It was a dark and quiet night. The cabin was quite remote, located near a stream for ease of gathering water. The chinking between the logs had been removed for the summer to aid in ventilation. The man of the house was away in meetings, the woman and her eight children were in the cabin tending to the last chores of the day. Nancy Hart was making soap over the open fire in the fireplace. The younger children were asleep, and the older ones were helping their mother either with the soap making or other necessities.
Then one of the children saw the eye. Someone was outside looking in the cabin, and of course, could hear everything said in normal conversation. The child who spied the eye did not cry out or make a scene over the intrusion in their privacy; they had been trained by a mother who was a fierce defender of the things she loved. Her family, her home, and her country were all worth dying for. The child secretly informed Nancy of the eye and its location.
As she stirred the mixture in the large iron pot, she suddenly took out a ladleful of hot soap and flung it at the crack where the eye was. A scream of pain in the night told her she had hit the mark.
Nancy and her husband Benjamin were Patriots in Georgia. If you think we are divided today, imagine this pre-revolution time with a nation divided over whether to stay loyal to Great Britain or become an independent nation. Neighbors and even relatives were often at odds and spying on each other. The eye in the wall belonged to a Tory, a Loyalist who was hogtied and delivered to the local militia.
Nancy was certainly one to stand out in a crowd. Flaming red hair, a face pockmarked from smallpox, tall for a woman at six feet, and cross-eyed to boot. Interestingly, she was reported to be an excellent marksman, in spite of being cross-eyed. She made no bones regarding her appearance saying she had, “no share of beauty, had ever enjoyed an opportunity of looking into a mirror.” She was no victim, and certainly not a snowflake.
On occasion, Nancy would dress as a man. Her stature was tall even for a man of the day. With bulky clothes and hat pulled down, she would pretend to be a simple-minded man and freely circulate around the Tory and British camps gathering information she would then pass on to the local militia. While she was illiterate, she was neither stupid nor simple. She was an accomplished herbalist and skilled hunter. With the war on, her husband was away most of the time leaving her to provide for the children.
As is frequently the case, stories grow and change over the years. Legend becomes fact; people become larger than life. Such was believed one of “Aunt Nancy’s” most famous encounters to be.
One night a Patriot stopped by the Hart cabin seeking assistance in escaping a Tory search party. The fellow was only there a few minutes and went on his way. Nancy’s contribution to his escape is unknown. The Tories showed up asking if anyone had been through. Nancy told them she had not seen anyone in her part of the woods for days. They did not believe her and decided to teach her a lesson. Some versions of the legend say there were six, and others say there were five.
One of the Tories shot her prize tom turkey and demanded that she prepare it for them to eat. Going into the cabin, they leaned their rifles against the wall in a corner and demanded something to drink. She provided them with some homemade wine to drink as she prepared the murdered turkey. No doubt her mind was in overdrive scheming how to handle this situation. The wine gave her the opportunity.
As the men became intoxicated, Nancy quietly asked her daughter, Sukey, to fetch some water. She was also instructed to retrieve a hidden conch shell to blow and summon help. The blowing of the conch was a signal that Tories were at the cabin. Sukey remained outside the cabin after completing her mission. As Nancy served the men and walked between them and their weapons, she would quietly and quickly pass a rifle through the wall to Sukey.
Suddenly the men became aware of the ruse and leaped up to grab the remaining guns. However, Nancy grabbed one of the rifles and ordered the men back. One man, either too drunk to understand the situation or not believing a woman could or would shoot advanced on Nancy. She ended the approach and his life with a shot to the chest, and then quickly grabbed the next rifle. Before help arrived, one more man was shot which kept the remaining men at bay having been made believers of this crazed woman.
When Benjamin arrived, he wanted to shoot the remaining men. Nancy disagreed. She wanted to hang them. The story says the men were indeed hung from a nearby tree.
Benjamin served under Elijah Clarke in the Georgia Militia, and it is said Nancy was present and participated in the Battle of Kettle Creek.
Nancy “found religion” after the revolution; it was reported Nancy was an indomitable woman who “Went to the house of worship in search of relief, becoming a Christian and fighting the Devil as manfully as she had fought the Tories.” The family eventually left the area for Alabama and North Carolina. After Benjamin’s death in the late 1790s, Nancy came back to the Broad River area where her cabin was. Was is the important word here. The cabin had been washed away in a flood. In 1803 Nancy went to live with her son John in Kentucky. She lived there until her death in 1830 and was buried in the family cemetery near Henderson, KY.
An interesting side note for me is that my Gt Gt Gt Grandparents homesteaded just a stone’s throw away from Henderson in 1808. I wonder if they knew her or of her escapades.
In 1912, workers grading a railroad near the site of the Hart cabin unearthed six skeletons, all buried in a neat row three feet below the surface. Pathologists determined the skeletons had been in place for at least a century.
Why is Nancy important? Why should you know about her? People today are largely ignorant of what happened that led to our independence from foreign rule. Sacrifices made, risks taken. But they also have largely forgotten what it is like to be self-reliant.
We bemoan deep national and state government debt and wasteful spending, and then demand things of government that lead to government overreach and the inevitable waste. We tear into each other over minor issues while the leviathan we created crushes everything and everyone in its path. We have but two options, change who and what we are or perish.
We call those who get their feelings hurt snowflakes. In the shadow of Nancy Hart, we are all snowflakes.