The above image depicts Nancy Hart's capture of six Tories on a hot summer day in 1780
Nancy Hart: A true heroine of the American Revolutionary War who personally killed one and captured five Tories. She held them captive until her husband, Benjamin Hart, returned home. Because of the bragging they had done to Nancy about the murder of her neighbor, Colonel John Dooley, she insisted that the five left alive after their surrender be hanged. Her husband being an officer of the Georgia militia sanctioned the hangings. Nancy sung "Yankee Doodle" as she watched them die. Nothing was said about the capture and hanging at the time as the British controlled the area and the Harts did not want to attract attention to themselves, however, years later a common grave was located while digging a railroad bed that contained the six skeletons of the unlucky Tories who thought they could terrorize a lone woman and her daughter. Nancy Hart was not easily terrorized!
The Tories had forced themselves into her home demanding to be fed. She attempted to tell them that she had nothing to cook, but they shot a turkey gobbler in her yard and said "Cook this!". One of the Tories located her hidden pantry in the smokehouse and finding a good supply of food, they required her to cook for them. The cabin became hot from the summer heat and the cooking fire so she opened the door sending her daughter to the spring for water to use in cooking. The Tories also found some homemade corn whiskey and were drinking it while bragging about killing Nancy's neighbor, Colonel John Dooley, until they noticed she was slipping their guns from the stack where they had placed them and passing them out through a hole where the chinking had fallen out of the cabin wall. She had removed all but three guns before they noticed the trick. They stopped singing "Little Brown Jug" and all at once they attempted to get their remaining guns. She quickly grabbed her "Brown Bess" musket and said "I'll shoot the first one that moves." Not believing the threat, one Tory lunged toward her only to be shot down to the floor wounded. Her daughter immediately gave her a second musket. Another Tory said "Let's all get her" and rushed for his weapon. She shot him in the temple, killing him immediately. Nancy's daughter quickly gave her mother yet another musket and took the rest from the cabin. The Tories were afraid to do more and agreed to be captured.
Nancy and her daughter then held the surviving captives until her husband arrived with others of the militia. They suggested shooting them all because of the killing of Colonel John Dooley, but Nancy would have none of that. She said "No, a thousand times, no!" Then the high spirited and angry Nancy yelled "They are my prisoners and I say they shall be hanged! Shooting is too good for them!" Where upon the wounded Tory and his four other surviving captives were dragged from the cabin to the gate to the spring and there hanged while Nancy sang Yankee Doodle.
Nancy Hart was born Ann Morgan, the daughter of Thomas and Rebecca Alexander Morgan in 1735. She married Benjamin Hart, the son of Thomas J. Hart who was born in England in 1679 and died in Hanover County, Virginia in 1755. Nancy and Benjamin moved from South Carolina to the Broad River section of Georgia known as the "ceded lands" from the June 1, 1773 Cherokee and Creek Indian Treaty at Augusta, Georgia. They arrived in the area before the treaty, moving there in 1771.
Ann was called Nancy, a derivative of Ann, and was said to have been about six feet tall, very muscular, erect in her gait, with light brown to red hair. She was described as having a countenance that could make sudden changes from her passion and tendency to quick anger. She was a first cousin to Daniel Boone and her uncle was General Daniel Morgan. She was known for her tendency toward initiative in all situations requiring action, her willingness to risk her life in support of the revolutionary cause by spying on the enemy, her fierce independence and very aggressive nature.
On one occasion when Benjamin Hart was away from home fighting with the militia and other women and children were hidden to protect them from Tories and hostile Indians raging in the area, Nancy refused to leave her home and declared she would fight to protect her land. A few days later, Nancy learned that the Patriots needed some very important information about what was transpiring in Augusta. She immediately volunteered to go there and spy out what was happening. Arguments against such a risky adventure failed to convince her to avoid the danger. She determined to help the cause by spying. She built a raft by tying logs together with grapevine and forded the Savannah River. At the British camp that twilight a seemingly half-wit man arrived and wandered through the camp...it was Nancy dressed as a man! She gathered much needed information and when Augusta was retaken in 1781, Nancy Hart was there to see it again in the Patriots' hands.
On February 13, 1781, British Commander Boyd halted his army on the north side of Kettle Creek. Nancy reported the presence of the British army to the Patriots and they overran the camp while the horses were grazing and the men were slaughtering cattle. More than 100 of the enemy were killed, including Boyd, and the rest routed. This was the state's first success against the British and the battle quickly became a symbol of Georgia's continued opposition to British rule.
On yet another occasion, one of the Patriots - a young Whig, was being chased by the Tories. Nancy opened the front gate, both doors to her cabin and the back gate calling to the rider to come through here and hide. When the Tories came to her home just as she finished closing the gates and doors, they inquired if she had seen a "boy on a horse come by here?" Nancy pretended to be sick and hard of hearing and asked them to repeat the question. She said "no horse and rider came by my cabin." They did not believe her and asked her again if she had seen a horse and rider on this road. She said, "Yes, I did see one up the road a ways back" and with obvious reluctance she continued "he turned into the woods a ways up the road there." The Tories, convinced by her manner that she was now telling the truth, raced back up the road. Nancy chuckled, knowing that she had saved a young boy from hanging, said "Drat them high-minded Tories, if they hadn't had their noses so high and mighty, they could've looked down and seen the tracks going right in and out of the cabin. And I didn't lie neither! He didn't go past my house. He went right through it!"
She captured another Tory spy late one evening when he slipped up to her cabin and was listening at the window. Her daughter whispered to her that the Tory was outside and Nancy just continued to talk loudly and stir the boiling lye soap on the fire. She reached the dipper deep in the mixture and quickly threw a whole dipper full of the lye soap directly out the window and into the startled Tory's face. She then tied him up and cleaned the soap mixture off him. After keeping him overnight she took him to Colonel Elijah Clarke.
On yet another occasion she is said to have met a Tory on the road and by distracting him with her conversation was able to quickly snatch his gun from his hands and using it to hold him marched him to Colonel Clarke. She also is said to have once captured three Tories single handedly and taken them across the Broad River at a shallow ford by holding her skirt high up in one arm, holding a gun in her other hand, and wading the river marching the captured Tories ahead of her.
When she was left with other women and children at a fort while the men had gone for provisions and a party of Tories and Indians attacked the fort, she attempted to handle and fire a cannon. She could not move the cannon alone and was looking about for help when she saw a young man hiding under a cowhide. She quickly pulled him out and threatened him with instant death unless he helped her to fire the cannon. He quickly obeyed her commands and the cannon was fired causing the enemy to flee.
Nancy Hart is credited with inspiring the Patriots of the area where she lived in Georgia. Many knew of her exploits but not much was captured in the early histories of the Elbert and Wilkes or Oglethorpe region. The first written account seems to have been published in 1825 in the Milledgeville Recorder and about the same time in the Yorkville Pioneer. Of interest is that the year of 1825 is when, at the invitation of the United States Government, General Lafayette, who had done so much for American Independence in the Revolution, visited the United States and particularly visited the very area where Nancy Hart had exhibited her heroism. Likely this fact helped draw out the information of Nancy's exploits supporting the Whigs and attacking the Tories during the American Revolution.
After the revolution she and Benjamin Hart moved to South Carolina where he died and she eventually moved to Henderson County Kentucky where she died in 1830 and is buried.
The Nancy Hart Grave Marker in Henderson, Kentucky
The cabin where Benjamin and Nancy Hart lived was located on the north side of the Broad River at a point about 12 miles from the present city of Elberton, Georgia, and 14 miles from historic Petersburg. The county is now named for her - Hart County. A town nearby is now named Hartwell. A highway is named the Nancy Hart Highway in 1928...according to the United State Bureau of Roads in 1950, this was the only highway in America named for a woman.
Another marker is located just outside Hartwell's city limits. It is inscribed:
"Erected by the government of the United States in the year 1931 to commemorate the heroism of Nancy Hart. During the American Revolution a party of British Tories came to her home. Single handed she killed one and wounded another. The remainder of the party surrendered and were later hanged by her and a few of her neighbors."
Research materials for the above account of Nancy Hart's history was provided by Sam Hart of Petersburg, Tennessee. Sam is a direct descendent of Benjamin and Nancy Hart.
David Ray Smith, November 25, 2001