Nancy Hart was redheaded, six feet tall, gangly, scarred from smallpox, cross-eyed and reportedly, ugly as sin. One account pointed out that Hart had "no share of beauty—a fact she herself would have readily acknowledged, had she ever enjoyed an opportunity of looking into a mirror." In contrast to these attributes, she was known to be extremely mean-spirited. In all seriousness, she was a hard woman in every sense of the word, but she had a love for Liberty that knew no bounds.
Nancy was also fiery of temper, fearless and had a penchant for exacting vengeance. Local Indians referred to her as "Wahatche," which meant "war woman." Although illiterate, she was known to be an expert herbalist, a skilled hunter, and despite her crossed-eyes, a deadly shot.
She often disguised herself as a simpleminded man and wandered into Tory camps and British garrisons to gather information, which she subsequently passed along to patriot authorities. She was also an active participant in the conflict and, according to some accounts, was present at the Battle of Kettle Creek on February 14, 1779. There are numerous stories about Nancy Hart so, here are only a couple of the more famous ones.
One evening, a Tory spy crept up to the log cabin, and one of the Hart children, noticing an eyeball peeking through a crack, secretly informed her mother. Hart, who was boiling some lye for soap around the fireplace, casually filled her ladle and flung the contents through the crack. A blood curdling scream confirmed her aim. The Tory was hog-tied and taken as a prisoner to local militia, probably blind for life, at least in one eye.
The most famous story of Hart's escapades as a frontier patriot began when a group of six Redcoats came to her cabin and demanded information concerning the location of a certain Whig leader. Only minutes earlier, the Whig, hotly pursued by them, had stopped by the Hart cabin and enlisted Hart's aid as he made his escape.
Hart insisted that no one had passed through her neck of the woods for days. Convinced that she was lying, one of the soldiers shot and killed Hart's prized gobbler. Understand, this was not a time of abundance, it was war and food was very hard to come by. As in Boston, the redcoats had much disdain for the “rebels”. They ordered her to cook the turkey, and entered the cabin. As they came in, they stacked their weapons in the corner, and demanded something to drink. Hart obliged them by opening her jugs of moonshine. Once the soldiers began to feel the intoxicating effects of the shine, Hart sent her daughter, Sukey, out, telling them she was headed to the spring for a bucket of water. Hart secretly instructed her to blow a conch shell, which was kept on a nearby stump, to alert the neighbors that redcoats were in the cabin.
As Hart served her unwanted guests, she frequently passed between them and their stacked weapons. Inconspicuously, she began to pass the loaded muskets, one by one, through a chink in the cabin wall to Sukey, who had by this time slipped around to the rear of the building.
When they noticed what she was doing they sprang to their feet. Hart threatened to shoot the first man who moved. Ignoring her warning, one soldier lunged forward, and Hart pulled the trigger, killing the man. Seizing another weapon, she urged her daughter to run for help. Hart shot a second man who made a move toward the stacked weapons and held off the remaining soldiers until her husband and several others arrived.
Her husband, Lt. Benjamin Hart, wanted to shoot them, but Nancy Hart wanted them to hang as was the price of thieves. Consequently the remaining men were hung from a nearby tree.
There has long been some speculation as to the truthfulness of those events… but in 1912 workmen grading a railroad near the site of the old Hart cabin unearthed a neat row of six skeletons that lay under nearly three feet of earth and were estimated to have been buried for at least a century. This discovery seems to validate the legend.
Today, Hart County, Elbert County's neighbor to the north, was named for Nancy Hart, as was its county seat, Hartwell. In the same general area, Lake Hartwell and the Nancy Hart Highway (Georgia Route 77) commemorate the legendary woman. And if you are up in Elbert County, you can still visit a re-creation of the Hart homestead.
|Nancy Hart, as depicted in an 1896 book|