Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Legend of Nancy Morgan Hart


 

The history of women during the American Revolution can be challenging to separate from myth and legend. Unlike men of the era, women's daily life and courageous exploits were not thoroughly documented and reported. We may never know if Sybil Ludington made her famous ride or if Agent 355 even existed. Nancy Morgan Hart was another woman who lived during the American Revolution, but how many of the stories about her are true?

Ann Morgan (called Nancy) was born around 1735 and married Benjamin Hart in 1760. She was a woman of the Georgia frontier, capable of managing a household and all that entailed in the wilderness far away from sources of supplies. Nancy cooked, cleaned, made soap, and sewed clothes. She also raised livestock, planted crops, and hunted deer. All while raising eight children. She is remembered as a large robust woman. Some reports put her at 6' tall, towering over most men of the era.

Nancy Hart has been memorialized as an American patriot with streets, lakes, and a Georgia county named after her. Enthusiasts have attempted to claim Nancy's shared ancestry with Daniel Boone and Daniel Morgan, though there is no proof of either. These honors came decades after the American Revolution and after Nancy had passed away, taking her memories with her.

Variations on Nancy's story include her spying for the patriots or helping an American spy escape loyalist troops. What is the same in each version of these stories is that Nancy was brave and brutal when it came to dealing with the enemy.

One story has Nancy notice a British spy peering through a hole in her wall while she was making soap. Demonstrating lethal marksmanship, she tossed a ladle of the boiling mixture at the hole, sending the man away blind and wounded. 

In the early 20th century, the remains of six men were discovered in the area where the Hart cabin was believed to have once stood. This is the best evidence that at least one story told about Nancy Hart is true. 

According to this legend, six British troops stopped at the Hart cabin either looking for a spy or demanding food. Finding Nancy uncooperative, they shot her last turkey and ordered her to cook it for them. She seemed to be submitting while plying them with alcohol and stealing their weapons. When one of the soldiers realized what was happening, Nancy shot him and sent her daughter (or a slave) to neighbors for help. When the neighbors arrived, they hanged the remaining soldiers. 

Were those soldiers the men whose remains were unearthed more than a century later?

Other folklore puts Nancy fighting in the battle of Kettle Creek, acting as a sniper as British attempted to cross the Savannah River, and dressing as a man to serve as a spy and/or soldier. The fact that stories like this exist is good evidence that Nancy Hart was a formidable woman who probably had some brave interactions with British loyalists while her husband was away fighting, but we may never know exactly what happened on the Georgia frontier. 

Nancy probably died between 1825, when the first stories about her are documented in local newspapers, and 1830, the date chosen for her grave marker when erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the early 20th century. 


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Additional reading: 

"Nancy Hart, Georgia Heroine of the Revolution: The Story of the Growth of a Tradition" in The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol 39, No 2 (June 1955) by E Merton Coulter

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Women of the American Revolution: Cover Reveal

 I am thrilled to reveal the cover for my first nonfiction book, Women of the American Revolution!


Women of the American Revolution will explore the trials of war and daily life for women in the United States during the War for Independence. What challenges were caused by the division within communities as some stayed loyal to the king and others became patriots? How much choice did women have as their loyalties were assumed to be that of their husbands or fathers? The lives of women of the American Revolution will be examined through an intimate look at some significant women of the era. Some names will be familiar, such as Martha Washington who travelled to winter camps to care for her husband and rally the troops or Abigail Adams who ran the family’s farms and raised children during John’s long absences. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton is popular for her role in Hamilton the musical, but did you know she was also an early activist working tirelessly for multiple social causes? Decide for yourself if the espionage of Agent 355 or the ride of Sybil Ludington are history or myth. Not all American women served the side of the revolutionaries. Peggy Shippen gambled on the loyalist side and paid severe consequences. From early historian Mercy Otis Warren to Dolley Madison, who defined what it means to be an American First Lady, women of the American Revolution strived to do more than they had previously thought possible during a time of hardship and civil war.

Coming from Pen & Sword History in July 2022.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

A Luminous Christmas


A blessed Christmas to all my dear readers! As part of Historical Writers Forum's holiday blog hop, I have decided to share an excerpt from Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl. Happy reading!


Christmas Eve 1937

On Christmas Eve, the Donohue family gathered around Catherine’s wrought iron bed with a little radio on the bedside table.

“We are going to listen to the President!” Tommy told his sister, always happy to impart his greater knowledge for the benefit of little Mary Jane. She simply grinned and nodded in response.

“It’s mighty fine to be able to hear Mr Roosevelt all the way from Washington DC,” Catherine said, sounding wistful as she imagined how many miles separated them from the event they were about to listen to and how many other Americans joined them.

Blankets hung over the room’s windows to keep out the cold, and a fire burned cheerily in the hearth. Tom was careful to ensure that Catherine did not catch a chill. Each holding a cup of hot tea, they waited for the program to begin. When the static of the channel changed to the sound of an adjusting microphone, the family exchanged happy grins.

Their smiles remained in place as the announcer thanked Hobby Lobby, the popular radio show, for forgoing its regularly scheduled broadcast so that listeners could enjoy the lighting of the Christmas tree in Washington DC. Catherine closed her eyes to envision the scene in her head. Tom was prepared to light their little tree at the same time the chimes rang out in the capital city.

First came a prayer, shared by the entire nation, and the children folded their hands and bowed their heads as the pastor read John 3:16. It gave Catherine such comfort to imagine her savior’s coming on this holy night.

She couldn’t help a small frown when the prayer included a supplication for the end of war. Surely, after the war that had only ended nineteen years ago men were not so eager to take up arms again. Catherine added her fervent prayer to that of the President that the Japanese invasion of China and Spanish Civil War would be swiftly brought to an end. The moment quickly passed, however, as the prayer ended and the family crossed themselves in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The next speaker talked about the peace of the first Christmas, and Catherine could feel that quiet peace settle over the room and chase away her fears. For just a moment, her great anxiety caused by pain, immobility, and medical bills faded away.

“Let us in America dedicate ourselves to the preservation of the ideal of the first Christmas: peace on earth.”

The words reverberated in Catherine’s heart as the tinny voice traveled to them through hundreds of miles. New hope swelled in her heart. She felt excitement build as President Roosevelt was addressed by several speakers wishing him a merry Christmas. Enthusiastic applause welcomed President Roosevelt, the bells indicating the lighting of the tree rang out, and Tom switched on their own short string of lights. Then Roosevelt spoke.

When he mentioned “man’s inhumanity to man,” Catherine knew that he was referring to war, but she thought of Radium Dial. How could they have stood by and watched the dial painters poison themselves? The feeling of peace began to evaporate, and Catherine wished she could physically grasp it and not let go.

“This night is a night of hope, joy, and happiness,” the President continued, and Catherine’s tranquility was restored. She hoped that he would not mention war again, though she knew that not speaking of it would not make it go away any more than she could wish her illness away.

Were there really “better things to come,” as President Roosevelt promised? He shared a story that he had read in the newspaper. Catherine found herself a bit disappointed, because she didn’t want to listen to the President read another person’s message. She wanted to hear his, but she listened closely, wondering how honored the columnist must feel as the President’s voice sent his words across the nation.

“It is the habit of my friend when he is troubled by doubt to reach for The Book,” the President read. Catherine nodded her head slowly. It was wisdom applicable to the greatest man in their nation and the poor, bed-ridden woman listening.

“He took the cup and gave it to them all,” he continued, noting that not even Judas the Betrayer was left out.

Roosevelt finished his message emphasizing man’s duty to show good will to all men, not just those we feel are worthy of it. Catherine couldn’t help but hope that Mr Reed and the Radium Dial executives were listening.

As the President recited from the gospels, Catherine’s darker thoughts were swept away by the beautiful image of forgiveness and love. She was greatly comforted by hearing the leader of the nation witness his faith in their shared savior.

The President’s speech was brief, and when a choir began singing Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him, the Donohue family, in their own little living room, added their voices to the mix. As they moved on to Silent Night, Mary Jane wriggled in next to her mother with drooping, sleepy eyes. Catherine ignored the flash of fear that it was not safe for her daughter to be so near. On this night, she would set her worries aside and snuggle Mary Jane close.

By the time the benediction was given, Catherine was also drowsy. She did not notice when Tom gently lifted Mary Jane to carry her to her own bed as Hail to the Chief played for the President’s departure.

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Read more of Catherine's story in Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl, available in paperback, hardcover, audiobook, and Kindle formats.



Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Marriage of Elizabeth Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton


Elizabeth Schuyler married Alexander Hamilton in the midst of the Revolutionary War on 14 December 1780. Despite Hamilton’s obscure heritage and lack of wealth, General Philip Schuyler had welcomed him to court his daughter. Though he lacked many things, Hamilton was a close aide to General Washington and had already begun making a name for himself with his fiery combination of courage, intellect, and patriotism for his adopted country. General Schuyler’s acceptance of Hamilton is clear in a letter written upon the couple’s engagement. ‘You cannot, my dear sir, be more happy at the connexion you have made with my family than I am. Until the child of a parent has made a judicious choice, his heart is in continual anxiety; but this anxiety was removed the moment I discovered on whom she had placed her affections.’

Elizabeth, called Eliza or Betsy by friends and family, was enraptured as well. Being married to Alexander Hamilton would bring challenges and heartbreak into her life, but she never wavered in her loyalty to him, even when she outlived him by a half century. 

As Hamilton's wife, Eliza attended America's first Inaugural Ball and danced with George Washington. She also endured public scandal with Alexander's publication of the Reynold's Pamphlet. They had eight children together, the eldest of whom died in a duel less than three years before his father did in eerily similar circumstances.

After Alexander's death, Eliza became one of America's early female activists. She was deeply devoted to her work for New York City's first orphanage, and she also began a free school and was involved in other charitable works. 

She passionately defended her husband's name until her death on 9 November 1854.

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Learn more about Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton in Women of the American Revolution, coming from Pen & Sword in July 2022.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Among the Lost


Hauntings is the first anthology by the Historical Writers Forum. It was a fun challenge to write a ghost story! I decided to place mine at the Northern Michigan Asylum - now The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

One of the buildings awaiting renovation
at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons



By chance, I had visited this historic site shortly before the inquiry for Hauntings, so it was a ripe idea fresh in my mind. Edith Wharton is one of my favorite authors, and her gothic ghost stories, such as Afterward, were my inspiration for Among the Lost

Steam tunnels at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons



I placed a young nurse at the center of a mystery. She fears that a ghost might haunt the asylum grounds, but that is not the greatest danger she faces.

Hallway in an unrenovated building at
The Village at Grand Traverse Commons


You can tour the abandoned asylum buildings if you happen to be in Traverse City. This is, of course, the best time of year to go 'Up North' as we say here in Michigan. The autumn colors are beautiful.




But, beware, you just might encounter a restless soul in need of your assistance.

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Excerpt from Among the Lost:


A harsh northern Michigan breeze blew off the dark waters of the bay and turned autumn leaves into missiles as I raced across the frozen lawn. Nancy seemed to have waited for me but didn’t quite allow me to catch up. I didn’t pause until I reached the entrance to the shed. She had entered it, as I knew she would, but I began to consider what was inside and why I never saw her come back out.

Freezing and irritated by leaves smacking me in the face, I took a deep breath and pulled the door open.

She wasn’t there.

I found myself at the top of a steep stairway that led underground into an indiscernible dark gloom.

I gulped and closed the door behind me. At least the wind stopped. I peered down the steps, trying to decide if I should descend them. I heard my Dante’s voice in my head.

“Abandon hope all who enter here.”

Knowing I would be angry with myself in the morning if I stopped now, I forced my feet forward.....



KEEP READING Among the Lost by Samantha Wilcoxson in Hauntings