We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. — George Orwell

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

The Quaker Woman

The British quartered in Philadelphia were leading an easy and merry life; but several times during the winter Howe made plans to surprise Washington's troops. To his dismay, however, his plans always seemed known to the Americans, and therefore failed. Afraid that some spy might overhear him, Howe once held a secret meeting at night in the house of a Quaker woman, named Lydia Darrah. To make sure that he should not be overheard, he bade her go to bed, and see that all her family retired likewise.

Lydia obeyed, and the general, thinking all was safe, explained his plan to his officers. But the Quaker woman had noiselessly slipped out of her room again, and was now standing at the door listening to all that was said. As soon as the talk was over she crept back to her room, and when the officers had all gone, Howe called her, as agreed, to lock the door behind him. But she pretended to be sound asleep, and let him knock at her door three times before she rose, yawning, to show him out.

The next day, Lydia, who had not dared breathe a word of what she had heard to any one, said she was out of flour, and got a pass to go and buy some at a village near by. Meeting a patriot there, she quickly warned him of Washington's peril, and then quietly went home.

The next day Howe crossly said to her: "It is very strange; you, I know, were asleep, for I knocked at your door three times before you heard me; yet it is certain we were betrayed. On arriving, we found Washington so prepared at every point that we have been compelled to march back without injuring our enemy, like a parcel of fools." Lydia heard this without making a sign, and not till the war was over did it become known that it was she who had saved the army.

Besides the American patriots, foreigners were helping Washington with all their might. Among these was the Prussian officer, Baron Steuben, who knew no English, and therefore brought over an interpreter with him. According to one story, this interpreter made an idle bet to kiss the first Yankee girl he met. Landing at Portsmouth, this man won his wager by stepping up to a pretty girl, bowing politely, and begging permission to kiss her, saying: "Before leaving my native land to fight for American freedom, I made a vow to ask, in earnest of victory, a kiss from the first lady I should meet." The story adds that the young lady accepted the kiss, saying she could not refuse so small a favor to a man who had come to fight, and if necessary, to die, for her country.

Steuben joined Washington at Valley Forge, and there began to drill the troops, so they could meet the British on an equal footing. At first the German officer was shocked by their lack of discipline, and swore at them in every language he knew; sometimes he even called to his interpreter: "Come and swear for me in English; these fellows will not do what I bid them."

You see, soldiers in those days thought it manly to swear; and as Baron Steuben had been accustomed to European soldiers, who obeyed without a question, it took him some time to grow used to Americans, who, as he said, had to be told, "This is the reason why you ought to do that," before they would obey. Still, he soon taught our men to fight like old and trained soldiers.

The winter the troops spent at Valley Forge was one of the coldest ever seen, and therefore the soldiers' sufferings were very great. But with the spring, hope revived, for the news of the coming French fleet made the British leave Philadelphia to defend New York.

General Howe having gone back to England for his health, it was Clinton who conducted this retreat. Leaving the camp at Valley Forge, Washington pursued him across New Jersey, planning to engage him in a battle at Monmouth (1778).

Here Lee, who had been exchanged for Prescott, and was again in command, disobeyed orders, and bade his men retreat. Warned by Lafayette, Washington came up just in time to check this movement, and, dashing up to Lee, hotly asked what his disobedience meant. Lee answered: "These men cannot face the British grenadiers." But Washington exclaimed: "They can do it, and they shall!" He was right; the men could, and did, face the enemy bravely. But precious time had been lost, and instead of winning a victory, the Americans only managed to stand their ground.

Molly Pitcher

During the battle, Molly Pitcher, a gunner's wife, carrying a pail (of water to her husband, saw him fall. She immediately rushed forward, took his place, and, loading his cannon, fired it as quickly and well as he. In reward for filling her husband's place that day, Congress paid her a small pension, and the soldiers, who admired her pluck, ever after called her "Major Molly."

When darkness came on, the fight ceased, and Washington flung himself down to rest. During the night an officer drew softly near, and the general quickly bade him advance and deliver his message, saying: "I lie here to think, and not to sleep." Washington's thoughts were busy, for now he could no longer doubt that Charles Lee was a traitor. Indeed, he foresaw what soon happened—that Lee would be dismissed from the army in disgrace. In fact, Lee, who had tried to harm the American cause, was never allowed to serve his country again, and had to withdraw to Virginia. There he lived a loveless and solitary life, in a house whose only partitions were chalk lines across the floor.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell