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The following account of Revolutionary War heroine Nancy Hart of Georgia is excerpted from our new book, Women Patriots of the American Revolution, by Jack Crowder. Mr. Crowder highlights about 90 women who went beyond the norm in supporting America’s struggle for Independence. In a series of vignettes, some of them illustrated and all of them documented, the author recounts the heroism of the women who rendered service in the various theatres of the conflict. While some of these heroines, such as “Molly Pitcher” or Anna Strong (member of General Washington’s spy ring), are already the stuff of legend, most researchers–thanks to Mr. Crowder–will be making the acquaintance of these women patriots, including the unstoppable Nancy Hart, for the first time.
“Nancy Hart or Aunt Nancy, as she was called by the “Liberty Boys”, was a rough frontier woman. She was described as about six feet tall with red hair, a smallpox scarred face, and very strong. She was also a little cross-eyed and not exactly a thing of beauty. What she lacked in looks, she made up in courage and spirit.
Tories feared and hated her, because her husband was the captain of a patriot militia company. She served as a spy and kept her husband informed of the movements of the Tories. Many of the women and children had moved from the area to safety. Nancy refused to leave her home and remained there with her six boys and two girls.
One night she was boiling a pot of lye soap in the big fireplace in her cabin. She suddenly noticed a pair of eyes peering at her in a crack between the logs of the cabin. She pretended not to notice the prowler and continued to stir her pot. She threw a ladleful of the boiling soap into the prying eyes of the intruder who yelled with pain. She went outside and tied up the man, and in the morning she marched him to the patriot camp about four miles away. She walked carrying her rifle behind the man with his hands tied and turned him over to General Clarke.
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On another occasion she met a Tory on her property, and after talking to him for a while she seized his gun. There was a struggle for the weapon but her strength and size won the fight. She marched the man a mile and a half to a patriot fort and turned over her prisoner of war.
One day in 1779 five or six British soldiers and Tories came to her house and demanded information about the location of a certain patriot leader. A short time earlier the patriot had been at her cabin, and Nancy had helped him escape. She told the Tories that the accusation was true.
The men then demanded that she prepare food for them. She refused saying that she never fed traitors and King’s men if she could help it. The men became angry and began to kill a couple of her animals. She asked the men to spare her prized turkey saying, “The old gobbler out there in the yard is all I have left.“
The leader of the men went into the yard and shot her turkey. He handed the dead bird to Nancy and demanded that she cook it for them. This would prove to be a costly mistake for the men. Nancy, with the help of several of her children began preparing food for the hated Tories.
Nancy sent her thirteen year old daughter, Sukey, supposedly out to the spring for water, but she told the girl to blow a prearranged signal on a horn to alert the neighbors. Nancy then began to jest with the men and even shared some of the liquor the men had.
Meanwhile, the men had stacked their rifles in a comer of the cabin and were drinking wine and corn liquor and relaxing by the fire. Since the men were ignoring her, she began to pass their rifles out through a hole in the cabin wall to her daughter outside. One of the men saw her and began to approach her, so she pointed a rifle toward him and ordered him to stop.
Either the man did not think she would shoot or, as some people told the story, since she was cross-eyed, the man wasn’t sure if she was looking at him or not. Regardless of the reason he advanced toward her, and she shot him dead. Another man made a move toward her, and she grabbed another rifle and shot and wounded him. Nancy grabbed another rifle, and blocking the doorway she ordered the men to surrender. One of the men said, “Yes we will surrender, let’s shake hands on the strength of it.“Now Nancy was guilty of not being attractive, but not guilty of being stupid. She pointed the rifle at the men and told them to sit down.
She held off the remaining men until her husband and neighbors arrived to help. Her husband wanted to shoot the men, but Nancy, who was probably still angry about her turkey, insisted that the men hang. The remaining Tories were taken out to a tree and hung. Years later many people believed this story to just be an old folk tale. Nancy and her husband had moved off and the cabin was falling apart. In 1912 workmen were digging near the site of the old cabin and unearthed a row of six skeletons in tattered British uniforms laying side by side.”
Nancy Hart from Stories of Georgia by Joel Chandler Harris. American Book Company, 1896.
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Sources: I. Nancy Hart, Georgia Heroine of the Revolution: The Story of the Growth of a Tradition by E. Merton Coulter, Georgia Historical Quarterly 39, June I955. 2. Nancy Hart: Too Good Not to Tell Again in Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times by John Thomas Scott, Vol. I. 3. Women Patriots of the American Revolution a Biographical Dictionary by Charles E. Claghorn. 4. Revolutionary Reader, Reminiscences and Indian Legends compiled by Sophie Lee Foster, D.A.R. of Georgia, 1913, pages 252-255. 5.Giant Days or the Life and Times of William H. Crawford by J.E.D. Shipp, 1908, pages 17-21.