Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Women of the American Revolution
by Elizabeth F. Ellet
Third Edition
New York: Baker and Scribner


THE history of the Rev. David Caldwell is in many ways identified with that of North Carolina. He was for almost sixty years the pastor of the two oldest and largest Presbyterian congregations in the county of Guilford, and kept a celebrated classical school, for a long time the only one of note in the State, in which for forty years nearly all its professional men, and many from adjoining States, were educated. Not only was he thus the father of education in North Carolina, but before and during the Revolutionary struggle, he exerted a strong influence in favor of the promotion of national independence, and bore an active part in the prominent events of that period, The influence of Mrs. Caldwell in his school was great and beneficial, increasing the respect of the students towards him, and disposing their minds to religious impressions. They bore uniform testimony to her intelligence and zeal, and to the value of her counsels, while her kindness won their regard and confidence. The success with which she labored to inculcate the lessons of practical piety, gave currency to the saying throughout the country--" Dr. Caldwell makes the scholars, and Mrs. Caldwell makes the preachers." She was the third daughter of Rev. Alexander Craighead, the pastor of the Sugar Creek congregation, and a man of eminent piety and usefulness. In early life she had a share in many of the perils and hardships of the Indian war-the inroads of the savages being frequent and murderous, and her home in an exposed situation. She often said, describing these incursions, that as the family would escape out of one door, the Indians would come in at another. When Braddock's defeat left the Virginia frontier at the mercy of the savages, Mr. Craighead fled, with some of his people, and crossing the Blue Ridge, passed to the more quiet regions of Carolina, where he remained till the close of his life. Rachel married Dr. Caldwell in 1766.

For some days before the battle at Guilford Court house, the army of Cornwallis was encamped within the bounds of Dr. Caldwell's congregations; and most of the men being with General Greene, the distress fell on the defenceless women and children. In the detail of spoliation and outrage, their pastor suffered his share. He had been repeatedly harassed by the British and tories, who bore him special enmity; a price had been set upon his head, and a reward of two hundred pounds offered for his apprehension.* On the 11th of March, while he was in Greene's camp, the army was marched to his plantation and encamped there, the officers taking possession of his house. Mrs. Caldwell

* The reader is referred to the Life and Character of Rev. David Caldwell, D. D., by Rev. E. W. Caruthers, Greensboro, N. C.

was at home with her children when they arrived. They at first announced themselves as Americans, and asked to see the landlady; but a female domestic who had ascertained by standing on the fence and seeing red coats at a distance, that they belonged to the army of Cornwallis, quickly communicated her discovery to her mistress. Excusing herself by saying that she must attend to her child, Mrs. Caldwell retired within the house, and immediately gave warning to two of her neighbors who happened to be there, that they might escape through the other door and conceal themselves. She then returned to the gate. The party in front when charged with being British soldiers, avowed themselves such, and said they must have the use of the dwelling for a day or two. They immediately established themselves in their quarters, turning out Mrs. Caldwell, who with her children retired to the smoke house, and there passed a day with no other food than a few dried peaches and apples, till a physician interposed, and procured for her a bed, some provisions, and a few cooking utensils. The family remained in the smoke house two days and nights-their distress being frequently insulted by profane and brutal language. To a young officer who came to the door for the purpose of taunting the helpless mother, by ridiculing her countrymen, whom he termed rebels and cowards, Mrs. Caldwell replied, " Wait and see what the Lord will do for us." "If he intends to do anything,” pertly rejoined the military fop, " 'tis time he had begun." In reply to Mrs. Caldwell's application to one of the soldiers for protection, she was told she could expect no favors, for that the women were as great rebels as the men.

After remaining two days, the army took their departure from the ravaged plantation, on which they had destroyed every thing; but before leaving Dr. Caldwell's house, the officer in command gave orders that his library and papers should be burned. A fire was kindled in the large oven in the yard, and books which could not at that time be replaced, and valuable manuscripts which had cost the study and labor of years, were carried out by the soldiers, armful after armful, and ruthlessly committed to the flames. Not even the family Bible was spared, and the house, as well as plantation, was left pillaged and desolate.

On the fifteenth was heard the roar of that battle which was to compel the retreat of the invaders, and achieve the deliverance of Carolina. The women of Dr. Caldwell's congregation met, as has been mentioned, and while the conflict was raging fiercely between man and man, wrestled in earnest prayer for their defenders. After the cold, wet night which succeeded the action, the women wandered over the field of battle to search for their friends, administer the last sad rites to the dead, and bear away the wounded and expiring. One officer who had lain thirty hours undiscovered, was found in the woods by an old lady, and carried to his house, where he survived long enough to relate how a loyalist of his acquaintance had passed him the day after the battle, had recognized him, and bestowed a blow and an execration, instead of the water he craved to quench his consuming thirst. Conscience, however, sometimes avenged the insulted rights of nature;-the man who had refused the dying request of a fellow creature, was found after the officer's death, suspended on a tree before his own door.*

The persecution of Dr. Caldwell continued while the British occupied that portion of the State. His property was destroyed, and he was hunted as a felon; snares were laid for him, and pretences used to draw him from his hiding-place; he was compelled to pass nights in the woods, and ventured only at the most imminent peril to see his family. Often he escaped captivity or death, as it were, by a miracle. At one time when he had ventured home on a stolen visit, the house was suddenly surrounded by armed men, who seized him before he could escape, designing to carry him to the British camp. One or two were set to guard him, while the others went to, gather such articles of provisions and clothing as could be found worth taking away. When they were nearly ready to depart, the plunder collected being piled in the middle of the floor, and the prisoner standing beside it with his guard, Mrs. Dunlap, who with Mrs. Caldwell had remained in an adjoining apartment, came forward. With the promptitude and presence of mind for which women are often remarkable in sudden emergencies, she stepped behind Dr. Caldwell, leaned over his shoulder, and whispered to him, as if intending the question for his ear alone, asking if it

*Sketches of North Carolina.

was not time for Gillespie and his men to be there. One of the soldiers who stood nearest caught the words, and with evident alarm demanded what men were meant. The lady replied that she was merely speaking to her brother. In a moment all was confusion; the whole party was panic-struck; exclamations and hurried questions followed; and in the consternation produced by this ingenious though simple manoeuvrre, the tories fled precipitately, leaving their prisoner and their plunder. The name of Gillespie was a scourge and terror to the loyalists, and this party knew themselves to be within the limits of one of the strongest whig neighborhoods in the State.

Sometime in the fall of 1780, a stranger stopped at the house of Dr. Caldwell, faint and worn with fatigue, to ask supper and lodging for the night. He announced himself an express bearing despatches from Washington to General Greene, then on the Pedee river. He had imagined that he would be free from danger under the roof of a minister of the gospel; but Mrs. Caldwell soon undeceived him on this point. She was alone; her husband was an object of peculiar hatred to the tories, and she could not tell the day or hour when an attack might be expected. Should they chance to hear of the traveller, and learn that he had important papers in his possession, he would certainly be robbed before morning. She said he should have something to eat immediately-but advised him to seek some safer place of shelter for the night. This intelligence so much alarmed the stranger that his agitation would not permit him to eat, even when the repast was prepared and placed before him. But a short time had passed before voices were heard without, with cries of “Surround the house!" and the dwelling was presently assailed by a body of tories. With admirable calmness, Mrs. Caldwell bade the stranger follow her, and led him out at the opposite door. A large locust tree stood close by, and the night was so dark that no object could be discerned amid its clustering foliage. She bade him climb the tree, thorny as it was, and conceal himself till the men should be engaged in plundering the house. He could then descend on the other side, and trust to flight for his safety. The house was pillaged as she had expected; but the express made his escape, to remember with gratitude the woman whose prudence had saved him with the loss of her property.

One little incident is characteristic. Among such articles as the housewife especially prizes, Mrs. Caldwell had an elegant table cloth, which she valued as the gift of her mother. While the tories on one occasion were in her house collecting plunder, one of them broke open the chest or drawer which contained it, and drew out the tablecloth. Mrs. Caldwell seized and held it fast, determined not to give up her treasure. When she found that her rapacious enemy would soon succeed in wresting it from her, unless she could make use of some other than muscular force to prevent him, she turned to the other men of the party, whose attention had been attracted by the struggle, so that they had gathered around her. Still keeping her hold on the tablecloth, she appealed to them with all a woman's eloquence, asking if some of them had not wives or daughters for whose sake they would interfere to cause her to be treated with more civility. A small man who stood at the distance of a few feet presently stepped up, with tears in his eyes, and said that he had a wife-a fine little woman she was, too and that he would not allow any rudeness to be practised towards Mrs. Caldwell. His interference compelled the depredator to restore the valued article.

It was not unfrequently that female prudence or intrepidity was successful in disappointing the marauders. The plantations of Dr. Caldwell and his brother Alexander were near each other. One evening, during Alexander's absence from home, two soldiers entered his house, and began rudely to seize upon every thing they saw worth carrying off, having ordered his wife to prepare supper for them. They were supposed to belong to the army of Cornwallis, at that time foraging in the neighborhood. Not knowing what to do, Mrs. Caldwell sent to her brother-in-law for advice. He sent word in answer that she must treat the men civilly, and have supper ready as soon as practicable; but that she must observe where they placed their guns, and set the table at the other end of the house. He promised to come over in the meantime and conceal himself in a haystack close by; and she was to inform him as soon as the men had sat down to supper. These directions were implicitly followed. The house was a double cabin, containing two rooms on the same floor. While the men were leisurely discussing their repast, Dr. Caldwell quietly entered the other apartment, took up one of the guns, and stepping to the door of the room where they were so comfortably occupied, presented the weapon, and informed them they were his prisoners, and their lives would be the forfeit, should they make the least attempt to escape. They surrendered immediately, and Dr. Caldwell marched them to his own house, where he kept them till morning, and then suffered them to depart, after putting them on their parole by causing them to take a solemn oath upon the family Bible, that they would no longer bear arms against the United States, but would return to him upon a day named. This pledge was faithfully kept.

After the war, Dr. Caldwell resumed his labors as a teacher and preacher, his pastoral services being continued till within about four years of his death. He died in the summer of 1824, in the hundredth year of his age. His wife, who had accompanied him in the vicissitudes of his long pilgrimage, aiding him in his useful work, followed him to the grave in 1825, at the age of eighty-six. All who knew, regarded her as a woman of remarkable character and influence, and she is remembered throughout the State with high respect.

THE influence of Colonel Hamilton, of the British army, contributed greatly-at the time Lord Cornwallis, on his last ill-fated expedition, was in the neighborhood of Halifax-to mitigate the evils usually attendant upon the march of a hostile force. Hamilton had resided there before the Revolution, and showed a regard for his old acquaintances by inducing the Commander to forbid the molestation of the persons or property of non-combatants. It is not improbable that female influence had some thing to do with this magnanimity. The tone of public opinion in Halifax and its neighborhood was affected in no slight degree by three women, who were rendered prominent by the position of their husbands, and by their own talents and example. These women were Mrs. Willie Jones, Mrs. Allen Jones, and Mrs. Nicholas Long. Their husbands were men of cultivated minds, of wealth and high consideration, having great influence in public councils, and being zealously devoted to the achievement of independence. The importance of the principles for which/they contended, was vindicated not less impressively by the conversation and patriotic zeal of their wives, than by their own efforts in more striking appeals.

Colonel Nicholas Long was Commissary general for the forces raised in North Carolina, and superintended the preparation, in workshops erected on his premises, of warlike implements, military equipments, and clothing for the soldiers. His wife was a most efficient co-operator in this business. . She possessed great energy and firmness, with mental powers of no common order. Her praises were the theme of conversation among the old officers of the army as long as any were left who had known her. Her maiden name was M'Kinney. She died when about eighty years of age, leaving a numerous offspring.

Mrs. Allen Jones was a Miss Edwards, the sister of Isaac Edwards, the English secretary of Governor Tryon. She had a reputation of being the most accomplished women of her day, and was remarkable for the elegance and taste shown in all her domestic arrangements. She died shortly after the Revolution, leaving an only daughter, who married the son of Mrs. Long.


Mrs. Willis Jones was the daughter of Colonel Montfort, and was married at a very early age. She is regarded as the most conspicuous among the Revolutionary heroines in the region where she lived, and is said to have been eminent in every quality that constitutes excellence in female character. She possessed a remarkable faculty of gaining influence by the affections. One of her acquaintances says: “She is the only person with whom it has been my fortune to be acquainted, who was loved—devotedly, enthusiastically loved—by every human being who knew her.” Born to an ample fortune, she dispensed it with a munificent and elegant hospitality rarely seen in a new country, while her charities were extended to all proper objects of her beneficience. A native nobility of soul rendered her superior to the influence of any selfish b=feeling, or of accidental circumstances, which often mould the character of ordinary minds. The enjoyments of life were partaken by her with sobriety, while the troubles and privations that fell to her lot were borne with calmness and cheerful fortitude. She died about 1828, leaving five children, of whom two are living in North Carolina.

The celebrated retort to Tarleton's sneering remark concerning Colonel William Washington, a witticism variously repeated, has been generally attributed to Mrs. Jones; but I have been assured by her daughter that it was incorrectly ascribed to her. Mrs. Jones often related the occurrence to this lady, and disclaimed the merit of the retort, which belonged to her sister Mrs. Ashe. The circumstances were as follows:

During the stay of General Leslie and the British troops in Halifax, several of his officers were quartered at the house of Colonel Ashe, and Mrs. Ashe was in the habit of playing backgammon with them. Among these was Tarleton, who often conversed with her, and was especially fond of indulging his sarcastic wit in her presence at the expense of her favorite hero Colonel Washington. On one occasion he observed, jestingly, that he should like to have an opportunity of seeing that man, who he had understood was very small. Mrs. Ashe replied quickly: "If you had looked behind you, Colonel Tarleton, at the battle of the Cowpens, you would have had that pleasure." The taunt was keenly felt, and the British Colonel so moved, that his hand involuntarily sought the hilt of his sword. At this moment General Leslie entered the room, and observing that Mrs. Ashe was much agitated, inquired the cause of her emotion. She explained what had passed, to which General Leslie answered with a smile, "Say what you please, Mrs. Ashe; Colonel Tarleton knows to insult a lady in my presence."


THE following illustrative incident was communicated to the Rev. J. H. Saye, by two Revolutionary officers, one of whom lived in the vicinity where it occurred the other being of the party concerned in the adventure.

Early in the war, the inhabitants on the frontier of Burke County, North Carolina, being apprehensive of an attack by the Indians, it was determined to seek protection in a fort in a more densely populated neighborhood in an interior settlement. A party of soldiers was sent to protect them on their retreat. The families assembled, the line of march was taken towards their place of destination, and they proceeded some miles unmolested-the soldiers marching in a hollow square, with the refugee families in the centre. The Indians, who had watched these movements, had laid a plan for their destruction. The road to be travelled lay through a dense forest in the fork of a river, where the Indians concealed themselves, and waited till the travellers were in the desired spot. Suddenly the war-whoop sounded in front, and on either side; a large body of painted warriors rushed in, filling the gap by which the whites had entered, and an appalling crash of fire-arms followed. The soldiers, however, were prepared; such as chanced to be near the trees darted behind them, and began to ply the deadly rifle; the others prostrated themselves upon the earth, among the tall grass, and crawled to trees. The families screened themselves as best they could. The onset was long and fiercely urged; ever and anon amid the din and smoke, the warriors. Would rush, tomahawk in hand, towards the centre; but they were repulsed by the cool intrepidity of the back-woods riflemen. Still they fought on, determined on the destruction of the victims who offered such desperate resistance. All at once, an appalling sound greeted the ears of the women and children in the centre; it was a cry from their defenders-a cry for powder! " Our powder is giving out," they exclaimed. ., Have you any? Bring us some, or we can fight no longer I" A woman of the party had a good supply. She spread her apron on the ground, poured her powder into it, and going round from soldier to soldier as they stood behind the trees, bade each who needed powder put down his hat, and poured a quantity upon it. Thus she went round the line of defence, till her whole stock, and all she could obtain from others, was distributed. At last the savages gave way, and pressed by their foes, were driven off the ground. The victorious whites returned to those for whose safety they had ventured into the wilderness. Inquiries were made as to who had been killed, and one running up, cried, "Where is the woman that gave us the powder! I want to see her!" " Yes!-yes!-let us see her!" responded another and another; "without her we should have been all lost!" The soldiers ran about among the women- and children, looking for her and making inquiries. Directly came in others from the pursuit, one of whom observing the commotion, asked the cause, and was told. " You are looking in the wrong place," he replied "Is she killed? Ah, we were afraid of that!" exclaimed many voices. "Not when I saw her," answered the soldier. "When the Indians ran off, she was on her knees in prayer at the root of yonder tree, and there I left her." There was a simultaneous rush to the tree-and there, to their great joy, they found the woman safe, and still on her knees in prayer. Thinking not of herself, she received their applause without manifesting any other feeling than gratitude to Heaven for their great deliverance.

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