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What Happens When a Patriot Woman Goes Off the Deep-End? A Legend is Born!

by Heather Frey Blanton

Re-enactment. She actually wore a wide-brimmed hat with a feather stuck in it. Perhaps to look more like a man from a distance?

Re-enactment. She actually wore a wide-brimmed hat with a feather stuck in it. Perhaps to look more like a man from a distance?

Ann Hennis Trotter Bailey. Anyone even remotely familiar with the history of the Kanawha Valley of Virginia has heard the stories of “Mad” Ann. Perhaps she was crazy as a bed bug, but Indians feared her, settlers loved her, and America owes her a debt of gratitude.

Born in England, Ann was an orphan before the age of 18. She worked hard to make a living but life was hard in those days for an unmarried girl trying to make a decent living. The Colonies, though, beckoned to her, and she made her way to America sometime in the early 1760’s. We know she married Richard Trotter in 1765 and the two moved to the frontier of Virginia, a wild place boiling over with tension between the Native Americans and eager settlers. The couple built their lives among the tall pines, working a successful homestead that provided for all their needs.

The Revolutionary War came calling, though, and in 1774, Richard was killed in a battle with Native Americans who were attempting to side with England. By all accounts, Richard’s death affected Ann deeply and she swore vengeance on the Indian and the English alike. England’s attempt to squash her dreams of independence ignited a fury in Ann. The loss of her husband, though, fueled her hate like a nuclear reactor.

As skilled at living in the woods as any frontiersman, Ann put on her husband’s clothes, especially his buckskin breeches, brushed up on her shooting skills, and left her seven-year-old son with a neighbor. Fanatical about the war, she rode all through the valley and the border area, urging men to join the fight to save their liberties and protect their families. She carried messages for the Colonial Army and supplies for the settlers. Ann repeatedly made the ride from Fort Savannah to Fort Randolph, a journey of 160 miles, alone and with only one horse.

And apparently she was very fond of her horse.

On one fateful journey, a group of Shawnee Indians took off after Ann. Galloping through the woods at a breakneck pace, she realized she couldn’t outrun the warriors. Always thinking, she leaped from the horse and hid in a hollow log. The Indians scrambled all over the area but couldn’t find her, so they settled for stealing her horse. Ann bided her time and then, in the wee hours of the morning, slipped silently into the Indian encampment. She procured her mount and made her escape. Oh, but she couldn’t go without a victory dance. Some ways from the camp, she rose in the saddle and started yelling obscenities at the Indians. In fact, she screamed and hollered curses at the warriors at the top of her lungs.

She must have been a site to behold because the Shawnee warriors didn’t follow her. In fact, convinced she was utterly mad, they never accosted her again. Ann Bailey lived in the woods for several years and then, amazingly, in my opinion, re-married. Husband number two was a good fit, though. John Bailey was a woodsman himself and a member of the legendary frontier scouts, the Rangers. Just as rugged as she, he did, however, coax Ann back to living indoors.

The two shared many adventures together, fought in some hot battles, and gave it all to build America. Now, that’s the kind of “mad” American girl I’m down with.

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

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.

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.

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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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.

rev_girlSo 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 disappointed 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 fledgling America.

But what do you think? Am I on this rabbit’s trail or have I lost the scent?


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Meet “War Woman” — Why Even the Indians Were Afraid of Her

Art courtesy of the National Women's History Museum

As I research patriot and pioneer women, I am constantly confounded and humbled by their grit. Folks, we truly have no idea how feisty these women were! Recently I heard a story about a woman who had a run-in with six British soldiers and bested them! When I looked into the legend of Nancy Morgan Hart, I laughed out loud. Clearly, Lord Cornwallis was not joking when he said, “We may destroy all the men in America, and we shall still have all we can do to defeat their women.”

I think he was referring to Nancy. Born in Orange County, NC (not far from where I live), the Cherokee nick-named her War Woman. Gotta love that. Big-boned, muscular, this flaming red-head sported a pock-marked face and crossed-eyes. She must have been a holy terror, especially when she went shooting. The woman didn’t miss.

Apparently, Benjamin Hart recognized what a prize Nancy was and married her. The two moved to North Georgia and started a family. Passionate defenders of Liberty, they both participated in the war, her husband as a soldier and Nancy as a spy. She was known to the Tories as a patriot and they often stopped by to “check” on her. One afternoon, six British soldiers made the mistake of thinking Nancy was a push-over. They killed her last turkey and demanded that she cook it. I’m sure with a twinkle in her stunning blue eyes, Nancy agreed and also handed the soldiers a jug of corn liquor.

The story goes she started passing their guns to her daughter via a hole in the log cabin’s wall but the soldiers got wise. They jumped to their feet to stop her and Nancy swung around on them with a loaded rifle. She warned them to stay back but one genius decided not to listen and lunged. Not only did Nancy drop him but had the calm demeanor to grab a second rifle and shoot yet another soldier when the remaining five advanced. Hell hath no fury like War Woman.

This truly legendary tall-tale was handed down through generations of folks along the Wilkes River in North Georgia. How much of the story is legend and how much is truth? In 1912, six bodies were discovered buried on the Hart Farm…without markers of any kind. They had been there, according to archaeologists, for at least a century.

I’d say Nancy’s reputation was well-deserved.

War Woman.

I like it!

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What’s it to Ya? Hannah Blair and the Fight for Liberty

by Heather Blanton

As I research patriot women, I am often struck by the gaps in their stories or the way simple phrases skim over what must have been amazing triumphs and tragedies. Recently, I decided to learn a little bit more about a North Carolina woman, Hannah Blair. It turns out, very little is known about her and yet she gave so much to the Revolutionary cause.

Hannah was a Quaker and, though sworn to passivity by her religion, simply couldn’t help herself. She turned out to be an ardent patriot. At first, she nursed soldiers, apparently starting with the survivors of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. She went on, however, to deliver food and medicine to Colonial soldiers, hid them on her farm when necessary, mended uniforms, even passed secret messages. To say the least, such activities would have gotten her in hot water not only with her church, but with the Loyalists.

Trouble did soon follow. Hannah’s activities were discovered and the English burned her farm to the ground.

Was Hannah old? Was she young? Was she married? Was she single? Did she wrestle in prayer for hours as to whether to defy her king? What about the cause of liberty drew her into the war? Did she keep her thoughts to herself? Did she have a husband who ignited her passion to fight for freedom? Why was she willing to risk everything, her life, her property, perhaps even her family, to see the nation of America born? If only Hannah could write us a letter, what would she say about the witling away of our rights today?

After the war, the new American government did manage to provide Hannah with a small pension for her service. At least the Congress was smart enough to recognize her contribution as exceptional. She was an exceptional patriot.

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.

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