Heroines of the American Revolution
In a time when women were considered dependents of their husbands or fathers, when most women were uneducated, and when the ladies did not receive the same freedoms as their (white) male counterparts, women were majorly important in the War for Independence. During the American Revolution, women were messengers for war generals, soldiers in the infantry, and even spies.
Sybil Ludington, Messenger
You may have heard of Sybil Ludington’s male-equivalent, Paul Revere, but did you know that at the age of 16, Sybil rode twice as far through a stormy night to deliver a similar message?
Born in 1761 in Fredericksburg, New York, Sybil was the oldest of 12. During the revolution, Sybil’s father, Colonel Henry Ludington, commanded the 7th Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia, a regiment of local volunteers.
On April 26, 1777, a British force invaded Danbury, Connecticut and began destroying any property that did not belong to members of the British loyalists. A messenger was sent to tell Colonel Ludington. But, by the time he reached the Colonel, he was too exhausted to reach Ludington’s men who were scattered about the surrounding area.
It was shortly after nine o’clock that evening when Sybil mounted her horse, Star, and left her father’s home to rouse his men. Riding through the rain, with only a stick to defend herself from bandits, Sybil went from farmhouse to farmhouse shouting, “The British are burning Danbury. Muster at Ludington’s at daybreak!” When she returned home at dawn, 400 soldiers were prepared to march.
Deborah Sampson, Soldier
Deborah was born into a poor family in 1760. One of seven children, her mother could not afford to take care of her children. Deborah was bound into indentured servitude. Deborah spent her informative years performing hard farm work and self-educating herself. At the age of 18, her indenture was complete. Deborah began working as a teacher and supplemented her income by weaving.
At the age of 21, Deborah enlisted in the army. Because her years on the farm had given her a strong body, and, at five foot eight inches, she was taller than most women and the average height of a man, with just a little cloth binding, Deborah was able to easily disguise herself as a man. Under the alias of Robert Shurtliff, Deborah was assigned to the light infantry Company of the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment which patrolled the neutral territory near West Point, New York.
For more than two years, Deborah kept her gender a secret. When injured in battle, she let the army physician bandage her head, but then slipped into the woods to extract the pistol balls from her thighs with a penknife and a sewing needle. While she was able to remove one bullet, the other was lodged too deeply and remained in her leg for the remainder of her life. In 1783, Deborah became ill with a fever and was treated by Dr. Barnabas Binney, who discovered her secret. However, Dr. Binney didn't tell anyone, and Deborah continued to fight as a man until she was honorably discharged after the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
After the war, Deborah married and had children with Benjamin Gannet. Deborah petitioned for pension in return for her service and was awarded a small pension that she received until she died in 1827.
Molly Pitcher, Legend
As legend has it, Molly Pitcher was carrying water for the troops during battle, but when her husband was wounded, she deserted her jugs and took his place in battle. As she loaded a cartridge, an enemy soldier shot a cannon which passed directly between her legs, tearing the bottom half of her petticoat, but not injuring her at all.
Historians believe that Molly Pitcher was not a real woman, but the result of a collection of women who provided similar acts of bravery and whose stories became the personification of Molly Pitcher. Molly, a nickname for both Mary and Margaret, could have been inspired by either Margaret Corbin or Mary Ludwig Hays, both of whom did replace their husbands in battle and received recognition for it. However, it is likely that more women that we know participated in battles during the revolution and Molly Pitcher is a combination of them all.
Emily Geiger, Emissary
Emily was born in 1765 to the wealthy farmers John and Emily Geiger in South Carolina. During the revolution, Emily's father was an avid patriot but was an invalid and unable to bear arms. He remained a civilian and passed his patriotism on to his children at home.
In 1781, General Greene was having difficulties capturing the British fort at Ninety-Six. He believed that the British were vulnerable if he only had more men. Greene decided to send a message to General Sumter who's unit was 70 miles away. Weak from a recent battle, Greene's men needed rest and were unable to take the trek through enemy territory to get a message to Sumter. Greene turned to the town of Ninety-Six, but no man volunteered to be the messenger.
When Emily heard about the General's need for a courier, she volunteered, offering that a woman would be less suspicious. Desperate, Greene accepted. Emily immediately set off and traveled safely on the first day. She spent the night at a farmers house in a neighboring town, and upon discovering their alliance to the British, Emily snuck away before risking being caught. Fearing that she may have aroused suspicions, Emily rode harder the second day. With only a third of the journey left, Emily was stopped by British soldiers. When they questioned her, they became suspicious and took her to their leader, Lord Rawson. Suspicious that she may be a spy, Rawson ordered that Emily be contained.
Emily was locked in a room on the second floor of a building until a woman could be found to search her— if Greene's message was found, Emily could be tried as a spy and hung. Thinking quickly under pressure, Emily read the contents of the letter and memorized it. She then ate the paper so that no trace of the message could be found. When a woman was found to search her, they found nothing and Emily was let free.
On the third day, Emily managed to find Sumter's men and delivered the message she had memorized. Sumter immediately gathered his men and set off for Ninety-Six to join Greene. Emily made it back home safely. She married John Threrwits a few years later, her life in espionage complete.
Nancy Hart, Patriot
Born around 1735 on the Pennslyvania/ North Carolina frontier, Anny "Nancy" Morgan grew up to be a strong, six-foot tall, red-headed, fire of a woman and devout patriot. At the age of 36, Nancy married Benjamin Hart and the couple settled next to the Broad River in Wilkes County, Georgia. When the revolution came, Nancy stayed home to take care of the farm and their six children while Benjamin went off to war.
While Nancy had the responsibilities of her home, farm, and children to take care of, she was still a devoted patriot and made an effort to do her part. She took to dressing frequently as a deranged man and would "wander" onto the British camp and pick up information that she would then share with Patriot leaders. Nancy was a boisterous woman and not shy about her loyalties. This caused the British to be suspicious and they would send spies to watch her at home. One day, as Nancy was making soap, her daughter saw a spy watching them through a hole in the wall. Nancy spilled the boiling water through the crack, injuring the spy and giving her enough time to capture him.
When a group of British soldiers invaded Nancy's home and demanded that she feed them, Nancy was unusually kind to them. She offered the soldiers plenty of food and her homemade corn-liquor. She waited for the soldiers to become quite drunk and then began to sneak their muskets out of the room with the help of her twelve-year-old daughter, Sukey. They managed to rid the pile of two muskets before the soldiers caught on. With a third in her hand, Nancy warned the soldiers not to advance, and when one did, she shot him dead. Nancy injured another and was able to hold off the rest while Sukey ran for help. In 1912, six skeletons were found near the Hart's lands, suggesting that the local legend was based in fact.
Legend claims Nancy performed many other acts of patriotism, including involvement with the Battle of Kettle Creek in 1779. However, not all stories are as verifiable. After the war, the Harts moved to Brunswick, Georgia. Nancy lived until about 93 and died peacefully near her son's home in Henderson County, Kentucky.
Prudence Cummings Wright, Defender
Prudence Cummings was born in 1761 to a divided household. While Prudence grew up with firm beliefs that honored freedom and liberty, two of her brothers, Samuel and Thomas, held loyalty to the crown. In 1761, Prudence married David Wright who also supported independence. The couple settled in Pepperell, Massachusetts.
In 1775, David left home with most of the other men in town to join the war. With the town absent of men to defend it, Prudence and the other Pepperell women joined forces to create a team of "Minutewomen" dressed in their husband's clothing and bearing pitchforks and any other weapon they could find. Prudence was elected the leader and the gang would patrol the streets of Pepperell at night.
In April of the same year, Prudence had reason to suspect that Loyalist spies would be passing through Pepperell with a message for the British. Determined to stop them, Prudence and her crew hid under Jewett's Bridge, the only way through the town to Boston. When two horsemen approached, Prudence jumped out from under the bridge and demanded the riders to halt. One man was her brother, either Samuel or Thomas (legend can't agree on which one), and, knowing his sister's determined spirit and loyalty to the Patriots, he turned his horse around and escaped, never to be seen by his family again. The militiawomen managed to capture the other spy and found the message in his boot. Identified as Leonard Whiting, the prisoner was taken to Groton to the committee of safety. He was given his liberty the next day on the condition that he left the colony.
Lydia Darragh, Spy
Born in Ireland in 1729, Lydia Darragh immigrated to Philadelphia in 1753 with her husband, William Darragh. Both were Quackers and pacifists and stayed outwardly neutral when the revolution broke out. However, when their eldest son, Charles, joined the Continental Army, the Darragh's became secret Patriots.
In 1777, the British occupied Philadelphia and General William Howe moved into a home neighboring the Darragh's. Howe attempted to expand into the Darragh home, but Lydia was able to convince him to let her family remain in their house and let Howe use their sitting room as a meeting place. Because the Darragh's were publicly neutralists, Howe had no reason not to trust them.
With the General's meetings being held in Lydia's home, she was able to easily eavesdrop and send Charles notes coded with the secret information. On December 2, 1777, Howe arranged a private meeting at the Darragh home. He ordered that the Darragh's stay in their bedrooms and sleep until the meeting was over. The Darragh's did as they were told, except for Lydia who only pretended to go to bed. Instead, she listened in on the meeting and learned of the General's plans to lead a surprise attack against General George Washington and his forces at Whitemarsh, sixteen miles north of Philadephia.
The next morning, Lydia was granted permission from Howe to visit her younger children who were living outside of the city. Because she had permission from the General, Lydia was able to easily cross British lines. Instead of visiting her children, Lydia went to the Rising Sun Tavern where she informed a Patriot soldier of Howe's plans of attack. Because of Lydia's bravery, Washington was able to prepare for the attack in advance and was ready for Howe's advances. After losing the battle, Howe suspected that a member of the Darragh family had been the spy and questioned each of them. Lydia remained calm under pressure and claimed she had slept through the entire meeting.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Sckylar Gibby-Brown