This Day in History: The Heroines of Bryan's Station
On this day in 1782, the Siege of Bryan’s Station begins. Once again, a group of American women showed incredible bravery—and their actions saved the day!
Did you know that some fighting continued, even after George Washington’s victory at Yorktown? One hot spot for these skirmishes was Kentucky (then a territory of Virginia). The British had allied with Indian tribes in the area. They were still trying to drive American settlers from the land.
A fort at Bryan’s Station would unfortunately bear the brunt of one of these attacks. It was guarded by only 44 men—no match for the approximately 350 British Rangers and Indian warriors that would soon descend upon it.
That enemy force arrived on the evening of August 15 and hid themselves nearby. They thought that they could lure the fort’s defenders out and surprise them, but the Americans had figured out that the enemy was nearby. They did not venture from the fort, as the British hoped.
Nevertheless, the Americans still had a big problem. They had no water, and they would need it to withstand an attack. It was at this moment that a daring plan was hatched.
Those at the fort decided to pretend complete ignorance of the British and Indian force lurking nearby. The women would leave the protection of the fort, just as they did every morning, to walk down to the spring and fill their buckets with water. If the enemy hiding nearby wanted to maintain the element of surprise, then they would have to ignore the women.
Obviously, the women were still taking a huge risk. They would be “beyond the reach of the garrison’s guns” and “in point-blank range of hundreds of the enemy’s rifles.”
Naturally, those brave frontier women stepped up to help anyway. They calmly left the fort, pretending they didn’t know about the enemy lurking nearby. They collected their water and returned, although “their steps became quicker and quicker, on their return, and when near the gate of the fort, degenerated into a rather unmilitary celerity,” as one early historian describes.
They’d collected enough water to withstand the siege and attack that followed. A frustrated British and Indian force ended up leaving a few days later just as a relief party was arriving for those inside the fort. That relief party pursued the British, and the Battle of Blue Licks would follow on August 19.
Naturally, that is a story for another day.
John A. McClung, Sketches of Western Adventure: Containing an Account of the Most Interesting Incidents Connected with the Settlement of the West, from 1755 to 1794, at 60-63 (Cincinnati, U.P. James 1839)
Reuben T. Durrett et al., Siege of Bryan's Station and the Battle of Blue Licks (2011)
Richard H. Collins, The Siege of Bryan's Station, 36 Reg. Ky. St. Hist. Soc’y 15 (1938)
1 Spencer C. Tucker, Almanac of American Military History 376-77 (2013).