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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 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

Esther Reed — Where June Cleaver Got Her Domestic Goddess Genes?

by Heather Frey Blanton

esther_reed

Esther De Berdt Reed, though born in England, found the cause of liberty trumped ties to homeland and tradition. Perhaps her future husband, American Joseph Reed, had something to do with her fervor. The two met in London in 1763 when he was studying law. True love took its course and they  became engaged, yet Reed left to tend to matters in America. The couple endured a five-year separation. Esther clearly knew her mind and her heart.

The two married and moved to Philadelphia around 1770 when the abuses of the crown were just getting rolling. Joseph worked hard and became a prosperous lawyer. His wife threw wonderful soirees that included the likes of General George Washington. After the battles at Lexington and Concord, though, Joseph was called to serve his country. He rose quickly through the ranks, eventually becoming a general himself.

Esther was left at home to raise six children and manage her household. Prepare to feel inadequate, because she was clearly more than a Philadelphia housewife. Esther not only moved her family out of Philadelphia three separate times to avoid British soldiers and Tory mobs, she also dove full tilt into fundraising for the cause. Using her gifts, connections and time as wisely as possible, she started the Ladies of Philadelphia, a group of women focused on raising money for the American soldiers. Initially they thought to give cash to the troops. Washington gently suggested the money be used to buy clothes. But he left the decision up to Esther.

Before Esther’s death in 1780 at the young age of 34, her group raised a whopping $7000 for the Continental Army and then used the money to buy cloth for shirts. Together, the ladies and their servants then sewed 2000 shirts. June Cleaver would be proud of these gals.

Esther gave all and died no less valiantly than a soldier under cannon fire. She knew what kind of a country she wanted her children to grow up in. One without a pompous king taxing them to death and determining their future. Inspired by Esther’s passion, Sarah Franklin stepped up to take her place and had similar success. Esther Reed was the first woman to be called A Daughter of Liberty. Amen, sister.

Dorothy Sinkler Richardson — Did She Have the Last Laugh Saving the Swamp Fox?

by Heather Frey Blanton
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All that remains of a life well lived.

All that remains of a life well lived.

As I have often said, I discover the most fascinating things about the women who built this country by reading between the lines.

Case in point, Dorothy Sinkler Richardson. You’ve probably never heard of her unless you delve deep into South Carolina history. But you’ll recognize some of the names in her story.

Dorothy was the second wife of General Richard Richardson. Both were ardent patriots. Richardson, however, died in British custody after the fall of Charleston in 1780. No shrinking violet, Dorothy kept her head about her and ran her home. She also continued to support the cause of liberty. She seemed to have at least a passing acquaintance with Frances Marion, the Swamp Fox.

Unfortunately for Dorothy, Banistre Tarleton opted to bivouac in her home in 1781. He made no secret he was after Marion and felt that he and his men were close. Knowing what was at risk, as Tarleton’s reputation for butchery was well-documented, she still opted to send her 10-year-old son James to warn Marion. The boy succeeded, Marion changed directions, and Tarleton got a very angry.

He forced Dorothy to prepare his dinner and then serve him. Several accounts also report that he had her husband’s body dug up just so he could see a “real” American general (I certainly wouldn’t put this past him). And if all this wasn’t enough, Tarleton then burned her home to the ground.

Banistre Tarleton may have left Dorothy’s farm that night giddy and giggling with great satisfaction. It was quite premature, though typical of his arrogance. He destroyed Dorothy’s home. He did not destroy her spirit. They say the proof of a life well-lived is in your children. She raised two boys who became governors of South Carolina.

Her son James had the following inscription carved onto her tombstone:

Relict [widow] of Gen. Richard Richardson Who died July 1793 Aged 56 years
She was pious & exemplary, distinguished in mind & manners and eminently discernible in the highest societies in which she associated. This marble which designates the place where her remains rest is erected to her memory by her eldest son James B. Richardson Who early bereft of paternal care feels that he is indebted to her maternal care & attention, to her vigorous & preserving mind of firmness & determination surpassing description and to her vigilant and enlightened instructions for being all that he is in life.

Respect the lace. She earned it.

Mary Katherine Goddard — Daughter of the Revolution and Forerunner to Lois Lane?

by Heather Frey Blanton
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Sometimes, the pen is mightier than the sword.
Sometimes, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Some women during the Revolutionary War did amazingly brave things. These women warriors rose to the level of their challenges and met them head on. But not every woman took a rifle in hand to make a fight. Mary Katherine Goddard, arguably the first female journalist of the Revolutionary War, fought with ink and paper.

In 1762, 24-year-old Mary Katherine moved with her younger brother and mother to Rhode Island. Brother William had finished an apprenticeship in printing and planned on starting a print shop and newspaper. Together the family published the Providence Gazette. Mary Katherine was a quick study, though. After William established an additional shop and newspaper in Philadelphia, he turned that store over to his sister in 1764.

Philadelphia was a hot-bed of Colonial rebellion. Mary Katherine reported it with a fair and balanced approach, despite the fact that her brother was rabidly anti-British. He was repeatedly jailed for outbursts and printed tirades against the crown. In 1774, Mary Katherine took over her brother’s paper in Baltimore while he attended to other interests, including trying to set up a postal system in opposition to the official British mail service.

In January of 1777, Mary Katherine courageously used her press to print copies of the Declaration of Independence, only the second publisher to do so and the first to print all the names of the signatories. Considering the times, this was arguably a treasonous act. She was also the first female appointed as a postmaster in Colonial America. She served in that capacity for the city of Baltimore from 1775 to 1789. It’s worth mentioning that Mary Katherine never missed an edition of the Maryland Journal from 1775 to 1784. In the midst of war, when lesser papers folded or went into hiding, the city’s government switched hands, and battles raged, she kept the presses rolling, so to speak.

It wasn’t all daisies and sunshine for May Katherine, though. In 1784, her name disappeared from the masthead of the Maryland Journal, and in 1789 she was forced to step down from her position as Postmaster (despite a petition signed by over 200 Baltimore merchants to keep her). The issues? Her brother was jealous of her success (he hadn’t accomplished a thing in his life that Mary Katherine didn’t bring about), and she was a woman without the appropriate friends in high places. Infuriating, yes, but I suspect Mary Katherine did all right. She ran her own bookstore in Baltimore till her death in 1816. Nobody really remembers her brother or the man who replaced her as Postmaster. There’s some justice in that.

Margaret Corbin — Was She the Woman Who Gave Cornwallis Nightmares?

by Heather Frey Blanton
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margaret_corbin

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If that’s true, then Margaret Corbin was one of the strongest women of the Revolutionary War.

Her life started out with a fairly bad omen. Around the time of her fifth or so birthday, she and her brother went to visit her uncle. While the two were gone, the family farm in Pennsylvania was attacked by Indians. Her father was scalped and killed. Her mother was taken captive and disappeared into the pages of history.

Margaret trudged on however and developed a keen dislike for King George. In 1775 she married John Corbin. When he enlisted in the Continental Army, Margaret went along, as women often did, to sew and cook. Not being stupid, however, they also picked up on military drills, routines and protocol.

This would explain why women were able to jump into battles alongside their husbands and actually make valued contributions. So, like Molly Pitcher, when Margaret and John went into their first battle (the Battle of Fort Washington), she was ready to assist. John was a matross (he loaded the canon) and when his partner was killed, he took his position. Unflinchingly, Margaret then took on the duty of matross. Shortly thereafter, however, John was killed. Unbroken, defiant, and completely alone, Margaret “manned” the canon herself. She loaded and fired the thing repeatedly with deadly accuracy! Hers was the last canon firing, which eventually made her an easy target.

Margaret was discovered after the battle alive but in critical condition. She had three musket balls in her, her chest and jaw were damaged by grapeshot and her left arm was quite literally hanging by shreds of skin. Surely this is the woman who gave Lord Cornwallis nightmares!

An amputee, she continued to serve in the cause of Liberty in the invalid regiment at Westpoint. She even remarried, but her second husband passed away a year later. On her own, Margaret wasn’t able to stay well-coiffed due to her injuries and therefore alienated a lot of folks. Not to mention, she was a bit rough and unrefined; given to drinking (a lot) and smoking. The Philadelphia Society of Women thought to erect a statue to her until they met her and then they called off the whole idea. I wonder how many of them ever jumped behind a canon?

But good men in the military did not forget Margaret and eventually, after spending many years destitute and poor, she became the first woman to receive a military pension. Eventually she was even reburied at West Point with full military honors.

Dear Philadelphia Society of Women, it just goes to show that well-behaved women rarely make history. Respect the lace.

Molly Pitcher or Just Mary Hays? A Rose by Any Other Name…

by Heather Frey
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Elementary students around the country often get their first dose of female patriots through the legendary quagmire of Molly Pitcher. Several women have acquired this handle through the centuries, but where does legend end and truth begin?

Mary Ludwig Hays

Mary Ludwig Hays

Most scholars agree the true identity of “Molly Pitcher” is confused because there were several “camp followers” involved in the Revolutionary War’s battle of Monmouth. Back then, these ladies tended the sick, cooked for their soldiers, repaired the uniforms, and even manned a cannon if the occasion called for it. Hence, the confusion. One of the best candidates, though, is Mary Ludwig Hays. Even if she’s not the actual “Molly Pitcher,” she is well-deserving of the fame.

Mary, born in 1754 to German immigrants, took a position as a domestic servant at the age of 15. A year later she married John Hays. In 1776, Hays, a barber, soldiered up and joined Pennsylvania’s artillery. Two years later, Mary appears in the military paperwork for the first time. She joined the same company as her husband mere months before the battle of Monmouth. She swore, she chewed tobacco, and expected no quarter just because she was a woman. During the battle, Mary hauled water under furious enemy fire and sweltering conditions. Both the rag-wrapped cannon ramrods needed continual soaking as did the over-heated soldiers. Mary and the others like her were angels of mercy or war, depending on your perspective.

As cannons and muskets thundered in the blazing sun, Mary’s husband John collapsed from heat stroke (some reports indicate he may have been injured). Mary gave him some water then heroically took over his cannon, repeatedly packing the barrel and sighting in on the enemy. The enemy, however, was also sighting in on her. An eye witness (the diary of a Colonial private), reported seeing a cannon ball literally shoot between her legs, removing a terrifying portion of her petticoat! Mary never missed a beat. She kept loading and firing.

The result of the battle: Lord Cornwallis withdrew and his army slipped away in the darkness. George Washington thanked Mary and the other women for their service. And with typical government efficieny, the state of Pennsylvania awarded Mary a pension of $40 a year, specifically for her heroism at Monmouth, forty years later.

Better late than never to respect the lace.

Ethel Tweedie — Could Her Simple Ride Tear Victorian Society Apart?

by Heather Frey Blanton
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The cover from her book about Iceland.

The cover from her book about Iceland.

In my wanderings to discover Patriots in Lace, the women who settled and built America, I have rarely gone any later in history than the 1880’s. However, this weekend I discovered a frontier that I didn’t really know existed and a woman who explored it. No, she’s not an American, but because I respect her, I wanted to tell you her tale.

Ethel Brilliana Tweedie was born in 1862 in London. From a family of wealth and privilege, she had the finest education accompanied by unlimited opportunities to explore life. A prolific writer, photographer, and illustrator, she seemingly experienced very few boundaries. However, there was one thing Ethel couldn’t do: ride a horse like a man. Good heavens, Victorian society would have come to a complete, screeching halt should a woman attempt such a crass, vulgar thing.

If you don’t know much about side-saddles, suffice it to say they are uncomfortable, unnatural, and downright dangerous. They afford very little control over the horse and if something goes wrong, you’re in the soup. A true horse love and recognized Long Rider, Ethel never let the saddle hold her back. In 1888 she went exploring in Iceland with her brother and several friends. She was astonished to see the local ladies—gasp—riding astride their horses. The riding in Iceland was difficult, treacherous because of ice, and a real slog. Imagine doing it in a side-saddle. Ethel wrote a book about her adventures (A Girl’s Ride in Iceland) and is famous for the following quote:  Society is a hard task-master, yet for comfort and safety, I say ride like a man.

The 20-something socialite had no idea the firestorm her book and her comment would ignite. So much so, that when in England, to save her family from complete disgrace, she returned to the abhorrent side-saddle. Still, while she may have bent, she did not break, and became an advocate for women’s rights. Ethel survived the loss of her husband after only nine years together. She then lost a son in the World War I and her only other son in 1926 in an aircraft accident. She never re-married. Ethel had been given the freedom by her husband to pursue her interests in painting, photography, and writing and these probably helped heal her losses. And whenever she could, she rode alone and astride.

Thank you, Ethel, for trying to cut a path through some very deep horse do-do.

If you listen, my children, shall you hear of the midnight ride of Sibbell Ludington?

by Heather Frey Blanton

A true Daughter of the Revolution!

A true Daughter of the Revolution!

Sibbell Ludington Ogden was the daughter of Henry Ludington, the man appointed Militia Captain by the British to protect to Duchess County, New York. Rather than fight for England, John resigned the commission the same evening he received it.  Then he openly and defiantly accepted a commission as a colonel in the Colonial army. That tells us about the politics of the Ludington family, and Sibbell was her father’s daughter.

On the evening of April 26, a rider shared the disheartening news that Danbury had fallen to the British. Ludington was horrified as he had just released his men to tend to spring planting. The entire Duchess County Militia was farming and the Her Majesty’s soldiers were preparing to roll through the area like a juggernaut.

The messenger and his horse were done in from the ride. The Ludington’s had no close neighbors. Someone had to take it upon himself to make a midnight ride and rally the troops or Upstate New York was going to be serving tea and crumpets for breakfast.

Without hesitation, pretty little sixteen-year-old Sibbell stepped up. She was the oldest of twelve children. I dare say, she was eager to get out of the house! So, with the audacity that comes with the teenage years, she saddled her horse and hit the trails! Zig-zagging across the dark country-side, Sibbell put in a good forty miles, riding hell-bent for leather, banging on doors and windows, yelling, “The British are burning Danbury! Muster at Ludington’s!”

The British showed no particular grace to women. Their prison ships were populated with Liberty’s daughters. Sibbell knowingly  took her life in her hands that night to rouse the sleepy farmers. She did her job well, as nearly 400 militia members were at her father’s house by dawn.

I can’t grasp the kind of courage this young lady embodies. I can only hope I share some of it.

Respect the lace.

P.S. Sibbell’s name has been spelled over time in various ways: Sybil, Sibyl, etc. “Sibbell” is on her tombstone. I seriously doubt it would be misspelled there.

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