21 March 2014

Lydia Barrington Darragh (1728-1790)

Lydia Barrington, daughter of John Barrington and his wife, was born in 1729 in Dublin, Ireland. She died on 28 Dec 1789 in Philadelphia, PA.

On 2 Nov 1753 she married the family tutor, William Darragh, with whom she had five children who survived: Charles, Ann, John, William and Susannah.

None Known

On 26 Sep 1777, British troops occupied Philadelphia. General William Howe moved across the street from the Darraghs, in a house formerly belonging to John Cadwalader. Lydia began regularly providing her son Charles with information regarding the enemy's plans, gathered by eavesdropping in her home and around town. She would often write this information in simple code on pieces of scrap paper, which she hid in large buttons that she and the messengers wore.

The following day, Major John Andre, aide to General Howe, requested use of the Darraghs' home for Howe's staff. Lydia told them that they had already sent away their two youngest children to live with relatives in another city, but that they had nowhere else to go and would like to stay in their home. She protested and went straight to Howe's residence (Cadwalader House) across the street from her home (Loxley House). 

Prior to her meeting Howe, a British officer introduced himself as Captain William Barrington of the 7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fusiliers). She was immediately taken aback by his Irish brogue and his name Barrington, which was her maiden name. He told her that he was from Dublin and in the course of the conversation, she discovered that he was her second cousin. She explained to her the situation and he stated that he would take up her case with Howe immediately. They both walked into the residence and were taken in to see Howe who agreed to let her stay but that he and his staff would use the large house parlor for staff meetings. As Quakers were known to be unsupportive of the war, even on the side of the colonies, they posed no apparent risk to the British army.

On December 2, Lydia received a request that she and her family retire by 8:00 p.m. She was told that she would be awakened when the soldiers were finished so she could let them out. Lydia pretended to go to sleep, but instead listened to the soldiers through the door. She learned that British troops were being ordered to leave the city on December 4 to make a surprise attack on the Continental army camped at Whitemarsh, led by George Washington. Lydia sneaked back to bed and pretended to be asleep until the officer, Major John André, knocked three times at her door to awaken her to follow them out and extinguish the candles.

Lydia decided not to share this information with her husband. The following morning she was given permission by General Howe to cross British lines in order to go to Frankford to get flour. Lydia dropped off her empty bag at the mill and then headed toward the American camp. Along the way she met an American officer, Colonel Craig of the Light Horse, and told him about the impending British attack so that he might warn Washington. After the warning, Lydia made her way back to the mill, picked up her flour and started her journey home. 

British Intelligence agents became aware of the "bag of flour" trick bit too late. On 6 Dec 1777, after the British returned from Whitemarsh, a message was published in the Philadelphia newspaper about "a poor woman, whom we both know" traveling to the Frankford Mill:

The following letter was found in a bag of Indian meal, which was picked up on Saturday the fourteenth of last month, was supposed to have been dropped by some of the women who were coming into town, when the skirmish happened between the pickets.

After the British troops attempted their attack and realized that the Americans were waiting for them, the officer questioned Lydia and asked if anyone was awake on the night of the meeting, because it was obvious that someone had betrayed them. Lydia denied any knowledge of this and was not further questioned.

Elias Boudinot's Journal Entry

In the Autumn of 1777 the American Army lay some time at White Marsh. I was then Commissary Genl of Prisoners, and managed the Intelligence of the Army. — I was reconoitering along the Lines near the City of Philadelphia. — I dined at a small Post at the rising Sun abt three miles from the City. — After Dinner a little poor looking insignificant Old Woman came in & solicited leave to go into the Country to buy some flour — While we were asking some Questions, she walked up to me and put into my hands a dirty old needlebook, with various small pockets in it. surprised at this, I told her to return, she should have an answer — On Opening the needlebook, I could not find any thing till I got to the last Pocket, Where I found a piece of Paper rolled up into the form of a Pipe Shank. — on unrolling it I found information that Genl Howe was coming out the next morning with 5000 Men — 13 pieces of Cannon — Baggage Waggons, and 11 Boats on Waggon Wheels. On comparing this with other information I found it true, and immediately rode Post to head Quarters.

A contemporary account of Lydia Darrah highlights several grist mills on the Frankford Creek; also a tavern named the Rising Sun next to Frankford's main grist mill. This was not the same Rising Sun Tavern mentioned in Boudinot's Journal.

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