Martha Bratton (? - 1816)
Martha Bratton is known for two heroic acts in which she bravely defied demands from British Officers.
Not much is known about Martha Bratton’s early life, but her acts of heroism during the Revolutionary War are very well known and commemorated.
Her husband, Colonel William Bratton was away fighting for General Sumter's army, and Martha Bratton was left in charge of the gunpowder hidden on their property in North Carolina. The British were given a tip about the gunpowder and immediately left to seize the commodity. Bratton was told that they were coming but did not have enough time to move the gunpowder. Not wanting the British to get hold of the ammunition, Bratton came up with another plan. She poured a trail of powder far away from its location and, when she heard the British approaching lit the trail. The British were furious and demanded to know who had blown up the ammunition. Even with the threat of severe punishment Bratton willfully replied, “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.”
On July 11, 1780 Bratton had another encounter with the British where she bravely stood up to their demands. British Captain Christian Huck visited Martha Bratton’s house to question Bratton about where her husband’s location. Bratton told the truth, defiantly saying that he was with Sumter’s army. Huck replied that Colonel Bratton should instead join the loyalists. Bratton bravely answered that “she would rather see him remain true to his duty to his country, even if he perished in Sumter’s army." Huck was enraged by this answer and threw her son, who had been sitting on his lap, to the floor. One of Huck’s soldiers held a reaping hook that he found nearby to her throat and threatened to kill her but Bratton still did not tell them of her husband’s location. Another officer persuaded the soldier to let Bratton go. Such mistreatment of women was not uncommon during what was essentially a guerilla war: indeed, a least one British commander wrote that he was entertained by the rape cases that came before him.
It also was routine to force women to provide food for soldiers and Captain Huck demanded that Bratton prepare and serve dinner for them. She had thought about poisoning the soldier’s food, but she knew her husband was close and instead sent word to his troops that the British were there. After she prepared the dinner, she and her children went upstairs and left the British to finish their meals. When they had finished the British went to one of her neighbors, James Williamson’s, house to sleep. With about 75 men, Colonel Bratton and Captain M’Clure executed a surprise attack on the sleeping soldiers. The battle spread towards the Bratton house and Martha Bratton and her children were in danger. Bratton forced her son to hide in the chimney where he would be safe from stray shots. After the battle was over, Bratton went into her yard and found that all of her relatives had survived. The Patriots were victorious and many of the British soldiers, including Captain Huck, were killed while others retreated into the woods. She opened her house to care for wounded soldiers on both sides. Many of the British soldiers taken hostage were also held at her house. One of these British soldiers was the officer that had saved her life. She returned the favor by persuading the Patriots not to hang him but instead include him in a prisoner exchange.
The defeat of Huck encouraged many men in the area to join the armed struggle against the British and was a turning point for the war in North Carolina.
In 1839, on the anniversary of Huck’s defeat, a toast was made in honor of Bratton saying, “The memory of Mrs. Bratton. – In the hands of an infuriated monster, with the instrument of death around her neck, she nobly refused to betray her husband; in the hour of victory she remembered mercy, and as a guardian angel, interposed in behalf of her inhuman enemies. Throughout the Revolution she encouraged the Whigs to fight on to the last; to hope on to the end. Honor and gratitude to the woman and heroine, who proved herself so faithful a wife- so firm a friend to liberty!”
Brattonsville, South Carolina was named after the Patriotic Family and the Bratton Family home still stands. After William Bratton’s death in 1815 and Martha Bratton’s death in 1816, their son took over the home, which he remodeled in 1839. He added a wing, which was used as a school for girls.
- Berkin, Carol. Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).
- Diamant, Lincoln, Ed. Revolutionary Women: In the War For American Independence. (Westport: Praeger, 1998) p 160.
- Silcox-Jarrett, Diane. Heroines of the American Revolution: America’s Founding Mothers. (Chapel Hill: Green Angel Press, 1998).
(1) “Martha Bratton”. American Revolution. http://www.americanrevolution.org/women21.html 27 June 2006.
(2) Diamant, Lincoln, Ed. Revolutionary Women: In the War For American Independence. (Westport: Praeger, 1998) p 160.
(3) “Martha Bratton”. American Revolution. http://www.americanrevolution.org/women21.html 27 June 2006.
- PHOTO: “Martha Bratton at Brattonsville - Huck’s Defeat”. http://thebrattonfamily.net/familygallery/view_album.php?set_albumName=Found (28 June 2006).
Biography researched and written by NWHM Intern of Summer 2006 Albrey Diece