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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.

Am I Willing in This Cause to Wade Through Blood?

In 1775, Massachusetts was considered the most rebellious of the colonies (wow, how times have changed).  Some of the most feisty patriot women of the Revolution came from this state, but none can actually claim to have captured British spies.

Prudence Cummings Wright was married to David Wright and by 1775, the couple had seven children. Yet, somehow, Prudence not only managed to keep her faculties while raising this brood, she burned with a desire to protect liberty. She had come from a home that openly discussed politics and while she and many of her siblings had fallen in line with the rebel cause, two of her brothers maintained their loyalty to the Crown.

In April of 1775, David and his Minutemen were called upon to defend Concord and Lexington, the opening battles of the Revolutionary War. The men loaded their guns, kissed their wives and children good-bye, and raced off to war. Many times when the militia were called up, their homes were left undefended and vulnerable.

This wasn’t the case in the towns of Hollis and Groton. This area was a hot-bed of American fervor and the women were just as riled as the men—especially Prudence. Clearly very proud of their patriotic leanings, she and David had actually named one of their sons Liberty. Sadly, in March of 1775, the child passed away at only 8 months. By April, then, Prudence was still raw and bleeding from the loss. Perhaps that was why she jumped into the fray—she still had six children who needed a future filled with liberty and hope.

Visiting with her mother just a few days after the men had left, Prudence overheard her brothers discussing that either spies or Tory sympathizers, possibly even troops, would be marching through the area headed toward to Lexington. A true leader among her friends, when Prudence put out the call that all the ladies in the area needed to meet at Jewett’s Bridge, they showed up in force! A group of 30-40 women dressed in their husbands’ clothes and carrying everything from rifles to pitchforks hid themselves in the trees.

Late on the moonless night of April 19, two riders did attempt to cross the bridge. When hailed, they tried to run. Boldly, the women grabbed the reins and wrestled the horses to a stand-still. Capt. Leonard Whiting, not of the mind to be taken captive by women, pulled his pistol. The rider with him, though, Samuel Cummings, pushed his arm down and warned him, “I recognize Pru’s voice and she would wade through blood for the rebel cause.”

Clearly, Samuel was aware of his sister’s devotion to the fight for independence and knew better than to test her.

Now that is a woman of principle and single-minded determination. And it sounds as if she kept good company. Perhaps this is where Glen Beck got his famous phrase “We surround them.” Every time I discover a new story of a woman willing to risk it all for the shining city on a hill that America would become, I am amazed and ashamed. Amazed at their pluck; ashamed that I’ve played my part in letting America’s founding values be mocked and under-mined.

But maybe I have a Jewett Bridge moment in my future. If I do, I will remember Prudence and try to make her proud. Until then, I can live my patriot values out loud and with pride, just like she did.

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.

Say, for a male soldier, isn’t he missing something?

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“We may destroy all the men in America, and we shall still have all we can do to defeat the women.” Lord Cornwallis, a British Commander.

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. 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.

Sarah Cooper Wouldn’t Live in Defiance

Defiance a.k.a Glenwood Springs, CO

Funny how authors seem to dip from the same cosmic well. They can write completely different novels, never meet each other or share information, yet similarities in the books can be staggering, even shocking. I’ve had this experience with my book, A Lady in Defiance. But rather than point out some spooky similarities between it and another author’s story, I want to talk about where fact and fiction meet.

In my book, Defiance is a fictional town in the San Juan mountain range of Colorado. The history of it is based loosely on the bawdy mining town of Mineral Point. In my story, three good, Christian girls roll into town and shake things up for God.

To my delight, I learned recently that the REAL town of Glenwood Springs, CO used to be named Defiance! And what happened to change the name? Why, a God-fearing, red-blooded American girl rolled into town. That’s what happened.

Sarah Cooper and her husband settled in the encampment of Defiance in 1883. A pair of no-nonsense Iowans, they weren’t thrilled with the name of the town or the behavior of the citizens and worked with the founders to incorporate the settlement into a real municipality. Law and order and churches followed and Sarah pushed to rename Defiance Glenwood Springs, after her hometown of Glenwood, Iowa.

Give an American pioneer woman an inch and she’ll take a mile every time. I love it.

Sarah Franklin–Her Father’s Daughter

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Some plants die in the shadow of a larger, more powerful plant. Others thrive. Take Sarah Franklin Bach. You might know her father, Ben. He was involved in politics. Worked on that little thing called a Constitution. Liked to fly kites in electrical storms. Yes, that Ben.

Sarah was a chip off the old block. At a time when women were barely more than wives and mothers, the war for independence called to them. And American men, being smarter than their counterparts elsewhere, recognized the value of the feminine contribution to the effort. Even Lord Cornwallis grudgingly accepted that his men weren’t fighting just farmers with pitchforks and sickles, but that they were fighting the wives as well. He didn’t say that jokingly. American women were different. They were feisty and uncontrollable. England mocked them, but always with a nervous tug at the collar.

Sarah, of course, grew up in an educated, opinionated household. Often acting as the hostess for her father’s gatherings, she picked up more than her womanly share of political information. When war finally broke out between the Colonials and their King, Sarah was one of the first women to jump into the fray. She immediately joined The Ladies Association of Philadelphia, a patriotic organization aimed at raising funds for Gen. Washington’s pitifully outfitted army. When the group’s organizer passed away, again Sarah stepped up. As the new leader of this unsung group, Sarah motivated the ladies to raise over $300,000! That’s money even politicians today wouldn’t snub. Back then, it was the equivalent of well over $3 million!

Perhaps Sarah’s greatest contribution is the fact that her group managed to sew over 2,000 shirts AND deliver them to the troops at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78.

Samuel Adams, of the Sons of Liberty, the group responsible for the Boston Tea Party, reportedly said, “With ladies on our side, we can make every Tory tremble.” Now that’s a heritage to be proud of. Jump in the fray, ladies, and make your voices heard on Tuesday, November 2!

Heather Losurdo is in the Fight

“I said to my wife, “I have accepted a seat in the House of Representatives, and thereby have consented to my own ruin, to your ruin, and to the ruin of our children. I give you this warning, that you may prepare your mind for your fate.” She burst into tears, but instantly cried out in a transport of magnanimity, “Well, I am willing in this cause to run all risks with you, and be ruined with you, if you are ruined.”
John Adams, repeating a conversation with his wife Abigail, May, 1770

Once upon a time, 56 men pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in the belief that people had the right to determine their own destinies. Live free or die. No middle ground. Through God’s grace and the uncompromising determination of an army of farmers and merchants, America was born. History has proven since then that we are a nation of strong-willed, stubborn, independent thinkers.

And we’ve never taken kindly to being shoved. Not then. Not now. The ruling class in Washington is trying to tell us how to eat, how to live, how to worship, what we should do with our own property. In the last eighteen months, the attack on our liberties has become brazen, even desperate. Battle lines are being drawn and it isn’t just the men who are responding to the threat.

In the spirit of the Daughters of the Revolution, the women of today are picking up their pitchforks…er, I mean, their laptops, and smart phones, and using them to protect our freedom.

Take Heather Losurdo, for example. A self-employed mother who, only a few years ago had zero-interest in politics, is now a passionate advocate of conservative politics. Vice-president of the Northern Wake Republican Club, she is also a member of the Wake County Republican Women, and has worked on various political campaigns. Like many of her fellow Republicans, she has had enough of the Washington elitists, including those in her own party.

Losurdo is not only frustrated by the country’s slide toward socialism but by the fact that most politicians don’t see America as special anymore. “The liberties we have in this land,” she says, “freedom of speech, the freedom to worship, the ability to define our destinies as we see fit, not have the government interfere in that — you just don’t get that in any other country,” she says. “That’s why we are a world power — because of liberty.”

But what really angers her the most is the complete dismissal of God as the center of our political structure. The Founding Fathers repeatedly emphasized the need to recognize the hand of a Divine Power as the truest cause of victory in the fight for our independence. Losurdo believes, “In order for the US to continue working the way it works, the people in power have to believe this country was given to us by God. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. If you don’t believe that this was God-given, then it just doesn’t work.”

Eager to make a statement both to her own party and to the Democrats, Losurdo and her family recently joined hundreds of thousands of patriots at Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally in Washington. She says the experience settled her views about patriotism. “My husband and I sat at the WW II memorial and I was just overwhelmed. The fountain there is covered with gold stars about 5” in size and every star represents 100 of our people who died in WW II. Just sitting there and trying to put myself in the place of understanding what they–” she pauses here and then adds quietly, “I guess that’s patriotism: knowing what we’ve been through to get to where we are and appreciating that…and being willing to do that again.”

Somewhere in heaven, I’m sure Abigail Adams is nodding sympathetically.

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