Elizabeth, Grace, and Rachel Martin | Women of the Revolution


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created AmericanRevolution.org in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      The daring exploit of two women in Ninety-Six District, furnishes an instance of courage as striking as any remembered among the traditions of South Carolina. During the sieges of Augusta and Cambridge, the patriotic enthusiasm that prevailed among the people prompted to numerous acts of personal risk and sacrifice. This spirit, encouraged by the successes of Sumter and others over the British arms, was earnestly fostered by General Greene, whose directions marked at least the outline of every undertaking. In the efforts made to strike a blow at the invader’s power, the sons of the Martin family were among the most distinguished for active service rendered, and for injuries sustained at the enemy’s hands. The wives of the two eldest, during their absence, remained at home with their mother-in-law. One evening intelligence came to them that a courier, conveying important despatches to one of the upper stations, was to pass that night along the road, guarded by two British officers. They determined to waylay the party, and at the risk of their lives, to obtain possession of the papers. For this purpose the two young women disguised themselves in their husbands’ clothes, and being well provided with arms, took their station at a point on the road which they knew the escort must pass. It was already late, and they had not waited long before the tramp of horses was heard in the distance. It may be imagined with what anxious expectation the heroines awaited the approach of the critical moment on which so much depended. The forest solitude around them, the silence of night, and the darkness, must have added to the terrors conjured up by busy fancy. Presently the courier appeared, with his attendant guards. As they came close to the spot, the disguised women leaped from their covert in the bushes, presented their pistols at the officers, and demanded the instant surrender of the party and their despatches. The men were completely taken by surprise, and in their alarm at the sudden attack, yielded a prompt submission. The seeming soldiers put them on their parole, and having taken possession of the papers, hastened home by a short cut through the woods. No time was lost in sending the important documents by a trusty messenger to General Greene. The adventure had a singular termination. The paroled officers, thus thwarted in their mission, returned by the road they had taken, and stopping at the house of Mrs. Martin, asked accommodation as weary travellers for the night. The hostess inquired the reason of their returning so soon after they had passed, They replied by showing their paroles, saying they had been taken prisoner by two rebel lads. The ladies rallied them upon their want of intrepidity. “Had you no arms?” was asked. The officers answered that they had arms, but had been suddenly taken off their guard, and were allowed no time to use their weapons. They departed the next morning, having no suspicion that they owed their capture to the very women whose hospitality they had claimed.

      The mother of this patriotic family was a native of Caroline County, Virginia. Her name was Elizabeth Marshall, and she was probably of the same family with Chief Justice Marshall, as she belonged to the same neighborhood. After her marriage to Abram Martin, she removed to his settlement bordering on the Indian nation, in Ninety-Six, now Edgefield District, South Carolina. The country at that time was sparsely settled, most of its inhabitants being pioneers from other States, chiefly from Virginia; and their neighborhood to the lndians had caused the adoption of some of their savage habits. The name Edgefield is said to have been given because it was at that period the edge or boundary of the respectable settlers and their cuItivated fields. Civilization, however, increased with the population; and in the time of the Revolution, Ninety-Six was among the foremost in sending into the field its quota of hardy and enterprising troops, to oppose the British and their savage allies.

      At the commencement of the contest, Mrs. Martin had nine children, seven of whom were sons old enough to bear arms. These brave young men, under the tuition and example of their parents, had grown up in attachment to their country, and ardently devoted to its service, were ready on every occasion to encounter the dangers of border warfare. When the first call for volunteers sounded through the land, the mother encouraged their patriotic zeal. “Go, boys,” she said; “fight for your country! fight till death, if you must, but never let your country be dishonored. Were I a man I would go with you.”

      At another time, when Colonel Cruger commanded the British at Cambridge, and Colonel Browne in Augusta, several British officers stopped at her house for refreshment; and one of them asked how many sons she had. She answered eight; and to the question of where they all were, replied promptly: “Seven of them are engaged in the service of their country.” “Really, madam,” observed the officer, sneeringly, “you have enough of them.” “No sir,” said the matron, proudly, I wish I had fifty.”

      Her house in the absence of the sons was frequently exposed to the depredations of the tories. On one occasion they cut open her feather beds, and scattered the contents. When the young men returned shortly afterwards, their mother bade them pursue the marauders. One of the continental soldiers badly wounded having been left at the house, Mrs. Martin kindly attended and nursed him till his recovery. A party of loyalists who heard of his being there, came with the intention of taking his life; but she found means to hide him from their search.

      The only daughter of Mrs. Martin, Letitia, married Captain Edmund Wade, of Virginia, who fell with his commander, General Montgomery, at the siege of Quebec. At the time of the siege of Charleston by Sir Henry Clinton, the widow was residing with her mother at Ninety-Six. Her son Washington Wade was then five years old, and remembers many occurrences connected with the war. The house was about one hundred miles in a direct line west of Charleston. He recollects walking in the piazza on a calm evening with his grandmother. A light breeze blew from the east; and the sound of heavy cannon was distinctly heard in that direction. The sound of cannon heard at that time, and in that part of the State, they knew must come from the besieged city. As report after report reached their ears, the agitation of Mrs. Martin increased. She knew not what evils might be announced; she knew not but the sound might be the death knell of her sons, three of whom were then in Charleston. Their wives were with her, and partook of the same heart-chilling fears. They stood still for a few minutes, each wrapped in her own painful and silent reflections, till the mother at length, lifting her hands and eyes towards heaven, exclaimed fervently: THANK GOD, THEY ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE REPUBLIC! ”

      Of the seven patriot brothers, six were spared through all the dangers of partisan warfare in the region of the “dark and bloody ground.” The eldest, William M. Martin, was a captain of artillery, and after having served with distinction in the sieges of Savannah and Charleston, was killed at the siege of Augusta, just after he had obtained a favorable position for his cannon, by elevating it on one of the towers constructed by General Pickens. It is related that not long after his death, a British officer passing to Fort Ninety-Six, then in possession of the English, rode out of his way to gratify his hatred to the whigs by carrying the fatal news to the mother of this gallant young man. He called at the house, and asked Mrs. Martin if she had not a son in the army at Augusta. She replied in the affirmative. “Then I saw his brains blown out on the field of battle,” said the monster, who anticipated his triumph in the sight of a parents agony. But the effect of the startling announcement was other than he expected. Terrible as was the shock, and aggravated by the ruthless cruelty With which her bereavement was made known; no woman’s weakness was suffered to appear. After listening to the dreadful recital, the only reply made by this American dame was, “He could not have died in a nobler cause !” The evident chagrin of the officer as he turned and rode away, is still remembered, in the family tradition.

      This eldest son married Grace Waring, of Dorchester, when she was but fourteen years of age. She was the daughter of Benjamin Waring, who afterwards became one of the earliest settlers of Columbia when established as the seat of government in the State. The principles of the Revolution had been taught her from childhood; and her efforts to promote its advancement were joined with those of her husband’s family. She was one of the two who risked their lives to seize upon the despatches, as above related. Her husband’s untimely death left her with three young children – two sons and a daughter; but she never married again.

      Her companion in that daring and successful enterprise was the wife of Barkly Martin, another son. She was Rachel Clay, the daughter of Henry Clay, Jun., of Mecklenburg County, Virginia, and first cousin to Henry Clay, of Kentucky. She is said to be still living in Bedford County, Tennessee; is about eighty-six years of age, and never had any children. Her sister married Matthew, another of the brothers, and removed to Tennessee. Their family was large and of high respectability. One of the sons is the Hon. Barkly Martin, late member of Congress from that State. His father lived to a great age, and died in Tennessee in October, 1847, about seventy-six years after his first battle-field. The descendants of the other brothers are numerous and respectable in the different southern States.

      A tribute is due to the fortitude of those who suffered when the war swept with violence over Georgia. After Colonel Campbell took possession of Savannah in 1778, the whole country was overrun with irregular marauders, wilder and more ruthless than the Cossacks of the Don. As many of the inhabitants as could retire from the storm did so, awaiting a happier time to renew the struggle. One of those who had sought refuge in Florida was Mr. Spalding, whose establishments were on the river St. John’s. He had the whole Indian trade from the Altamaha to the Apalachicola. His property, with his pursuits, was destroyed by the war; yet his heart was ever with his countrymen, and the home he had prepared for his wife was the refuge of every American prisoner in Florida. The first Assembly that met in Savannah re-called him and restored his lands; but could not give back his business, nor secure the debts due; while his British creditors, with their demands for accumulated interest, pressed upon the remnant of his fortune. Under these adverse circumstances, and distressed on account of the losses of her father and brothers, who had taken arms in the American cause, Mrs. Spalding performed her arduous duties with a true woman’s fidelity and tenderness. She followed her husband, with her child, when flight became necessary; and twice during the war traversed the two hundred miles between Savannah and St. John’s River in an open boat, with only black servants on board, when the whole country was a desert, without a house to shelter her and her infant son. The first of these occasions was when she visited her father and brothers while prisoners in Savannah; the second, when in 1782, she went to congratulate her brothers and uncle on their victory. This lady was the daughter of Colonel William McIntosh, and the niece of General Lachlan McIntosh. Major Spalding, of Georgia, is her son.

      Mrs. Spalding’s health was seriously impaired by the anxieties endured during the struggle, and many years afterwards it was deemed necessary for her to try the climate of Europe. In January, 1800, she, with her son and his wife, left Savannah in a British ship of twenty guns, with fifty men, built in all points to resemble a sloop of war, without the appearance of a cargo. When they had been out about fifteen days, the captain sent one morning at daylight, to request the presence of two of his gentlemen passengers on deck. A large ship, painted black and showing twelve guns on a side, was seen to windward, running across their course. She was obviously a French privateer. The captain announced that there was no hope of out-sailing her, should their course be altered; nor would there be hope in a conflict, as those ships usually carried one hundred and fifty men. Yet he judged that if no effort were made to shun the privateer, the appearance of his ship might deter from an attack. The gentlemen were of the same opinion. Mr. Spalding, heart- sick at thought of the perilous situation of his wife and mother, and unwilling to trust himself with an interview till the crisis was over, requested the captain to go below and make what preparation he could for their security. After a few minutes’ absence the captain returned to describe a most touching scene. Mrs. Spalding had placed her daughter-in-law and the other inmates of the cabin for safety in the two state-rooms, filling the berths with cots and bedding from the outer cabin. She had then taken her own station beside the scuttle, which led from the outer cabin to the magazine, with two buckets of water. Having noticed that the two cabin boys were heedless, she had determined herself to keep watch over the magazine. She did so till the danger was past. The captain took in his light sails, hoisted his boarding nettings, opened his ports, and stood on upon his course. The privateer waited till the ship was within a mile, then fired a gun to windward, and stood on her way. This ruse preserved the ship. The incident may serve to show the spirit of this matron, who also bore her high part in the perils of the Revolution.

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