The Women of the American Revolution/Dicey Langston, Mrs. Dillard, Mrs. Potter, Mrs. Beckham
THE portion of South Carolina near the frontier, watered by the Pacolet, the Tyger, and the Ennoree, comprising Spartanburg and Union Districts, witnessed many deeds of violence and blood, and many bold achievements of the hardy partisans. It could also boast its full complement of women whose aid in various ways was of essential service to the patriots. So prevalent was loyalism in the darkest of those days, so bitter was the animosity felt towards the whigs, and so eager the determination to root them from the soil, that the very recklessness of hate gave frequent opportunities for the betrayal of the plans of their enemies. Often were the boastings of those who plotted some midnight surprise, or some enterprise that promised rare pillage-uttered in the hearing of weak and despised women-unexpectedly turned into wonder at the secret agency that had disconcerted them, or execrations upon their own folly. The tradition of the country teems with accounts of female enterprise in this kind of service, very few instances of which were recorded in the military journals.
The patriots were frequently indebted for important information to one young girl, fifteen or sixteen years old at the commencement of the war. This was Dicey, the daughter of Solomon Langston of Laurens District. He was in principle a stout liberty man, but incapacitated by age and infirmities from taking any active part in the contest. His son was a devoted patriot, and was ever found in the field where his services were most needed. He had his home in the neighborhood, and could easily receive secret intelligence from his sister, who was always on the alert. Living surrounded by loyalists, some of whom were her own relatives, Miss Langston found it easy to make herself acquainted with their movements and plans, and failed not to avail herself of every opportunity to do so, and immediately to communicate what she learned to the whigs on the other side of the Ennoree River. At length suspicion of the active aid she rendered was excited among the tory neighbors. Mr. Langston was informed that he would be held responsible thenceforward, with his property, for the conduct of his daughter. The young girl was reproved severely, and commanded to desist from her patriotic treachery. For a time she obeyed the parental injunction; but having heard by accident that a company of loyalists, who on account of their ruthless cruelty had been commonly called the" Bloody Scout," intent on their work of death, were about to visit the" Elder settlement" where her brother and some friends were living, she determined at all hazards to warn them of the intended expedition. She had none in whom to confide; but was obliged to leave her home alone, by stealth, and at the dead hour of night. Many miles were to be traversed, and the road lay through woods, and crossed marshes and creeks, where the conveniences of bridges and foot-logs were wanting. She walked rapidly on, heedless of slight difficulties; but her heart almost failed her when she came to the banks of the Tyger-a deep and rapid stream, which there was no possibility of crossing except by wading through the ford. This she knew to be deep at ordinary times, and it had doubtless been rendered more dangerous by the rains that had lately fallen. But the thought of personal danger weighed not with her, in comparison to the duty she owed her friends and country. Her momentary hesitation was but the shrinking of nature from peril encountered in darkness and alone, when the imagination conjures up a thousand appalling ideas, each more startling than the worst reality. Her strong heart battled against these, and she resolved to accomplish her purpose, or perish in the attempt. She entered the water; but when in the middle of the ford, became bewildered, and knew not which direction to take. The hoarse rush of the waters, which were up to her neck-the blackness of the night-the utter solitude around her-the uncertainty lest the next step should ingulph her past help, confused her; and losing in a degree her self-possession, she wandered for some time in the channel without knowing whither to turn her steps. But the energy of a resolute will, under the care of Providence, sustained her. Having with difficulty reached the other side, she lost no time in hastening to her brother, informed him and his friends of the preparations made to surprise and destroy them, and urged him to send his men instantly in different directions to arouse and warn the neighborhood. The soldiers had just returned from a fatiguing excursion, and complained that they were faint from want of food. The noble girl, not satisfied with what she had done at such risk to herself, was ready to help them still further by providing. refreshment immediately. Though wearied, wet, and shivering with cold, she at once set about her preparations. A few boards were taken from the roof of the house, a fire was kindled with them, and in a few minutes a hoe-cake, partly baked was broken into pieces, and thrust into the shot pouches of the men. Thus provisioned, the little company hastened to give the alarm to their neighbors, and did so in time for all to make their escape. The next day, when the "scout" visited the place, they found no living enemy on whom to wreak their vengeance.
At a later period of the war, the father of Miss Langston incurred the displeasure of the loyalists in consequence of the active services of his sons in their country's cause. They were known to have imbibed their principles from him; and he was marked out as an object of summary vengeance. A party came to his house with the desperate design of putting to death all the men of the family. The sons were absent; but the feeble old man, selected by their relentless hate as a victim, was in their power. He could not escape or resist; and he scorned to implore their mercy. One of the company drew a pistol, and deliberately levelled it at the breast of Lansgton. Suddenly a wild shriek was heard; and his young daughter sprang between her aged parent and the fatal weapon. The brutal soldier roughly ordered her to get out of the way, or the contents of the pistol would be instantly lodged in her own heart. She heeded not the threat, which was but too likely to be fulfilled the next moment. Clasping her arms tightly round the old man's neck, she declared that her own body should first receive the ball aimed at his heart! There are few human beings, even of the most depraved, entirely insensible to all noble and generous impulses. On this occasion the conduct of the daughter, so fearless, so determined to shield her father's life by the sacrifice of her own, touched the heart even of a member of the" Bloody Scout." Langston was spared; and the party left the house filled with admiration at the filial affection and devotion they had witnessed.
At another time the heroic maiden showed herself as ready to prevent wrong to an enemy as to her friends. Her father's house was visited by a company of whigs, who stopped to get some refreshment, and to feed their wearied horses. In the course of conversation one of them mentioned that they were going to visit a tory neighbor, for the purpose of seizing his horses. The man whose possessions were thus to be appropriated had been in general a peaceable citizen; and Mr. Langston determined to inform him of the danger in which his horses stood of having their ownership changed. Entering cordially into her father's design, Miss Langston set off immediately to carry the information. She gave it in the best faith; but just before she started on her return home, she discovered that the neighbor whom she had warned was not only taking precautions to save his property, but was about to send for the captain of a tory band not far distant, so that the "liberty men" might be captured when intent on their expedition, before they should be aware of their danger. It was now the generous girl's duty to perform alike friendly act towards the whigs. She lost no time in conveying the intelligence, and thus saved an enemy's property, and the jives of her friends.
Her disregard of personal danger, where service could be rendered, was remarkable. One day, returning from a whig neighborhood in Spartanburg District, she was met by a company of loyalists, who ordered her to give them some intelligence they desired respecting those she had just left. She refused; whereupon the captain of the band held a pistol to her breast, and ordered her instantly to make the disclosures, or she should" die in her tracks." Miss Langston only replied, with the cool intrepidity of a veteran soldier: "Shoot me if you dare! I will not tell you," at the same time opening a long handkerchief which covered her neck and bosom, as if offering a place to receive the contents of the weapon. Incensed by her defiance, the officer was about to fire, when another threw up his hand, and saved the courageous girl's life.
On one occasion, when her father's house was visited on a plundering expedition by the noted tory Captain Gray with his riflemen, and they had collected and divided every thing they thought could be of use, they were at some loss what to do with a large pewter basin. At length the captain determined on taking that also, jeeringly remarking, "it will do to run into bullets to kill the rebels." "Pewter bullets, sir," answered Miss Langston, "will not kill a whig." "Why not ?" inquired Captain Gray. "It is said, sir," replied she, "that a witch can be shot only with a silver bullet; and I am sure the whigs are more under the protection of Providence." At another time when a company of the enemy came to the house they found the door secured. To their demand for admission and threats of breaking down the door, Miss Langston answered by sternly bidding them begone. Her resolute language induced the company to "hold a parley;" and the result was that they departed without further attempt to obtain an entrance.
One more anecdote is given to illustrate her spirit and fearlessness. Her brother James had left a rifle in her care, which she was to keep hid till he sent for it. He did so, by a company of "liberty men," who were to return by his father's dwelling. On arriving at the house, one of them asked the young girl for the gun. She went immediately, and brought it; but as she came towards the soldiers, the thought struck her that she had neglected to ask for the countersign agreed upon between her brother and herself. Advancing more cautiously-she observed to them that their looks were suspicious; that for aught she knew they might be a set of tories; and demanded the countersign. One of the company answered that it was too late to make conditions; the gun was in their possession, and its holder, too. "Do you think so," cried she, cocking it, and presenting the muzzle at the speaker. "If the gun is in your possession, take charge of her!" Her look and attitude of defiance showed her in earnest; the countersign was quickly given; and the men, laughing heartily, pronounced her worthy of being the sister of James Langston.
After the war was ended, Miss Langston married Thomas Springfield, of Greenville, South Carolina. She died in Greenville District, a few years since. Of her numerous descendants then living, thirty-two were sons and grandsons capable of bearing arms, and ready at any time to do so in the maintenance of that liberty which was so dear to the youthful heart of their ancestor. *
THE recollection of the courage and patriotism of Mrs. Dillard is associated with the details of a battle of considerable importance, which took place in Spartanburg District, at the Green Spring, near Berwick's iron works. The Americans here gained great honor.
- The preceding anecdotes were furnished by Hon. B. F. Perry, of Greenville, South Carolina, who received them from one of Mrs. Springfield's family.
Colonel Clarke, of the Georgia volunteers, joined with Captains McCall, Liddle, and Hammond, in all about one hundred and ninety-eight men-having received mtelligence that a body of tory militia, stated to be from two to five hundred, commanded by Colonel Ferguson, Were recruiting for the horse service--determined to attempt to rout them, * They marched accordingly; and hearing that a scouting party was in advance!' of Ferguson's station, prepared to give them battle. Colonel Clarke, with his forces, encamped for the night at Green Spring.
On that day the Americans had stopped for refreshment at the house of Captain Dillard, who was with their party as a volunteer. They had been entertained; by his wife with milk and potatoes-the simple fare which those hardy soldiers often found it difficult to obtain.
The same evening Ferguson and Dunlap, with a party of tories, arrived at the house. They inquired of Mrs. Dillard whether Clarke and his men had not been there; what time they had departed; and what were their numbers? She answered that they had been at the house; that she could not guess their numbers; and that they had been gone a long time. The officers then ordered her to prepare supper for them with all possible despatch. They took possession of the house, and took some bacon to be given to theIr men. Mrs. Dillard set about the preparations for supper. In going backwards and forwards from the kitchen, she overheard much of their conversation. It will be remembered that the kitchens at the South are usually separate from the dwelling-houses. The doors and windows of houses in the country being often slightly constructed, it is also likely that the loose partitions afforded facilities for hearing what might be said within. Besides, the officers probably apprehended no danger from disclosing their plans in the presence of a lonely woman.
She ascertained that they had determined to surprise Clarke and his party; and were to pursue him as soon as they had taken their meal. She also heard one of the officers tell Ferguson he had just received the information that the rebels, with Clarke, were to encamp that night at the Great Spring. It was at once resolved to surprise and attack them before day. The feelings may be imagined with which Mrs. Dillard heard this resolution announced. She hurried the supper, and as soon as it was placed upon the table, and the officers had sat down, slipped out by a back way. Late and dark as it was, her determination was to go herself and apprize Clarke of his danger, in the hope of being in time for him to make a. safe retreat; for she believed that the enemy were too numerous to justify a battle.
She went to the stable, bridled a young horse, and without saddle, mounted and rode with all possible speed to the place described. It was about half an hour before day when she came in full gallop to one of the videttes, by whom she was immediately conducted to Colonel Clarke. She called to the colonel, breathless with eagerness and haste, "Be in readiness either to fight or run; the enemy will be upon you immediately, and they are strong !"
In an instant every man was up, and no moments were lost in preparing for action. The intelligence came just in time to put the whigs in readiness. Ferguson had detached Dunlap with two hundred picked mounted men, to engage Clarke and keep him employed till his arrival. These rushed in full charge into the American camp; but the surprise was on their part. They were met hand to hand, with a firmness they had not anticipated. Their confusion was increased by the darkness, which rendered it hard to distinguish friend from foe. The battle was warm for fifteen or twenty minutes, when the tories gave way. They were pursued nearly a mile, but not overtaken. Ferguson came "too late for the frolic;" the business being ended. Clarke and his little band then returned to North Carolina for rest and refreshment; for the whole of ' this enterprise was performed without one regular meal, and without regular food for their horses.
MRS. ANGELICA NOTT, widow of the late Judge Nott, of South Carolina, remembers some illustrative incidents which occurred in the section where she resided with her aunt, Mrs. Potter, near the Grindal Shoal, a little south of Pacolet River. The whig population in this portion of the State, were exposed during part of 1780 and 1781 to incredible hardships. The breezes of fortune which had fanned into life the expiring embers of opposition to English tyranny, had been so variable that the wavering hopes of the people were often trembling on the verge of extinction. The reverses of the British arms had exasperated the loyalists, and embittered the enmity felt towards the stubborn people who refused to be conquered. Such was the state of feeling when the destiny of the South was committed to the hands of a soldier of consummate genius, in whom the trust of all was implicitly placed.
When Tarleton was on his march against Morgan, just before their encounter at the Cowpens, a party of loyalists came to the' place where Mrs. Potter lived, and committed some depredations. They burned the straw covering from a rude hut, in which the family lodged, while a relative ill of the small-pox occupied the house. Mrs. Potter and her children had built this lodge of rails, for their temporary accommodation. The soldiers attempted to take off her wedding-ring, which, as it had been worn for years, became imbedded under the skin, in the effort to force it from her finger. They swore it should be cut off, but finally desisted from the attempt. On the same march, Tarleton encamped at the house of John I Beckham, whose wife was the sister of Colonel Henderson of the continental army. Mrs. Beckham saw for the first time this renowned officer while standing in her yard, and ordering his men to catch her poultry for supper. She spoke civilly to him, and hastened to prepare supper for him and his suite, as if they had been honored guests. When about to leave in the morning, he ordered the house to be burnt, after being given up to pillage; but on her remonstrance, recalled the order. All her bedding was taken, except one quilt, which soon shared the same fate. At another time Mrs. Beckham went to Granby, eighty miles distant, for a bushel of salt,which she brought home on the saddle under her. The guinea appropriated for the purchase, was concealed in the hair braided on the top of her head.
Mrs. Potter was visited by the famous tory, Colonel Cunningham, commonly called "Bloody Bill Cunningham," on one occasion, with a party of two hundred and fifty men. They arrived after dark; and as green corn happened to be in season, encamped by one of her fields, fed their horses with the corn, built fires with the rails, and roasted the ears for themselves. At that time, the family lived chiefly on roasted corn, without bread, .meat, or salt. Hickory ashes were used, with a small quantity of salt, for preserving beef when it could be had. Leather shoes were replaced by woolen rags sewed round the feet; and of beds or bedding -none were left. The beds were generally ripped open by the depredators, the feathers scattered, and the ticking used for tent-cloths, The looms were robbed of cloth found in them; and hence the women of the country resorted to various expedients to manufacture clothing, and preserve it for their own use and that of their friends. A family residing on the Pacolet, built a loom between four trees in the forest, and wove in fair weather, covering the loom and web with cow-hides when it rained.