Steve Reece

She was a big muscular, woman who stood six-feet tall, with cross-eyes glaring out from a face scarred by smallpox. Her bright red hair was piled high above her head. She was a woman not known for her beauty but rather for her temper, bravery, and her passion in getting even with anyone dumb enough to offend her, her friends, or her family. 

She was born as Ann Morgan sometime around 1735 either up in Pennsylvania or North Carolina and some say there’s evidence she was related to the famous frontiersman, Daniel Boone. When she got older, everyone called her “Aunt Nancy”. She became Nancy Morgan Hart when she married Benjamin Hart at the ripe old age of 36. She never had formal schooling and couldn’t read a word, but she more than made up for it by learning everything about how to survive in the American frontier. She had a great knowledge of the healing properties of herbs and plants and was a skillful hunter with a rifle despite her wild eyes looking crazily in all directions. 

Back in those days, if you wanted to experience the frontier, all you had to do was move to Georgia. In the case of Nancy and Benjamin, they chose to settle on the banks of the beautiful Broad River in Wilkes County in 1771. There was no doubt she was the undisputed boss of the family with two daughters and six sons and often managed the family farm while her husband was away fighting the British during the Revolutionary War. A fierce patriot, she would often sneak off to spy on the British. Dressed as a man, she would enter British camps pretending to be feeble-minded but would overhear and steal information, which she handed off to the Patriots. Hart also engaged in combat during the war and may have been present at the Battle of Kettle Creek on Feb. 14, 1779, a short battle in North Georgia, lasting only four hours where Loyalists to the king suffered around 300 causalities and the Patriots lost only about 32 men. It is also believed by some that with her shooting skills, she served as a sniper, picking off Tories as the made their way across the Broad River.

With such a reputation, the British naturally kept an eye on the patriotic woman. Once a Tory was spying on her family through a whole in a wall while Nancy was making a kettle of lye soap. After being alerted by her daughter of the soldier in their yard, she took a ladle of the boiling-hot soap and tossed it into the eye of the spy, scalding him. He later was turned over to the Patriots after the women tied him up. 

Her most well-known feat was when five or six British soldiers showed up on her farm, killed her last turkey and then made the mistake of demanding that she cook it for them. While she was cooking, she did the polite thing and passed around her corn liquor, getting the redcoats smashed. While they were enjoying themselves gouging themselves with turkey and getting drunk, she sent her daughter to get some water and told her to use a hidden conch shell to signal their neighbors of the British presence. She then began sneaking out their weapons they had stacked next to the door through a hole in the wall. 

She was able to sneak two weapons outside but then was caught red-handed holding the third, so she threatened to shoot them all. One of them stupidly made a mad rush at her and she shot him dead and wounded another who also made a sudden move. The remaining soldiers quickly surrendered.

When her husband finally returned, Nancy was still holding the Brits at gunpoint. Legend says they, along with their neighbors, hung the soldiers from a nearby tree. The neighbors and her husband wanted to shoot them, but Nancy insisted on the hanging. Adding credence to the story, six bodies, believed to be those of the soldiers, were found buried near the Hart home in 1912 while construction crews were grading a railroad site around a mile from the old Hart cabin. The necks of a few of the skeletons had been broken. 

Nancy Hart and her husband eventually moved to Brunswick where he died around 1800. In her grief, she wanted to move back to the banks of the Broad River but sadly, her cabin had been washed away. She then moved to Henderson County, Kentucky to be near one of her sons until she died at somewhere around the age of 93. 

It is impossible to know how much is true about old Aunt Nancy. Rough-hewn in appearance and mannerisms, she wasn’t much to look at but she more than made up for it with her fierce American patriotism. The local Native Americans knew her as “Wahatche” which translates to “War Woman”. Hartwell, Georgia, as well as Hart County to the north of Elbert County, were named for her as well as Lake Hartwell, Hartwell Dam and Hart State Park.

 

Steve Reece is a contributing writer for the Reporter and a known crime fighter. Email him at stevereece@gmail.com.