17 March 2014

Nancy Morgan Hart (continued)

The following, from Mrs. Ellet's Women of the Revolution, will be read with interest:

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 and the civilities of life, but a zealous lover of liberty and 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 and active part with the defenders of his country, although she could not conscientiously charge him with the least partiality towards the Tories. This vulgar and illiterate, but hospitable and 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 and 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 and 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, and 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, and crossed Broad River, to make discoveries about the neighborhood, and 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; and 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, and who, but for her aid, would have caught and 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, and had then seen a horseman coming towards her cabin. As he came nearer, she knew him to be a Whig, and flying from pursuit. She let down the bars a few steps from her cabin, and motioned him to enter, to pass through both doors, front and rear, of her single-roomed house; to take the swamp, and secure himself as well as e could. She then put up the bars, entered her cabin, closed the doors, and went about her business. 

Presently some Tories rode up to the bars, and called out boisterously to her. She muffled her head and face, and 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, and 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; and asking her direction as to the way he took, they turned about and 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, and 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, and the cheat she had put upon his pursuers, otherwise than by ordering her to aid and 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 and friends, by stealing and killing all my poultry and pigs, except that one old gobbler you see in the yard."

"Well, and that you shall cook for us," said one, who appeared the head of the party; and raising his musket, he shot down the turkey, which another of the men brought into the house, and handed to Mrs. Hart, to clean and cook without delay. She stormed and 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, and 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, and 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 neighbors, 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, and that he should "keep close," with his three neighbors who were with him, till he heard the conch again.

The party had become merry over their jug, and sat down to feast upon the slaughtered gobbler. They had cautiously stacked their arms where they were in view, and within reach, and Mrs. Hart, assiduous in her attentions upon the table, and to her guests, occasionally passed between them and their muskets. Water was called for, and 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 and 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, and 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, and 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, and taking up the remaining gun, carried it out of the house, saying to her mother, "Daddy and 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, and brought down another Tory. 

Sukey had another musket in readiness, which her mother took, and, posting herself in the doorway, called upon the party to "surrender their damnd Tory carcasses to a Whig woman." They agreed to surrender, and proposed to "shake hands upon the strength of it"; but the conqueror kept them in their places for a few moments, till her husband and his neighbors came up to the door. 

They were about to shoot down the Tories, but Mrs. Hart stopped them, saying they had surrendered to her, and, 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 and the others were bound, taken out beyond the bars, and hung.

The tree upon which they were hung was pointed out, in 1838, by one who lived in those bloody times, and 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!"

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