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Stirring up memories


A honey of a patriot
January 14, 2004

            Up 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. 

            But 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. 

            A 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. 

            A 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.

            Her 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 whiskey.

            Meanwhile, 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.

            Nancy 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.

            This 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.

            One of them moved.

            Nancy shot him.

            No 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.

            And they were, the legend continues.  The last thing they heard was Nancy singing “Yankee Doodle.”

            In 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 human skeletons.

            Folklore 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.

            Nancy’s 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.

            Nancy 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 male revolutionary. 

            The 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.”

            Nancy’s 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.)

            Nancy’s 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.

            After 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, undrained

1 quart chicken stock

3 cups diced turkey (or ham or chicken)

salt to taste

2 teaspoons poultry seasoning (or fresh rosemary and thyme to taste)

1 generous cup frozen collard or turnip greens

            Cook 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. 

            Nancy probably offered leftover hoecakes.  I made corn muffins.  

            There 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