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Dorcas Nelson Richardson 1741 ~ 1834

 

Dorcas Richardson, bearing more than her share of the terrible trials which fell to woman's lot in the Revolutionary War, affords a splendid example of the modest heroism and humble, cheerful faith of the women of that time. She was the daughter of Captain John Nelson, a native of Ireland, and was married at the age of twenty to Richard Richardson, with whom she went to live on a plantation on the Santee River in South Carolina. In this home of peace, contentment and abundance she enjoyed all the comforts of southern country life among the prosperous class until the outburst of that storm, in which the fortunes and happiness of so many patriots were wrecked.

At the commencement of the war her husband was captain of a company of militia, and when the three regiments of regulars from South Carolina were raised and officered in 1775 he was made a colonel. But at the surrender of Charleston he was taken prisoner, and in violation of the terms of capitulation he was sent to a military station on Johns Island. With the aid of his wife he made his escape, and returned to the neighborhood of his home, where he concealed himself in the Santee Swamp. At this time the British troops had overrun the state, and Colonel Tarleton seized upon the house of Colonel Richardson as a station for his regiment of cavalry. The enemy lived luxuriously on the abundance of this richly-stocked plantation, but Mrs. Richardson was restricted to a single room and allowed but a scanty share of the provisions furnished from her own stores. Even here she exercised great self-denial, that the wants of the one dear to her might be supplied Everyday she sent food from her own small allowance to her husband in the swamp, by an old Negro, in whose care and discretion she could trust implicitly. Expecting the seizure of her horses and cattle by the British she had Colonel Richardson's favorite riding horse sent into the swamp for concealment This horse was shut up in a covered pen in the woods, which had once been used for holding corn thence his cognomen "Comcrib," a name which clung to the famous charger through the great battlefields on which he afterward figured.

Mrs. Richardson not only sent provisions to her husband in his place of shelter but sometimes ventured to visit him, the stolen meetings being, of course, full of consolation to the fugitive soldier. The British being informed of Richardson's escape naturally concluded that he was somewhere in the vicinity of his family, and a diligent search was instituted, scouts being sent in every direction. It was only through the most determined efforts on the part of his wife that the searchers were frustrated. Not infrequently did the officers, in the most unfeeling manner boast in the presence of the wife of what they would do to her husband when they should capture him. On one occasion some of the officers displayed in the sight of Mrs. Richardson their swords reeking with blood, probably that of her cattle, and told her that it was the blood of her husband whom they had killed. At another time they said that he had been taken and hanged. And in this state of cruel suspense she sometimes remained for several successive days unable to learn the fate of her husband and not knowing whether to believe or distrust the horrible tales brought to her ears.

Once only did she deign the reply, "I do not doubt" she said, "that men who can outrage the feelings of a woman by such threats are capable of perpetrating any act of treachery and inhumanity toward a brave but unfortunate enemy. But conquer or capture my husband if you can do so before you boast the cruelty with which you mean to mark your savage triumph. And let me tell you meanwhile that some of you, it is likely, will be in a condition to implore his favor before he will have need to supplicate or deign to accept yours." This prediction was literally verified in more than one instance during the remainder of the war.

One day, when the troops were absent on some expedition, Colonel Richardson ventured on a visit to his home, but before he thought of returning to his refuge in the forest, a patrolling party of the enemy appeared at the gate. Mrs. Richardson's presence of mind and calm courage were in requisition, and proved the salvation of the hunted patriot. Seeing the British soldiers about to come in, she pretended to be intently busy about something in the front doorway and stood there retarding their entrance. The least appearance of agitation or fear, the least change of color, might have betrayed all by exciting suspicion, but with a self-control as rare as admirable she hushed even the wild beating of her heart, and continued to stand in the way till her husband had time to retire through the back door into the swamp near at hand.

Later Colonel Richardson left his retreat in the woods to go to the aid of General Marion, and together with a handful of men they made several successful sorties on the enemy. The British were not long in discovering that the Colonel had joined the force of Marion, and their conduct toward his wife was at once changed. One and all professed a profound respect for her brave and worthy husband, whose services they were desirous of securing. They endeavored to obtain her influence to prevail on him to join the Royal Army by promise of wealth and honorable promotion. The high-spirited wife treated all such offers with the contempt they deserved and refused to be made an instrument in their hands for the accomplishment of their purpose. She sent constant messages to her husband in his exile assuring him that she and the children were well, and provided with an abundance of everything necessary for their comfort Thus with heroic artfulness did she conceal the privations and want she was suffering, lest her husband's solicitude for her and his family might tempt him to waver from strict obedience to the dictates of honor and patriotism.

When peace returned to shed its blessings over the land, Mrs. Richardson continued to reside in the same house with her family. Tarleton and his troopers had wasted the plantation and destroyed everything movable about the dwelling, but the buildings had been spared, and Colonel Richardson, who had been promoted for his meritorious service in the field, cheerfully resumed the occupation of a planter. His circumstances were much reduced by the chance of war, but a competence remained, which he and his wife enjoyed in tranquility and happiness for many years.

Mrs. Richardson died in 1834 at the advanced age of ninety-three. She was remarkable throughout life for the calm judgment, fortitude and strength of mind, which had sustained her in the trials she suffered during the war, and protected her from injury and insult when surrounded by a lawless soldiery.

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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