Nancy Morgan Hart (c. 1735 – 1830) was a heroine of the American Revolutionary War noted for her exploits against Loyalists in the Georgia backcountry. Because stories about her are mostly unsupported by contemporary documentation, it is impossible to entirely distinguish fact from folklore.
Although explicit details concerning most of her life are unknown, it is widely assumed that Nancy Ann Morgan Hart was born in North Carolina, in the Yadkin River valley (although some researchers believe that she was born in Pennsylvania), around 1735. She died in 1830 in Henderson County, Kentucky, where she was buried.
Hart was well connected through family ties to many prominent figures in early American history. She was a cousin to Revolutionary War general Daniel Morgan, who commanded victorious American forces at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina on January 17, 1781. Her husband, Benjamin Hart, came from a distinguished family that later produced such famous political figures as Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton and Kentucky Senator Henry Clay.
According to contemporary accounts, "Aunt Nancy," as she was often called was a tall, gangly girl . She was rough-hewn and rawboned, with red hair and a smallpox-scarred face. One early 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".
Hart's physical appearance was matched by a feisty personal demeanor characterized by a hotheaded temper, a fearless spirit, and a penchant for exacting vengeance upon those who offended her or harmed her family and friends. She was also a domineering wife. Many remembered that she, rather than her husband, ran the Hart household, which eventually included six sons and two daughters. Although she was illiterate, Hart was amply blessed with the skills and knowledge necessary for frontier survival; she was an expert herbalist, a skilled hunter and killer, and an excellent shot.
Capturing British soldiers
According to one story, during the Revolution, a group of five or six Tory soldiers came by her house either looking for food or a Whig they were pursuing. The soldiers demanded that Hart cook them one of her turkeys and she agreed to feed the Tory soldiers. As they entered the cabin, they placed their guns by the door and sat down at her table to eat. As they were drinking and eating, she pushed their guns through a hole in the wall of the cabin. After the soldiers had been drinking a sufficient time, she grabbed one of the remaining guns and ordered the men not to move. One ignored her threat, so she shot and killed him. Another made a move toward the weapons and was also shot and killed by Hart. The remaining Tories were held captive until Hart's husband and her neighbors arrived. According to legend, her husband wanted to shoot the soldiers, but she demanded that they be hanged; which was accomplished on a nearby tree.
Construction crews working on the Elberton and Eastern Railroad in the area in 1912 seemed to have validated this story. While grading a railroad site less than a mile from the old Hart Cabin, the workers found five or six skeletons buried neatly in a row. A few of the skeletons' necks were broken which hinted of hanging. They were declared to have been buried for at least near to 100 years.
Mrs. Louisa H. Kendall, whose uncle was John Hart, son of Nancy Hart, wrote a letter in 1872 recalling some of the stories her mother had heard from Nancy Hart. According to this letter, once when she was taking a bag of grain to the mill, a band of Tories forced her off her horse and threw the grain on the ground. Undaunted, Hart picked up the heavy bag and walked the rest of the way to the mill. The letter also tells about Hart acting as a sniper, killing Tories as they came across the river.
McIntosh also quotes a Mr. Snead, who was related to the Harts, about a time when Nancy was cooking lye soap in her cabin when her daughter discovered a spy looking through a crack in the wall. Hart then threw a ladle of the boiling soap into the spy's eyes, then went outside and tied him up to turn him into the local Patriot militia.
There are two stories about Nancy dressing as a man, entering Tory camps and gaining information of military value.
According to folklore, the local Native Americans referred to her "Watcher" which could have meant "War Woman", and named a creek for her. However, many dispute this, and note that there are records of the creek's name as early as 1775, and “Several cases of women acting the part of warriors are on record among the Cherokee.”
Life after the war
According to former Georgia governor George Rockingham Gilmer, who knew Hart, Nancy became “religious” after the War. “A Methodist society was formed in her neighborhood. She went to the house of worship in search of relief. She found the good people assembled in class meeting, and the door closed against intruders. She took out her knife, cut the fastening and stalked in. She heard how the wicked might work out their salvation; became a shouting Christian, fought the devil as manfully as she fought the Tories . . .”
During the late 1780s, the Harts moved to Brunswick. (Some accounts suggest that they may have spent time in Alabama and South Carolina as well). Benjamin Hart died shortly thereafter. Nancy Hart then moved back to the Broad River settlement, only to find that a flood had washed away the cabin. Eventually she settled with her son John along the Oconee River in Clarke County near Athens. Around 1803 John Hart took his mother and family to Henderson County, Kentucky, to live near relatives. Hart spent the remaining years of her life there. She was buried in the Hart family cemetery a few miles outside of Henderson.
On the approximate site of Hart's frontier cabin along River Road in Elbert County, the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a replica cabin, using chimney stones from the original cabin, which had stood on the crest of a large hill overlooking Wahatche Creek.
Georgians have memorialized Nancy Hart in a number of ways. Hart County, Elbert County's neighbor to the north, was named for her, as was its county seat, Hartwell. In the same general area, Lake Hartwell and Hartwell Dam, Hart State Park, and the Nancy Hart Highway (Georgia Route 77) commemorate the legendary woman. During the Civil War (1861–65), a group of women in LaGrange founded a militia company named the Nancy Harts to defend the town from the Union army. In 1997 Hart was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement.
The Milledgeville, Georgia, chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) was also named in honor of Nancy Hart.
- Ouzts, Clay. "Nancy Hart (ca. 1735-1830)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 28 August 2013. Web. 29 October 2013.
- McIntosh, John H. The Official History of Elbert County, 1790-1935 (Supplement 1935-39 by Stephen Heard Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, organized 1901, Elberton, Georgia). Edited and published by Stephen Heard Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1940, pp. 17-22.
- Cook, Anna Maria Green. History of Baldwin County Georgia. Anderson, S.C.: Keys-Hearn Printing Co., 1925, pp. 165-66.
- "Skeletons of Six Tories Hanged Near Elberton, Found," The Atlanta Constitution, December 23, 1912, p. 3.
- Skeletons of Tories Killed by Nancy Hart Unearthed Tuesday, Lavonia Times and Gauge 3 Jan 1913
- Cook, op.cit., pp. 159-60
- McIntosh, op. cit., p. 17
- Macintosh, op.cit., pp. 21-22
- Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995, a reproduction of Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1897-98: in Two Parts—Part I. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1900, p. 419.
- Gilmer, George R. Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia, of the Cherokees, and the Author. New York 1855, 1926, p.90. (Reprinted 1965 by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, and 1989 by Heritage Papers, Danielsville, Georgia. Much of what Gilmer wrote is quoted with attribution to H. B. Mitchell in Cook, op.cit., pp. 160-162.)
- Find a grave for Nancy Hart
- Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 151.
- Army Corps of Engineers History of Hartwell Dam and Lake Hartwell
- Nancy Hart Highway at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
- Troup County Historical Society Archives
- Georgia Historical Marker for the "Nancy Harts"
- Nancy Hart Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution
- Georgia Encyclopedia Nancy Hart entry
- Nancy Morgan Hart
- Another Nancy Hart Bio site at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
- Hart County History
- Army Corps of Engineers Nancy Hart info