Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Catherine Littlefield Greene 1753 ~ 1814

 



Catherine Littlefield, the eldest daughter of John Littlefield and Phebe Ray, was born in New Shoreham, on Block Island, in 1753. When very young she came with her sister to reside in the family of Governor Greene, of Warwick, a lineal descendant of the family, whose wife was her aunt. It was here that Miss Littlefield's very happy girlhood was passed; and it was here also that she first knew Nathaniel Greene. Their marriage took place July 20, 1774, and the young couple removed to Coventry. Looking at that bright, volatile, coquettish girl of this time, no one could dream of her future destiny as a soldier's wife and comrade; nor that the broad-brimmed hat of her young husband covered brows that should one day be wreathed with the living laurels won by genius and patriotism.

But when Nathaniel Greene's decision was made, and he stood forth a determined patriot, separating himself from the community in which he had been born and reared, by embracing a military profession, his spirited wife did her part with enthusiasm to aid and encourage him in his ambition and efforts for the success of the patriots. When the army before Boston was inoculated with smallpox, she voluntarily gave up her beautiful house for a hospital.

When the army went into winter quarters, she always set out to rejoin her husband, sharing cheerfully the narrow quarters and hard fare of a camp, bearing heroically her part in the privations of the dreary winter at Valley Forge, in that ''darkest hour of the Revolution." It appears that there, as at home, her gay spirit shed light around her even in such scenes, softening and enlivening the gloom which might have weighed many a bold heart into despondency. There are extant some interesting little notes of Kosciuszko, in very imperfect English, which show her kindness to her husband's friends, and the pleasure she took in alleviating their sufferings.

Mrs. Greene joined her husband in the South after the close of the active campaign of 1781, and remained with him till the end of the war, residing on the islands during the heat of summer, and the rest of the time at headquarters. In the spring of 1783, she returned north, where she resided till the General completed his arrangements for removing to the South. They then established themselves at Mulberry Grove, on a plantation presented to General Greene by the state of Georgia. Mrs. Greene's first impression of southern life and manners are painted in lively colors in her letters to northern friends. The following passage is from one to Miss Flagg:

"If you expect to be an inhabitant of this country, you must not think to sit down with your netting pins; but on the contrary, employ half your time at the toilet, one quarter to paying and receiving visits, the other quarter to scolding servants, with a hard thump every now and then over the head, or singing, dancing, reading, writing or saying your prayers."

After the death of General Greene, she removed with her family of four children to some lands she owned on Cumberland Island, and while occasionally visiting the North in the summer, she continued to look upon the South as her home.

A letter from her about this time gives the incident of Colonel Aaron Burr's requesting permission to stop at her house when he came South after his duel with General Hamilton. She would not refuse the demand upon her hospitality, but his victim had been her friend and she could not receive as a guest one whose hands were crimsoned with Hamilton's blood. She gave Burr permission to remain, but at the same time ordered her carriage and quitted the house; returning as soon as he had taken his departure. This incident is strongly illustrative of her impulsive and generous character.

Her discipline was remarkably strict and none of her children ever thought of disobeying her. Yet, she would sometimes join with child-like merriment in their sports. A friend has related how one day, after the close of the war, passing General Greene's house in Newport, she saw the General and his wife playing "puss in the corner" with the children.

It was while she lived at Mulberry Cove that she became instrumental in introducing to the world an invention which has covered with wealth the fields of the South.

Late in 1792, her sympathies were enlisted in behalf of a young man, a native of Massachusetts, who having come to Georgia to take the place of a private teacher in a gentleman's family, had been disappointed in obtaining the situation and found himself without friends or resources in a strange land. Mrs. Greene and her family treated him with great kindness. He was invited to make his home in her house while he pursued the study of law, to which he had determined to devote himself. At one time a party of gentlemen on a visit to the family spoke of the want of an effective machine for separating the cotton from the seed, without which it was mournfully agreed there could be no more profitable cultivation of this special product of the Southland.

Mrs. Greene spoke of the mechanical genius of her young protégé who was, of course, Eli Whitney, introduced him to the company and showed little specimens of his skill in tambour frames and articles for the children. The result of this introduction to interested men was the equipment of a basement room, into which no one else was admitted, and which was appropriated for the young student's workshop. There he labored day after day, making the necessary tools and persevering with unwearied industry for the perfection of his invention. By spring the cotton gin was completed and exhibited to the wonder and delight of planters invited from different parts of Georgia to witness its successful operation. Mr. Phineas Miller entered into an agreement with Whitney to bear the expense of maturing the invention and to divide the future profits. He was a man of remarkably active and cultivated mind. Mrs. Greene married him some time after the death of General Greene. She survived him several years, dying just before the close of the second war with England. Her remains rest in the family burial ground at Cumberland Island, where but a few years afterwards the body of one of her husband's best officers and warmest friends, the gallant Lee, was also brought to molder by her side.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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