Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Heroines of the Frontier, Part 2 – Women Who Dared / Hannah Hendee

Welcome to the second installment of my series featuring Heroines of the Frontier. America was built upon courage. Courage to come, settle, form government, and fight to keep it. Courage to simply survive. Many brave women—wives and daughters—carried that banner of courage and freedom, often alone. My current novel work-in-progress is based upon just such a woman. But for today, lets look at a few of those courageous women in the context of the Revolutionary War and Hannah Hendee in particular.

Frontier Raids

In the early days of colonization and settlement, men were often called away, whether to hunt for food, garner supplies, or to heed the call for military duty. Such was the case for Mrs. Hannah Hendee whose husband had been called away for military duty during the early days of settlement at Royalton, Vermont, while the young country was caught in the throes of revolution.

Royalton, situated near the Vermont–New Hampshire border, became the target of a raid in 1780, near the latter part of the Revolutionary War. Worried that the American colonists would push on into Canada with their ideas of independence, British forces along with 300 Mohawk and Wabanaki allies came down the White River raiding towns and farms along the way. After ravaging Royalton and burning houses, they continued on to destroy most of the homes in Sharon and Tunbridge.

Mrs. Hannah Hunter Hendee 

The British had offered their native allies a reward—payment for men and boys captured and taken to Canada. Over thirty men and boys were thus carried off in the raids, Mrs. Hannah Hendee’s son Michael among them. (Note: some historians say her name was spelled Handy, not Hendee.)

There is some conflicting history here. It’s noted in some sources that Hannah was working alone in the field when the attack occurred, and returned to find her child(ren) taken. Other, more recent updates of the story say that Hannah had taken her two children to hide in the woods, but that the Indians found them and carried off her son Michael. Whichever the case, Michael was indeed taken by the Indians, and Hannah was deeply grieved.

There was one British officer and six soldiers who led the Indian raid. When the American militia planned to attack and retrieve the hostages, the British warned that, should they attempt it, all of the captives would be killed. Thus, the militia backed down.

Hannah, however, would not be dissuaded. She turned her grief and fury into brave action. Rather than remain behind to mourn Michael’s loss, she gave lone pursuit.

The river near the place the raiders crossed was some one hundred yards wide and fairly deep. It is believed that Hannah waded that river.

The Handy (Hendee) Memorial in South Royalton

Let’s imagine for a moment. . .this momma, forging into the swirling waters, skirts sucking at her legs as she struggled for footing against the current. Her eyes like wildfire, her sobs turned to anger, her determination making her as fearless as a lioness. Her body shivers, but she doesn’t even notice as she pushes onward to face her foes so that she might gather Michael into her arms again.

Can you picture her climbing to the opposite bank, her soggy dress slapping against her shaking legs, her face white and jaw set, yet striding undaunted into the Indian encampment?

Around their campfire, warriors lurch to their feet brandishing weapons, and perhaps some of them even stride forward to seize her.

Then Hannah’s face pales further as she sees the many other children held captive, some bound beside their fathers and older brothers, some without anyone to comfort them, haunted by vivid memories of the slaughter and destruction from which they were carried.

Hannah raises her chin as she is taken to the commanding officer at the camp, one Lt. Richard Houghton—or perhaps he himself hears the ruckus and comes forward. Straightening her shoulders, she demands Michael’s return.

“He cannot survive a march to Canada,” she tells him. And then she sweeps a glance among the others with a cry. “His blood will be on your hands!”

Whatever else she tells him is lost to history, but her continual upbraiding is finally enough to convince the Lieutenant to free her son, and not her son only, but eventually nine children. (Another source says fifteen.)

Hannah grasps Michael and returns with him across the river. However, not content to save him alone, it is reported that she then returns for the other children, going back again and again, until by twos and threes, she has gained their freedom.

One telling says that on her final trip to the camp, a native man was so struck by her bravery that he offered to return her across the water on his back and that she accepted. Whether or not that happened, when she returned, Hannah took the recovered children back to their families.

The Hannah Hunter Hendee Medal

Throughout the course of history, women labored alone in all manner of conditions, and undertook the protection of home and children when attacked. Here's another account:

A man well in his eighties, whose father was in the army the entirety of the Revolutionary War, recounted his own experience as a child at home with his mother during the war. He said they lived far from neighbors, and they were poor. Winters were terrible, the snow lying so long and deep, it was difficult to cut or draw fuel from the woods or to get the corn to the mill when they had any. He recalled that his mother had a coffee mill in which she ground wheat for making course bread, for which they were thankful. At times, they went to bed with only a drink of molasses mixed in water for their supper.

He never heard his mother complain, but she toiled lovingly through the duration to keep them as fed and warm as her resources allowed.

When his father was permitted to return home for brief durations, he had little to leave for them. Yet, his mother would bid him a cheerful farewell and encouragement to not be anxious about them, for she would watch over the children day and night and would take care of the them. She didn’t mention the cold days or short meals, nor her hard work or concerns that the children would be clothed or fed. For she did not want to weaken his heart, reminding the children that a soldier’s life was hardest of all.

Such incidents and way of life as this man experienced occurred regularly during the America's colonial days and in the many contests and courses of history that followed. Some women forged alone with their children across the wilderness. Others strove for freedom on their own terms, which we shall see in a moment. Still others gave sons to served the cause, and shed their tears in private.

Here is a brief listing of some of the other heroines of the American Revolution who dared to stand against the odds:

Anne Bailey, who lived on the Virginia frontier and not only recruited volunteers for the militia, but became, herself, a scout and messenger, using wilderness skills to deliver important messages to outposts.

Margaret Cochran Corbin, Pennsylvanian, whose husband was a gunner – she cooked, washed, and mended for the soldiers. When her husband was killed, she took his place, was wounded, taken prisoner, and eventually released. She later received a pension from the U.S. government for her service.

Deborah Sampson Gannett, from Massachusetts, dressed as a man, enlisted, and served three years in the Colonial army. She performed scouts and raids, was eventually wounded, and thereupon her secret was discovered by a doctor. Deborah was given an honorable discharge.

Emily Geiger, only eighteen years old, was the daughter of a wealthy South Carolina farmer. She once rode fifty miles on horseback to deliver a message of warning to an American general. When she was stopped by the British to be searched, she swallowed the message, yet did succeed in her endeavor and helped save South Carolina from a British attack.

Nancy Morgan Hart, mother of one, was a no-nonsense woman in Georgia who spied on the British, captured a Tory, and when other Tories sought a meal at her home, she killed them. 

Lydia Barrington Darraugh was the cousin of a British officer, but her son fought for the Patriot cause. Lydia saved the American army after overhearing their plans to attack. She slipped away and trudged several miles through the snow to warn the army and save their lives.

Elizabeth (Betty) Zane lived at Fort Henry, Virginia which ran short of gunpowder when the British and Indians attacked. Under siege, and seeing their was little hope of rescue, she volunteered to leave the fort and procure more gunpowder. In her flight, she was shot at repeatedly, but finally escaped and was able to retrieve the gunpowder and save the fort.

Heroism of Miss Elizabeth Zane, Lithograph by Nagel and Weingaertner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The greatness of brave women such as these became part of the ever-moving drama of our country that cannot be underestimated.

If you missed last month’s Heroines of the Frontier post, you can find it here: Women of the Mayflower / Mary Brewster Come back next month on the 29th for part three of Heroines of the Frontier.

A Tender Siege tells of the bravery of a Scottish man and Native American woman on the frontier during the French and Indian War. The story is part of The Highlanders collection. 

A Tender Siege

Pontiac’s War, August 1763: “I beg Ye to take me.” Wounded in battle in the American wilderness, Lachlan McRea of His Majesty’s 42nd Highlanders pleads with God, yearning to be reunited with his lost wife and child. As death hovers near, he is discovered by Wenonah, a native widow doing all she can to survive alone, while avoiding the attentions of a dangerous Shawnee warrior. In aiding one another, their perils increase. If Lachlan can let go of the woman he once loved, he might find healing for both body and soul.


  1. Thank you for collecting and posting these stories!

  2. Thank you for reading. You're such a faithful follower, Connie!