Historical Women Who Rocked: July 4th Edition

In celebration of Independence Day, NWHM presents a special edition of its “Historical Women Who Rocked” series. Take a look at these trailblazers who were major players in the Revolutionary War.

Who: “Agent 355”

When: During the Revolutionary War
About: She is considered by intelligence historians to be America’s first female undercover operations officer. It is speculated that “355” came from a wealthy New York Tory family that would have allowed her access to British forces operating nearby. Abraham Woodhull, speculated head of the Culper Ring spy organization, wrote that she “hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence” and could “outwit them all.” She was given the name “355,” which was the code-number for “lady” from the encryption code system used by the Culper Ring. While defending against the British in and around New York, George Washington came to rely heavily on the information she supplied him. “355” is even credited for helping uncover the treasonous Benedict Arnold-John André plot that eventually led to André’s demise. Agent 355 is heralded as one of the best intelligence officers because her identity is still unknown to us today after almost 230 years.

Who: Betty Zane

When: During the Revolutionary War
About: Elizabeth Zane, better known as “Betty Zane,” is hailed as a heroine of the Revolutionary War for her defense of Fort Henry in the wilderness of western Virginia. On September 11, 1782, Fort Henry was besieged by the British and their Native American allies.  Betty Zane was among those trapped inside.  The attackers greatly outnumbered the defenders:  250 Native American warriors allied with 50 exceptionally able British soldiers who never had been defeated.  Inside Fort Henry, there were only about 20 males of fighting age.  Worse, they soon found themselves running out of gunpowder. Betty’s brother Ebenezer remembered that he had carelessly left a keg of gunpowder back at home. A few boys volunteered to retrieve it, but they were not allowed to leave because their deaths would mean the loss of valuable fighters.  Knowing this, Betty volunteered to make the extremely perilous trip herself, claiming, “I am of no use here in the fort. I cannot fight, but I can bring the powder” (“The Heroine of Fort Henry”).  She converted the usual disadvantage of being female into an advantage, as she reasoned that the British and Native Americans would be less inclined to shoot a girl than a boy.  Her rationality combined with her daring spirit compelled her to brave the sixty yards between Fort Henry and the Zane home, knowing she faced some 300 enemies.

Who: Margaret Cochran Corbin

When: During the Revolutionary War
About: After taking over her husband’s cannon in battle on Manhattan Island, now called Ft. Washington, New York, Margaret Corbin was badly wounded. She was the first woman to receive a military pension. During the Battle at Fort Washington on November 16, 1776, Corbin went with her husband onto the battlefield.  Her husband was a matross, which meant he loaded the cannon.  Corbin helped him with this task.  After her husband’s partner was killed, he took over firing the cannon, and Corbin began loading the cannon.  Her husband was also killed, but Corbin continued firing the cannon alone.  Other soldiers took notice of her excellent aim. Unfortunately, so did the British who were soon targeting her with their own cannons.  The British eventually won this battle but Corbin’s cannon was the last one to stop firing.

Who: Sybil Ludington

When: During the Revolutionary War
About: Called “the Female Paul Revere,”  16 year-old Sybil Ludinton’s Revolutionary War ride was much longer than Paul Revere’s celebrated feat. On the night of April 26, 1777, Colonel Ludington received word that  the British were attacking Danbury, Connecticut, which was 25 miles  from Ludington’s home in New York State.   Sybil  went out to gather her father’s troops and warn the countryside of the British troops’ incoming attack. She took a forty-mile route by  horse, and riding through the pouring rain, shouted that the British were burning Danbury, and called for the militia to assemble at the home of Colonel Ludington. By the time Sybil had returned home from her ride, around four hundred men were assembled, ready to stop the British army.

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