History lessons about the American Revolution often focus on men like George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Paul Revere. Women often include Betsy Ross, who created the first American flag or legendary female figures like Molly Pitcher who took up her husband’s cannon after he fell in battle. These are but a few of the patriots who fought to win American independence.
Some of the less commonly known are among the bravest and after more than two centuries, the lines between legend and reality blur. One of these larger than life heroines was a woman named Nancy Morgan Hart. A highway and several monuments have been named for this brave woman who stood tall for her beliefs during a violent, often vicious war.
At six feet tall, Nancy was taller than the average woman was. Blessed or cursed with what was described as flaming red hair, Nancy Morgan Hart was born in the North Carolina frontier country in either 1744 or 1747. Anne Morgan wed Benjamin Hart at a young age and moved to what was then the Virginia wilderness. Eight children later, Nancy Morgan Hart and her husband relocated to Georgia, to yet another frontier. Their new home was along the Broad River.
Avid patriots and strong on the idea of independence, the Harts fought in many battles and skirmishes along the remote Georgia frontier. Sukey Hart, one of the couple’s daughters, was a fervent patriot and is remembered through history in her own right.
By all accounts Nancy Morgan Hart was a formidable woman. The area Native Americans had dubbed her “War Woman”, a nickname based on her size, appearance, and temperament. Like most frontier women, Nancy was strong. She could perform most chores that men could do and she was also rumored to be an excellent marksman.
Nancy Morgan Hart is best remembered for her actions against a band of Tories, English sympathizers, who came to her remote home. Stories vary but in most, the band of Tories came to the Hart cabin and demanded food. In some versions, the Tories killed one of Nancy’s flock of turkeys before ordering her to cook it for their meal. No matter how the Tories came to be seated at the Hart table, there is little doubt that the meal set before the men was succulent. Fresh venison, hoecakes, and honeycomb are the fare in most stories; in other, the roasted turkey crowns the table.
In preparation for the abundant meal, the Tories laid down their arms, resting the muskets against the log walls. The men settled down at the table and reached to fill their plates when Nancy snatched up a musket. She pointed the primed and prepared weapon at the table and bade the men to not move or she would “blow their brains to Kingdom Come.”
She then sent for the authorities that hung the men outside her cabin while she sang “Yankee Doodle”.
In another version, Nancy was passing their idle muskets to other patriots through a chink in the wall. When discovered in the act, Nancy shot one Tory at point blank range and killed him. When another Tory officer made a move in her direction, she wounded him and the others sat still until other patriots arrived for the hanging.
Whether or not Nancy Morgan Hart lived or whether she was indeed responsible for the deaths of six Tories has long been disputed. There are those who claim to be descendants of the brave patriot woman and those who claim that the story is mere myth. Others say that many women killed to protect their homes in the turbulent years of the American Revolution and that Nancy Morgan Hart was a composite of them all. The discovery of six male skeletons when a railroad was being laid in the vicinity of the former Hart home, however, gives the tales credence.
Women like Nancy Morgan Hart were the backbone of the American Revolution and proved that women could be the equal of any man long before the term “women’s liberation” was coined.