Friday, October 18, 2013

Nancy Hart 1735-1830 "Poor Nancy-she was a honey of a patriot, but the devil of a wife!"

Historical Collections of Georgia
George White 1802-1887
Pudney & Russell, 1855 - Georgia

Georgia's most acclaimed female participant during the Revolutionary War (1775-83) was Nancy Hart (1735-1830).  Nothing about Nancy Morgan is known to be absolute fact.  She may have been born in Orange County, North Carolina, in 1735.  By 1854, The Rev. George White had gathered enough tales of her patriotism & strength to post the following stories in his history of Georgia. 

Original image from Historical Collections of Georgia

"The Story of Nancy Hart

"The following sketch of this extraordinary woman, which originally appeared in the Yorkville (S. C.) Pioneer, is believed to be the first account of her that ever found its way to the public:

"Nancy Hart & her husband settled before the Revolutionary War a few miles above the ford on Broad River, in Elbert County, Georgia. An apple orchard still remains to point out the spot.

"In altitude, Mrs. Hart was a Patagonian, & remarkably well-limbed & muscular. In a word, she was "lofty & sour." Marked by nature with prominent features, circumstances & accident added, perhaps, not a little to her peculiarities. She was horribly cross-eyed, as well as cross-grained; but, nevertheless, she was a sharp-shooter. Nothing was more common than to see her in full pursuit of the bounding stag. The huge antlers that hung round her cabin, or upheld her trusty gun, gave proof of her skill in gunnery; & the white comb, drained of its honey & hung up for ornament, testified her powers in bee-finding.

"Many can testify to her magical art in the mazes of cookery— being able to get up a pumpkin in as many forms as there are days in the week. She was extensively known & employed for her profound knowledge in the management of all ailments.

"But she was most remarkable for her military feats. She professed high-toned ideas of liberty. Not even the marriage knot could restrain her on that subject. Like the "wife of Bath," she received over her tongue-scourged husband.  "The reins of absolute command,  With all the government of house & land,  And empire o'er his tongue, & o'er his hand."  The clouds of war gathered, & burst with a dreadful explosion in this State. Nancy's spirit rose with the tempest. She declared & proved herself a friend to her country, ready "to do or die."

"All accused of Whiggism had to hide or swing. The lily-livered Mr. Hart was not the last to seek safety in the cane-brake with his neighbours. They kept up a prowling, skulking kind of life, occasionally sallying forth in a sort of predatory style. The Tories at length however, gave Mrs. Hart a call, & in true soldier manner ordered a repast. Nancy soon had the necessary materials for a good feast spread before them. The smoking venison, the hasty hoe-cake, & the fresh honeycomb, were sufficient to have provoked the appetite of a gorged epicure! They simultaneously stacked their arms & seated themselves, when, quick as thought, the dauntless Nancy seized one of the guns, cocked it, & with a blazing oath declared she would blow out the brains of the first mortal that offered to rise, or taste a mouthful! They all knew her character too well to imagine that she would say one thing & do another.

"Go," said she to one of her sons, "and tell the Whigs that I have taken six base Tories." They sat still, each expecting to be offered up, with doggedly mean countenances, bearing the marks of disappointed revenge, shame, & unappeased hunger.

"Whether the incongruity between Nancy's eyes caused each to imagine himself her immediate object, or whether her commanding attitude, stern & ferocious fixture of countenance, overawed them; or the powerful idea of their non-soldierlike conduct unnerved them; or the certainty of death, it is not easy to determine. They were soon relieved, & dealt with according to the rules of the times.

"This heroine lived to see her country free. She, however, found game & bees decreasing, & the country becoming old so fast, that she sold out her possessions, in spite of the remonstrances of her husband, & was " among the first of the pioneers who paved the way to the wilds of the West."
Nancy Hart's Georgia log house

"The following, from Mrs. Ellet's " Women of the Revolution," will be read with interest, although it does not coincide exactly with the Yorkville account :  "In this county is a stream, formerly known as "War-woman's Creek." Its name was 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 ignorant of letters & the civilities of life, but a zealous lover of liberty & 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 & active part with the defenders of his country, although she could not conscientiously charge him with the least partiality towards the Tories. This vulgar & illiterate, but hospitable & valorous female patriot, could boast no share of beauty—a fact she herself would 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, & awkward in manners, but having a woman's heart for her friends, though that of a Catrine Montour for the enemies of her country. She was well known to the Tories, who stood in fear of her revenge for any grievance or aggressive act, though they let pass no opportunity of worrying & annoying her, when they could do so with impunity.

"On the occasion of an excursion from the British camp at Augusta, a party of Tories penetrated into the interior, & having savagely murdered Colonel Dooly in bed, in his own house, they proceeded up the country for the purpose of perpetrating further atrocities. On their way, a detachment of five of the party diverged to the east, & crossed Broad River, to make discoveries about the neighbourhood, & pay a visit to their old acquaintance, Nancy Hart. On reaching her cabin, they entered it unceremoniously, receiving from her no welcome but a scowl; & informed her they had come to know the truth of a story current respecting her, that she had secreted a noted rebel from a company of King's men who were pursuing him, & who, but for her aid, would have caught & hung him. Nancy undauntedly avowed her agency in the fugitive's escape. She told them she had at first heard the tramp of a horse rapidly approaching, & had then seen a horseman coming towards her cabin. As he came nearer, she knew him to be a Whig, & flying from pursuit. She let down the bars a few steps from her cabin, & motioned him to enter, to pass through both doors, front & rear, of her sinfle-roomed house; to take the swamp, & secure himself as well as e could. She then put up the bars, entered her cabin, closed the doors, & went about her business. Presently some Tories rode up to the bars, & called out boisterously to her. She muffled her head & face, & opening the door, inquired why they disturbed a sick, lone woman. They said they had traced a man they wanted to catch, near her house, & asked if any one on horseback had passed that way. She answered no, but said she saw somebody 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; & asking her direction as to the way he took, they turned about & went off. "Well fooled!" said 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, & out of t'other door down the path to the swamp."

"This bold story did not much please the Tory party, but they could not wreak their revenge upon the woman who thus unscrupulously avowed her daring aid to a rebel, & the cheat she had put upon his pursuers, otherwise than by ordering her to aid & comfort them by giving them something to eat. She replied, " I never feed King's men if I can help it; the villains have put it out of my power to feed even my own family & friends, by stealing & killing all my poultry & pigs, except that one old gobbler you see in the yard."

"Well, & that you shall cook for us," said one, who appeared the head of the party; & raising his musket, he shot down the turkey, which another of the men brought into the house, & handed to Mrs. Hart, to clean & cook without delay. She stormed & swore awhile—for Nancy occasionally swore—but seeming, at last, resolved to make a merit of necessity, began with alacrity the arrangements for cooking, assisted by her daughter, a little girl some ten or twelve years old, & sometimes by one of the soldiers, with whom she seemed in a tolerably good humour, 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 witty thanks.

"The spring, of which every settlement has one near at hand, was just at the edge of the swamp, & a short distance within it was a high, snag-topped stump, on which was placed a conch-shell. This rude trumpet was used by the family to give information, by means of a variation of notes, to Mr. Hart, or his neighbours, who might be at work in a field or clearing just beyond the swamp, 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 operations of cooking, Mrs. Hart had sent her daughter, Sukey, to the spring for water, with directions to blow the conch in such a way as would inform him that there were Tories in the cabin, & that he should "keep close," with his three neighbours who were with him, till he heard the conch again.

"The party had become merry over their jug, & sat down to feast upon the slaughtered gobbler. They had cautiously stacked their arms where they were in view, & within reach, & Mrs. Hart, assiduous in her attentions upon the table, & to her guests, occasionally passed between them & their muskets. Water was called for, & as there was none in the cabin—Mrs. Hart having so contrived that—Sukey was again sent to the spring, instructed by her mother to blow the conch so as to call up Mr. Hart & his neighbours immediately. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hart had slipped out one of the pieces of pine which constitutes a " chinking" between the logs of a cabin, & had dexterously put out of the house, through that space, two of the five guns. She was detected in the act of putting out the third. The party sprang to their feet. Quick as thought, Mrs. Hart brought the piece she held to her shoulder, & declared she would kill the first man who approached her. All were terror-struck, for Nancy's obliquity of sight caused each one to imagine her aim was at him. At length one of them made a motion to advance upon her. True to her threat, she fired. He fell dead upon the floor! Instantly seizing another musket, she brought it to the position in readiness to fire again. By this time Sukey had returned from the spring, & taking up the remaining gun, carried it out of the house, saying to her mother, "Daddy & them will soon be here." This information increased the alarm of the Tories, who understood the necessity of recovering their arms immediately. But each hesitated, in the confident belief that Mrs. Hart had one eye, at least, upon him for a mark. They proposed a general rush. No time was to be lost by the bold woman; she fired again, & brought down another Tory. Sukey had another musket in readiness, which her mother took, &, posting herself in the doorway, called upon the party to "surrender their damnd Tory carcasses to a Whig woman." They agreed to surrender, & proposed to " shake h&s upon the strength of it;" but the conqueror kept them in their places for a few moments, till her husband & his neighbours came up to the door. They were about to shoot down the Tories, but Mrs. Hart stopped them, saying they had surrendered to her, &, 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, the wounded Tory & the others were bound, taken out beyond the bars, & hung.

"The tree upon which they were hung was pointed out, in 1838, by one who lived in those bloody times, & who also showed the spot once occupied by Mrs. Hart's cabin, accompanying the designation with the emphatic remark, "Poor Nancy—she was a honey of a patriot, but the devil of a wife!"