In his new book, “American Patriots,” Rick Santorum recounts the extraordinary acts of 25 largely unsung heroes from the Revolutionary era, focusing on how their deeds and sacrifices helped win the freedom we enjoy today. Here's an excerpt.
NANCY MORGAN HART
Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.
Matthew 10:34, NLT
Among the Patriots of the American Revolution, there are heroes and there are larger-than-life heroes. And then there is Nancy Morgan Hart. A gutsy woman whose bold, take-no-prisoners persona has inspired patriots for generations, she possessed the backbone necessary to stand up to the British, fight for her liberties, and not back down, even in the face of mortal danger.
- Dancing with the Stars Season 16 Finale Results Revealed
- Dancing with the Stars: Which Couple Deserves to Win?
- The Daily Treat: What Would You Call Mariah Carey's Puppies?
- Val Chmerkovskiy Took Stitches 'Like a Champ,' Says His Plastic Surgeon
- Amy Poehler, Michelle Obama, Stephen Colbert & More Commencement Speeches
Growing up in North Carolina, Nancy became an accomplished frontierswoman, developing skills as an herbalist and an expert sharpshooter. Her fearlessness and hair-trigger temper helped earn her the nickname War Woman from local Cherokees.
Nancy married Benjamin Hart when she was thirty-six, an unusually late age for a woman of that period to marry. Shortly after their nuptials, the Harts moved to the Wilkes River area in northern Georgia.
People who knew Nancy Hart reportedly had some colorful and complex descriptions of her. Apparently she was a striking sight. At a time when women were barely five feet tall on average, Hart stood six feet tall, with a masculine frame and flaming red hair. She was alternately labeled “vulgar and illiterate” along with “hospitable and valorous.” According to one record, she didn’t turn too many heads, “a fact she herself would have readily acknowledged, had she ever enjoyed an opportunity of looking into a mirror.”
In spite of her age, she and her husband had eight children—six sons and two daughters. Though Nancy was more renowned than her husband, he seems to have earned a solid reputation for himself as well. Once the war began, Benjamin served as a lieutenant in the Georgia militia. Though little is known of the particulars of his service, he made a significant-enough contribution to earn a gift of twenty bushels of corn in 1781 from the Georgia Executive Council to help provide for his family.
More in books
Although women did not serve in the military, Nancy soon distinguished herself as “a honey of a Patriot.” Despite having to tend to her children alone while her husband was off fighting, she found time to engage in some creative espionage. In January 1778 she disguised herself as a man, which, considering her build, was not too difficult, and ventured into Augusta, Georgia, to gather information on the British defenses. In addition to her masculine appearance, she portrayed herself as a dim-witted person, thus deflecting any suspicion. She also reportedly “wandered” into several other Loyalist and British camps, gathering valuable information for the Patriots. (The CIA has highlighted her work as an effective use of disguise in the Revolutionary War.)
Hart is probably best known, though, for taking on the British on her own property. As one story goes, a British spy came up to her cabin and peered through a crack in the outside wall. One of Hart’s children could see the spy’s eye through the crack and quietly informed her mother, who was standing at the fireplace, making soap. Hart filled her ladle with boiling, soapy water and quickly flipped it through the crack. Screaming and immobilized, the spy was putty in her hands as she tied him up and handed him over to the Patriot militia.
That incident was just a warm-up for one of the most famous British takedowns by any Patriot. Late one day, British soldiers showed up at Hart’s cabin while her husband was working in one of their fields. They demanded to know the whereabouts of a Patriot leader who had just come by her home asking for assistance. She brazenly told the soldiers she hadn’t seen anyone pass by her cabin in days. Suspecting she was being less than truthful, the soldiers decided to put her in her place. They shot one of her turkeys and ordered her to cook the bird for them on the spot. They also demanded something to drink.
Outwardly obliging, Hart poured them wine. When the soldiers had drunk enough to feel a little more comfortable, Hart sent her daughter outside, presumably to fetch some water. In reality, however, she was to signal her father. As Hart was serving the soldiers, she slowly and stealthily began to slip their muskets, which they had stacked in a corner, out through a small opening in the cabin wall to her daughter. As she was about to move the third musket, though, the soldiers suddenly realized what she was doing and jumped to their feet. Not missing a beat, Hart swung the musket around, pointed it at the soldiers, and threatened to shoot the first man who made a move. One soldier was either hard of hearing or severely underestimated her. He jumped toward her, and she shot him dead.
Hart quickly picked up another loaded musket and held the rest of the soldiers at gunpoint until her husband arrived with several militiamen. Benjamin thought they should simply shoot them all. Not Nancy. Shooting was too good for these redcoats; she wanted them to hang. So they strung up the five remaining soldiers on a nearby tree.
More than 130 years later, workers putting in a railroad through the old Hart property made an unusual discovery. As they were grading the land, they found a neat row of skeletons, six of them, buried under three feet of earth.
Hart was a woman of uncommon fire and courage whose legacy has lived on through the generations. Her nephew was Henry Clay, three-term Speaker of the House of Representatives and Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams. Another relation was Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who was a strong advocate of westward expansion and became the first senator to serve five terms.
During the Civil War, some Confederate women decided to form their own militia, and they named themselves the Nancy Harts. Hart has a city, a lake, a highway, and a county named after her in Georgia. Right near where her old cabin stood, the Daughters of the American Revolution have reconstructed a replica of the cabin, incorporating the original chimney stones that once bore witness to the day a frontierswoman held her ground in the battle for freedom.
Reprinted by arrangement with Tyndale House Publishers, from “American Patriots” by Rick Santorum. Copyright © 2012 by Rick Santorum.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive