The Women of the American Revolution/Nancy Hart

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The Women of the American Revolution
by Elizabeth F. Ellet
Nancy Hart
Third Edition - 1849

AT the commencement of the Revolutionary war, a large district in the State of Georgia, extending in one direction from Newson's Ponds to Cherokee Corner near Athens, and in the other, from the Savannah River to Ogeechee River and Shoulderbone, had been already organized into a county which received the name of Wilkes, in honor of the distinguished English politician. At the commencement of hostilities, so great a majority of the people of this county espoused the whig cause, that it received from the tories the name of the" Hornet's Nest." In a portion of this district, near Dye's and Webb's ferries on Broad River, now in Elbert County, was a stream known as "War-woman's Creek"-a name derived from the character of an individual who lived near the entrance of the stream into the river.

This person was Nancy Hart, a woman entirely uneducated, and ignorant of all the conventional civilities of life, but a zealous lover of liberty and of the "liberty boys," as she called the whigs. She had a husband whom she denominated a "poor stick," because he did not take a decided and active part with the defenders of his country; although she could not conscientiously charge him with the least partiality to the tories. This vulgar and illiterate, but hospitable and valorous female patriot could boast no share of beauty; a fact she would herself have readily acknowledged, had she ever enjoyed an opportunity of looking in a mirror. She was cross-eyed, with a broad, angular mouth ungainly in figure, rude in speech, and awkward in manners-but having a woman's heart for her friends, though that of a tigress or a Katrine Montour for the enemies of her country. She was well known to the tories, who stood somewhat in fear of her vengeance for any grievance or aggressive act; though they let pass no opportunity of teasing and annoying her, when they could do so with impunity.

On the occasion of an excursion from the British camp at Augusta, a party of loyalists penetrated into the interior; and having savagely massacred Colonel Dooly in bed in his own house, proceeded up the country with the design of perpetrating further atrocities. On their way, a detachment of five from the party diverged to the east, and crossed Broad River to examine the neighborhood and pay a visit to their old acquaintance Nancy Hart. When they arrived at her cabin, they unceremoniously entered it, although receiving from her no welcome but a scowl, and informed her they had come to learn the truth of a story in circulation, that she had secreted a noted rebel from a company of "king's men" who were pursuing him, and who, but for her interference, would have caught. And hung him. Nancy undauntedly avowed her agency in the fugitive's escape. She had, she said, at first heard the tramp of a horse, and then saw a man on horseback approaching her cabin at his utmost speed. As soon as she recognized him to be a whig flying from pursuit, she let down the bars in front of her cabin, and motioned him to pass through both doors, front and rear, of her single-roomed house-to take to the swamp, and secure himself as well as he could. This he did without loss of time; and she then put up the bars, entered the cabin, closed the doors, and went about her usual employments. Presently, some tories rode up to the bars, calling vociferously for her. She muffled up her head and face, and opening the door, inquired why they disturbed a sick, lone woman. They said they had traced a man they wanted to catch near to her house, and asked if anyone on horseback had passed that way. She answered, no-but she saw some one on a sorrel horse turn out of the path into the woods, some two or three hundred yards back. "That must be the fellow!" said the tories; and asking her direction as to the way he took, they turned about and went off, "well fooled," concluded Nancy, "in an opposite course to that of my whig boy; when, if they had not been so lofty minded-but had looked on the ground inside the bars, they would have seen his horse's tracks up to that door, as plain as you can see the tracks on this here floor, and out of the other door down the path to the swamp."

This bold story did not much please the tory party, but they would not wreak their revenge upon the woman who so unscrupulously avowed the cheat she had put upon the pursuers of a rebel. They contented themselves with ordering her to prepare them something to eat. She replied that she never fed traitors and king's men if she could help it-the villains having put it out of her power to feed even her own family and friends, by stealing and killing all her poultry and pigs, "except that one old gobbler you see in the yard." " Well, and that you shall cook for us," said one who appeared to be a leader of the party; and raising his musket he shot down the turkey, which another of them brought into the house and handed to Mrs. Hart to be cleaned and cooked without delay. She stormed and swore awhile-for Nancy occasionally swore-but seeming at last disposed to make a merit of necessity, began with alacrity the arrangements for cooking, assisted by her daughter, a little girl ten or twelve years old, and sometimes by one of the party, with whom she seemed in a tolerably good humor-now and then exchanging rude jests with him. The tories, pleased with her freedom, invited her to partake of the liquor they had brought with them-an invitation which was accepted with jocose thanks.

The spring-of which every settlement has one near by-was just at the edge of the swamp; and a short distance within the swamp was hid among the trees a high snag-topped stump, on which was placed a conch shell. This rude trumpet was used by the family to convey information, by variations in its notes, to Mr. Hart or his neighbors, who might be at work in a field, or "clearing," just beyond the swamp; to let them know that the" Britishers" or tories were about-that the master was wanted at the cabin-or that he was to keep close, or "make tracks" for another swamp. Pending the operation of cooking the turkey, Nancy had sent her daughter Sukey to the spring for water, with directions to blow the conch for her father in such a way as should inform him there were tories in the cabin; and that he was to "keep close" with his three neighbors who were with him, until he should again hear the conch.

The party had become merry over their jug, and sat down to feast upon the slaughtered gobbler. They had cautiously stacked their arms where they were in view and within reach; and Mrs. Hart, assiduous in her attentions upon the table and to her guests, occasionally passed between the men and their muskets. Water was called for; and our heroine having contrived that there should be none in the cabin, Sukey was a second time despatched to the spring, with instructions to blow such a signal on the conch as should call up Mr. Hart and his neighbors immediately. Meanwhile Nancy had managed, by slipping out one of the pieces of pine which form a "chinking" between the logs of a cabin, to open a space through which she was able to pass to the outside two of the five guns. She was detected in the act of putting out the third. The whole party sprang to their feet; when quick as thought Nancy brought the piece she held, to her shoulder, declaring she would kill the first man who approached her. All were terror struck; for Nancy's obliquity of sight caused each to imagine himself her destined victim. At length one of them made a movement to advance upon her; and true to her threat, she fired and shot him dead! Seizing another musket, she levelled it instantly, keeping the others at bay. By this time Sukey had returned from the spring; and taking up the remaining gun, she carried it out of the house, saying to her mother--" Daddy and them will soon be here." This information much increased the alarm of the tories, who perceived the importance of recovering their arms immediately; but each one hesitated, in the confident belief that Mrs. Hart had one eye at least on him for a mark. They proposed a general rush. No time was to be lost by the bold woman ;-she fired again, and brought down another of the enemy. Sukey had another musket in readiness, which her mother took, and posting herself in the doorway, called upon the party to surrender" their d- - tory carcasses to a whig woman." They agreed to surrender, and proposed to "shake hands upon the strength of it." But the victor, unwilling to trust their word, kept them in their places for a few minutes, till her husband and his neighbors came up to the door. They were about to shoot down the tories, but Mrs. Hart stopped them, saying they had surrendered to her; and her spirit being up to boiling heat, she swore that "shooting was too good for them." This hint was enough; the dead man was dragged out of the house; and the wounded tory and the others were bound, taken out beyond the bars and hung! The tree upon which they were suspended was shown in 1828 by one who lived in those bloody times, and who also pointed out the spot once occupied by Mrs. Hart's cabin; accompanying the mention of her name with the emphatic remark-" Poor Nancy! She was a honey of a patriot but the devil of a wife !"