Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Girl I Left Behind Me

Ladies on the Battlefield--Day Four

I'm lonesome since I crossed the hill,
And o'er the moorland sedgy
Such heavy thoughts my heart do fill,
Since parting with my Betsey
I seek for one as fair and gay,
But find none to remind me
How sweet the hours I passed away,
With the girl I left behind me.

O ne'er shall I foget the night,
the stars were bright above me
And gently lent their silv'ry light
when first she vowed to love me
But now I'm bound to Brighton camp
kind heaven then pray guide me
And send me safely back again,
to the girl I left behind me

The bee shall honey taste no more,
the dove become a ranger
The falling waters cease to roar,
ere I shall seek to change her
The vows we made to heav'n above
shall ever cheer and bind me
In constancy to her I love,
the girl I left behind me.

It's hard for modern American civilians to imagine a war taking place in our backyard. But for women left behind by men leaving for war, they were just as likely as their husbands and fathers to find the war in their backyards. Just picture that for a second--enemy troops marching through your vegetable garden, knocking over your garden gnomes, ducking under your volleyball net. Camping in your driveway. Kinda intense, but this was reality for plenty of women (well, minus the volleyball net) for women in Revolutionary America.

So what would you do if your house was suddenly part of the battlefield?

Nancy Hart, who lived in a cabin in rural Georgia, was one such woman. Her home was invaded by Loyalist troops while her husband was away. So, she did what any self-respecting Patriot wife would do--she held them hostage until help arrived. Known to be an excellent hunter and a crack shot, she killed two of the men before the others cowed to her. Her daughter helped out and retrieved and passed her loaded muskets. When her husband, a member of the militia, returned home later that day, she insisted that they be hung.

What's interesting about Nancy is that she knew what she was doing with a gun--likely, most frontier women could handle a weapon in case of attack (by enemy troops, angry Native Americans, or wild animals).

During the vicious campaigns in the American South around 1780, plenty of women found their homes raided, or had to think fast to avoid rape or injury at the hands of violent soldiers. Accounts of men stealing silver, silks, even women's clothing and shoes, permeate diary entries and letters. Some, like Nancy, fought back--but many took a quiter, and probably safer track, and allowed soldiers to take what they wanted from their homes.

Even women who never experienced enemy attack had experiences outside the norm--they had to plant and harvest without men, and handle a household without the normal partnership that eighteenth century marriages provided. Many women managed not only households but businesses, often for the first time. The influx of women into the workforce that we often associate with WWII happened here, too, but quieter, less obvious--there were no factories to hire Rosie the Riveter, but shops and farms were suddenly staffed with women where men once balanced the budgets and scythed the wheat.


Leah Marie Brown said...

Love your blog! And really love reading about strong women! Thansk for a great read.

Rowenna said...

Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Go her! What a woman. I can't say I'm sure I would be able to do such a thing ...