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Mom Rinker — the Little Ol’ Lady Who Spied for Washington

She sat up there at the top.

She sat up there at the top.

There is a rock in Philadelphia along the Wissahickon Creek made famous by a little old lady who was one of George Washington’s best spies. No blond bombshell who blinded the British with her shocking good looks, she was merely an innocuous-looking little ol’ lady.

One of the complaints against King George listed in the Declaration of Independence was

“…For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us”

Troops could and often did simply move in and take-over a family’s home. Understandably, this didn’t sit well with the property owners who weren’t in favor of the King’s rule in the first place. Molly “Mom” Rinker was one such dissatisfied English subject willing to fight for her independence. She didn’t sit idly by while British soldiers took over her family’s inn and planned their attacks. An older, matronly woman, who would ever suspect her of being a raging patriot and spy?

No one … and she planned to keep it that way. While soldiers banned the male members of her family from the dining area, Mom was kept at hand so she could wait on the redcoats. She waited on them, all right, and made sure to keep jugs of liquor and ale in the dining room so she had fewer excuses for leaving.

Then this clever little Granny-like lady would pass intelligence to Washington’s men. She was never caught; her identity never revealed. So how did she do it?

Each night after gathering her intelligence, she wrote the information on a small piece of paper and wrapped it around a tiny stone. She then wrapped yarn around the stone until she had a normal, mundane looking ball of yarn. Every day, Mom would go to a lovely little spot along her favorite creek and seat herself on a rock. From this rock, she had a pleasant view of the woods.

She would then subtly drop the ball of yarn and watch it roll down the small cliff. One of Washington’s men would retrieve the note and disappear into the brush. No one was ever the wiser. The British never saw her converse with anyone. Granny sat upon her rock and knitted stockings for her beloved Colonial soldiers. She couldn’t be the spy; had to be someone else.

The British never even searched her basket. Probably wouldn’t have found the messages anyway. Not all spying during the American Revolution required complicated cloak-and-dagger techniques. The beauty of this deception was its simplicity, an idea born of wisdom and experience. Talk about a woman who could truly say, “Mom knows best.”

by Heather Frey Blanton

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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.

Eleanor Dare of the Roanoke Lost Colony — English Grit & American Spirit

One of America’s greatest mysteries is that of The Lost Colony. Most people know the story of how, in 1587, a group of English settlers were abandoned on Roanoke Island and they were never seen again.

I wonder who they were, why they were there, what did they hope to find in America? I am especially fascinated by Eleanor White Dare. Why would a woman leave the comfort and safety of her European home for the wilds of the New World, especially knowing she is pregnant! If the name Eleanor Dare doesn’t ring a bell, then surely you know her daughter: Virginia Dare—the first English child born in America. We don’t know much about the child, but there is much to appreciate about her mother.

If we can’t say anything else about Eleanor, we must attribute to her stunning courage, savage determination, and an audacious belief in the possibilities of a New World. That’s why it is improbable she died on a desolate, 12-mile spit of land covered with windswept pines and sand spurs. Eleanor was a survivor. She would have made the best of her circumstances and worked tirelessly to find some way to let her father know her whereabouts.

In his diaries, John White, governor of the Lost Colony, speaks lovingly and respectfully of his daughter. I believe she was his confidant and that he hid nothing from her. When things went awry and the colonists were marooned on Roanoke, the group made a plan. If they were to survive, they absolutely had to get off Roanoke. They were down to practically zero provisions and it was already August—past planting season; not to mention, farming the soil on Roanoke isn’t for amateurs. Therefore, they were going to move 50 miles inland. Since the pilot would only allow one or two colonists to return to England, the group unanimously agreed that White should make the return trip. If they were in distress or under attack when they left the island, they would carve crosses on the trees.

So, here are the facts: for whatever reasons (ostensibly the war with Spain, but, this certainly debatable), John White did not return to Roanoke for three years. When he finally did make it back, the colonists were gone, their buildings had been removed (not raised—that’s important), and the word “Croatoan” had been carved into two different locations at the settlement, but no crosses were found. The colonists had in their company an Indian named Manteo, of the Croatoan tribe, who had in the past acted as an emissary and translator for the English.

Also, just within the last month, a map by John White has been discovered to hold some intriguing information. A patch hides a drawing of what looks very similar to a fort on a piece of land where the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers meet. Even more startling, on top of the patch are markings done with invisible ink! These marks seem to show something larger and more significant than a fort. The site is approximately 50 miles west.

Fact: a stone was discovered in this area in 1937 by a tourist. Upon this stone was carved the date of Ananias (Eleanor’s husband) and Virginia Dares’ deaths: 1591. On the back, addressed to “Father,” the writer relays the sorrowful tale of how the English settlers endured two years of war, followed by two years of sickness, only to be nearly annihilated in a savage Indian attack. This rock is signed with the initials “EWD.”

Probabilities:  White’s map was made to hide the location of where Sir Walter Raleigh wanted to found the settlement of Raleigh. Invisible ink may have been used to hide such details if map was captured by the Spanish. When the colonists discovered that their pilot would not take them on to Chesapeake Bay, this location was a likely and logical plan B.

The stone was carved by Eleanor. I could see a grieving wife and mother, who had hung on through unimaginable degradations and hardships, sitting down, gritting her teeth against her hopelessnes, and carving. Carving a good-bye to her husband and daughter and a message of hope to her father. Scholars agree, the Olde English used in the message is perfect.

According to Eleanor’s note, only 7 English survived the Indian attack.

Rumors: for years after John White discovered his ghostly, empty fort, rumors circulated of sightings of whites living among Indians. Members of the Jamestown Company reported seeing a young white child playing along the river, but he or she quickly disappeared into the woods. There were stories of English slaves sold to tribes as far west as the mountains of North Carolina. A missionary recounted meeting Indians who were familiar with the Welsh language—there was a Welsh family among the Lost Colony. Eleanor was rumored to have married a chief and had another child. In another version, she was sold as a slave to a chief and had a child with him.  These haunting, fleeting stories persisted for decades.

Eleanor would have kept going. I believe it was in her nature. Other rocks with messages on them have been found, but most likely those are hoaxes. Still, that doesn’t mean Eleanor stopped writing. We just haven’t found the rest of her story. We will; it’s in our nature.

If you’re as intrigued as I am about the Lost Colony, check out these remarkable books: Roanoke by Lee Miller, and The Lost Rocks by David La Vere.


Check out my books below to find more ladies with grit and spirit!

Betsy Ross — I Bet You Didn’t Know This About Her

“Sugar and spice and everything nice
That’s what little patriots 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, rolled up her sleeves 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. History confirms that Betsy and her husband probably 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. Personally, for me, I believe the story of Betsy’s contribution to the Rebel Cause is legit. Two hundred years later, no one has offered an alternative seamstress.

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.

Penelope Barker Knew How to Throw One Wicked Little Soiree

“Our properties within our own territories [should not] be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own.” —
Thomas Jefferson, 1774

I am sad to admit that somehow I have gone 45 years without making the acquaintance of Penelope Barker. You think Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman have big mouths? Oh, honey, then let me tell you about American patriot and Revolutionary War firebrand Penelope.

A well-to-do socialite of the Edenton, NC community, she was not blind to the abuses of the crown. In fact, having been widowed twice in her life, she was acutely aware of the cost of doing business with his Royal Highness King George. The richest woman in North Carolina, Penelope was adept at managing her household affairs and the business affairs of her third husband who traveled extensively. Frustrated by the endless and ever-increasing flow of tax money to England, Penelope was happy to share her opinion of the way his “subjects” were being treated in America. “Taxation without representation” didn’t sit well with her and the more the whispers of “independence” swirled, the more she saw the virtues of the idea.

Not one to keep her opinions to herself, Penelope decided that, while Sam Adams and his crew had done an admirable job with their little Boston tea party, it was time to show the men in this country how to throw a real soiree. Literally, Penelope knocked on the doors of all her female friends and invited them to a party. On October 25, 1774, fifty-one women gathered at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth King, brewed tea from mulberry leaves and boldly added their signatures to a declaration in support of the Colonies’ boycott of English tea and other English goods

Now, if all this sounds pretty tame, let me enlighten you on a few things. First, this was the FIRST political event ever organized by women in the history of the United States. Everyone from Susan B. Anthony to Hillary Clinton owes these women a debt of gratitude, especially considering a few of them probably took a beating from their loving husbands for this activity.

See a reminder video here

Second, this was a big deal because women just didn’t do this sort of thing. It was, quite literally, unheard of and without precedent. Gasp!

Third, Penelope knew how to grandstand. She sent a copy of the resolution to the English newspapers who printed it with mocking glee. In the letter itself, Penelope wrote, “Maybe it has been only men who have protested the king up to now. That only means we women have taken too long to let our voices be heard. We are signing our names to a document, not hiding ourselves behind costumes like the men in Boston did at their tea party. The British will know who we are.”

Meow.

Penelope just wanted her sisters across the pond to know that American girls valued liberty just as much as the men. Ironically, the only surviving accounts of the declaration are in English hands. Printed in two newspapers, it explained that the ladies were “determined to give memorable proof of their patriotism” and could not be “indifferent on any occasion that appears nearly to affect the peace and happiness of our country . . . it is a duty that we owe, not only to our near and dear connections . . . but to ourselves.”

Well, the mainstream media in England had a rather odd reaction to all this: they mocked and derided the women for straying into politics, suggesting they were bad mothers or loose women. Gee, where have I heard that before? They drew unflattering cartoons of the women and wondered why the men in America couldn’t control their wives.

America, however, had a different reaction and made heroes of the women. Ladies up and down the colonies felt free to give voice to their dissatisfaction with the Crown. More tea parties popped up. In Wilmington, ladies actually set their tea on fire!

The next time you think about holding your tongue when it comes to the “long train of abuses and usurpations” being foisted upon us right now by a power-grabbing, elitist government, remember Penelope. Straighten your shoulders and speak up.

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