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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Southern Women in the Revolution

By Alexander Garden (1757–1829)

[Born in Charleston, S. C., 1757. Died there, 1829. Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War in America. 1822.]

THE PATRIOTIC enthusiasm of Mrs. Jacob Motte demands particular notice. When compelled by painful duty, Lieutenant-colonel Lee informed her “that in order to accomplish the immediate surrender of the British garrison occupying her elegant mansion, its destruction was indispensable,” she instantly replied: “The sacrifice of my property is nothing, and I shall view its destruction with delight, if it shall in any degree contribute to the good of my country.” In proof of her sincerity, she immediately presented the arrows by which combustible matter was to be conveyed to the building.

Nor is the firmness of Mrs. Thomas Heyward less worthy of admiration. An order having been issued for a general illumination, to celebrate the supposed victory at Guildford, the front of the house occupied by Mrs. Heyward and her sister, Mrs. George Abbot-Hall, remained in darkness. Indignant at so decided a mark of disrespect, an officer (I hope, for the sake of humanity and the honor of the military character, unauthorized) forced his way into her presence, and sternly demanded of Mrs. Heyward, “How dare you disobey the order which has been issued? Why, Madam, is not your house illuminated?” “Is it possible for me, Sir,” replied the lady, with perfect calmness, “to feel a spark of joy? Can I celebrate the victory of your army, while my husband remains a prisoner at St. Augustine.” “That,” rejoined the officer, “is a matter of little consequence; the last hopes of rebellion are crushed by the defeat of Greene: you shall illuminate.” “Not a single light,” replied the lady, “shall be placed with my consent, on such an occasion, in any window in the house.” “Then, Madam, I will return with a party, and before midnight level it to the ground.” “You have power to destroy, Sir, and seem well disposed to use it, but over my opinions you possess no control. I disregard your menaces, and resolutely declare, I will not illuminate.” Would to God that I could name the man, capable of thus insulting a helpless female, that I might hold him up to the scorn of the world! Mrs. Heyward was graceful and majestic in person, beautiful in countenance, angelic in disposition; none but a ruffian could have treated her with indignity. On the anniversary of the surrender of Charleston, May 12th, 1781, an illumination was again demanded, in testimony of joy for an event so propitious to the cause of Britain. Mrs. G. A. Hall, who labored under a wasting disease, lay at the point of death. Again Mrs. Heyward refused to obey. Violent anger was excited, and the house was assailed by a mob with brickbats and every species of nauseating trash that could offend or annoy. Her resolution remained unshaken and, while the tumult continued and shouts and clamor increased indignity, Mrs. Hall expired….

Mrs. Daniel Hall, having obtained permission to pay a visit to her mother on John’s Island, was on the point of embarking, when an officer stepping forward, in the most authoritative manner, demanded the key of her trunk. “What do you expect to find there?” said the lady. “I seek for treason,” was the reply. “You may save yourself the trouble of search, then,” said Mrs. Hall—“You may find a plenty of it at my tongue’s end.”

An officer, distinguished by his inhumanity and constant oppression of the unfortunate, meeting Mrs. Charles Elliott in a garden adorned with a great variety of flowers, asked the name of the camomile, which appeared to flourish with peculiar luxuriance. “The Rebel Flower,” she replied. “Why was that name given to it?” said the officer. “Because,” rejoined the lady, “it thrives most when most trampled upon.”

To Mrs. Pinckney, the wife of Colonel Charles Pinckney, a British officer of rank once said—“It is impossible not to admire the intrepid firmness of the ladies of your country. Had your men but half their resolution, we might give up the contest, America would be invincible.”

So much were the ladies attached to the Whig interest, habituated to injuries, and so resolute in supporting them, that they would jocosely speak of misfortunes, though at the moment severely suffering under their pressure. Mrs. Sabina Elliott having witnessed the activity of an officer, who had ordered the plundering of her poultry-houses, finding an old muscovy drake, which had escaped the general search, still straying about the premises, had him caught, and mounting a servant on horseback, ordered him to follow and deliver the bird to the officer, with her compliments, as she concluded, that in the hurry of departure, “it had been left altogether by accident.”…

There was not a more intrepid being in existence [than Mrs. Richard Shubrick]. I will present a noble instance of it. An American soldier, flying from a party of the enemy, sought her protection, and was promised it. The British pressing close upon him, insisted that he should be delivered up, threatening immediate and universal destruction in case of refusal. The ladies, her friends and companions, who were in the house with her, shrunk from the contest, and were silent; but undaunted by their threats, this intrepid lady placed herself before the chamber into which the unfortunate fugitive had been conducted, and resolutely said: “To men of honor the chamber of a lady should be as sacred as the sanctuary! I will defend the passage to it, though I perish. You may succeed, and enter it, but it shall be over my corpse.” “By God,” said the officer, “if muskets were only placed in the hands of a few such women, our only safety would be found in retreat. Your intrepidity, Madam, gives you security; from me you shall meet no further annoyance.”

Nor is this the only instance of her unconquerable fortitude. At Brabant, the seat of the respectable and patriotic Bishop Smith, a sergeant of Tarleton’s Dragoons, eager for the acquisition of plunder, followed the overseer, a man advanced in years, into the apartment where the ladies of the family were assembled, and on his refusal to discover the spot where the plate was concealed, struck him with violence, inflicting a severe sabre wound across the shoulders. Aroused by the infamy of the act, Mrs. Shubrick, starting from her seat, and placing herself betwixt the ruffian and his victim, resolutely said, “Place yourself behind me, Murdoch, the interposition of my body shall give you protection, or I will die.” Then, addressing herself to the sergeant, exclaimed, “O what a degradation of manhood, what departure from that gallantry which was once the characteristic of British soldiers! Human nature is degraded by your barbarity;—but should you persist, then strike at me, for till I die, no further injury shall be done to him.” The sergeant, unable to resist such commanding eloquence, retired….

During the period when the British were confined within very narrow limits, in the neighborhood of Charleston, Mrs. Ralph Izard, of Fair Spring, residing near Dorchester, and within the range of their excursions, whenever they ventured beyond their lines, was frequently subjected to annoyance, but by the suavity of her manners, and polite attention to the officers who commanded, had happily preserved the plantation from destruction. Mr. Izard, who was distinguished by his activity, acting as aide-de-camp to the commanding officer of the light troops, was at home, when one of these parties appeared, and had scarcely time to enter a clothes-press, when the house was surrounded and filled with British soldiers. They had been apprised of his visit, and their object was to make him a prisoner. A search was therefore commenced, and menaces held out, that unless he voluntarily surrendered, a torch should drive him from the place of his concealment. The composure of Mrs. Izard, at such a moment, was astonishing; she betrayed no symptoms of apprehension, and though treated with more than usual indignity, an attempt being made to force her rings from her fingers, and much valuable property plundered in her presence, preserved her accustomed politeness, and behaved with such urbanity, as to induce the belief that the information communicated was incorrect, and the party were drawn off. Mr. Izard now quitted his hiding-place, and rapidly passing the Ashley, gave notice of the proximity of the enemy. He chose a happy moment for his escape, for speedily returning, the soldiers immediately sought Mrs. Izard’s chamber, and burst open the press, which they had not before disturbed; when missing their object, they again retired. On the alarm given by Mr. Izard, all on the other side of the river were on the alert. A body of cavalry was pushed across Bacon’s Bridge, who speedily overtook the retiring enemy, and so completely routed them, that few only of their number returned within their lines to tell of their disaster….

The contrivances adopted by the ladies to carry from the British garrison supplies to the gallant defenders of their country, were highly creditable to their ingenuity, and of infinite utility to their friends. The cloth of many a military coat, concealed with art, and not unfrequently made an appendage to female attire, has escaped the vigilance of the guards expressly stationed to prevent smuggling, and speedily converted into regimental shape, worn triumphantly in battle. Boots have, in many instances, been relinquished by the delicate wearer to the active partisan. I have seen a horseman’s helmet concealed by a well arranged head-dress, and epaulettes delivered from the folds of the simple cap of a matron. Feathers and cockades were much in demand, and so cunningly hid, and handsomely presented, that he could have been no true knight who did not feel the obligation to defend them to the last extremity.