US Army Corps of Engineers
Savannah District

Hartwell Dam & Lake

Nancy Hart - Revolutionary War Heroine

 

 

"Even in their dresses, the females seem to bid us defiance," wrote a British soldier stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, during the latter years of the Revolutionary War. Though men were responsible for fighting the battles, women played important roles behind the scenes. One such woman lived in the Georgia frontier, and it was her devotion to freedom that has helped make her name commonplace in the Georgia upcountry today. A county and city, a lake, state park and highway among others, bear her name. In reality, Nancy Hart actually lived, but it is difficult to distinguish fact from fantasy in accounts of her exploits.

Her story began in North Carolina where she was born to Thomas and Rebecca Alexander Morgan around 1735. As time went by, she married Benjamin Hart and moved to South Carolina where they parented a healthy family of eight children. It is assumed that the family moved to Georgia around 1771. The Hart family cabin was located on the left bank of the Broad River, near Wahatchie Creek, in Elbert County. It was here, in this region, that the many heroic stories of Nancy Hart allegedly took place.

Innumerable persons over the years have had a hand in creating the legends surrounding Nancy Hart. The truth is difficult to distinguish from myth, hearsay, exaggeration, and a bit of imagination, and the stories vary as much as their sources. According to most, Nancy Hart's character was one of strength, both physically and emotionally. Standing a good 6 feet tall, she could handle an axe or musket as well as any man, and wasn't afraid to use either one. However, more than anything else, Nancy loved her freedom, and it was this background that set the stage for the incredible tales which she inspired.

The Revolutionary War was well underway when the anecdotes relating to Nancy took place. Even the Georgia backwoods did not serve to isolate early settlers from the action. The most famous of Nancy Hart's adventures concerns an afternoon visit to her cabin by five or six Tories (American colonists who remained loyal to King George III). Though Nancy was renowned for her hostility toward the British, she suddenly became most cordial and began fixing them a meal. Meanwhile, the intruders had become quite jovial from passing the bottle. Their muskets were carelessly stacked in the corner where Nancy was keeping a watchful eye on them. Anticipating trouble, she had earlier sent her daughter to the spring for water and to summon Benjamin from the fields. The Tories' intoxication and their hostess' false hospitality allowed Nancy, unnoticed, to slide two of the muskets through a chinking space in the wall. As she attempted the third, her act was discovered. A rushing Tory received a sample of Nancy's marksmanship and fell to the floor, dead. Another, still doubting her ability, was wounded. The remaining Tories pulled back just as Benjamin Hart and his friends arrived on the scene. Their punishment was hotly debated. Nancy believed shooting was too good for the trespassers, so the men were hung from an old oak in the Hart's yard.

Many other exploits of the famous Revolutionary War heroine have been told with the same dedicated patriotism. It is with good reason that her name has become commonplace in the land of her adventure.

After the death of her husband Benjamin, Nancy moved to Kentucky where she lived with her son, John. It is near Henderson, Kentucky, that one may discover her final resting place. Nevertheless, her name and the many adventurous stories she inspired live on today and will continue to live for many tomorrows.