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
Tweet Me: https://twitter.com/heatherfblanton
by Heather Frey Blanton
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.
I love learning about the women who settled America. As a breeder of German Shepherds, I seek out certain characteristics and temperaments to create the best dogs possible. For a long time, America was no different. The bloodlines were amazing.
The people who thrived here were independent, strong willed, stubborn, adventurous risk-takers.
Just this morning I read the story of Sarah Thal, a German-Jewish immigrant who came to America with her husband in 1880. The couple settled in North Dakota. Her first child was born in a cabin so full of cracks that a make-shift tent was made around her and the baby. They literally camped in front of the fireplace to keep warm. She watched prairie fires light up the distant sky on more than one occasion. She lost a baby because 10 feet of snow prevented her from getting to a doctor. This was Sarah’s existence. It never broke her. She didn’t let it turn her into a bitter old woman. She accepted God’s will and plowed on.
One year the German community decided to get together and celebrate the 4th of July. It was a 22-mile trip each way for the Thal’s to attend, but they were proud and eager to do so. As she wrote in a letter, “Each foreign colony celebrated in their own fashion, loyal to the traditions of the old land and faithful to those of the new. . . .”
Unfortunately, stout bloodlines like this are getting “watered down.” It’s a shame. American women were strong and resilient as a rule, the toughest in the world. Today, I think women like Sarah are the exception, which is why it’s important to remember them!