Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Martha Bratton


The year 1780 was a dark period for the patriots of Carolina, and in this time of trial none bore the distress or aided the cause with more courage and sagacity than shrewd Colonel Bratton and his wife.

 Mrs. Bratton was a native of Rowan County, North Carolina, where she married William Bratton, a Pennsylvanian of Irish parentage, who resided in the York District in the state of South Carolina. Although Charleston surrendered, and General Lincoln and the American army became prisoners of war, the inhabitants of York District were offered British protection if they would swear allegiance to the crown. But almost to a man they refused to give their paroles, preferring resistance and exile to subjection and inglorious peace. Many of them banded themselves together under such men as Colonel Bratton, and harassed the victorious enemy by sudden and desultory attacks. They were unpaid, and depended on their own exertions for everything necessary to carry on the warfare. British officers and troops were dispatched to every nook and comer of South Carolina to banish every Whig with the utmost disregard of conditions, but the largest detachment of these was met and attacked by the party under the command of Colonel Bratton. From that time on a price was set on this patriot's head. It was at this time that the heroism of the wife of Colonel Bratton was nobly displayed. While her husband was at the front one night a British officer rudely entered her house demanding where her husband was.

Heis in Sumter's army," was the undaunted reply. The officer then essayed persuasion and proposed to Mrs. Bratton that she induce her husband to come in and join the Royalists, promising that he should have a commission in the royal service. Mrs. Bratton answered staunchly that she would rather see him remain true to duty and his country even if he perished in the American Army. Enraged at this he sought by violence to get the information that might endanger her husband's safety. He even stood by while one of the common soldiers, seizing a reaping hook that hung near them on the piazza, brought it to her throat with the intention of killing her. She would undoubtedly have died, taking the secret of her husband's hiding place with her to the grave, had not the officer second in command interposed and compelled the soldier to release her.

Mrs. Bratton was then ordered to prepare supper for the British and it may be conceived with what feelings she saw her house occupied by the enemies of her husband and her country and found herself compelled to minister to their wants.

What wild and gloomy thoughts had possession of her soul is evident from the desperate idea, afterwards confessed to, which occurred to her of playing a Roman matron's part and mixing poison, which she had in the house, with the food they had to eat. But her noble nature shrank from such an expedient. She well knew the brave spirit that animated her husband and his comrades and that her husband would not approve of such a desperate deed. They might even now be tagging the footsteps of this enemy; they might be watching the opportunity for an attack. She would not have them owe to a cowardly stratagem the victory they should win on the battlefield. So, having calmly prepared the repast, she retired with her children to an upper apartment

After they had eaten, the British officer drew his men to another house about half a mile off to pass the night They lay in camp about it, the guard keeping negligent watch and little dreaming of the scene that awaited them. Mrs. Bratton had, in the meantime, dispatched a trusted messenger to her husband with word of the position and number of the enemy. He thereupon marshaled his pitiful troop of only seventy-five men and proceeded against the impromptu British encampment attacking it rear and front at the same time. The British officer failed to rally his men, and the spirit and determined fervor of the patriots carried all before them. This victory was due to the presence of mind of one loyal American woman.

About daylight, when the firing had ceased, Mrs. Bratton ventured out, fearful of finding her nearest and dearest among the dead and dying lying about the building, but none of her loved ones had fallen. She opened her house to the wounded of both sides and humanely attended the sufferers in person, giving them indiscriminately. Loyalist and Whig alike, every relief and comfort in her power to bestow. The sequel to this chapter of her courage and resolution is interesting. The leader of the British troops having been slain in the battle, the next officer in command took his place and he was among the prisoners who surrendered to the Whigs. They determined to put him to death. He entreated as a last favor to be conducted to the presence of Mrs. Bratton. She instantly recognized him as the officer who had interfered and saved her life. Gratitude, as well as the mercy natural to woman's heart, prompted her now to intercede for him. She pleaded with an eloquence which, considering the share she had borne in the common distress and danger, could not be withstood. Her petition was granted. She procured the officer's deliverance from the death that awaited him and entertained him in her own house until he was exchanged. There is hardly a situation in romance or dramatic fiction which can surpass the interest and pathos of this simple incident

Another anecdote is related of Mrs. Bratton. Before the fall of Charleston, when resistance throughout the state was in a great measure rendered impossible by the want of ammunition, Governor Rutledge had sent on a supply to the regiment to enable them to harass the invading army. The portion given to Colonel Bratton was in his absence from home confided to the care of his wife. Some Loyalists who heard of this informed the British officer in command of the nearest station and a detachment was immediately sent forward to secure the valuable prize. Mrs. Bratton was aware that there could be no chance of saving her charge but she resolved that the enemy should not have the benefit of it. She therefore immediately laid a train of powder from the depot to the spot where she stood and when the British detachment came in sight set fire to the train and blew it up. The explosion which greeted the ears of the foe informed them that the object of their expedition was frustrated. The officer in command demanded who had dared to perpetrate such an act, and swore vengeance upon the culprit. The intrepid woman answered for herself: "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."

Colonel Bratton continued in active service throughout the war, and during his lengthened absences from home he was seldom able to see or communicate with his family. Mrs. Bratton, however, never complained, although herself a sufferer from the ravages of war, but devoted herself to the care of her family, striving at the same time to aid and encourage her neighbors. On the return of peace the husband resumed the cultivation of his farm. Grateful for the preservation of their lives and property, they did everything in their power to the other homes that had been wrecked by death and devastation. Mrs. Bratton died in 1816 and is buried near the scene of her distress and suffering during the war.

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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