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!
I discovered an astounding statistic the other day. You know I often write blogs about tough, stubborn, gritty women who beat the odds, improvised, adapted, overcame and helped build the country we love. Well, the #1 most read blog I’ve written is, of course, about one of these women–one from the Revolutionary War. Over 15,000 hits! Hmmm. Maybe I’m writing in the wrong genre!
Anyway, if you haven’t yet, check out my take on identifying the heroic and mysterious Agent 355! What a woman. Let me know if you agree with my theory on who she was!
By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2013 Heather Blanton
Elizabeth and Thomas Poindexter lived in Yadkin county, North Carolina, eventually having 12 children total. Ardent patriots, when the revolutionary war began Thomas Poindexter served as a captain in charge of a regiment of farmers and shop owners. Talented soldiers, they were critical to the American forces in the skirmishes around the Yadkin River, especially in the battle of Shallowford.
Since Thomas Poindexter was away with the revolutionary forces, Elizabeth was left alone at home with the British in close proximity. To aid the war effort, crafty Elizabeth sewed secret messages and military correspondence into her daughters’ dresses, and then would send them on “errands” right through British lines. She did this throughout the conflict and neither she nor her daughters were ever even questioned.
The rumor was was she was a sweet, pretty thing with such well-behaved daughters that she and her girls were simply above suspicion. Reason for cultivating a positive, lady-like reputation (MIley Cyrus, are you listening?).
After the war, Elizabeth was recognized for her bravery in wartime. Today she is an official hero of the Daughters of the American Revolution and they, as well, have recognized her contribution in the revolutionary war in the North Carolina region.
Reprinted from http://www.americancivilwarstory.com/elizabeth-van-lew.html
(I highly recommend this website!)
Elizabeth Van Lew was born in October of 1818 in Richmond, Virginia. During her childhood, Elizabeth was considered to be the most stubborn of the three Van Lew children. Her parents were John and Eliza Van Lew.
John Van Lew had come to Richmond at the age of sixteen, and by his mid thirties had built a successful hardware business. His new-found wealth made the Van Lew family one of the most prominent in the city.
As a teenager, Elizabeth was sent to a Quaker school for girls in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There, she became convinced that slavery was wrong and should be abolished. She took this belief back to Richmond, where it became her most defining feature.
Upon her fathers death, Elizabeth inherited about 10,000 dollars (roughly equivalent to 200,000 dollars today). She immediately spent all of it buying and freeing relatives of her family’s former slaves.
Elizabeth Van Lew soon a five station relay line by which her messages were quickly carried from her home in Richmond to the Union high command. One popular story concerning her message-line, tells that she would sometimes deliver fresh flowers and a Richmond morning paper directly to General Grant.
She often used her former slaves to carry her messages. Sometimes they would be hidden in a shoe, sometimes sewn into the work of a seamstress, sometimes hidden in a hollowed out egg in a basket of regular eggs. Whatever the case, her messages always got through unmolested.
One of her former slaves was Mary Bowser, a very intelligent young lady whose schooling Miss Van Lew had paid for before the war. Somehow, Mary Bowser managed to get a position as a servant in the Confederate White House.
There she was able to read secret papers, and listen in on important meetings. All the information that she gathered in the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was passed, through Miss Van Lew, straight to the Union high command. These ladies were probably the most successful and effective spy team of the Civil War. It is even believed that the two worked together to try to burn down the Confederate White House on one occasion.
During the war, Elizabeth Van Lew was somewhat of an outcast because of her anti-secession, pro-Union positions; but when it became known that she had been a Union spy, she was treated as a complete social pariah. Penniless and nearly destitute, some family and friends of a Union officer whom she had helped during the war heard of her plight. These folks put together an annuity which supported Miss Van Lew for the rest of her life.