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What Would The World Be Without Women? 

Installment II

 

 

For the first article in this series follow this link  What Would The World Be Without Women?  Installment I.

As we continue discovering the forgotten women of the Revolutionary War period we ask ourselves, "What stories have we missed that could tell us more about the women of the Revolutionary War?" Missing from our first article is the descriptive word: heroine. Lydia Darrah, Quakeress of Philadelphia, is one of those. This is a condensation of her story.  (See note)

It was 1777. A British officer came to the home of William and Lydia Darrah. The door was opened and when the mistress opened to him he gave an order that a room be prepared for a reception that evening of himself and his friends.

"And be sure, Lydia," he concluded, "that your family are all in bed at an early hour. When our guests are ready to leave the house, I will myself give you notice, that you may let us out." He then departed.

Lydia began getting all things in readiness but the words she had heard rang in her ears; and she was sure something of importance was in agitation.

The officers came and Lydia herself admitted the guests, then retired and threw herself upon the bed. However, she became more and more uneasy till her nervous restlessness amounted to absolute terror then, taking off her shoes, approached cautiously the apartment applying her ear to the key-hole. A voice was heard reading an order for the troops to quit the city and march out to a secret attack upon the American army.

Lydia retreated softly to her own room and laid herself quietly on the bed. Soon there was a knocking at her door. She knew well what the signal meant, but took no heed. It was repeated, still she gave no answer. Again, and yet more loudly, the knocks were repeated. Then she rose and opened the door. The adjutant-general informed her they were ready to depart. Lydia let them out and, fastening the house, and extinguishing the lights and fire, returned to her chamber thinking of the danger that threatened the lives of thousands of her countrymen, and of the ruin that impended over the whole land. Something must be done.

At the dawn of day she waked her husband, and informed him flour was wanted for the use of the household. Walking through the snow she first stopped at head-quarters for written permission to pass the British lines. Lydia’s feelings may be better imagined than described.

She reached Frankford, deposited her bag at the mill. Now commenced the dangers of her undertaking. She pressed forward to apprise General Washington of the danger and met an American officer, who was assigned to gain information respecting the movements of the enemy. When he recognized her he got down from his horse and Lydia disclosed the secret. The officer thanked her and, with a heart lightened and filled with thankfulness, the intrepid woman pursued her way homeward, carrying the bag of flour.

Time never appeared to pass so slowly as between the marching out and the return of the British troops. A sudden loud knocking at her door was not calculated to lessen her apprehensions. She felt that the safety of her family depended on her self-possession. The visitor was the adjutant-general, who summoned her to his apartment. With a pale cheek, but composed, for she placed her trust in a higher power, Lydia obeyed.

"Were any of your family up, Lydia, on the night when I received company in this house?" the officer asked.

"No," was the unhesitating reply. "They all retired at eight o'clock."

"It is very strange" he said. "You, I know, Lydia, were asleep; for I knocked at your door three times before you heard me-yet it is certain that we were betrayed. On arriving near Washington’s encampment we found his cannon mounted, his troops under arms, and so prepared at every point to receive us, that we were compelled to march back without injuring our enemy, like a parcel of fools."

It is not known whether the officer ever discovered to whom he was indebted for the disappointment. But the pious quakeress blessed God for her preservation, and rejoiced that it was not necessary for her to utter an untruth in her own defense.

 

ELIZABETH ZANE, VIRGINIA

 

The name of Elizabeth Zane is inseparably associated with the history of one of the most memorable incidents in the annals of border warfare. ... In May and June, 1777, a savage host, numbering from three hundred and eighty to five hundred warriors, marched toward the walls of Fort Henry, marched under their leader: Girty, before the scouts were able to discover his real design. The garrison had been reduced to twelve, including boys.

Girty, the leader of the Indians, came with a white flag, and demanded their surrender in the name of His Britannic Majesty; but Colonel Shepherd promptly replied that he should only obtain possession of the fort when there remained no longer an American soldier to defend it. They had a sacred charge to protect; their mothers, sisters, wives and children were there; and they resolved to fight, trusting in Heaven for success.

For many hours, the firing of the Indians, eager for butchery, was met by a sure and well-directed fire from the garrison, which was composed of excellent marks-men. But the stock of gunpowder in the fort was nearly exhausted! A favorable opportunity was offered by the temporary suspension of hostilities, to procure a keg of powder known to be in Ebenezer Zane’s house, about sixty yards from the gate. The commandant explained the person going and coming would necessarily be exposed to the danger of being shot down by the Indians and asked for a volunteer; three or four young men promptly offered to undertake it.

The Colonel answered that only one man could be spared, and left it to them to decide who it should be. While they disputed, a young girl, Elizabeth, the sister of Ebenezer and Silas Zane, requested that she might go for the powder. Her proposition at first met with a peremptory refusal; but she would not be dissuaded. Either of the young men, would be more likely than herself to perform the task. Her answer was-that her knowledge of the danger attending the undertaking was her reason for offering to perform the service; her loss would not be felt, while not a single soldier could be spared from the already weakened garrison, her request was granted and the gate was opened for her to pass out.

The opening of the gate arrested the attention of several Indians straggling through the village, and the eyes of the savages were upon Elizabeth as she crossed the open space-walking as rapidly as possible, to reach her brother's house. But probably deeming a woman's life not worth the trouble of taking, or influenced by some sudden freak of clemency, they permitted her to pass without molestation.

In a few moments she reappeared, carrying the powder in her arms. With utmost speed she walked towards the gate. The Indians suspected, the nature of her burden, raised their firelocks, and discharged a leaden storm at her; but the balls whistled past her harmless-and the intrepid girl reached the fort in safety with her prize, This story has been preserved in the collections of Virginia as the most important event in the history of Wheeling and is enumerated among the battles of the Revolution.

For the next article in this series follow this link  What Would The World Be Without Women?  Installment III.


Footnotes

These stories have been highly edited for your enjoyment from "The Christian History of the American Revolution," available from the Foundation for American Christian Education, 1-800-352-3223; www.face.net (back to article)


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