Monday, January 31, 2022

Aelfgyva: The Mysterious Woman of the Bayeux Tapestry

 Did you miss the Historical Writers Forum talk on the identity of Aelfgyva? Watch it now and decide for yourself - who was the real Aelfgyva?

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. 


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

Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson is available from Pen & Sword History.

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