Lydia Darragh, one of the greatest women spies
of the American Revolution, and heroine of the battle of White Marsh
fought between December 5-7, 1777. Darragh was born in 1729 in Dublin
Ireland. In 1753, Lydia married William Darragh. William and Lydia soon
sailed to America to start a new life.
On September 261777, five days after
the battle of Brandywine, General William Howe, Commander of the
British Army in North America marched his British troops into
Philadelphia, PA, seat of the Continental Congress. Howe had considered
conquering Philadelphia since the beginning of the year 1777, but kept
changing his mind. Howe became infactuated with Philadelphia after an
American General named Chales Lee,who had recently been captured by the
British in New Jersey, told Howe if Philadelphia was ever captured and
occupied by the British that the rest of the American colonies would
capitulate, and the war would soon end.
In December 1777, Howe started making
plans to attack Washington's army at White Marsh PA located about 13 miles
outside the city of Philadelphia. Howe decided his headquarters were too
small, so he dicided to make the house of Lydia Darragh his new
headquarters since her house was much larger. Darragh was first told she
must evacuate her house, but was later allowed to continue living in it
after a cousin of Darragh's on Howe staff talked Howe into letting her
stay. Darragh was told all family members must be asleep during the
On December 2, 1777, Darragh
after pretending she was asleep, got up during the middle of the night to
listen to what the British troops were discussing. Darragh overheard the
British discussing plans to destroy Washington's troops at White
Marsh. Later that night, Darragh wrote what she had overheard, and placed
the plans in an old dirty needlebook, a colonial sewing kit.
The next morning on December 3rd,
Darragh requested a pass to go to Frankford Pa to buy flour. Darragh
walked about 10 miles through deep snow, carrying her needlebook. Darragh
soon came to Rising Sun tavern where she found former Pa militia soldiers
drinking and having a good time. Darragh ran up to a person named Elias
Boudinot, who she knew had been with the PA militia in the past, and
handed him the needlebook. After handing the needlebook to Boudinot,
Darragh ran out of the tavern as fast as she could. Boudinot found the
plans, and took them to Washington at White Marsh. Boudinot told
Washington, a woman in dirty filthy clothes handed him this and ran away.
Washington looked at the plans, and said 'This woman has just saved the
army from total destruction." Washington began making plans to defend
himself against the British.
The battle of Whitemarsh fought between
December 5-7,1777, is one of the forgotten battles of 1777, but one of
the most important, because if Howe had destroyed the Continental. army
as he had planned, the war would have been over. On December 5, 1777, Howe
marched 5000 british troops into White Marsh only to find Washington
waiting for him.
For thenext 3 days, Washington and Howe
skirmished with with each other doing little damage to either army. On
December 7, Howe almsot turned the left flank of Washington, but was soon
repulsed. At th end of the 3 day battle, 90 Americans were either killed
or wounded, and 90 british troops were killed or wounded.
On December 9,1777, Major John Andre, a
member of Howe's staff, and who would later be hanged as a spy
for carrying plans of the defenses of West Point handed to him by Benedict
Arnold, went to Darragh's house and questioned her intensively about
whether anyone was awake in her house and overheard the plans to attack
Washington. Darragh convinced Andre all were asleep and didnt hear
anything. Andre belived her and said" All I know then, these walls must
have ears. The enemy was waiting on us, and we were forced to march back
to Philadelphia like a band of fools". Some speculate that the reason
Andre didn't arrest Daragh because he may have been attracted to her since
she was a beautiful woman.
On December 11, 1777, Washington marched
his troops to Valley Forge. It took Washington 8 days to march 13 miles to
the winter headquarters at Valley forge . In June 1778, after the British
troops left Philadelphia, Washington was informed of Darragh's heroic
deed. Washington sent her a letter thanking Darragh for what she had done.
In 1783, the Quaker church excommunicated
Darragh from their church because of her involvement in the Revolutionary
war. The Quakers belived that none of heir members hsould be involved in
war since it involves killing other soldiers. It wasnt until 1789, that
Darragh was allowed to rejoin the Quaker. Later that year in 1789 Lydia
Darragh died at 60 years old. This week we celebrate the American victroy
at the battle of White Marsh. Lydia Darragh, one of the forgotten
heroines of the American Revolution would go down in history as one of the
saviours of the American Revolution cause.