by Denise Weimer“On the frontier, strength is beauty and courage is life.” – tag line from Across Three Autumns, my upcoming novella inspired by the exploits of Nancy Hart
The final character in my Georgia Revolutionary War trilogy is Nancy Ann Morgan Hart, believed by most to have been born in North Carolina’s Yadkin River Valley in the mid-1730s and to have moved to the Broad River (Elbert County, Georgia) in the early 1770s. With her husband Benjamin, who became a lieutenant under Col. Elijah Clark, she had six sons and two daughters. Their one-room pine cabin rested in a crest of a hill overlooking what became known as Wahatche Creek, its walls covered by antler hunting trophies and peppered by holes in the chinking to shoot Indians, embraced by an extensive apple orchard and herb garden Nancy used in her medicinal cures.
But Nancy was not the expected meek, traditional Colonial woman. Beauty and grace passed six-foot-tall Nancy right on by. Pipe-smoking, crossed-eyed, and pock-marked, Nancy was a crack shot the Indians called “Wahatche” or “War Woman,” and named her creek after her. Possessing no patience for weak men, she was said to be “a honey of a patriot but a devil of a wife.”
Hart became the stuff of Georgia legends during the Revolutionary War. Refusing to leave the “Hornet’s Nest” when other civilians fled, Nancy provided a prime example of using what she had in the interest of a cause. During the British occupation of Augusta when Clark needed information on enemy plans, she was said to have dressed as a man and pretended to be “addle-pated” to gain confidences in the British camp. On another occasion, while making soap over the fire, one of her children noticed an eye peeking in the cabin chinking. Nancy threw lye into the crevice and went outside to hog tie and take the prisoner to local militia.
Another time, six British soldiers, irritated with Nancy, who dressed as a sick woman and misdirected them in their pursuit of a rebel, shot her last turkey and insisted she cook it for them. Nancy broke out the corn liquor and sent her daughter Sukey to the swamp ostensibly to get water but really to blow a conch shell to summon her father and neighbors working in a far field. Meanwhile, Nancy passed the soldiers’ stacked weapons through a chink in the wall. She got caught on the third. Nancy leveled the musket she held and warned the men she’d shoot any who advanced. One made that mistake and was rapidly dispatched. The others froze, convinced and also quite confused by Nancy’s roving eye as to who her next target might be. She held the others at bay until help arrived, then insisted shooting was too good for the interlopers. Legend says the settlers hung the party of British. In 1912, a railroad grading crew uncovered six skeletons under three feet of Hart dirt, giving credence to this particular story.
Nancy’s later days had a good ending. Gov. George Gilmer’s mother testified late in life that Nancy “went to the house of worship in search of relief.” Cutting the fastening off the door of the Methodist meeting house, Nancy barged in and stated she’d heard how the wicked might work out their salvation. “She … became a shouting Christian, [and] fought the devil as manfully as she had fought the Tories.”