to be senior citizens. Catherine shared the Sager story, and her grief, in a memoir she penned in 1860. Having lost siblings myself, I am amazed at the resiliency of these women. The fortitude to keep going when everything had been stripped from them is beyond admirable. I feel their pain and will always be grateful for their sacrifices.

Respect the lace.

Dr. Quinn had it Easy Compared to “Doc Susie” Anderson

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2012 Heather Blanton

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doc_anderson

Sometimes I write about the women who fought for this country’s independence in very real, sacrificial ways. Sometimes I write about women who fought the land and the times to settle difficult territory. Susan Anderson is definitely the latter.

Born in Indiana in 1870, she moved with her family to Cripple Creek Colorado at the beginning of the town’s gold rush. Deciding she needed more of a challenge than the rough and rowdy mining town could provide, her father encouraged her to attend medical school. In 1893, she entered the University of Michigan medical school. Little did she know how difficult the journey to put two letters behind her name would be.

She graduated in ’97, but while in school, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The illness would plague her the rest of her life. She returned to Cripple Creek and tended to the miners there for three years, but the pretty, petite doctor was jilted by her fiancée in 1900. That same year she suffered the loss of her little brother.

In need of a change, she relocated her practice to Denver. Surely, the bustling, modern city would provide a steady flow of patients. Not. Anderson nearly starved to death. Patients were very leery of a female doctor, especially when there were already several male doctors in town. Frustrated, she moved again, this time to Greely, and took work as a nurse. How frustrating that must have been for this gutsy, stubborn gal. Probably the stress had something to do with her TB flaring up. Sick and weak, Anderson moved to Fraser, Colorado to recuperate or die. She breathed not a word of her vocation.

But word got out, as it always does, and her health improved. I wonder if the two events are related? At any rate, the citizens of remote Fraser were delighted to have a doctor. They didn’t care if she was male, female, or a different species entirely. Everyone from lumberjacks to ranchers to pregnant wives came to see her. She occasionally even treated a sick horse.

In her career as a doctor, “Doc Susie” was paid with everything from firewood to food. Cash was an extreme rarity and her living conditions reflected that. Nearly destitute, sometime around 1915 or so she was appointed the Grand County Coroner and the regular pay check helped ease some of her financial concerns.

She never owned a car but always found a way to visit her patients. Most often she walked, sometimes in hip-deep snow. Mostly, though, friends and family members of patients provided transportation. Anderson was not rich financially, but she earned an esteemed reputation as a fine rural doctor and diagnostician. Her life was not easy but I think that’s how she would have wanted it. She liked fighting for her accomplishments.

She conquered a frontier, both real and emotional, leaving behind a path for other women who dared to dream big. Anderson practiced in Fraser until 1956 then retired to an old folks home in Denver. She died four years later and was buried with her family in Cripple Creek.

Respect the lace.

Hannah Harrington Clark — Never Mess with a Woman’s Sewing

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2012 Heather Blanton
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elija clark

Hannah Harrington Clark, born 1737 (?) in Edgecomb County, North Carolina was the wife of Colonel Elijah Clark. In the early 1770’s, Colonel Clark moved with his wife and several children to upper Georgia. They settled in an area known as “Hornet’s Nest” – probably named that because support for the American cause was not unanimous and there were a lot of altercations regarding these opinions.

Reports indicate that Hannah was a large, muscular woman “whose every movement showed efficiency.” The family settled well into the Georgia humidity and her children thrived. Hannah was a gifted seamstress and made it a point to sew gentlemanly, “frilled-bosom” shirts for her husband. So they wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands, she literally hid them from the Tory soldiers. One of her maids ratted her out and the shirts were taken in a raid in 1780. Hannah never got over it.

Not long after that, more Tories returned and burned her home to the ground because of her husband’s service in the Colonial army. She managed to save one, single quilt. But her daughters had made it and it was quite special to Hannah. As the family quickly evacuated the scene of their burning home, Hannah ran into yet another group of Tories who spied the quilt and decided to take it. When she didn’t hand it over, a soldier fired at her, wounding her horse. Still Hannah wouldn’t surrender the blanket and finally an officer suggested that such a brave woman should not be robbed. Considering the atrocities committed by Tories and British troops in Georgia, Hannah clearly had a guardian angel with her.

After this incident, Clark relocated his family to TN in hopes of removing them, and his feisty wife, from harm’s way. Hannah wouldn’t have it. She followed her husband from battle to battle, camp to camp, whenever she could. When Clark was severely injured at the first siege of Augusta, Georgia, Hannah rode fifty miles with her two young twins and one male servant to tend to him. During the retreat after another battle, Hannah, her twins again in the saddle with her, had her horse shot from beneath her.

It is fitting that this gritty woman was at the second siege of Augusta. In 1781 the British surrendered Forts Grierson and Cornwallis to the Americans – one of the final blows to King George’s army. Hannah lived to the ripe old age of 90 and saw her oldest son John serve two terms as a governor of Georgia. Never mess with a woman’s sewing.

Respect the lace.

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