Editor's note: In 1780, the British nearly controlled South Carolina. Many patriots had fled or taken oaths not to fight against the king. Marauding bands of British loyalists terrorized the few remaining patriots. One turning point that rallied patriot morale in South Carolina took place near Martha Bratton's home. After that battle, more patriots returned to join the local militias. The reinforcements led to a series of patriot victories.
By the summer of 1780 it seemed to Martha Bratton the American Revolutionary War would never end. In Charleston, South Carolina, many patriots started giving up hope that they might win the war, especially after the city surrendered to the British. Over 5,000 men were taken prisoner and most of the Patriot supplies for the state were captured.
British troops roaming the South Carolina countryside met little resistance in the following months. Americans were offered the choice of accepting British protection or imprisonment. An English general boasted that in the southern colonies the American Revolutionary War had ended.
Gunpowder, like many other items, was scarce during this time. Martha Bratton and her husband had been entrusted by the American governor of South Carolina to hold a supply of the precious powder. When her husband was away fighting for the Patriots, Martha was responsible for the gunpowder. The British found out where it was hidden and decided to steal it. Martha heard of their plan. "They'll wish they had never come here," she smiled as she walked over to the kegs of powder.
Martha had a plan of her own. "I know where the British are coming from. I'll lay a trail of gunpowder going the other way. There will be a big surprise waiting for them Redcoats." Martha decided that just when the soldiers got near the supplies she would light the trail of gunpowder and blow up all the ammunition. "It's the last thing they'll be expecting," she thought.
After she finished laying her trail Martha hid in the woods. As the British approached, she raced to where the gunpowder trail lay and lit a match to it. In less than a minute she heard a huge explosion and men screaming.
Running away from the explosion, Martha was caught by the British. The British commander demanded to know who had set the gunpowder on fire. Martha looked him straight in the face and answered, "It was I who did it. Let the consequence be what it will. I glory in having prevented the mischief contemplated by the cruel enemies of my country." Unexpectedly, the British let Martha go free as they marched off.
When the British authorities heard of the gunpowder incident and that it was hidden at the Bratton's house they came looking for Martha's husband. He was not there and Martha refused to tell the British where her husband had gone. The head British officer became furious with Martha. Picking up a reaping hook he threatened to slash her throat. Martha stood in front of her children, refusing to give up any information. The British lieutenant begged the senior officer to let Martha go. With a nasty glance at his subordinate, the officer finally agreed.
He then ordered Martha to make dinner for all the British soldiers. After dinner the English troops left Martha's house, retiring to another farm a half-mile away.
Later that night, Martha's husband came home. Martha told him where the British were camped. Although the Patriot band was outnumbered they launched a surprise attack. Some British soldiers were killed including the senior officer. Others were wounded and some taken prisoner. A few managed to escape.
The lieutenant who had pleaded for Martha's life was now the leader of the British troops. When he was captured many Patriots wanted to hang him as an example. The officer asked for one last favor, and that was to be brought before Martha Bratton. Martha instantly recognized him as the officer who had saved her life. Despite all the hardships and dangers the British had put Martha and her family through, she pleaded with the Patriots to spare this honorable and decent man. Because of Martha's speech, he was not hanged.
Martha realized how cruel people were becoming from the fighting of the American Revolutionary War. She wanted to remind everyone that freedom required tolerance and love even for your enemies. So she turned her house into a hospital and nursed both British and American soldiers.
Excerpted from HEROINES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by Diane Silcox-Garrett; illustrated by Art Seiden. Text copyright 1998, Diane Silcox-Garrett. Illustrations copyright 1998, Art Seiden. Published by Green Angel Press. All rights reserved.
Pub Date: 9/30/98