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!
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Emma Daugherty was born in Dallas, TX in 1871. No one would have guessed this delightful, petite child with the quick wit would become the nation’s first female sheriff.
And why does it not surprise me the nations’s first female sheriff was a sheriff in Texas?
Emma started her professional career quietly enough as a school teacher. In the meantime, John Riley Bannister, born in 1854, enlisted as a Texas Ranger in the 1880’s. He assisted in the delivery and/or capture of famous outlaws John Wesley Hardin and Sam Bass. After a few years, he resigned and worked variously as a rail road detective, cattle inspector, and Treasury agent. His first wife died in 1892, leaving the lawman with five young children to raise.
To his credit, he didn’t run out and marry the first gal he could. Two years later, John married Emma and took her away from her classroom duties. Over the next ten years, the Banisters would try their hands at various professions, including farming, but law enforcement was the vocation her husband knew best. He made time for his young wife, though, and together they added four children to the five already in tow. Emma loved writing and somehow found time to work as a correspondent for the San Angelo Standard Times.
John was elected Sheriff of Coleman County, TX in 1914. The family, all eleven of them, moved to an apartment on the first floor of the jail. Along with her work as wife and mother and reporter, Emma assisted her husband as his office deputy. I.e., she did all the paperwork. They must have worked well together as John was elected to a second term.
In 1918, though, he suffered a stroke and died, only a week after winning a primary election for sheriff for a possible third term. The election results, however, were close, requiring a runoff among the three candidates. The county officials asked Emma if she would serve out the remaining months of her husband’s term while the campaigning continued and she agreed. Without any real fanfare, she became the first female sheriff in the United States. An intrepid reporter from the New York World picked up on the story and for fifteen minutes, Emma was famous.
She did not, however, see herself as such. Grieving the loss of a husband she loved, Emma stepped down at the end of her husband’s term and returned to the farm. In her three months as sheriff, she never carried a gun. A short, slightly pudgy woman, she figured if a man was intent on causing trouble, he’d just take it away from her anyway.
Emma passed away at the ripe old age of 84.
Copyright 2015 Heather Blanton
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
Antonia Ford, a pretty, sassy spy for the Confederacy, didn’t mind batting her eyelashes at a Union soldier if it got her intelligence. She didn’t count on one man capturing her heart, though, or what their love would cost them.
Born into a wealthy family of loud-and-proud secessionists, Antonia loved her home in Fairfax Court House, VA. When Union troops occupied her town in mid-1861, she eagerly used her money, connections, and feminine wiles to gather intelligence. The officers were awed by her beauty and, clearly, oblivious to her brains. They talked and talked about the Union’s plans right in front of her. And Antonia turned right around and fed intelligence to the Confederacy.
When Union General Edward H. Stoughton was captured in his headquarters (one of the most famous raids of the Civil War), suspicion fell on Antonia, since she had spent some time with the officer. A counter-spy tricked Antonia into revealing the aid-de-camp commission given to her by J.E.B. Stuart himself. Antonia was arrested based on this document. Worse, however, smuggled papers were discovered in her possession. Pretty incriminating.
As fate would have it, she was arrested by 44-year-old Maj. Joseph Willard. Willard was struck right in the heart by the pretty, 24-year-old belle, but did his duty and delivered her to Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C. Antonia was also drawn to the major and their romance blossomed…behind bars. Maj. Willard spent several months working at it, but was finally able to secure Antonia’s release. Their love, though, came at a high cost.
Antonia had to swear allegiance to the Union and promise that she would never spy again. Willard agreed to give up his commission and resigned from the Army. Apparently, neither of the two ever regretted these decisions. The couple married in 1864 and took over his family’s business, the Willard Hotel. Sadly, during their short marriage, they lost two babies, and Antonia continually battled health issues that stemmed from her incarceration. She passed away in 1871. Willard was heartbroken by her death and never remarried. Their hotel, now called the InterContinental, still stands on Pennsylvania Ave., mere shouting distance from the symbol of a government she once sought to topple.
Oh, the irony for a lady in defiance.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
Sometimes, just existing is such a task.
A college roommate said that to me many years ago. For some reason, I thought of that when I researched the story of Charly Parkhurst. She carried an amazing, isolating secret for over thirty years…
Born in 1812, Charly lost her parents at an early age and wound up in an orphanage in New Hampshire. Either she escaped or they let her go, but when Charly was old enough to take care of herself, she skedaddled. Probably in her early teens. Somehow, she stumbled upon a job with Ebenezer Balch’s livery in Worcester. Working with horses would set her destiny. Charly became one of the Wild West’s most famous stagecoach drivers.
She worked for Balch for several years, then suddenly struck out for California at the height of the gold rush. Skilled, reliable, sober stagecoach drivers were in short supply so she pretty much walked into a job. And the woman proved her metal. She was robbed twice. The first time she was unarmed, the second time the robber chose the wrong victim. Charly shot him dead. Road conditions were abhorrent in Northern California. If Charly wasn’t worrying about bandits or renegade Indians, she was crossing swollen rivers, navigating rickety bridges, driving in ice and snow, and, of course, battling ornery horses. To her credit, she never lost a coach.
Charly liked whiskey and cigars. She could fight and cuss with the toughest of men and did. Small in stature, she was tough as an oak but reclusive. Not many people got close to Charly. She was always picky about her privacy and lived alone her whole life.
Eventually, the demands of driving teams of horses up rugged mountain roads got to be too much for her. She “retired” and dabbled in ranching, and raising chickens. She even worked as a lumberjack for a spell.
Now all this is impressive, but there’s one other thing you need to know about Charly. She lived this remarkable life…as a man.
From approximately 1849 or so to 1879, Charlene Parkhurst’s gender was her deepest secret. The truth was only discovered upon her death. The town doctor, as well as the coroner, also believed that at some point in her life, Charly had given birth at least once. And baby items (either a dress or shoes—accounts differ) were found in a chest at her home.
So why did Charly live her life as a man? I find it interesting that she worked with Balch for several years, even moving with him to Rhode Island, then she suddenly struck out on her own. What if, at some point, Balch discovered that Charly was a woman? According to accounts from the time of Charly’s death, she was “well-endowed,” but hid her curves under baggy, pleated shirts. What if Balch didn’t like being lied to? What if he wasn’t a very nice man?
I realize that’s a heavy dose of speculation. But a small, petite orphan girl would have been easy prey. A young man on the other hand…
A gender-bender or a woman hiding from her past? Will we ever know? What do you think?
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
Perhaps you’ve heard it said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Poverty and physical abuse are two things that will either make you or break you.
In the case of Phoebe Ann Moses, AKA, Annie Oakley, they made her a legend.
Born the sixth of seven children in 1860, Annie had a fairly happy home life in Ohio, until the death of her father when she was six. By all accounts, a compassionate child with wisdom beyond her years, little Annie thought it was her duty to help her mother all she could. Being the practical type, she picked up a rifle and learned to put food on the table.
But poverty was a steady stalker. In 1870, her mother, after being widowed a second time, made the desperate decision to send Annie and her sister to the Darke County Infirmary. Though she wasn’t there for long, Annie did get a little schooling, learned to sew, and helped take care of the younger orphan children. Unfortunately, however, her work ethic brought her to the attention of a local farm family. She was “bound out” to them for the promise of fifty cents a week and some education. She never saw either and the family worked her like a slave. Annie rose before daylight and went to bed well after dark. She did hard, heavy farm hand work as well as whatever other tasks the lady of the house felt like handing off.
Annie was physically and verbally abused, especially by the wife. In her memoirs, Annie referred to the family as “wolves”, but never named them. She was too classy for that. And perhaps she realized that, in an odd way, they’d done her a favor.
In ’72, Annie’s mother re-married and the family was re-united. Determined to stay out of the orphanage, Annie again picked up her gun and learned to shoot it with frightening, almost unnatural, accuracy. It was said she could shoot the head off a pheasant at over hundred yards and kill turkeys using her rifle instead of a shotgun. Patrons at the local restaurants appreciated the fact that they didn’t have to pick buckshot out of their white meat. The buzz on Annie’s uncanny skill with a gun spread. She soon regularly supplied several hotels and restaurants with fresh meat. The money paid off her mother’s farm by the time Annie was 15.
And, thus, it was this unflinching desire to never be hungry again (apologies, Scarlett) that set the course for our heroine to become an honest-to-God Western Legend.
Sharpshooter Frank Butler had the standing offer that he would shoot against any local from the towns where he was performing. Of course, all bets were welcome. Imagine Butler’s surprise when a Cincinnati hotel owner paraded five-foot-tall, pretty, petite little Annie out for the competition. She was barely taller than her rifle.
The two squared off and commenced to shooting. Butler missed on his 25th shot. She didn’t. He lost the match, $100 to the hotel owner, and his heart to Annie. She and Butler would spend the next fifty-one years together, shooting in Wild West Shows, performing for ranch hands and royalty, and living a darn good life.
Best of all, Annie had the last laugh on that farm family from Ohio.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
Poor, oppressed women. We’ve been kept barefoot and pregnant our whole existence with little chance to improve our lot in life. America, this Land of Opportunity, provided no better alternatives…Or so spout the feminazis.
Gimme a break. If you read my blog, then you know women with fire in their bellies rocked their worlds…and no corset could hold them back.
Take the refined and educated Eliza Lucas Pinckney. The woman was a Donald Trump before there was a Trump.
Born in the West Indies in 1722, she attended school in England and learned all the proper lady subjects, such as French, needlework, and music, but she adored Botany. Her father, a British military officer, moved the family to Charleston, SC where he owned three plantations. His wife, however, died shortly after this move. At only 16, Eliza stepped up, helping raise her siblings and running the plantations whenever her father was called away for military duties.
A naturally savvy businesswoman, she spotted trends in the burgeoning textile industry right off. Dyes were in high demand world-wide so she actually cultivated an improved indigo plant, the plant that makes the stable blue dye.
Hitting this mark was nothing short of a Herculean task. Her first two crops were crippled by frost and then worms. Her third was robust and healthy, but the gentleman hired to extract the die purposely sabotaged the results. Hailing from Montserrat, he couldn’t allow South Carolina to develop an industry that would rival that of his home country. Eliza and her father both recognized the man for the scoundrel he was and fired him. Ironically, the man’s brother came in and salvaged the mess. Once Eliza knew she had a winner, she shared the seeds with other SC plantations.
In 1745-1746, only 5,000 pounds of indigo were exported from the Charleston area. Eliza’s strain bumped that to more than 130,000 pounds within three years!
When she was twenty-two, she married widower Charles Pinckney, a successful lawyer, politician, and neighbor. He had seen Eliza handle her father’s plantations and fell in love with the bright, independent young woman. He never tried to rein her in and Eliza loved him dearly…perhaps for his wisdom. Pinckney traveled frequently, but was well aware his home was in good hands. She continued to run both her father’s and her husband’s plantations, and raise her own brood of four children.
Amazingly, Eliza also invested a great deal of time in educating her children. To no one’s surprise, her sons played major roles in the Revolutionary War and one would sign the Declaration of Independence. Why am I not surprised?
Eliza Pinckney died in 1793. She and her daughter had hosted George Washington once during his presidency and apparently made quite an impression. Upon hearing of her death, he volunteered to be a pallbearer at her funeral.
Eliza worked hard, loved well, and blessed many. She should inspire us all to become Ladies in Defiance!
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
Prior to open hostilities between the Colonists and the British, Colonel James Barrett and his son James ran a commissary for the army. A young British officer came by regularly to pick up the wagonload of supplies. While he waited for the items to be gathered and loaded, he would entertain himself by chatting with Col. Barrett’s pretty daughter Meliscent. The Barrett’s weren’t quiet about their opinions regarding Colonial independence, but Meliscent, fifteen in 1774, was a sassy teenager (I know—hard to believe) who loved expounding on her rebel ideas (again, shocking—not). She strongly believed the Americans were more than capable of running their own lives and they certainly didn’t need a royal nanny.
Her spirited defense of the Colonies’ desires delighted the young soldier and he would bait her mercilessly into energetic debates. During one saucy exchange, he insinuated that the country bumpkins in Concord wouldn’t even be able to make cartridges for their rifles. Batting her long eyelashes at the lad, Meliscent informed him they’d do fine using their powder horns and bullets. Self-righteous and smug, the British soldier offered to show Meliscent how the King’s army went about rolling cartridges, a faster, more effective way to load a rifle.
Meliscent watched closely. Very closely.
When the winds of war shifted toward Concord soon thereafter, Meliscent gathered the ladies in town and supervised an ammo-loading party that would have made the NRA proud. Her younger brother, now a major in the Continental army, was the only man in town allowed to assist. With Revere’s announcement that “the Regulars are coming,” he made several trips to remove said cartridges from the approaching British. And he in fact drove the last load out of town as the British came into sight on the infamous morning of April 19, 1775.
However, they made sure the local militia had an ample supply. On that fateful day, over 500 Minute Men from Concord fought and defeated three companies of well-trained, well-supplied British soldiers. Pretty good for country bumpkins.
But if it hadn’t been for Miliscent’s spunk, things could have turned out differently.
God bless a lady in defiance!
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
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.
So 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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