Author Archives: Heather Frey Blanton

Killed Her There. Killed Her Infant. Burned Her Home. And Still the Pioneer Women Kept Coming.

by Heather Frey Blanton

indian_attack

Recently I’ve been researching a nameless pioneer woman who was murdered, along with her infant, on the Pennsylvania frontier. What I find so fascinating about her story is not only her willingness to attempt to wrestle a dream from the savage land, but that thousands of women ignored her fate and fearlessly followed in her footsteps.

Sometime between 1750 and 1760, Nathaniel Carter moved his wife and four young children to the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. Records indicate they were the first white family to penetrate this far into an area controlled by Seneca, Delaware, and Cherokee Indians. While we know his name, even the names and ages of his children (Sarah, 11; Elizabeth, 8; Nathaniel Jr., 6), I have not been able to find out her name or that of her infant.

Imagine, a baby at your breast, young children holding on to your apron strings, and you follow your husband into the hostile wilderness along the remote Wallenpaupack Creek in the middle of the French-Indian War. At night, did her fear drown out the chirping crickets and hooting owls? Did motion in the brush send her into a panic? Did she see an Indian behind every bush?

We know that this family not only harvested their own logs for their cabin, but they built/made/grew everything they needed to survive. They even managed to befriend a small tribe of Indians known as the Paupacken, a branch of the Delaware. Their future was bright. As a family, they had grabbed hold of what would become known as The American Dream—determining their own destiny, bowing to no man or king. The frontier was their golden landscape. Surely, Mrs. Carter was filled with hope and optimism. Perhaps even a sense of peace settled on her as she watched her children play in the bones of cornstalks that fall.

No one knows exactly when the attack happened, since it was years before more settlers ventured into this area, but in November of some year now forgotten, the Carter family farm was raided by the Cherokee. Nathaniel had gone hunting. Mrs. Carter was there alone that day. No one can imagine the way her blood froze and fear sliced through her when she heard the war cries and looked up to see painted savages sprinting from the woods.

Nathaniel returned home and found his wife hacked to death with a hatchet, his young baby brutally dashed upon the rocks. His two daughters and son had been kidnapped. His house was in flames and his cattle had been stampeded into the forest.

Everything a man could hold on to had been taken from Nathaniel Carter in that lonely clearing.

And still the settlers doggedly marched forth into the American wilderness. Women trudged along beside the wagons, toddlers in tow, men cutting roads as they went. Did these hardy ladies watch the shadows in the forest, wondering if they, too, might meet the same fate as the Carter family? Resilient, defiant, they marched on, the land of dreams beckoning to them, their loyalty to their husbands overriding their fear.

If you’d like to know a little more about the Carters, I urge you to enjoy this wonderful song by a great bluegrass band, Kickin’ Grass!  http://www.musicxray.com/xrays/122503

How Many Lives Did Mary Slocumb’s Midnight Ride for Love Save?

by Heather Frey Blanton

For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.
Judy Garland

We all know love can drive a person to insane actions, casting caution to the wind, striving only to get to the person we love no matter the cost. Just twenty seconds of insane courage? For some, that’s enough. But not for Mary Slocumb.

Mary’s husband was a soldier serving in a North Carolina regiment during the Revolutionary War. In February of 1776, Ezekiel headed off to fight the British in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge near Wilmington. Plagued with an unshakable feeling of doom, she went to bed that night and dreamed she saw her husband’s body, bloody, lifeless, and wrapped in his cloak.

Mary awoke, leaped from her bed, saddled her horse and rode hell-bent-for-leather, thirty-one miles, in the dark, through fields and swamps seeking her beloved. By daylight she heard the thunder of cannons and raced towards the sound. Mary stumbled upon a group of about twenty wounded soldiers hidden among a grove of Oaks. She immediately dismounted and soon discovered a body wrapped in her husband’s cloak. Upon closer examination, however, she realized the soldier was not her husband, nor was he dead, but he was suffering from a traumatic, very bloody head injury. Mary washed the man’s wound, dressed it, and gave him some water using a gourd she carried on her own saddle. She then spent the rest of the day nursing the other wounded soldiers. Hours passed, though, with no sign of her husband.

Then, in her own words, “I looked up and my husband, as bloody as a butcher…stood before me.”

Imagine her joy.

Imagine his shock.

What Mary and Ezekiel both did that day cannot be underestimated. Ezekiel was in the troop that chased the British back across the bridge and sent them skedaddling home to Cornwallis. This one, early victory ignited the hearts of Southern patriots and recruitment in the coastal areas of North and South Carolina and Virginia leaped!

For her part, who knows how many soldiers would have died if not for Mary showing up to nurse them? Some of you may be reading this today because of her crazy ride to find her soulmate!

Two people in love. Two people who may well have changed the course of the Revolutionary War.

P.S. Mary’s gourd is on display in the NC Museum of History and there is a status of her at Moore’s Creek Bridge.

Frances Hart Sheftall–The Jewish American Girl Cornwallis Warned You About

by Heather Frey Blanton

http://www.peterdickison.com/wp/archives/723

Grit. Determination. Playing the violin while rockets burst all around. The current conflict in Israel got me to wondering about the pioneer and patriot Jewish women in America. Not surprisingly there were many who made valuable contributions to both the war effort and the settling of America. I’ve already profiled Sarah Thal, a pioneer woman with the sand to survive and thrive in the Old West. Going back a bit further, I discovered Frances Hart Sheftall.

Around 1760 or so, Frances arrived in Charleston, SC with her brother Joshua. A year later, she married Mordecai Sheftall and the two moved to Savannah. Mordecai, whose formal education had ended at the age of 11, turned out to be a shrewd businessman. A merchant, he eventually moved into shipping, importing, and real estate. By the start of the war, he and Sarah owned over 2000 acres of land, several thousand cattle, and his shipping business had contacts in England, the Caribbean, Charleston, Philadelphia and many other places. His business holdings, especially the shipping aspect, put him in the line of fire, so to speak, with good ol’ King George.

Not surprisingly, Mordecai and Frances turned into ardent patriots and were very public about their stance. Willing to walk the walk, Mordecai and his son Sheftall enlisted in the Continental Army. In 1778 both of them were captured by the British during the battle for Savannah and held prisoner in Antigua. His holdings, all of them, were confiscated by the British.

Frances, who had taken refuge in Charleston just prior to the attack, found herself alone and responsible for four young  children.  With nothing but the clothes on her back and the coins in her reticule, she rolled up her sleeves and went to work. Frances cooked, cleaned, sewed, ironed, fetched, toted. Whatever it took. Within a few months she’d managed to rent a house in Charleston and get her children started in school. She not only kept the spirits up of her young ones, but wrote loving, upbeat letters to her two favorite soldiers. Everything was fine in Charleston and the family was waiting for Mordecai and Sheftall to return home soon. No worries.

While she was keeping it together at home—literally—Frances repeatedly petitioned the Continental Congress to initiate a prisoner exchange for her husband and son. Whether due to her repeated hounding or the fact that Mordecai was a man with an honorable reputation which had garnered him many friends, he and his son were released and came home to America in 1781.  They didn’t make it back to Savannah as a family until late 1782. The Sheftall holdings no longer existed, though. Everything was gone, distributed, burnt. From riches to rags.

Though the family never attained their former materialistic glory, Frances and Mordecai were considered a fine, upstanding family by Jews and non-Jews alike. Mordecai was a leader in his synagogue and Frances continued to be active on a civic level. Clearly, they never took liberty for granted, and after the prisoner exchange, probably never took each other for granted either.

Sweet Revenge — How Susan McSween Really Won the Lincoln County War

by Heather Frey Blanton

Imagine you’re a woman living in a western town where a war over money and power is raging. People are being outright murdered. There is no law except that which is meted out by the villains. Then your husband is murdered and you are alone with these cut-throats. What do you do?

If you’re Susan McSween, an American girl, you fight on till you become “The Cattle Queen of New Mexico.”

Susan was the wife of Alexander McSween and the two moved to Lincoln, New Mexico in 1875. They hit it off with English rancher John Tunstall who introduced them to the legendary John Chisum. The two cattle barons and all the other folks in the valley were eagerly looking for a way to wrestle some commerce out of the fist of James Dolan. Dolan and his partner Lawrence Murphy had monopolized the banking and mercantile trade in Lincoln, charging absolutely exorbitant prices for everything.

Not much for being extorted, Tunstall and McSween opened their own mercantile and bank. Infuriated over the challenge to their little kingdom, the Murphy-Dolan faction immediately hired gangs of mercenary gunmen to wage a war of violent intimidation. Tunstall, in turn, hired boys who would come to be known as The Lincoln County Regulators. Fiercely loyal to their employer, legendary members included Billy the Kid and Charley Bowdre.

Lincoln was a powder keg and after several murders, including that of John Tunstall, the Tunstall-McSween store was burned to the ground with a handful of the Regulators inside. Alexander McSween was shot as he was coming out of the building to surrender.

Susan McSween saw the whole thing.

Amazingly, instead of cowering, she sought justice in the matter and hired attorney Huston Chapman to go after Dolan, his sheriff, and Army Colonel Nathan Dudley. Susan also had Chapman attempt to negotiate amnesty for her Regulators. All for nought. While Dudley stood trial, he was acquitted. Before Dolan’s trial, Chapman was shot and killed. The case was dropped, but Susan didn’t go away. She just changed her strategy.

Murphy managed to acquire all of Tunstall’s land holdings, developing a sizable ranch. He even dabbled in politics, but his dream of being the biggest cattle baron in the state was repeatedly foiled by a meddling, ambitious little brunette on a mission of her own. Susan acquired several thousand acres after her husband’s murder and then married George Barber. At one point, the couple reportedly had over 8,000 head of cattle.

While Murphy eventually drank himself to death, Susan McSween sold her ranch in 1902 and retired a wealthy woman. She died at the ripe old age of 86 having outlasted nearly all the men involved in the murder of her husband.

A true lady in defiance.

 

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Rachel and Grace Martin — How the Girls With Guns Sent’em Running!

The painting would imply the waylay was more exciting than it actually was.

by Heather Frey Blanton

When it comes to South Carolina’s Revolutionary War history, the men get all the credit. The most famous patriot of them all is, of course, Frances Marion, known as the Swamp Fox, the inspiration behind Mel Gibson’s movie The Patriot.  But as I so often point out, a lot of women during this time didn’t just sit around doing needlepoint while Rome burned, so to speak. On numerous occasions, they took matters into their own hands.

The Martin family of upstate South Carolina was made up of nine children, seven of whom were old enough to enlist in the war in the late 1770’s. Their mother was an ardent supporter of the patriotic cause and must have been beside herself with joy when William and Barkly Martin married Rachel and Grace. These two young ladies were raised with a love of liberty and a hate for the monarchy. British troops had on numerous occasions worked to earn the ladies’ ire.

With their husbands off fighting tyranny, the women kept their ears to the ground for news. And having earned a reputation as steadfast patriots, they often accumulated information that was relevant to the Colonial Army. One evening, they were alerted that a British messenger with dispatches and two guards would be passing nearby. The girls’ husbands were off fighting with Maj. Nathanael Greene, who along with his troops, had 1000 loyalists under siege. There were no men available, therefore, to stop the courier.

Rachel and Grace were having none of that. Those dispatches could well result in the deaths of husbands and brothers. Without delay, they donned their husbands’ clothes, loaded their pistols and waited beside the road. The story goes that the British soldiers were so completely taken by surprise, they never even had a chance to draw their weapons. Without any argument, they surrendered their dispatches and rode off at a gallop, perhaps trying to outrun their humiliation.

Rachel and Grace then delivered the classified papers to a trusted courier who carried them to Major Greene. All in a patriot girl’s day. Feeling pretty satisfied with themselves, as well they should, they changed clothes in the barn and entered their mother-in-law’s home…only to find the three British soldiers sitting around the kitchen table licking their emotional wounds.

But a pretty patriot gal in a well-lit kitchen looks a lot different than a scruffy rebel in a dark forest. The girls weren’t recognized and the soldiers left the next morning.

As always, there is so much more to the story of these girls and their husbands, but they fought hard for the cause, sacrificed much, and lived to see Independence. I thank them both and wonder if I would have the cajones to do the same…

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The Fire Behind the Ice — Did Wyatt Earp Ever Really Tame Josey?

by Heather Frey Blanton

The point of Patriots in Lace is to remind my American sisters (whether they be American by birth or spirit), of our fiery and rebellious ancestors and, hence, the bloodlines we should honor. The old adage, “Well behaved women rarely make history” is true. The history-making women of previous generations were passionate, obstinate,  tempestuous, and indomitable. Probably they didn’t see themselves as such at the time. They were just doing what came naturally.

So let’s talk about Josephine Sarah Marcus, or the woman known to Wyatt Earp fans as Josey, his common-law wife. Josey was a hellion, pure and simple. A pretty Jewish girl stifled by middle class boredom, she ran away from home at 18 to join a theatrical troupe. This troupe traveled the west and, by all accounts, this young lady was giddy with the power her freedom and beauty bought her. She drank, she danced, she flirted. In 1879 Wyatt Earp saw her perform in Dodge City. He saw her; Josey, however, failed to notice Wyatt.

God gave her a second chance.

Both of them would wind up in the warm and friendly boomtown of Tombstone a year later. Ironically, this was Josey’s second visit. She had returned to Tombstone due to the desperate pleas of Johnny Behan, the sheriff who couldn’t live without her and who had promised her parents he’d marry her. The two had a tumultuous relationship, at best, and it didn’t take long for Josey to figure out Behan was a two-timing jerk. One affair too many and her patience went up in smoke.

At Behan’s urging, Josey had used her money to build the couple’s abode which sat upon a lot he owned. When the two ended their relationship, Josey demanded Behan buy the house. He hemmed and hawed and tried to retain possession of the dwelling without paying. Clearly, he didn’t know who he was messing with. When he couldn’t/wouldn’t reimburse Josey, she simply had the house moved! Imagine the look on his face when he came home to an empty lot. Oh, hell hath no fury…

Hindsight is 20/20 and it is clear now that Josey only wound up in Tombstone for one reason. Wyatt Earp was her density—er, I mean, destiny. The electricity between the two was so noticeable it even earned a mention in the Tombstone Epitaph, much to Johnny’s chagrin.  A myriad of circumstances contributed to the hard feelings between Earp and Behan and it’s probable that Josey figured into the mix.

Either way, when events turned treacherous in Tombstone and Wyatt had to call down the thunder on his brother’s murderers, he sent Josey back to San Francisco. He promised, however, that he would fetch her as soon as possible. Nearly a year and a string of dead bodies later, Wyatt did show up on her doorstep. They were inseparable for the next 46 years.

No, it wasn’t always bread and roses. Josey spent a lot of time sitting alone in hotel rooms while Wyatt gambled for their stake. But she was by his side when they worked in saloons, sold horses, panned for gold in the wilds of Alaska, and rambled around the California desert in search of lost mines. She stayed with him when they left Alaska $80,000 richer and she didn’t abandon him later when they couldn’t pay their rent. She fought ferociously to protect his reputation from a questionable biography and was the sole friend who heard his last words upon this earth. Who would have ever guessed such devotion and tenacity would come from an 18-year-old runaway?

Me.

‘Cause she was an American girl…

Respect the lace.

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From Lace to Leather–Was Nannie Alderson Born to Just Cowboy Up?

More than a decade ago, I read A Bride Goes West, the memoirs of Wyoming wife and rancher Nannie Alderson. The book haunts me to this day. You’d have to read it to understand, but Nannie was a fire-cracker with a rebel’s heart! Nothing ever kept her down; she accepted life with grace and grit and lived a grand adventure when the west was still wild and wooly.

Born to an affluent southern family, Nannie grew up in post-Civil War Virginia. Her home and community were spared much of the desolation of war, leaving her to blossom in a world that clung to the most genteel Southern graces. Her petticoats were ironed daily, she never cooked a meal or did her own laundry, but she did learn the most useless graces of high society. Her mother was a vain woman who enjoyed being the belle of the ball and was pleased to groom her daughter for the same fate.

Nannie only felt strangled by the shallow, societal confinements.

In 1880, she had the opportunity to visit a cousin in wild-and-wooly Kansas. Nannie jumped at it. Right from the start, she fell in love with the freedom of the West. No one judged her there; no one treated her like a hot-house flower. What you wore or who you ate dinner with didn’t impress anyone. Folks were measured by their sand, not their silk breeches. Hard work and honest words were all that mattered.

While there, she met the man who epitomized these traits. Walt Alderson had left home at the age of 12 to make his way as a cowboy. He spent years learning to be the best cowboy he could be with the ultimate goal of running his own spread. In all that time, he never made one visit home.

Then suddenly, his future rolled out before him. He and his business partner purchased some land in Montana and started the work of building a ranch. For whatever reason, Walt decided in the midst of all this to check in on his family. The night he came home, Nannie was sitting on his living room settee.

Nannie’s recollections of building a ranch in the wilds of Montana with Walt are fascinating, detailed, peppered with humor, and always honest. She went from gliding across hardwood floors to sweeping dirt floors covered with canvas. She went from living in an ante-bellum mansion to a drafty, two-room cabin. She went from swirling about at parties with young men in perfectly tailored suits to dancing with dusty cowboys in patched up dungarees .

She had to learn to cook and her tutors were those trail-hardened ranch hands who treated her like a princess and readily forgave her for the rocks she called biscuits. She survived bed bugs and blizzards; delivered children with no mid-wife and stared down Indians. Nannie even shot a rattle snake who attempted to take up residence in her kitchen. She readily admits she had moments when she felt sorry for herself, but, mostly, Nannie counted her blessings. She loved her life. She loved the way of life out West.

Like Walt, quitting was never part of the plan, even when the stock market crashed and Indians burned their house. For ten years they worked and slaved to forge a home from the beautiful, desolate, wide-open country in Montana.  Even when Walt died, leaving her a widow with two young children, Nannie cowboyed up. She made ends meet; she raised good kids.

The next time your microwave goes on the fritz or you forget to pick up milk at the store, pick up a copy of A Bride Goes West. I guarantee this American woman will put things in perspective for you.

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Pretty Polly, Was She the Proverbs 31 Woman Who Won the West?

Photos of Joseph Lane abound; not so with Polly. Even the headstone only gives her credit for being his wife.Notice it doesn’t say “Loving Memory.”

Last week, I wrote about Nellie Cashman, a young woman who traveled the West, sought out her own opportunities, left most people better off for having known her, and yet she never married.

I sometimes wonder about the pioneer women of this country who had absentee husbands. Men, who between heroic deeds and territorial path-finding, came home long enough to get their wives pregnant. Not an ideal situation, perhaps, but ultimately, the way of the world, even today. Some men are called to politics, war, exploring. It is left to the woman, right or wrong, to keep the home fires burning. These women are the unsung heroines of the early days of America.

Polly Pierre Lane is one such example. From an early age, the fact that Polly’s life would be hard was undeniable. And, yet, God always had his hand on her. At the age of 12, she escaped an Indian attack that wiped out her whole family. She literally leaped out a back window, raced to the river, and dove into a canoe.  Dazed and confused, she drifted down the Ohio until the boat bumped into a small landing. This landing was owned by a Christian family who immediately took Polly into their home and raised her as their own.

The wilderness was not a place where a woman learned to read or write, but frontier life was the school of hard knocks. Polly could cook, sew, run a farm, and tend to babies. At the age of fifteen, she married the son of her foster family. Her husband was dead by the time she turned seventeen. The wilderness also doesn’t leave much time for grieving. Polly soon fell in love with a neighbor, a man with a wandering streak, and a desire to enter politics.

Joseph Lane was elected to the Indiana State Legislature at the age of twenty. Political business kept him away for weeks at a time. Still, their family grew and Polly dutifully managed her home well, even when Joseph left to fight in the war with Mexico. He was gone three years. During his time as a soldier he was promoted to brigadier general, but never received any pay.

When he returned to Indiana, broke and war-weary, Polly was waiting for him. Their home was in order, their children were doing well. Joseph, however, didn’t stay long enough to settle in. A few months into his new home life, he received an appointment as the Territorial Governor of Oregon. He was gone again within a matter of weeks. Polly trudged on, rearing their children, keeping the home up, and their bills paid.

Eventually, Joseph sent for his family. Polly was honored in Oregon with a gala ball that took her breath away. She was also surprised to learn that not only had her husband assigned his pay to her, she was legally part owner of three hundred acres of Oregon land!

Joseph went on to serve as a congressman, a general in Indian skirmishes, even the vice –presidential running mate of John C. Breckinridge, the man who ran against Lincoln.  He spent a lot of time away from home, but when he finally settled down, his ranch in Oregon was the envy of the valley. One could argue, that, in her own womanly way, Polly did as much to build America as the Congressman.

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Nellie Cashman—Was this Angel Counting on the Rosary and Betting on the Flag?

Though the name of my blog is Patriots in Lace, I consider any woman who came to America not just to take, but to give something back, a patriot. That’s why I want you to meet Nellie Cashman, a boundary-pushing, territory-exploring Irish woman who saw America as the Land of Opportunity. She came, she saw, she conquered, she gave back.

In 1850, at about the age of five, Nellie immigrated to Boston with her sister Fanny and widowed-mother. The three spent almost fifteen years together there, but then relocated west to San Francisco around 1872, give or take. Nellie and her mother, both of whom apparently had an adventurous streak, decided to move on to the bustling, untamed mining town of Pioche, NV. They only stayed a few years, but Nellie was deeply involved with the Catholic church there, helping with fundraisers and bazaars. When her aging mother decided Pioche was a little too wild for a senior citizen, Nellie took her to live with her now-married sister in San Francisco. Stunningly, Nellie then headed north alone to British Columbia to another rough-and-rowdy mining town. She opened a boarding house in the Cassiar District and tried her hand at mining.

Now, most girls in this situation, hanging around with such an unsavory crowd, might get into mischief, forget their morals. Herein lies the quirky thing about Nellie: she loved to help people, sometimes through hell and high water and avalanches. In the winter of 1874-75, Nellie took a trip to Victoria where she helped establish the Sisters of St. Ann Hospital. Over the coming decades, she would continue to be a stalwart supporter of this hospital, and several others. She also helped destitute miners, making sure benevolence funds were available to them in whatever town she landed.

She is most famous, though, for what she did on the way home. Traveling back to Cassiar, she heard a blizzard had stranded dozens, if not more, of the folks from the district, and they were experiencing a scurvy epidemic, to boot. Nellie immediately hired men and sleds, acquired medicine and supplies and started out for Cassiar. It took the group 77 days in unimaginable conditions to reach the miners. Nellie then worked tirelessly to nurse the folks back to health.

Her feat was so astounding, so brazen, so fearless, the story was picked up by the newspapers. With good cause, she came to be known to the miners as their “Angel of Mercy.”

Nellie was a legitimate legend.

She was also restless, constantly on the move, from one raunchy mining town to the next. After the death of her sister, she continued to feed her wanderlust, but with five nephews and nieces in tow. To keep food on the table, she bought and sold restaurants, and even owned and worked her own claims. She spent several years in Tombstone, AZ where she rubbed shoulders with larger-than-life figures like Wyatt Earp and Johnny Behan. Her faith, however, was as ingrained on Nellie’s heart as cactus in the dessert. Even in wild-and-wooly Tombstone, she worked to build Tombstone’s first hospital and Roman Catholic church.

Nellie did a lot of philanthropic work, but the lady was no push-over. When her rights were challenged, she went to court. She won some cases, and she lost some, but she managed to raise five upstanding citizens and keep her mines working. When Nellie passed away in 1925, she did so in the Sisters of St. Ann hospital that she had funded for nearly fifty years.

I heard someone complain today about how her own life had never really amounted to anything because of a lack of opportunity. Nellie saw opportunity everywhere: opportunities to succeed, opportunities to help others. The Real American Way.

It’s all around us, just open your eyes…

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Agent 355–Her Name Might be a Mystery, But is Her Identity Really Still a Secret?

The study of our heroes and heroines is more often than not like trying to track a rabbit. The critter turns, runs, spins, leaves confusing tracks, and then disappears. But if you try hard, put yourself in your prey’s mind, and look outward, some compelling paths reveal themselves.

Agent 355 was a female agent in George Washington’s famous Culper Spy ring. Absolutely nothing concrete is known about her other than when British leaders were in New York, information funneled to Washington fast and furious. When they left town, the information slowed to a trickle.

So who was this totally unsung heroine who willingly risked it all for God and country? Walk with me as we make some educated guesses.

Technically, she didn’t actually have her own identity, like, say, “Agent 99.” The number “355” simply meant female spy. But this lady never failed to disappoint Washington. Her intelligence was always spot on. Some documents indicate 355 may have provided the intelligence that suggested Benedict Arnold was going to betray his country and that the famously personable British soldier John Andre was his contact.

Scholars speculate that 355 was a well-bred lady from New York society, the member of a Loyalist family. Such a position would have certainly given her access to officers and their “attentions.” How easy to simply ignore boring talk of troop movements whilst you bat your eyelashes at a handsome, young soldier. No one would know you were actually soaking up the intelligence in that pretty little head of yours.

Or perhaps she was a maid in a house where British soldiers bivouacked. What better cover for rifling through papers on a desk than to say you’re dusting the furniture? Or cleaning up a mess on the floor so you could drop to your hands and knees and put your ear to the cracks?

Robert Townsend was the head of the Culper spy network and rumors have persisted for almost 300 years that 355 was his common-law wife. A female spy was arrested and incarcerated on the prison ship Jersey in 1780. This woman gave birth to a son whom she supposedly named Robert Townsend, Jr.  Most academics debunk this story as mere legend, but here is a tantalizing piece of information. Robert Townsend, Jr., a “son” of James Townsend (brother of Robert Sr.) became a lawyer and went into politics. Strangely, one of his pet projects was the Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial Fund which eventually became the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument at Fort Green Park in New York. This monument, nearly 150 feet tall commemorates the men and women who lost their lives aboard these horrible prison ships.

Could Robert Townsend have asked his brother to raise a bastard son, to give him a chance at a respectable life? Why didn’t Robert Townsend ever marry, or re-marry?

Whoever 355 was, she is not forgotten; she is honored and she lives on to inspire us all in the fight for liberty. She did nothing for fame or glory. Her name was never written down anywhere. George Washington didn’t even know who she was. She did it all for the fledgling America.

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