Nancy Hart: Fierce Frontier Patriot

Nancy Hart: Fierce Frontier Patriot
Illustration of Nancy Hart facing the Tories. Stories of Georgia by Joel Chandler Harris. American Book Company, 1896. (Public Domain)
Trevor Phipps
9/15/2023
Updated:
9/15/2023
0:00

Although they were not on the frontlines of battle as often as men, many American women have played vital roles during wartime. Nancy Hart has become a legend for her loyal support of America during the War for Independence.

Much about this colonial frontier lady has faded from memory, but most historians agree that Hart was born in 1735 in North Carolina. She was allegedly related to Daniel Boone and Revolutionary War general Daniel Morgan. She married Benjamin Hart in 1760. and in the 1770s the couple moved to the Broad River Valley in Georgia where they had eight children.

Hart was a rough and tough woman whose appearance mirrored her personality. Some accounts say that she was cross-eyed, six feet tall with red hair and freckles, and that she had scars on her face from smallpox. She was a muscular woman with a resilient attitude, and was a skilled herbalist and hunter. It was said that she could wield an axe and shoot a gun as well as any man.

Replica of Nancy Hart's cabin standing near its original site. (New Georgia Encyclopedia)
Replica of Nancy Hart's cabin standing near its original site. (New Georgia Encyclopedia)

Hart gained a reputation in the Georgia frontier to match her personality. One of the legends surrounding Hart states that members of the Cherokee tribe called her “Watache,” which translates as “war woman.”

Once the Revolutionary War broke out, many women and children were relocated to safer areas, but Hart chose to stay in Georgia with her husband. He was called to duty to fight in the Georgia militia, leaving Nancy to oversee their farm and children.

On top of her duties at home, Hart was one of the many women who helped the American cause in any way she could. “Even in their dresses, the females seem to bid us defiance,” a British soldier once wrote of colonial American women, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website.

Joining the Cause

Because of her large frame, Hart would easily disguise herself as a man and wander around British camps. She listened to the enemy soldiers’ discussions and then relayed information to the American troops.

Hart also purportedly participated in the Battle of Kettle Creek alongside her husband and sons. During the battle, the Americans defeated the British Loyalists and freed several American prisoners.

There were stories of direct encounters with the enemy. One day while she was at home making soap, one of her daughters told her that she saw a British soldier spying into their cabin through a hole in the wall. Hart took a ladle of boiling water and threw it at the soldier. She then hogtied him and turned him over to American forces.

Don’t Fool With Her

Hart’s legend grew around a fateful encounter with military Tories, British loyalist soldiers. They turned up on her property looking for an American soldier. Hart would not give them any information, so the Tories shot the family’s last turkey, and demanded that she cook it for them.

It was then that Hart changed her tone and pretended to welcome the soldiers as guests by cooking for them and giving them corn whiskey. While the soldiers were eating, Hart sent Sukey to alert the neighbors and her husband.

Seeing that they were distracted, Hart began sneaking the soldiers’ rifles outside. As she grabbed the third rifle, one soldier lunged at her. Hart used her shooting skills and killed the first soldier. Another soldier lunged towards her and she again shot the rifle and severely wounded him.

Now that the other soldiers knew she wasn’t bluffing, she held them at gunpoint until help from her husband and neighbors arrived. When her husband arrived, he proposed shooting the soldiers, but Hart insisted that the men be hanged instead. The men were then hanged on a tree near the property. In 1912, a construction crew found the 100-year-old graves of six men in the area with broken necks, which corroborated the story.

After the war, Hart became a devoted Christian and joined the local Methodist Church. She eventually moved to Kentucky with her son, where she passed away in 1830 at the age of 95. The state of Georgia named a county after Hart, and there are several other landmarks in honor of this fiercely patriotic woman of early America.

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For about 20 years, Trevor Phipps worked in the restaurant industry as a chef, bartender, and manager until he decided to make a career change. For the last several years, he has been a freelance journalist specializing in crime, sports, and history.
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