main idea: spinoff of the “Founding Fatherhood” series. Discussion about women’s roles in the American Revolution
As we were planning our episodes to celebrate Women’s History Month we wanted to devote one episode to our “Founding Mothers”. We hear a lot about the Founding Fathers, but we usually do not hear about the women who worked alongside them in their fight for liberty, and their efforts to establish and build our Nation.
Of course we all know the names like Martha Washington, Harriet Tubman and Betsy Ross, but there is a long list of women whose names you will not find in any history book, but whose contributions to liberty and freedom were just as (if not more) valuable than some of the “big names”. So let’s talk about them, shall we?
During the American Revolution George Washington managed to build a robust network of spies within townships to observe and report on the goings-on of the Tories and the British armies. One of the most notorious of these spies is Hercules Mulligan, a tailor, and his slave. While working as a tailor to the British soldiers and officers he would gather valuable intel, which he would then use his slave, Cato, to transmit to Washington. On more that one occasion this saved Washington and the troops. But we are not here to talk about the men.
What is not commonly talked about is that the success of these networks was a result of the women who used their roles as homemakers to gather intelligence to pass through their network all the way to the General. Among these notable women are Anna Strong and Agent 355 (which translates from the code they used into “Lady”) of the Culper Ring. Some believe they may have been one and the same person, but some speculation is that Agent 355 was perhaps a servant or slave of either the Strong family or someone else from Sautucket (where the Strongs were from). To this day no one knows for sure because the identity of Agent 355 was never disclosed.
Anna Strong was an important part of this ring. While her husband was imprisoned she is credited for assisting Washington’s couriers and smugglers, signaling them by hanging a specific petticoat on her clothesline which was visible from the sound where they would row into Setauket.
Agent 355 is believed to have been a young woman, or perhaps a servant/slave, as she allegedly had ocassion to gather intelligence from Major John Andre. It is unfortunate that we will never know her identity.
Lydia Darragh is perhaps the most badass of the lady spies. In the Fall of 1777 the British forces had gained some big wins over Washington’s troops. Lydia used her comfort within her community to spy on the British troops and officers. She would give the intel to her younger son who would then smuggle her coded notes to her older son, who was a soldier. In December of 1777 some British officers took quarter in the Darragh home. During one of their meetings, where they had ordered all the family members away, Lydia hid in a closet in order to spy on the meeting. She learned of the British intent to attack Washington and his troops, and used her role as homemaker as a cover to make a journey “for flour”, during which she evaded checkpoints to get word to Washington’s troops about the plan. Talk about one cool mama!
Nancy Hart is another name you likely do not know, but should. In addition to serving as a spy Nancy Hart is credited for capturing multiple British loyalists, killing at least one, and overseeing the hanging of several others. She would dress as a man and pretend to be incapacited to gain entry to British camps in order to spy on them, and many historians believe that she may have been present in at least one battle during the war. She stole and smuggled weapons belonging to British troops, and captured at least one Tory spy. The legend is that the Cherokee referred to her as “Wahatche”, which translates to “War Woman”.
Not only were there women who were instrumental as spies for George Washington, but some were also soldiers. Legend tells us that Prudence Wright was a commander of an all-women Militia, which dressed as men and carried their husbands weapons into battle.
Catherine Barry, a South Carolinian, is another woman who defied the societal gender roles to fight alongside her husband. She is credited with being a spy and a soldier, and according to history was instrumental in the Battle of Cowpens.
There are so many more incredible women in the history of our Country. Women who fought alongside their husbands in the name of Liberty. Women who were willing to risk everything for the cause. These women were just like us. They were wives, mothers, and daughters, and they should be an inspiration to us all.
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