Stirring up memories
A honey of a patriot
January 14, 2004
in Wilkes County, around Washington, Georgia, things were rough ‘way back in
1780. It looked like the English and their
loyalist supporters (the Tories) were about to win the war and force Georgia to
resume her role as a colony.
the woods held many American patriots who didn’t agree. They kept fighting the battle for freedom
whenever a chance came along. According
to legend and folk history, one young patriot was galloping along with several
Tories in hot pursuit. Then, suddenly,
he disappeared--vanished into nowhere.
few days later, six Tories retraced their steps and stopped at the cabin of
Nancy and Benjamin Hart. Nancy and her
daughter Sukey were tending Nancy’s herb garden, while Ben and the boys labored
in the field.
tall woman, some say over six feet, and rough, Nancy told them straight out,
yes, she’d helped that poor lad. When
he came up to the cabin, she’d thrown open both doors so that he could gallop
right through and disappear into the swamp.
story outraged the men. But they didn’t
shoot her. Instead, they shot her
turkey—the last one scratching around the cabin yard—and insisted she cook it
for them. Nancy put the bird on the
fire, then she offered her unwelcome guests a tot or two of Ben’s homemade
with a wink, she told Sukey fetch some spring water so she could make hoecakes
to serve with honeycomb alongside the turkey.
Sukey, a patriot herself, ran not for the spring, but for the conch
shell the family used to call the men in from the field; then she brought her
Mom the water. The Tories, getting
relaxed, stacked their guns up and enjoyed another round or two.
served the turkey and hoecake and sent Sukey back outside. While the men ate, Nancy slipped over to the
stacked guns and began passing them through a chink in the cabin wall to Sukey. When a couple of the fellows noticed and
demanded that Nancy quit, she raised a gun and told them she’d kill the first
one who moved.
concerned them all, because, the story goes, Nancy was crossed-eyed and they
could not be sure exactly who she was looking at. She spoke to them in no uncertain terms—she was known for her
salty language. No matter.
of them moved.
one else moved until Ben, the boys and some men from the neighborhood
appeared. They decided to shoot the
other five Tories. But Nancy shook her
head. “Too good for a Tory,” she
decreed. They ought to be hung.
they were, the legend continues. The
last thing they heard was Nancy singing “Yankee Doodle.”
later years, some folks said this was a good story, but that was all. Nancy never lived, and no six Tories ever
died. But in 1912, workmen
constructing the Elberton and Eastern Railroad found a grave near the Hart
cabin site. In it—the remains of six
recounts that Nancy’s neighbors held her in awe. One man said she was “a honey of a patriot, but a devil of a
wife.” Her Cherokee neighbors called
her “Wahatchee”—“War Woman.” A creek by
her old cabin bears this name.
stories gained wide circulation as early as 1825 when the Milledgeville Southern
Record told of her bravery. (However, this account says the meat was
venison.) A later account, embellished
a bit, and with the number of Tories reduced to five, appeared in the famous
women’s magazine, Godey’s Ladies Book.
is more than a legend. The Daughters of the American Revolution recognize her
as an American Patriot. Some DAR members trace themselves as Nancy’s lineal
descendent rather than following the more usual pattern of tracing back to a
State of Georgia acknowledges this brave daughter. In 1853, the state created a new county from portions of
Franklin and Elbert Counties—Hart County.
Writing in 1919, Rebecca Latimer Felton (later the first U.S. woman senator)
lamented “True it is, she married a Hart, yet it was Nancy who captured Tories.
. . Hart County should have been called Nancy Hart County.”
full name appeared on the marker when, on November 11, 1931, in Hartwell, Hart
County, Georgia, Senator Richard Russell retold the story of Nancy Hart and
dedicated the Nancy Hart Highway, which begins in Hartwell and runs though the
entire state. It is the first highway
in the United States dedicated to a woman.
In 1997, Georgia recognized Nancy Morgan Hart as a Georgia Woman of
Achievement. Her portrait hangs in the
Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. (She
looks considerably calmer and more cleaned up than she probably did the
afternoon she captured the Tories.)
life went on for a good while after the Revolution. She and Ben pulled up stakes and moved to near Brunswick, where
Ben died. Nancy then went to live with
her son John in Clarke County. About
1803 the family moved to Henderson County, Kentucky. Nancy lived there until her death in 1830. She is buried on John’s farm in a grave
marked by a monument erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
As we in
Bainbridge look forward to celebrating our Artsfest state of Kentucky, it is
appropriate to learn of this American patriot who is honored and loved by both
of her home states.
all the excitement on that eventful afternoon, it would not surprise me to
learn that Nancy grabbed the leftover turkey, sent Sukey to the garden for
tomatoes and greens, then whipped up supper. I’ve substituted canned broth and
tomatoes and bagged frozen vegetables.
Revolutionary stew—in honor of Nancy Morgan Hart
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup diced onions
2 cloves minced garlic
2 cups peeled and diced sweet potatoes
1 cup corn kernels
15 ounce can diced tomatoes,
1 quart chicken stock
3 cups diced turkey (or ham or
salt to taste
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning (or
fresh rosemary and thyme to taste)
1 generous cup frozen collard or
the onions and garlic in the vegetable oil until soft. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for
thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.
Taste for seasoning, and serve.
probably offered leftover hoecakes. I
made corn muffins.
are many stories about Nancy Morgan Hart.
I’ve told only a few here. If
you’d like the references to learn about her, or if you have some stories to
share, please get in touch.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network