Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Lydia Barrington Darrah 1729 ~ 1789

 

All who admire examples of courage and patriotism, especially those who enjoy the fruits thereof, must honor the name of Lydia Darrah. In 1777 she was living in Philadelphia, then under British occupation, with her brother. They were both members of the Society of Friends. Their house, selected, perhaps, on account of the unobtrusive character of its inmates, whose religion inculcated meekness and forbade, them to practice the arts of war, had been chosen by the superior officers of the British army for private conference, whenever it was necessary to hold consultations on subjects of importance. On the second of December of that year the order to prepare her house for such a meeting concluded with these words: "And be sure that your family are all in bed at an early hour. We shall expect you to attend to this request. When our guests are ready to leave the house, you will at called, that you may let us out and extinguish the fire and candles." This injunction to retire early rang in her ears and, being intensely loyal to her country, the young girl determined that some move of importance was on foot against the Continental army. The evening closed in and the officers came to the place of meeting. Lydia had ordered her family to bed, and herself admitted the guests, after which she retired to her own apartments and threw herself upon the bed without undressing. In a short time she was listening at the keyhole of the room where the officers were assembled. There was a confused murmur of voices, but at length came silence, broken shortly by a voice reading a paper aloud. This proved to be an order for the English troops to quit the city on the night of the fourth and march out in secret to an attack upon the American army, then encamped at White Marsh. The young girl had heard enough. She stole back to her bed and lay there, listening to the beating of her own heart She feigned sleep and let the officer knock thrice before she pretended to rouse up and go with the men to the door.

She thought of the danger that threatened the lives of thousands of her countrymen and at once determined to apprise General Washington of the danger. In the morning, under the pretense that it was necessary for her to go to Frankfort to procure flour for the household, she set out, stopping first at the British headquarters to secure from General Howe his written permission to pass the British lines. Fully realizing the dangers of her undertaking, she walked the five miles to Frankfort through the snow, and, having deposited her bag at the mill, pressed on toward the outposts of the American Army. At length she was met by an American officer, who had been selected by General Washington to gain information respecting the movements of the enemy. This was Lieutenant-Colonel Craig, and he immediately recognized Lydia Darrah. To him she disclosed the secret, after having obtained from him a solemn promise not to betray her individually, since the British might take vengeance upon her family. The officer took her timely warning to his Commander-in-Chief, and preparations were immediately made to give the enemy a fitting reception. Lydia Darrah pursued her way home through the snow, but with a lighter heart, carrying the bag of flour which had served as the ostensible object of her journey. Her heart beat anxiously as, late on the appointed night, she watched from her window the departure of the army, on what secret expedition bound she knew too well! She listened breathlessly to the sound of their footsteps and the trampling of horses, until they died away in the distance, and silence reigned through the city.

The next morning a sudden and loud knocking at her door brought her face to face with the British officer' who had ordered the meeting at her house. His face was clouded and his expression stem.

"Were any of your family up, Lydia," he said, "on the night when I and my brother officers were in this house?"

"No," was the unhesitating reply; "they all retired at eight o'clock."

"It is very strange," mused the officer. "You, I know were asleep, for I knocked at your door three times before you heard me; yet it is certain that we were betrayed, for, on arriving near the encampment of General Washington, we found his cannon mounted, his troops under arms and so prepared at every point to receive us that we were compelled to inarch bade, without injuring our enemy, like a parcel of fools."

It is not known whether the officer ever discovered to whom he was indebted for the disappointment. None about her suspected the demure Quakeress, Lydia Darrah, of having snatched from the English the anticipated victory.

As for the intrepid woman herself, she went on leading her grave, quiet; subdued life, blessing God for her preservation, and no doubt rejoicing that it had not been necessary to utter an untruth in order to save the defenders of her country a cruel blow.

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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