Women, Too, Played Key Roles In Nation’s Birth

Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “On this day when America celebrates its freedom, let’s remember the Founding Mothers like Catherine Petrie Herkimer, Tyonajanegen (Two Kettles Together) and Sybil Ludington, without whom our nation would not be what it is.”

Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y.

As we celebrate our nation’s freedom today, names like Thomas Jefferson, cousins Sam and John Adams, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere come to mind.

But rarely, if ever, do we hear about Catherine Petrie Herkimer, Tyonajanegen or Sybil Ludington.

We should. After all, giving birth without women would be a formidable challenge indeed.

Herkimer, Tyonajanegen and Ludington all had important roles in our nation’s founding. But as was often the case, women were usually relegated to the back pages of history — if mentioned at all — despite the fact that without them, wars may never have been won. Or started, for that matter.

Here are three strong women — there are many more — we should remember today.

Catherine Petrie Herkimer
Without her, there would have been no Nicholas. She was his mother.

In fact, Catherine was married to Johan Jost Herkimer, and together they would have 13 children, one of whom would grow up to command the Tryon County militia at the Battle of Oriskany.

Jane Sullivan Spellman, former director of the Herkimer County Historical Society who has worked tirelessly to give women their place in history, touted Catherine’s accomplishments in the book, “Women Belong in History Books.”

Clearly, Catherine was a woman to be reckoned with.

“Catherine’s job was to have the children, prepare meals, see food and flax were grown, convert flax and sheep’s wool into clothing, know enough about herbs to keep 15 people healthy, care for cattle and chickens to provide for the family and be principle teacher as the children grew,” wrote Spellman.

Anyone want to apply for that job?

Spellman notes that when the French and Indian War broke out, their home and the nearby Fort Herkimer Church (which still stands) were fortified by the British. During enemy attacks, settlers took refuge in the church, during which time feeding the soldiers and other families was left to Catherine. No small task.

Catherine and her husband both died in 1775, the year the Revolution began. Clearly, she possessed superior management skills at a time when the Mohawk Valley was a frontier wrought with challenges that only someone strong in body and spirit could endure. To be sure, Catherine Petrie Herkimer fulfilled that role and proved to a remarkable role model for her children, one of whom would distinguish himself as a gallant leader in the colonial fight for freedom.

Writes Spellman: “Her legacy of courage, intelligence and skill have made her a woman worth remembering.”

The name translates as Two Kettles Together. The Oneida woman fought alongside her husband, Han Yerry, and son, Cornelius, at the Battle of Oriskany on Aug. 6, 1777. After her husband was hit in the wrist by the British musket ball , Tyonajanegen helped him reload his gun and continue firing.

Tyonajanegen and Han Yerry Tewahangarahken were married sometime in the 1750s and were among the founders of the Oneida village of Oriska, the place where Gen. Nicholas Herkimer and his Tryon County militia stopped on Aug. 5, 1777, the night before being ambushed on their way to lift the siege at nearby Fort Stanwix.

In the book, “Forgotten Allies,” by Joseph T. Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin, Two Kettles is described as an “extraordinary woman” who not only helped her warrior husband reload, but fired two pistols herself defending the patriot cause at Oriskany. It was noted that both she and her husband were cited for their contributions to the American victory at Saratoga, where Han Yerry led a group of Oneidas despite his Oriskany wounds; Two Kettles assisted him and shuttled messages for the rebels. Later, America’s victorious general at Saratoga, Horatio Gates, directed Fort Stanwix commandant Peter Gansevoort to reward them both.

That’s not all. Two Kettles also proved courageous during the Stanwix siege. “Forgotten Allies” recounts how Two Kettles, a fine horsewoman, managed to slip out of the fort, make her way through the woods to Oriska, mount a horse and ride to Fort Dayton (present-day Herkimer), warning all along the way that the enemy was at hand.
You might call her the Mohawk Valley’s Paul Revere.

Sybil Ludington
Speaking of Paul Revere, there was yet another patriot who took to horseback to alert the local militia that the British were coming. Like Two Kettles, this messenger, too, was a female — just 16 years old — and she rode 40 miles, twice as far as her fellow patriot in Boston, to muster the troops.

Her name was Sybil Ludington (some spell it Sibyl and it’s actually “Sibbell” on her headstone) and she hailed from Dutchess County (area is now part of Putnam County), not far from the Connecticut border.

Her dad, Henry, was a New York state assemblyman and had been appointed a captain in the local militia by colonial governor William Tryon, but he resigned that post and became a militia colonel for the Continentals.

Nearby in Danbury, Connecticut, the Continentals stored military supplies, and when word came that the British planned to attack the city, Henry sent his daughter out to muster the militia. According to many published accounts, including one by Valerie DeBenedette in “Mental Floss” and History is Now Magazine, Sybil rode 40 miles spreading the word, the militia gathered at the Ludington house and began the march to Danbury. But they arrived too late. The British had burned the city and had moved on.

Sybil’s story was later recounted by Connecticut historian Louis S. Patrick, her great-nephew, and although disputed by some, many tributes to her heroics abound. In 1961, a statue of Sybil on horseback by Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington was dedicated by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in the Putnam County community of Carmel. There are books and poems, including “Sybil Ludington’s Ride,” by Berton Braley, written about her, and several New York State historical markers are posted along her likely route and at her home site.

Sybil later became a symbol of the National Woman’s Party for use in campaigning for an equal rights amendment, and in 1975 she was honored on a United States postal stamp — only the 35th woman to ever achieve such an honor.
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Just three of many
There are many more women who played key roles in the American Revolution and there are numerous sources where you can go to read about them. Do it.

Unfortunately, you’ll never read about many others because as former Herkimer County Historical Society director Jane Spellman often said, women’s accomplishments weren’t recorded because “most history was recorded by men.”

Imagine the many pioneer women right here in the revolutionary Mohawk Valley who endured tremendous hardships during those turbulent times. Many were left alone with children to raise and households to tend after their husbands were killed at the Battle of Oriskany, which took a devastating toll on the valley.

So on this day when America celebrates its freedom, let’s remember the Founding Mothers like Catherine Petrie Herkimer, Tyonajanegen (Two Kettles Together) and Sybil Ludington, without whom our nation would not be what it is.

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