Born around 1735 on either the Pennsylvania or the North Carolina frontier, Ann Morgan Hart, better known as Nancy, played an important role in the American Revolution as a notorious female rebel and spy. A cousin to American General Daniel Morgan, Hart was a stalwart Patriot, who employed her own heroic means of supporting the American cause for Independence.
When she was in her thirties, Nancy married Benjamin Hart, a prominent North Carolinian, and the couple had eight children. Sometime in the 1770s, the family moved to South Carolina and then into the Broad River Valley region of Georgia, where Nancy became accustomed to the frontier lifestyle.
Standing six feet tall, the red-headed and muscular Hart made an imposing figure for those who dared to cross her. Her fearlessness prompted Cherokee neighbors to call her “Wahatche,” which meant “war woman.” This nickname would prove appropriate as the Revolution moved into the Georgia backcountry, and Hart became a staunch defender of the Patriot cause. Though Hart was illiterate, she was well-versed in the skills needed for surviving on the frontier. Hart’s husband fought in a band of the Georgia militia, and while he was away, Hart’s abilities as an herbalist, hunter, and markswoman proved imperative to protecting her family and community.
As the Revolution moved into the Southern colonies, Nancy played an important role fighting against Tories in the Georgia backcountry. Hart succeeded in outsmarting British opponents on multiple occasions, frequently disguising herself as a “crazy man” and wandering through British camps to procure information for the Patriots. When one of Hart’s children discovered a British soldier spying on the Hart home, Nancy doused the man with boiling water that she was using to make soap before tying him up and turning him over to Patriot forces. Some accounts hold that in addition to her more covert operations, Hart was also present for the Battle of Kettle Creek, which took place in Georgia on February 14, 1779.
Though Hart gained recognition after the war for a variety of exploits, one of the most popular stories involved her capture of several British soldiers. According to local legend, six British soldiers entered the Hart home to question Nancy about assisting a Patriot in escaping from the Redcoats. The soldiers then demanded that Nancy feed them, and displaying unusual hospitality, Nancy agreed to host them, providing a fair share of food and drink. With help from her 12-year old daughter, Sukey, Hart succeeded in discreetly removing several of the soldiers’ muskets from the stack they had formed in the corner of the room. Hart had passed two of the firearms to Sukey through a gap in the wall before the soldiers noticed. Hart instructed the soldiers to remain where they were, and when one of them rose to approach her, she shot him dead and wounded one of the others before taking the remaining four men hostage. Sukey ran to inform Benjamin, who returned to the cabin. After debating whether to shoot the remaining men or hang them, the Harts and their neighbors decided to hang the soldiers from a nearby tree. The story became a local legend after the war, and variations of the tale have continued to circulate since then. In 1912, a railroad company’s archaeological excavation of the land near the Hart’s cabin unearthed six skeletons, suggesting that some version of the myth was true.
After the death of her husband, Hart moved with one of her sons to Henderson County, Kentucky, where she became a devout Methodist and lived past the age of ninety.
In the decades after the Revolution, many of Hart’s adventures became the stuff of legend and inspiration. During the Civil War, a band of Georgia women formed a militia unit named in honor of Nancy Hart, illustrating how the legacy of Hart’s heroism has lived on. Today, the state of Georgia has memorialized Hart in several ways, including one of the state’s counties, a state park, a lake, and a highway. In the 1930s, the Daughters of the American Revolution reconstructed the Hart’s cabin, which had been washed away in a flood many years before, in order to commemorate one of Georgia’s most famous female Patriots. Nancy Hart, like many American frontierswomen, played an important role not only in defending her family and community during the War for Independence but also in shaping the memory of the American Revolution in ways that still resonate today.
An Irish immigrant and Pacifist turned Patriot spy, Lydia Barrington Darragh defied British officers and braved a military checkpoint to dispatch critical information to the Continental Army during the American Revolution.