by Heather Frey Blanton
Esther De Berdt Reed, though born in England, found the cause of liberty trumped ties to homeland and tradition. Perhaps her future husband, American Joseph Reed, had something to do with her fervor. The two met in London in 1763 when he was studying law. True love took its course and they became engaged, yet Reed left to tend to matters in America. The couple endured a five-year separation. Esther clearly knew her mind and her heart.
The two married and moved to Philadelphia around 1770 when the abuses of the crown were just getting rolling. Joseph worked hard and became a prosperous lawyer. His wife threw wonderful soirees that included the likes of General George Washington. After the battles at Lexington and Concord, though, Joseph was called to serve his country. He rose quickly through the ranks, eventually becoming a general himself.
Esther was left at home to raise six children and manage her household. Prepare to feel inadequate, because she was clearly more than a Philadelphia housewife. Esther not only moved her family out of Philadelphia three separate times to avoid British soldiers and Tory mobs, she also dove full tilt into fundraising for the cause. Using her gifts, connections and time as wisely as possible, she started the Ladies of Philadelphia, a group of women focused on raising money for the American soldiers. Initially they thought to give cash to the troops. Washington gently suggested the money be used to buy clothes. But he left the decision up to Esther.
Before Esther’s death in 1780 at the young age of 34, her group raised a whopping $7000 for the Continental Army and then used the money to buy cloth for shirts. Together, the ladies and their servants then sewed 2000 shirts. June Cleaver would be proud of these gals.
Esther gave all and died no less valiantly than a soldier under cannon fire. She knew what kind of a country she wanted her children to grow up in. One without a pompous king taxing them to death and determining their future. Inspired by Esther’s passion, Sarah Franklin stepped up to take her place and had similar success. Esther Reed was the first woman to be called A Daughter of Liberty. Amen, sister.
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
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by Heather Frey Blanton
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As I have often said, I discover the most fascinating things about the women who built this country by reading between the lines.
Case in point, Dorothy Sinkler Richardson. You’ve probably never heard of her unless you delve deep into South Carolina history. But you’ll recognize some of the names in her story.
Dorothy was the second wife of General Richard Richardson. Both were ardent patriots. Richardson, however, died in British custody after the fall of Charleston in 1780. No shrinking violet, Dorothy kept her head about her and ran her home. She also continued to support the cause of liberty. She seemed to have at least a passing acquaintance with Frances Marion, the Swamp Fox.
Unfortunately for Dorothy, Banistre Tarleton opted to bivouac in her home in 1781. He made no secret he was after Marion and felt that he and his men were close. Knowing what was at risk, as Tarleton’s reputation for butchery was well-documented, she still opted to send her 10-year-old son James to warn Marion. The boy succeeded, Marion changed directions, and Tarleton got a very angry.
He forced Dorothy to prepare his dinner and then serve him. Several accounts also report that he had her husband’s body dug up just so he could see a “real” American general (I certainly wouldn’t put this past him). And if all this wasn’t enough, Tarleton then burned her home to the ground.
Banistre Tarleton may have left Dorothy’s farm that night giddy and giggling with great satisfaction. It was quite premature, though typical of his arrogance. He destroyed Dorothy’s home. He did not destroy her spirit. They say the proof of a life well-lived is in your children. She raised two boys who became governors of South Carolina.
Her son James had the following inscription carved onto her tombstone:
Relict [widow] of Gen. Richard Richardson Who died July 1793 Aged 56 years
She was pious & exemplary, distinguished in mind & manners and eminently discernible in the highest societies in which she associated. This marble which designates the place where her remains rest is erected to her memory by her eldest son James B. Richardson Who early bereft of paternal care feels that he is indebted to her maternal care & attention, to her vigorous & preserving mind of firmness & determination surpassing description and to her vigilant and enlightened instructions for being all that he is in life.
Respect the lace. She earned it.
by Heather Frey Blanton
Some women during the Revolutionary War did amazingly brave things. These women warriors rose to the level of their challenges and met them head on. But not every woman took a rifle in hand to make a fight. Mary Katherine Goddard, arguably the first female journalist of the Revolutionary War, fought with ink and paper.
In 1762, 24-year-old Mary Katherine moved with her younger brother and mother to Rhode Island. Brother William had finished an apprenticeship in printing and planned on starting a print shop and newspaper. Together the family published the Providence Gazette. Mary Katherine was a quick study, though. After William established an additional shop and newspaper in Philadelphia, he turned that store over to his sister in 1764.
Philadelphia was a hot-bed of Colonial rebellion. Mary Katherine reported it with a fair and balanced approach, despite the fact that her brother was rabidly anti-British. He was repeatedly jailed for outbursts and printed tirades against the crown. In 1774, Mary Katherine took over her brother’s paper in Baltimore while he attended to other interests, including trying to set up a postal system in opposition to the official British mail service.
In January of 1777, Mary Katherine courageously used her press to print copies of the Declaration of Independence, only the second publisher to do so and the first to print all the names of the signatories. Considering the times, this was arguably a treasonous act. She was also the first female appointed as a postmaster in Colonial America. She served in that capacity for the city of Baltimore from 1775 to 1789. It’s worth mentioning that Mary Katherine never missed an edition of the Maryland Journal from 1775 to 1784. In the midst of war, when lesser papers folded or went into hiding, the city’s government switched hands, and battles raged, she kept the presses rolling, so to speak.
It wasn’t all daisies and sunshine for May Katherine, though. In 1784, her name disappeared from the masthead of the Maryland Journal, and in 1789 she was forced to step down from her position as Postmaster (despite a petition signed by over 200 Baltimore merchants to keep her). The issues? Her brother was jealous of her success (he hadn’t accomplished a thing in his life that Mary Katherine didn’t bring about), and she was a woman without the appropriate friends in high places. Infuriating, yes, but I suspect Mary Katherine did all right. She ran her own bookstore in Baltimore till her death in 1816. Nobody really remembers her brother or the man who replaced her as Postmaster. There’s some justice in that.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If that’s true, then Margaret Corbin was one of the strongest women of the Revolutionary War.
Her life started out with a fairly bad omen. Around the time of her fifth or so birthday, she and her brother went to visit her uncle. While the two were gone, the family farm in Pennsylvania was attacked by Indians. Her father was scalped and killed. Her mother was taken captive and disappeared into the pages of history.
Margaret trudged on however and developed a keen dislike for King George. In 1775 she married John Corbin. When he enlisted in the Continental Army, Margaret went along, as women often did, to sew and cook. Not being stupid, however, they also picked up on military drills, routines and protocol.
This would explain why women were able to jump into battles alongside their husbands and actually make valued contributions. So, like Molly Pitcher, when Margaret and John went into their first battle (the Battle of Fort Washington), she was ready to assist. John was a matross (he loaded the canon) and when his partner was killed, he took his position. Unflinchingly, Margaret then took on the duty of matross. Shortly thereafter, however, John was killed. Unbroken, defiant, and completely alone, Margaret “manned” the canon herself. She loaded and fired the thing repeatedly with deadly accuracy! Hers was the last canon firing, which eventually made her an easy target.
Margaret was discovered after the battle alive but in critical condition. She had three musket balls in her, her chest and jaw were damaged by grapeshot and her left arm was quite literally hanging by shreds of skin. Surely this is the woman who gave Lord Cornwallis nightmares!
An amputee, she continued to serve in the cause of Liberty in the invalid regiment at Westpoint. She even remarried, but her second husband passed away a year later. On her own, Margaret wasn’t able to stay well-coiffed due to her injuries and therefore alienated a lot of folks. Not to mention, she was a bit rough and unrefined; given to drinking (a lot) and smoking. The Philadelphia Society of Women thought to erect a statue to her until they met her and then they called off the whole idea. I wonder how many of them ever jumped behind a canon?
But good men in the military did not forget Margaret and eventually, after spending many years destitute and poor, she became the first woman to receive a military pension. Eventually she was even reburied at West Point with full military honors.
Dear Philadelphia Society of Women, it just goes to show that well-behaved women rarely make history. Respect the lace.
Elementary students around the country often get their first dose of female patriots through the legendary quagmire of Molly Pitcher. Several women have acquired this handle through the centuries, but where does legend end and truth begin?
Most scholars agree the true identity of “Molly Pitcher” is confused because there were several “camp followers” involved in the Revolutionary War’s battle of Monmouth. Back then, these ladies tended the sick, cooked for their soldiers, repaired the uniforms, and even manned a cannon if the occasion called for it. Hence, the confusion. One of the best candidates, though, is Mary Ludwig Hays. Even if she’s not the actual “Molly Pitcher,” she is well-deserving of the fame.
Mary, born in 1754 to German immigrants, took a position as a domestic servant at the age of 15. A year later she married John Hays. In 1776, Hays, a barber, soldiered up and joined Pennsylvania’s artillery. Two years later, Mary appears in the military paperwork for the first time. She joined the same company as her husband mere months before the battle of Monmouth. She swore, she chewed tobacco, and expected no quarter just because she was a woman. During the battle, Mary hauled water under furious enemy fire and sweltering conditions. Both the rag-wrapped cannon ramrods needed continual soaking as did the over-heated soldiers. Mary and the others like her were angels of mercy or war, depending on your perspective.
As cannons and muskets thundered in the blazing sun, Mary’s husband John collapsed from heat stroke (some reports indicate he may have been injured). Mary gave him some water then heroically took over his cannon, repeatedly packing the barrel and sighting in on the enemy. The enemy, however, was also sighting in on her. An eye witness (the diary of a Colonial private), reported seeing a cannon ball literally shoot between her legs, removing a terrifying portion of her petticoat! Mary never missed a beat. She kept loading and firing.
The result of the battle: Lord Cornwallis withdrew and his army slipped away in the darkness. George Washington thanked Mary and the other women for their service. And with typical government efficieny, the state of Pennsylvania awarded Mary a pension of $40 a year, specifically for her heroism at Monmouth, forty years later.
Better late than never to respect the lace.
by Heather Frey Blanton
Sibbell Ludington Ogden was the daughter of Henry Ludington, the man appointed Militia Captain by the British to protect to Duchess County, New York. Rather than fight for England, John resigned the commission the same evening he received it. Then he openly and defiantly accepted a commission as a colonel in the Colonial army. That tells us about the politics of the Ludington family, and Sibbell was her father’s daughter.
On the evening of April 26, a rider shared the disheartening news that Danbury had fallen to the British. Ludington was horrified as he had just released his men to tend to spring planting. The entire Duchess County Militia was farming and the Her Majesty’s soldiers were preparing to roll through the area like a juggernaut.
The messenger and his horse were done in from the ride. The Ludington’s had no close neighbors. Someone had to take it upon himself to make a midnight ride and rally the troops or Upstate New York was going to be serving tea and crumpets for breakfast.
Without hesitation, pretty little sixteen-year-old Sibbell stepped up. She was the oldest of twelve children. I dare say, she was eager to get out of the house! So, with the audacity that comes with the teenage years, she saddled her horse and hit the trails! Zig-zagging across the dark country-side, Sibbell put in a good forty miles, riding hell-bent for leather, banging on doors and windows, yelling, “The British are burning Danbury! Muster at Ludington’s!”
The British showed no particular grace to women. Their prison ships were populated with Liberty’s daughters. Sibbell knowingly took her life in her hands that night to rouse the sleepy farmers. She did her job well, as nearly 400 militia members were at her father’s house by dawn.
I can’t grasp the kind of courage this young lady embodies. I can only hope I share some of it.
Respect the lace.
P.S. Sibbell’s name has been spelled over time in various ways: Sybil, Sibyl, etc. “Sibbell” is on her tombstone. I seriously doubt it would be misspelled there.
by Heather Frey Blanton
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.
by Heather Frey Blanton
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
by Heather Frey Blanton
We all know love can drive a person to insane actions, casting caution to the wind, striving only to get to the person we love no matter the cost. Just twenty seconds of insane courage? For some, that’s enough. But not for Mary Slocumb.
Mary’s husband was a soldier serving in a North Carolina regiment during the Revolutionary War. In February of 1776, Ezekiel headed off to fight the British in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge near Wilmington. Plagued with an unshakable feeling of doom, she went to bed that night and dreamed she saw her husband’s body, bloody, lifeless, and wrapped in his cloak.
Mary awoke, leaped from her bed, saddled her horse and rode hell-bent-for-leather, thirty-one miles, in the dark, through fields and swamps seeking her beloved. By daylight she heard the thunder of cannons and raced towards the sound. Mary stumbled upon a group of about twenty wounded soldiers hidden among a grove of Oaks. She immediately dismounted and soon discovered a body wrapped in her husband’s cloak. Upon closer examination, however, she realized the soldier was not her husband, nor was he dead, but he was suffering from a traumatic, very bloody head injury. Mary washed the man’s wound, dressed it, and gave him some water using a gourd she carried on her own saddle. She then spent the rest of the day nursing the other wounded soldiers. Hours passed, though, with no sign of her husband.
Then, in her own words, “I looked up and my husband, as bloody as a butcher…stood before me.”
Imagine her joy.
Imagine his shock.
What Mary and Ezekiel both did that day cannot be underestimated. Ezekiel was in the troop that chased the British back across the bridge and sent them skedaddling home to Cornwallis. This one, early victory ignited the hearts of Southern patriots and recruitment in the coastal areas of North and South Carolina and Virginia leaped!
For her part, who knows how many soldiers would have died if not for Mary showing up to nurse them? Some of you may be reading this today because of her crazy ride to find her soulmate!
Two people in love. Two people who may well have changed the course of the Revolutionary War.
P.S. Mary’s gourd is on display in the NC Museum of History and there is a status of her at Moore’s Creek Bridge.