In honor of the 4th of July, let me share one of my favorite stories of a fiery, patriotic lady in Defiance–of the British!
Lord Cornwallis, the famous British general, once lamented, “We may destroy all the men in America, and we shall still have all we can do to defeat the women.”
In the fall of 1878, Deborah Samson, at the fiery age of 18, enlisted in the Continental Army…as a man. Spending the next three years as Robert Shirtliffe, Deborah did her part to secure liberty and freedom for America. She served in various capacities under Capt. Nathan Thayer and proved herself a capable, willing, and courageous Massachusetts soldier.
Talk about fight like a girl…
Never one to run from a battle, Deborah dove right in with the best and the bravest. She was shot once in the leg, nicked in the head by a British sword, then shot again in the other leg. All three times she refused medical attention so as not to have her ruse discovered. Unfortunately, she came down with a “brain fever” in 1781 and was treated by a Dr. Binney of Philadelphia.
Imagine his surprise!
He forthwith moved Deborah to his own home for recovery and sent a note to Capt. Thayer. Upon her recovery, Deborah was called to General Washington’s office. The legends differ here on what exactly happened next. Some say she was asked to deliver papers to the General, at which point he gave her the papers of discharge. Other stories say she delivered the papers, was called back to pick up new dispatches, and then Gen. Washington handed her the discharge papers.
Ever the Gentleman…
What all the stories agree on is that Washington chose not to publicly reprimand or embarrass Deborah. He handed her the discharge papers, without comment, and also handed her the soldier’s pay due her, and a note of advice. The note was lost to history, but knowing General Washington’s respect for women and his wry sense of humor, it probably said something to the effect of, “Now that you’ve shown my men how to fight, I think it is time you return to the duties of your fair sex. Thank you for your service to your country.”
Eventually, Deborah married a farmer named Gannet and had (naturally) three daughters. Ironically, she named the youngest one Patience.
An American girl after my own heart.
Happy 4th of July!
I discovered an astounding statistic the other day. You know I often write blogs about tough, stubborn, gritty women who beat the odds, improvised, adapted, overcame and helped build the country we love. Well, the #1 most read blog I’ve written is, of course, about one of these women–one from the Revolutionary War. Over 15,000 hits! Hmmm. Maybe I’m writing in the wrong genre!
Anyway, if you haven’t yet, check out my take on identifying the heroic and mysterious Agent 355! What a woman. Let me know if you agree with my theory on who she was!
Anna Smith Strong on AMC’s show Turn is portrayed as a woman more in love with a man than the cause of Liberty. Maybe. But I think it was the other way around.
From a wealthy Tory family, Anna married ardent Setauket patriot Selah Strong III, who became a judge in New York. The Strong family owned much property on what is now Long Island. Property owners, lawyers, and patriots, they made themselves a big target for the Crown. In 1778, her husband was arrested for suspicious correspondence with the enemy and thrown on the dreaded prison ship Jersey. A death sentence, except that Anna would not give up on Selah. She used every connection she had to get permission to take him food, while simultaneously pushing for his release. Between bribes and political pressure, Selah was eventually paroled.
But not cleared. He had no fans in the British army. To stay out of prison, Selah re-located to Connecticut with their children. Anna did not go with him.
Leaving would have meant abandoning their plantation. However, women, considered non-combatants by the crown, could maintain control of property in a husband’s absence. Maybe she stayed behind so the family wouldn’t be destitute after the war. Maybe, as the writers on Turn suggest, she stayed behind to continue her affair with Abraham Woodhull.
Or, maybe, she was willing to risk her life so a nation could be born. I’m on board with that option.
During the time that her husband was on the Jersey, Anna got involved with the Washington’s Culper spy ring. According to folklore, she would hang her black petticoat on the laundry line when Caleb Brewster had come ashore to collect intelligence. The number of handkerchiefs on her line would indicate in which of six coves he was waiting. Woodhull would then meet Brewster and hand-over the intelligence. According to AMC’s Turn, Anna and Woodhull were carrying on a torrid affair.
What we know for sure is that Anna’s home was constantly raided by British troops. She was harassed, and her home invaded whenever the notion struck the soldiers. They didn’t burn it, however, and she hung on to it. When the war was over, she and Selah were reunited. They spent the rest of their lives together in Setauket and named one of their children George Washington Strong.
I think that if she had loved Selah more than Liberty, she would have gone to Connecticut with him. If she loved Abraham Woodhull more than Selah, she wouldn’t have fought so hard to keep her home, nor would she have gone back to Selah at the end of the war. As it was, it seems she was willing to risk it all for an idea: the crazy notion that a free nation would provide a better life for her and her children and their children. Sounds like love to me, and not the kind that involves sex on the kitchen table.
Just my observation.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
By Heather Frey Blanton
The biggest, baddest, most bold signature on the Declaration of Independence belongs to John Hancock. Said signature is the icon for fearless rebellion and raw treason. Did you know that when Hancock put his name to that paper, he was a newlywed?
No wonder he was feeling froggy.
So who was the lady who stoked the fires of revolution and made John think he was ten feet tall and bulletproof?
Dorothy “Dolly” Quincy was the youngest daughter of Judge Edmund Quincy. Born to a life of privilege and wealth, she was blessed with brains and beauty. She seems to have had numerous pretty sisters and cousins, too. Like flowers for bees, the Quincy home attracted many young men, including Samuel and John Adams, and the wealthy John Hancock. John had recently inherited his uncle’s holdings and was using his newly acquired fortune to establish a path in politics.
An ardent patriot, he found that the Quincy family shared his love of liberty. Dorothy eagerly desired to see the British head back across the pond and leave the colonists alone. It didn’t help that in 1775 an arrest order was issued for her new beau John. The British thought to take him into custody while they commandeered the ammunition supplies at Lexington. Dorothy was in Lexington visiting Lydia Hancock, John’s aunt, and actually witnessed the Battle of Lexington.
Fearing for her safety, John forbade his fiancée to return to Boston. Supposedly her response was something meek and acquiescent, like, “Recollect, Mr. Hancock, I am not under your authority yet. I shall go to my father’s to-morrow.” The fact that this story survives speaks, I think, volumes about the woman. It is rather apropos she heard” the shot heard round the world.”
In any event, Aunt Lydia talked her out of going. The writing was on the wall. Revolution had exploded and America was at war with the largest military power on the planet. John sent Dorothy and his Aunt to stay with the Rev. Thaddeus Burr in Fairfield while he and the other founding fathers decided how to respond to the battles of Lexington and Concord. That summer, in the midst of such deeply important strategizing, he made time to marry Dorothy. The two rebels headed off immediately to Philadelphia.
A year later, as president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence and officially made himself an enemy of the Crown. Dorothy never second-guessed him. She never asked him to back off. She never asked him to value his fortune or family over the cause of liberty. This country had to be free and they had pledged their lives to it.
Married nearly twenty years, the couple had two children. One died in infancy, the other by the age of eight. Dorothy was by John’s side when he passed away in 1793. She re-married several years later to a friend of the family.
Perhaps she never carried secret intelligence or manned a cannon, but Dorothy Hancock was a loyal wife and valued confidante to her husband. She supported the cause of liberty with boundless passion, and carried herself with admirable dignity, even in in the face of tragedy. Sometimes, keeping your head up and your fist raised is a matter of slow, defiant slogging.
Here’s to another Lady in Defiance.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton