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Thursday’s Heroes: Nancy Hart

May 3, 2012

Nancy Hart

Hero is one of the words we come across in life that has gender attached to it, hero for men, and heroine for women. Today, the feminine is somewhat dated and both men and women are referred to as  heroes. While I hold no opinion on this being a good or bad thing, there is no question women are every bit as heroic as men, if not more so. Nancy Hart well illustrates that point.

While Mrs. Hart may not be a household name, her exploits are heroic nonetheless. Born Nancy Morgan around 1735, though the exact time of her birth is lost to history. Some put it as late as 1747; she was raised in North Carolina. Again, this is not exactly known and some reports place her birth in Pennsylvania.

Regardless, by 1770, Nancy was a full-grown woman married to Benjamin Hart of North Carolina. Around that time, Benjamin received a land grant of 500 acres in the Broad River Valley. The Broad River is a tributary of Georgia’s Savannah River. It is located between Athens and Elberton running diagonally, southeast.

This area of Georgia was rife with trouble. The trouble was partially due to the displacement of Native-Americans and partially due to the uncertain boundaries of land grants. As the decade progressed, the growing turmoil between those sympathetic to the Crown and those loyal to the Revolution replaced prior issues, though often a person picked a side in response to an opponent’s joining the other side. This led to the area gaining the nickname of “The Hornet’s Nest” during the revolution, as personal hostility had more to do with the fighting than loyalty to a cause and could flare at a moment’s notice.

Before the Revolution, Nancy was well known in the area as a fierce defender of her family and friends. It is said her demeanor matched her stature. Legend has it, she was just over six-feet tall and blest with the strength and agility of a frontiersman. It is a good thing too, as Nancy herself, said she had no share in beauty. At the time of the Hart family’s arrival in Georgia, the first to discover her ferocity were the displaced Native-Americans in the area. As they attempted to reestablish their claim to the land and after several such encounters, the local tribe had a name for Nancy, “Wahatche” which loosely translates to “war-woman.” They so respected her that is also, what they called the creek that ran beside her home, “Wahatche Creek”

Elijah Clarke

During the Revolution, Benjamin served in the Georgia Militia under Elijah Clarke. This left Nancy to fend alone for herself and her six sons and two daughters. At that time, the area was part of Wilkes County and Wilkes County has just about as many Whigs as Tories. [Whigs were the Patriots and Tories the Loyalists] Nancy, being true to her nature, was an outspoken support of the Patriot cause and that brought unwanted attention to her door. So much so that one night one of her children secretly informed her someone was peeping through a crack or knothole as Nancy made soap. Nancy ladled up nice hot lye from her kettle and flung it through the opening, much to the agony of her spy. It is said she made sport of the poor wretch for a day before she bound him and marched him, even crossing a river to the camp of the local Militia.

On another occasion, Aunt Nancy (all the Whip soldiers called her that) met a Tory soldier walking along a footpath. She engaged him with small talk and diverted his attention, then seized his weapon and force-marched him to a nearby camp. It is said about 100 Tories took the same afternoon stroll with Nancy before the war was over.

During the way, Nancy acted as a spy, captured Tory soldiers, and even defended a stockade from the Tories with cannon pretty much by herself. Still, all this pales when compared to the exploits she is most famous for.

One evening a detachment of five men arrived at the Hart home. They had been out forcing local inhabitants to swear allegiance to the King.  History supports  the men to be part of the same regiment that murdered Col. John Dooley, the hero at the Battle of Kettle Creek, at his home, in front of his wife and children. They specifically wished to question Nancy about a rumor she aided a young man elude his Tory pursuers. Rather than deny it, Nancy entertained the men with the story of her exploits and her assistance in helping her “Liberty Boy” flee. Knowing her reputation, the men simply ordered her to fix them something to eat.

One of the men killed her last chicken and ordered her to clean and cook it for them. Nancy, of course, was beside herself and exclaimed, “I never feed King’s men if I can help it,” but she really had little choice. Though the accounts are sketchy, it appears the men let slip about the murder of Col. Dooly, who was a close friend of the Hart family. This set Nancy’s mind to thinking and she suddenly changed her tone to one of good humor with the men. Little could they know just what Nancy had in store.

After the men relaxed with her change in mood, Nancy sent one of her daughter’s to the creek to fetch water. Secretly, Nancy instructed her to sound the alarm while there that Tories were in the area. The locals had conch shell horns strategically located along the creek for just an occasion. They also had a series of alarms for various requirements. Nancy regaled the men with her wilderness stories, further relaxing them to the point one of the men pitched in and helped her with dinner. They had expected to find her ill-tempered and combative; her current demeanor was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. Her ability to match them, rude comment for rude comment and jest for jest, made her seem a delight.

Soon, the men broke into one of the wine jugs they brought with them, even inviting Nancy to join them in a drink, to which she replied, “I’ll take one swig with you,” and furthered their good cheer. The men kept drinking, Nancy kept cooking. By the time the bird was ready, the men were basking in the warmth of inebriation.

The Tories had stacked their rifles within easy reach when they first sat down and had paid them no mind since. Nancy asked the men to move her table to the center of the room giving her more space to serve the meal, the men complied, again with no thought to their weapons. It seems inebriation brings stupidity along with its warmth.

Nancy made sure to use up all the water her daughter brought before while cooking the meal and used a generous portion of salt in preparing it, as she served the men, she made sure she moved in and out and between them, thus making her movements seem natural. Soon, the men called for more water and again Nancy’s daughter was dispatched with the piggin (water skin) to the creek, this time with instructions to signal for the local militia, including her father, to come at once to the house.

All the while her daughter was off, Nancy had removed a board between two of the logs that made the cabin’s walls, she then slipped two of the muskets through unnoticed by her guests. She was slipping the third through when her luck ran out.

One of the soldiers noticed her actions and sounded the alarm. All the men sprang to their feet, but Nancy bested them. Maybe it was their drinking; maybe Nancy was just that quick. The reason really does not matter, as Nancy shouldered the musket she held before the men could reach her. She then threatened to kill the first man that stepped towards her. They all knew her reputation and for the moment that was enough to keep them away. Recovering his nerve, one of the men charged her and Nancy shot him dead.

While the men watch their compatriot die, Nancy armed herself with another musket. Soon after that, her daughter returned from her visit to the creek with news, Nancy’s husband and the militia would soon arrive. Nancy instructed her daughter to remove the remaining muskets from the room. The Tories realized time was short and rushed Nancy in a group. Nancy was up to the task and proved to the men just why her prior antagonists called her “War Woman.” She fired the new musket and another Tory fell. Nancy then leaped to the door, her daughter handed her another musket and she order the men to “surrender their ugly Tory carcasses to a Whig woman.” She held the men at bay until her husband and men arrived.

The Whig Militia men wanted to shoot the captive Tories but Nancy declared that was too good for them, as they had just killed Col. Dooly. She demanded they be hung and the militia took the men out and complied with her wishes.

After the war, Nancy and family moved to Brunswick, Georgia but she lost her husband Benjamin within a year or so.  She then relocated to Kentucky with one of her sons. Nancy passed away in 1830 in Henderson County, Kentucky. She is buried in the family cemetery there.

Georgia honors Nancy’s memory in many ways, Hart County being named for her, for instance. It is the only county in Georgia named for a woman, the “War Woman.”

Nancy Hart is a larger than life figure, but she did live. While the details of her exploits are undoubtedly embellished, the truth behind them remains. She was a six-foot tall, fiery, redheaded woman with a face scarred by small pox. What she may have lacked in beauty, she more than made up for in spirit and tenacity that is the stock of what makes up our mythical American spirit. Nancy proves, without a doubt, women are ever much as heroic as men. The fact is damn few men are even close to being as heroic as Nancy.

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3 comments

  1. Like a Penelope of her time… Albeit more kick ass. :). Thank you for sharing her story.


  2. Wow, I just tried a voice to text program to write this blog post. I am horrified at the result, I will not try that again!!


    • I am currently fixing it by the way, sorry to have posted something that was not even close to ready.



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