Remember the first of three articles posted here at Song discussing strong female leads in fiction, readers? There is historical precedent for this type of fictional character, as the link below will demonstrate. Although she married and had eight children, by all accounts, Nancy Hart was the dominant force in her family. Several British soldiers discovered that the hard way and paid for their mistake – permanently.
Nancy Hart (ca. 1735-1830)
Original entry by
Clay Ouzts, Gainesville College,
Georgia’s most acclaimed female participant during the Revolutionary War (1775-83) was Nancy Hart. A devout patriot, Hart gained notoriety during the revolution for her determined efforts to rid the area of Tories, English soldiers, and British sympathizers. Her single-handed efforts against Tories and Indians in the Broad River frontier, as well as her covert activities as a patriot spy, have become the stuff of myth, legend, and local folklore.
Although explicit details concerning most of her life are unknown, it is widely assumed that Nancy Ann Morgan Hart was born in North Carolina, somewhere in the Yadkin River valley (although some believe that she was born in Pennsylvania), around 1735 (some say 1747). During the early 1770s, Hart and her family left North Carolina and made their way into Georgia, eventually settling in the fertile Broad River valley.
Hart was well connected through family ties to many prominent figures in early American history. She was a cousin to Revolutionary War general Daniel Morgan, who commanded victorious American forces at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina on January 17, 1781. Her husband, Benjamin Hart, came from a distinguished family that later produced such famous political figures as Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton and Kentucky senator Henry Clay.
According to contemporary accounts, “Aunt Nancy,” as she was often called, was a tall, gangly woman who towered six feet in height. Like the frontier she inhabited, she was rough-hewn and rawboned, with red hair and a smallpox-scarred face. She was also cross-eyed. One early account pointed out that Hart had “no share of beauty—a fact she herself would have readily acknowledged, had she ever enjoyed an opportunity of looking into a mirror.”
Hart’s physical appearance was matched by a feisty personal demeanor characterized by a hotheaded temper, a fearless spirit, and a penchant for exacting vengeance upon those who offended her or harmed her family and friends. Local Indians soon began to refer to her as “Wahatche,” which may have meant “war woman.” She was also a domineering wife. Many remembered that she, rather than her husband, ran the Hart household, which eventually included six sons and two daughters. Although she was illiterate, Hart was amply blessed with the skills and knowledge necessary for frontier survival; she was an expert herbalist, a skilled hunter, and despite her crossed eyes, an excellent shot.
Patriot and Spy
During the Revolutionary War, Hart unleashed her greatest fury against British loyalists. For most of the conflict, she was left alone to fend for herself and her children while her husband served as a lieutenant in the Georgia militia under Elijah Clarke. She emerged as a staunch patriot, facilitating the American cause as a spy. She often disguised herself as a simpleminded man and wandered into Tory camps and British garrisons to gather information, which she subsequently passed along to patriot authorities. She was also an active participant in the conflict and, according to some accounts, was present at the Battle of Kettle Creek on February 14, 1779.