Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Margaret Sharpe Gaston 1755 ~ 1812

 

Heroism and strength of character, which in peaceful times would have remained latent in a serene personality, were often brought forth to shine most illustriously through pressure of cruelty in the Revolutionary War. Such was the case of Margaret Gaston. She was born Margaret Sharpe into a quiet old England household in the county of Cumberland, England, about 1755, and her parents desiring her to have every advantage of education in the Catholic faith, sent her to France when a very young girl. She was brought up in the seclusion and calm of convent life. Her two brothers, however, were extensivdy engaged in commerce in this country and she came out to visit them. Then began for this retiring, timid young woman, a tumultuous era of New World romance and soul-trying grief. It was during her sojourn that she met Dr. Alexander Gaston, a native of Ireland, of Huguenot ancestry, to whom she was married at Newbern, in the twentieth year of her age. But the happy married life of these two young people was destined to be of brief duration and tragic end.

Doctor Gaston was one of the most zealous patriots in North Carolina, and while his devotion to the cause of liberty won for him the confidence of the Whigs, it also gained him the implacable enmity of the opposite party. At length, so actively expressed was his patriotism and so great was his influence, a price was placed on his head by the loyalists.

On the 20th of August, 1781, a body of Tories entered Newbern, being some miles in advance of the regular troops, who had come by forced marches with a view to taking possession of the town. The Americans, taken by surprise, were driven to capitulation after an ineffectual resistance. Gaston, unwilling to surrender to the foe, hurried his wife and children across the river from their home, hoping to escape with them and proceed to a plantation eight or ten miles distant "He reached the wharf with his family," the old account runs, "and seized a light scow for the purpose of crossing the river; but before he could stow his wife and children on board, the Tories, eager for his blood, came galloping in pursuit There was no resource but to push off from the shore, where his wife and little ones stood, the wife alarmed only for him against whom the rage of the enemies was directed. Throwing herself in agony at their feet, she implored his life, but in vain. Their cruelty sacrificed him in the midst of her cries for mercy, and the musket which found his heart was levelled over her shoulder."

It is wonderful that the convent-bred girl did not go distraught, but, instead, a fierce heroic strength seemed to animate her whole being. Even the indulgence of grief was denied to the bereaved wife for she was compelled to exert herself to protect the remains of her murdered husband while her ears rang with the inhuman threats that the "rebel should not even have the rest of the grave." After she had found men brave enough to aid her in carrying the body home, she was obliged to protect the beloved lifeless form from desecration, and by its side she watched constantly until it was deposited in the earth through a midnight burial

Margaret Gaston was now left alone in a foreign land, both her brothers and her eldest son having died before the tragic taking of her husband. A boy three years of age and an infant daughter demanded all the care and protection she could get for them in the pioneer country. Many women possessed of her sensibility and shrinking nature would have been overwhelmed, but the severe trials only served to develop the admirable energy of her character. She never laid aside the habiliments of sorrow; the anniversary of her husband's murder was kept as a day of fasting and prayer; and to the great object of her life, the support and education of her children, she devoted herself with a firmness and constancy which wrested success despite the most adverse conditions.

When she had finally sent her son to Princeton College, where he was soon bearing away the first honors, it happened that her house and furniture were destroyed by fire, yet her letters to him breathe not one word of the calamity which, with her slender resources must have been severely felt, because she feared he might feel called to abandon his studies and rally to her support. The fact that this son, William Gaston, became a distinguished citizen of the country, was to his mother a sufficient reward for all she had borne with deep piety and stoic reserve.

Those who spoke of Margaret Gaston invariably named her as the most dignified as well as the most devout woman they had ever seen. She survived the husband she had seen murdered thirty-one years, in which time she never made a visit save to the suffering poor. Her home life was yet one of great activity, attending the sick and indigent, and the poor sailors who came to Newbern looked to her as a ministering angel. She passed away in this town where she had stepped from the convent to become a bride.

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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