On this day in 1764, a heroine is born in Virginia. Susanna Bolling would go on to perform a little-known feat that helped George Washington’s army win the American Revolution. She’s been called the “Girl Who Won the Revolutionary War.”
Susanna was just 16 years old at the time.
She surely had no idea what was in store for her when British General Charles Cornwallis arrived at her family’s plantation during May 1781. Cornwallis demanded shelter, and he and his men stayed at the plantation overnight.
It was a scene that was repeated far too often in America’s fight for independence: British redcoats would arrive at a home, confronting mothers and daughters left behind as their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers went to war. The Redcoats demanded shelter—or information about family members who had left to join the militia.
In this case, Cornwallis demanded food and a place for his men to stay. He must have gotten cocky because he spoke too freely in front of the Bolling women. He had big plans for the next day: He intended to track down the Marquis de Lafayette at the Half Way House, which was between Richmond and Petersburg. Lafayette was one of Washington’s most trusted officers, and Cornwallis intended to capture him.
It could be the beginning of the end for Washington’s army, and Susanna knew what she had to do.
The young girl used an underground tunnel to sneak out of her home. The tunnel took her straight to the family’s dock on the Appomattox River. Once there, she took a canoe and paddled her way across the river. It was risky! If she were too noisy, she’d give herself away.
Upon reaching the other side of the river, she borrowed a neighbor’s horse and rode as quickly as she could to warn Lafayette.
Amazingly, she not only found him in time, but she returned home before her absence was discovered. Her warning enabled Lafayette to get away.
Indeed, Lafayette would go on to play a game of “cat-and-mouse” as the Virginia legislature would later say, with Cornwallis’s army. Because of Lafayette, Cornwallis and his men were trapped in Yorktown by September 1781.
And the rest, of course, is history. George Washington’s army would hold Cornwallis under siege at Yorktown, ultimately winning the American fight for independence.
Would any of it have been possible without the brave young teenager?
Every person, every effort, always makes a difference—especially when you are fighting for liberty.
Libby Carty McNamee, Susanna's Midnight Ride (2018)
How a 16-year-old girl from Hopewell helped win the Revolutionary War (Prince George County, VA website)
HJR 649: Designating December 5, in 2019 and in each succeeding year, as Susanna Bolling Day in Virginia (2019) (Virginia General Assembly)
Rachel DePompa, On This Day: A Hopewell heroine, who warned the rebels of a British plot at age 16, was born (WWBT, NBC12; Dec. 5, 2019)