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"Slavery and Freedom at Yorktown"
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Fearless Females

It was a sultry summer day in the backwoods of northeastern Georgia. The American Revolution had been raging for five long years and had divided families and friends into two warring factions: the Crown-loving Loyalists and the freedom-fighting Patriots. Tempers were hot as blazes.

this way to nancy's hut!

Just a few hours prior, six Loyalists had murdered a high-ranking Patriot in his bed. Now they wanted to celebrate. They tramped through the woods, happened upon a log cabin, and pounded on the door. A woman with flaming red hair answered. When they demanded something to eat, she nodded and invited them in. Score! A home-cooked meal! The men entered the cabin gleefully.

Little did they know, this meal would be their last. Their red-headed hostess, you see, was a red-blooded Patriot. No Loyalist was getting out of her kitchen alive. Of course, this never occurred to the Loyalists. When they looked at Nancy Morgan Hart, they saw only a helpless woman. And Nancy, like scores of other revolutionary heroines, used this to her distinct advantage.

this way to nancy's hut!

Nancy decided to glean a little insight from her enemies before getting down to business. Since nothing loosens lips like liquor, she offered the men a jug. In no time at all, the Loyalists were divulging their battle plans. Nancy, meanwhile, whipped up a hearty meal of roasted turkey, hot hoecakes and fresh honey to further preoccupy them. As she flitted back and forth between the rowdy table and the kitchen, she stole the men's muskets one by one and hid them in a corner on the far side of the room. Then she told her daughter to fetch some water - and her pa.

Suddenly, the men noticed their muskets were missing and stumbled to their feet. It was the moment Nancy had been waiting for. She grabbed a gun and ordered the men to take their seats. When one disobeyed, she shot him. A second Loyalist leaped out of his seat and she shot him too. That's when the men realized they'd crossed paths with the roughest, toughest Patriot in town - and that Patriot was a woman. Nancy held the Loyalists at bay until help arrived. All six men were hung that very evening, as per her request.

this way to nancy's hut!
Nancy Morgan Hart wasn't the only fearless female in the American Revolution. The War for Independence had just as many heroines as it had heroes - as has every war before or since. Consider, for instance, Deborah Samson of Plymouth, Massachusetts. She wanted to fight for her nation so badly, she disguised herself as a man and enlisted as Robert Shirtliffe. During her three years of service, she was sliced by swords and shot by muskets, but her secret wasn't discovered until she contracted brain fever. Realizing "Robert" was actually a "Roberta," the physician took her home to give her better treatment and, when she recovered, notified her commanding officer. After receiving an honorable discharge, Deborah became one of the nation's first female lecterns and traveled across the nation telling war stories.

Or how about 16-year-old Sybil Ludington, the so-called "female Paul Revere?" She was tucking her brothers and sisters into bed one night when she heard that the British were burning the town of Danbury, Connecticut, only 25 miles away. After convincing her father to let her round up the town's men, Sybil hopped on her horse and raced into the night. She combed 40 miles of unpaved roads before daybreak, summoning just enough men to drive the British back to their ships.

And who can forget Molly Pitcher? When her husband collapsed of heat stroke at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, she took his place at the gun crew and fired away. According to one soldier's memoirs, when enemy fire zipped between Molly's legs and singed her petticoats, she merely mused that it was a good thing the Loyalists hadn't aimed a little higher
this way to nancy's hut!

Then there's the diva of our dispatch -- Nancy Morgan Hart. There was nothing this woman wouldn't do for her fellow Patriots. A first-rate spy, she often posed as a peddler or half-wit in order to gain access to the British camps and gather information. She was equally adept at catching spies. Take the afternoon she called all of her children together to inform them of the Patriot's latest battle strategy. When one of her kids whispered that someone was peeping through a crack in the chimney, Nancy quickly ladled some boiling soap and flung it through the crevice. The spy - a Loyalist -- shrieked in pain as Nancy marched him over to the authorities. No wonder the Cherokee Indians nicknamed her "Wahatchee" - War Woman!

So why are these fearless females so often left out of history books? As we retraced the major battles of the Revolution along the Southeast, Nick and I came up with a few hypothesis. For starters, women's contributions to the war effort were often belittled because they didn't (legally) participate in combat. But even though women weren't firing the muskets on the battlefield, they were helping out in numerous other ways, including cooking, cleaning and caring for soldiers; assuming sole responsibility for family farms and businesses; and single-handedly raising children. Society back home would have collapsed without women - but few historians thought this important enough to record.

Another problem is that some historians doubt these revolutionary heroines' very existence. While public records confirm there once lived a woman named Nancy Morgan Hart, there are no written accounts of her wild and crazy antics during that time period. In fact, the story of her holding six Loyalists at bay was thought to be a legend until the early 1900s, when railroad workers discovered six skeletons buried in a row just a few feet away from Nancy Hart's old stomping grounds. Only then did historians give this tale some credibility.

this way to nancy's hut!

But perhaps the main reason we are forever reading about "history" instead of "herstory" is that men have traditionally been the ones to jot it down. And not just any men, but upper-class men of European descent. This means that the perspectives of just about everyone else - women, Native Americans, slaves, the impoverished - have been lost. As a result, our knowledge of the American Revolution has been shaped by a select, privileged few who thought few others worthy of note.

The good news is that we have the power to prevent this from happening again by leaving behind our perspectives for generations to come. So let's go out and write our own "herstories" and "histories!"


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

MAD - 30,000 shot dead each year - what YOU can do!
Nick - Shave, grease up, and put on a skirt, there's a war on!
Daphne - Letters from the trenches of the revolution
Kevin - Slaves fighting for American freedom? What's up with that?
Teddy - Blowing the British confidence to smithereens
Nick - The real revolutionaries at the battle of Yorktown
Rebecca - One man rises above to prove all men ARE created equal
Teddy - Just an old fashioned 'Green Mountain Boys' whupping