Saturday, April 2, 2016

Quaker Woman

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
In 1938 Associated Press Writer Jack Schreibman wrote an article titled Quaker Woman Saved Army. While my Mother was working on our family genealogy she found the post on the unlikely Revolutionary War hero who is possibly from the same family tree as us.
"She was dead for 38 years before the world learned of Lydia Darragh, the heroic woman who saved George Washington's revolutionary army 200 years ago this month. The archives of the University of California at Berkeley, California, show only a few published references to the incident in besieged, Philadelphia during the bitter winter of 1777.
But there is enough in the stacks on the on the American Revolution to reconstruct the startling affair that gave the nation one of its earliest and unlikeliest spies -- a delicate, righteous Quaker lady.
Philadelphia was in enemy hands the night of December 2nd. Washington and his ragged, starving men were shivering at Valley Forge when the Irish born woman was called before the British officer who had requisitioned her house. Sternly, the unnamed adjutant general confronted the 48-year-old woman, who was known in the community as a skillful and tender nurse and midwife. But, she had another reputation.
Mrs. Darragh was under a cloud in the Society of Friends for her membership in the "Fighting Quakers," a group which rejected the sect's strict requirement of pacifism. In fact, her son Charles was an officer in the revolutionary army and was rebuked for this later.
The adjutant general informed the little woman that she and her family were under orders to retire early that night because he and his staff were to have a council. Accordingly, she and the family went to bed at 7 o'clock, the archives show. But Mrs. Darragh, her curiosity aroused by the urgency of the general's orders, couldn't sleep.
The minutes dragged by. Finally, she slipped downstairs and pressed her ear to the keyhole of the council chambers. She overheard an order for all British troops to march two nights later and attack General Washington's despairing army. She rushed back to her bedroom in turmoil over the threat she had overheard.
A militant believer in the American fight for independence, she decided on a desperate course of action. General Washington must learn of the British plan. The morning of December 4th, she told her family they needed flour, and with this story she succeeded in getting a pass to go through British lines to Frankford.
Not daring to tell even her husband of her mission, she went to the mill at Frankford, got the flour, then pressed on deep into American held territory, where she met an officer she happened to know, Lt. Col. Thomas Craig of the Light Horse.
Taking him aside, the woman confided the momentous secret gleaned at the keyhole, after extracting a promise that her identity be kept secret. The startled officer sped off to Washington's freezing encampment and told the commander in chief the British were planning a surprise attack.
That evening, General Sir William Howe marched out of Philadelphia with a strong force to destroy the American revolutionary army. As reported in the American Quarterly Review of March, 1827, from narrative accounts by Mrs. Darrah, a thoroughly confounded adjutant general later confronted her in her house. The woman's blood ran cold with terror fearing her secret was out. Said the British general, "When we arrived near Whitemarsh, we found all their cannons mounted and the troops prepared to receive us. We marched back like a parcel of fools."
Mrs. Darrah waited for the blow to fall, perhaps an order for her execution. As if in response to her unspoken thought, the general earnestly inquired whether any of her family were up the night he and the other officers had their meeting. Then he added, "I know YOU were asleep, for I knocked at your chamber door ... I am entirely at a loss to imagine who gave General Washington information of our intended attack, unless the walls of the house could speak."
The little Quakeress went back in her kitchen, a tight smile on her lips.


  1. Great story, Paisley. I'm always amazed at the courage and ingenuity of some of our Thanks for sharing this story...I learned something new and you did a great job.

  2. Thank you, Celia. It's amazing how one extraordinary thing can change the course of history. She had a lot of courage to do what she did.

  3. Very interesting, Paisley. Thank you for sharing this history with us. :)

    1. Thank you, Ashley. I loved reading about Lydia. She's an amazing hero.

  4. God bless her!
    I have never heard of this most interesting incident until now. Even though I come from the Quaker State originally, and my parents lived there until 1952, this marvelous piece of history was not known to me. There is an old Quaker meeting house near where my father was raised that existed in the 1700's--and that's as close as I ever got to this story. An awesome article, Paisley.

    1. I found the newspaper article in the genealogy books my Mother put together for us. She wasn't sure but did think there was a good possibility we come from the same family tree. It would be fun to think so.

  5. I'm so pleased to learn about her, Paisley. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thank you, Caroline. :) I'm glad you stopped by.


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