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This Day in History: Grace & Rachel Martin, unsung Revolutionary War heroines

At about this time in 1781, two South Carolina women take a huge risk for the Patriot cause. Yet the details of their escapade were nearly lost to history.

Americans were then conducting two sieges in the South: Major General Nathanael Greene was at Ninety-Six, a fortified village near Cambridge. Meanwhile, General Andrew Pickens and Colonel Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee were outside Augusta. Needless to say, it didn’t always go so well for those living near Augusta and Ninety-Six.

Two women by the names of Grace and Rachel Martin were among those who were being harassed by Loyalists and British officers in the area. Their husbands were serving in the Continental Army, and the two women were living with their mother-in-law.

On one occasion, Loyalists arrived and tore open all their feather beds. On another occasion, the women learned that one of the Martin sons, William, had been killed in action. They learned the news because a British soldier came to taunt them with the news.

“He could not have died in a nobler cause,” William’s mother bravely replied to the maliciously delivered report.

The son who had been killed was Grace’s husband. Perhaps that brave woman still managed to get the last say?

Grace was at home with Rachel one evening when the two women received information that British officers would be passing through the area carrying dispatches to a nearby British outpost.

They weren’t going to sit around and let *that* happen, of course. Instead, they put on their husbands’ clothes, armed themselves, and stationed themselves along the side of the road. When the British passed, Grace and Rachel jumped out and confronted the astonished men. The officers were so startled that they gave up the dispatches they were carrying, without a fight. The women did not capture the officers, but indicated that they would let them go, on parole.

Grace and Rachel promptly hurried home, forwarding the dispatches on to General Greene. Yet the story doesn’t end there.

The dejected British soldiers began to retrace their steps, traveling back in the direction that they’d come. When they came upon the Martin house, they stopped, asking if they could stay the night. The women asked why they were coming back that way so soon. The British officers responded that “two rebel lads” had taken them prisoner, but then released them on parole. “Had you no arms?” one of the Martin women asked. The officers responded that they’d been accosted so suddenly that they’d had no time to use the arms.

How did Grace and Rachel keep a straight face? But they must have. The two officers eventually left, never realizing that their hostesses were the very same “lads” who had stopped them on the road earlier that day.

Don’t you know that story got pulled out in later years whenever the Martin family needed a good laugh?

Enjoyed this post? More stories of American

heroines can be found on my website, HERE.

Primary Sources:

  • Elizabeth F. Ellet, The Women of the American Revolution (1850)

  • Robert M. Dunkerly, Women of the Revolution: Bravery and Sacrifice on the Southern Battlefields (2013)

  • Sudie Doggett Wike, Women in the American Revolution 214 (2018).



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