Most everyone has heard of “steel magnolias,” southern woman who are strong and independent yet very feminine. Women who can rip another woman up one side and down the other and end it with “bless her heart.”
There’s another a group of women I call “cast iron chamomiles,” back country women who, when their husbands left to fight in the Revolutionary War, faced head on an enemy that rode up to their front porches, burned their homes, stole their food and livestock, and left them to fend for themselves and their families with sometimes only the clothes on their backs. Women who could not only “bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan,” but who could shoot the pig, haul it to the barn, and butcher it, making use of every single part, including the hair on its jowls.
I discovered theses amazing ladies while researching for my historical fiction. Not surprisingly, I came across some familiar names, Dolley Madison, Betsy Ross, and Molly Pitcher, whom I had read about in my American history classes.
But what about Nancy Hart? Martha Bell? Harriet Prudence Patterson Hall? Hannah Clark or Rosanna Farrow? And so many others I ran across.
I gained a healthy respect for these courageous women who really should be, but sadly are not, in our history books.
Nancy Hart was the sturdy wife of a farmer named Benjamin. They lived in a log cabin in Georgia. She was very muscular, was six feet tall, cross-eyed, and had a vicious temper and apparently was quite a marksman with her musket. The neighboring Indians called her Wahatchee, meaning War Woman, out of the healthy respect and fear they had for her.
She hated the Tories and never lost an opportunity to show her feelings for them.
In one account, five Tories paid a visit to Nancy. After entering her cabin, they asked if it was true that she had helped a Whig rebel escape from the British. Nancy not only admitted it, but proceeded to tell them how, laughing at how easily she had fooled the king’s men.
Irritated, one of the Tories shot her turkey and demanded that she cook it for them. Nancy sent her daughter, Sukey, to the spring to bring water, and more importantly, to blow the conch-shell to summon Benjamin and the neighbors. Mellowed by the liquor they drank as they waited on their meal, the Tories stacked their guns. While they ate, Nancy passed their guns through a chink in the wall. When they discovered what she was doing, they jumped to their feet. Nancy brought her gun she to her shoulder and threatened to kill the first one who moved. One made a move toward her and was promptly shot dead. When the Patriots arrived, they hanged the remaining four from a nearby tree.
The Georgia Whigs used Nancy as a spy on several occasions. One time she dressed as a man and entered a British camp, pretending to be crazy, and was able to come away with vital information on the British troop movements. Another time the Georgia Whigs badly needed information about what was going on the Carolina side of the Savannah River. As there were no volunteers for the mission, Nancy tied a few logs together with grapevines, crossed the river, and obtained the needed information.
Martha didn’t have time to search for her pistols, so she seized a broad-ax and, raising it over her head with both hands, she shouted, “If one of you touches him I’ll split you down with this ax. Touch him if you dare!”
The men were so stunned, they left the house. As the locals told it, “Thus, by her fearlessness and decision of character, her uncommon energy and promptness of action, she saved the life of a venerable and beloved parent, and showed that she was no less affectionate as a daughter, than she was ardent and patriotic as a citizen.”
Harriet Prudence Patterson Hall
Harriet Prudence Patterson Hall was an Irish woman who came to America with her family when she was twelve. At fifteen she moved with her family from Maryland to South Carolina, riding horseback all the way and driving the cows behind the covered wagons.
Prudence married John Hall in 1763 in Charlestown, SC, and soon had her first child, Margaret. They eventually had nine children. Sometime prior to the Revolution, they left Charlestown and moved to upper South Carolina and settled in York District near Rock Hill. When the war started, John left to fight for the Patriots.
In 1780, Prudence and three other women rode horse back to Charlestown, which had been occupied by the British. They were held up by British sentries, but when they protested that their mission was to purchase medicine, they were allowed to pass into the city. They got their medicine and returned home, but not before Prudence had delivered an important message to the American Army, which she had carried hidden in her petticoat.
Prudence lived to be ninety-six and is buried in the Bethel Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Rock Hill, SC.
Hannah Clark, known as the Heroine of the Hornet’s Nest, did everything for the cause of Independence accept go to battle.
Hannah was turned out of her home because her husband, Elijah, had become a fugitive for his fierce fighting against the Tories. The house was burned to the ground and only one patch-work quilt was saved. Hannah had special feelings for the quilt, as her daughters Sarah and Betsy had made it.
She mounted the only horse they had left and rode away with the quilt folded on the saddle. She met a party of Tory soldiers who immediately spied the fine needle-work quilt and tried to take it away from her. Remembering how the Tories had taken her fine ruffled shirts, she was determined not to give up the only piece she saved from her home. The Tories fired at her, thinking she would be frightened. A bullet wounded her horse, but Hannah held her own. Upon seeing the courage of Hannah, one Tory said, “So brave a woman should not be robbed.” They rode away and left her.
After their home was burned, Colonel Clark sought refuge for his family in Tennessee. However, Hannah would not remain in her retreat while her patriot husband fought. She traveled from fort to fort and from camp to camp, cheering him on and doing all she could for his comfort. At the first siege of Augusta in 1780, Colonel Clark had been severely wounded, and when Hannah heard the news, she rode fifty miles accompanied her man-servant and her young twins.
Hannah and Elijah also had a son named John who was Governor of Georgia for two terms.
Rosanna Farrow of South Carolina
Rosanna was proud of the fact that she had five sons old enough to fight for liberty. The eldest, not yet twenty-one, commanded a cavalry company and led the youngest who was in his teens.
Her husband and sons went to war, leaving her alone with her daughters, unprotected and surrounded by Tory neighbors. Often there wasn’t enough food, and several times they had to hide in the woods and swamps in hollowed out trees and coves of the Enoree River. They slept with pistols or weapons of some kind under their pillows, for they never knew at what secret watch of the night they might be summoned to their doors by the enemy.
One night a messenger came to tell her that three of her sons had been captured and were in a jail in Ninety-Six, a British Post. The commander, Colonel Cruger, who was prepared to hang the boys, offered to trade them one rebel for two British soldiers.
After instructing her daughters to stay indoors and to keep the doors and windows closed, she grabbed a rifle and ran to the stable where she saddled a colt The only horse left on the place, it had never been ridden. She sprung into the saddle and bound herself to it with a girth. As she rode away she shouted to her daughters, “It is not the most comfortable way of riding.”
She made her way towards Fair Forest camp in the present region of Spartanburg. This region was inhabited by only a few hunters and some scattered families of Indians. Her path was a lonely wilderness, broken only by hills and streams.
Arriving at Colonel Williams’ camp, he granted her six British prisoners and a guard. Not stopping for rest, she rode miles through barren wilderness and gloomy forest. Before daybreak of the second night of her wild ride, she caught sight of the English standard waving above the scarlet uniforms of the British and with her apron as a flag of truce she approached the camp commander, Colonel Cruger, and informed him of her mission.
Colonel Cruger replied, “Well, you are just in time, for I had given orders for those rebellious youngsters of yours to be hanged at sunrise, but I guess you can take the rebels.”
“My sons!” she cried, then turning with eyes flashing with indignation toward Cruger, she retorted, “I have given you two for one, Colonel Cruger, but understand that I consider it the best trade I ever made, for rest assured, hereafter the ‘Farrow boys’ will whip you four to one.” As she left with her sons, a soldier remarked, “That’s a pretty good speech for so dainty a lady, but she is as warm for the cause as the men.”
One of her boys, Samuel lived to represent Pinckney District in Congress, and a portrait of him now hangs in Washington showing the saber scar on his face made at the battle of Musgrove’s Mill. So long as she lived Mrs. Farrow was admired and loved, and it is said that even years after, the eyes of the British soldiers flashed with pleasure when they talked of this South Carolina daughter. Samuel Farrow lies buried in the family cemetery near Enoree Station in Spartanburg County. Where Mrs. Farrow lies is not known, but history will always cherish the memory of one whose warm heart and love of country prompted her to so daring a deed of heroism. (An Essay by Miss Ruth Petty, Converse College, Class of 1897).
These ladies are part of why I wrote my novel, The Chamomile, a Revolutionary War romantic suspense that takes place in Charlestown (now Charleston), SC.
Lilyan Cameron, the heroine of The Chamomile, personifies the “cast iron camellia.” Her parents are deceased, and she takes on the responsibility of her 14-year-old brother, her dearest friend who is a Cherokee, and her father’s best friend, an elderly man who thinks he is taking care of her. She uses her skills as an artist to establish a wallpaper shop, and to paint murals and portraits. When her brother runs away to fight with the patriots and is captured by the British, she joins a patriot spy ring to rescue her him from a notorious prison ship.
(The Chamomile won the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Fall 2011 Okra Pick — one of the top novels of the season. It was published by Ingalls Publishing Group.) Visit her website http://www.susanfcraft.com