Friday, February 26, 2010

Jane Black Thomas – Revolutionary

Jane Thomas and her husband John came to South Carolina from Pennsylvania before the American Revolution. During the war, both of them served their country with courage.
Perhaps Jane’s contribution is best expressed in her death notice, which was published in the Carolina Gazette on May 25, 1811.
“In the year 1779, when the tories attacked the house of her husband to get a magazine (ammunition) kept there, she cooperated with her son and son-in-law in guarding it. While they fired on the assailants, she advanced in front of them with a sword in her hand and dared them to come on. They were intimidated and retired.
“She steadily refused to drink any tea after the war, saying, ‘it was the blood of some of the poor men who first fell in the war.’
“She enjoyed good health throughout her long life (she lived to be 90), lived on a spare diet with frequent draughts of buttermilk but never took any physic.”
Jane Thomas is also known for a courageous ride to notify the Whigs of a planned attack. Her husband and son were captives of the British at Ninety Six. Jane was allowed to visit them, and her husband gave her a message for Gen. Thomas Sumter. Jane delivered the message personally and while returning to the fort heard that Tories were planning an attack on Cedar Springs near her home, some 60 miles away from Ninety Six. Not stopping to rest, she galloped toward Cedar Springs to warn her son who commanded the Whigs there. She rode hard, swimming her horse across the flooded Enoree and Saluda rivers. She arrived in time, and the Whigs were prepared to fight off the Tories, taking many prisoners.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Getrude Legendre – Socialite Spy

 It has been written that Gertrude Legendre was “one of those gals the Almighty doesn’t make anymore.”
Daughter of a well-to-do rug manufacturer, Gertrude Sanford gave up the life of a debutante for that of a big-game hunter. She shot her first elk in Wyoming in her teens, and she and her husband Sidney Legendre pursued big game all over the world during the 1920s and ‘30s, contributing some rare specimens to museums.
While Sidney served in the armed forces during World War II, Gertrude joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA. When she was transferred to the  Paris office, she was given a cover story and went to work as a spy. She became the first American woman captured in France. During the six months she was held as a POW, she survived constant German interrogation by claiming to be an airhead typist.
She made friends with one of the German guards who had lived in America. He no doubt played a major role in her survival. After the war, she was able to help him emigrate to this country.
This guard helped Gertrude pull off a daring escape from the prison camp. Hiding all the way behind unused seats, she took a train to the German-Swiss border. Just as she made a run for the border, German guards ordered her to halt. Waving her hand over her head and shouting, “American passport,” she slipped across the border to freedom.
After the war, she and her husband bought Medway Plantation in the lowcountry of South Carolina and became involved in environmental issues. Gertrude wrote two biographies, but was widely quoted as saying, “I don’t contemplate life. I live it.”
She died in 2000 at the age of 97.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mary Fields – Montana Legend

Born into slavery in Tennessee, Mary Fields, after emancipation, found her way to Montana, where she worked at St. Peter’s Mission in Cascade. Over six-feet tall, Mary gained a reputation as a cigar-smokin’, pistol-totin’, no-nonsense woman. Male workers resented taking orders from a black woman, which led to trouble when she and a male co-worker fought a gun duel behind the mission. 
The bishop fired her, but the nuns, grateful for the devotion Mary had shown them over the years, got her a job delivering the mail, the first black woman to do so. Mary was 60 years old by this time, but for eight years she covered the mail route and was never late, earning herself the nickname, “Stagecoach Mary.” When the snow was too deep for the horses, Mary would sling the mail bags over her shoulder and walk the route.
By the age of 70, she had “retired” from the postal service. The nuns at St. Peter’s helped her start a laundry service in Cascade. While she had a kind-hearted streak (the restaurant she started went out of business because she allowed too many people too much credit) she could be a formidable presence for those who didn’t pay their bills at the laundry. Mary, who boasted that she could “knock out any man with one punch” did just that to a man who refused to pay his laundry bill. She was 72 at the time. When the laundry burned in 1912, the townspeople supplied lumber and labor to rebuild it.
Mayor D.W. Monroe gave Mary special permission to drink in saloons with the men. In her later years, Mary became the mascot for the town’s baseball team.
Actor Gary Cooper remembered Mary and wrote about her in a 1959 issue of Ebony magazine. She died in 1914 in Cascade. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Annie Smith Peck – Mountain Climber

Born in Rhode Island in 1850, Annie Smith Peck became a teacher. A move to Michigan presented her with the opportunity to enroll in the University of Michigan where she earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Her next job was as Professor of Latin at Purdue University, making her one of the first women to attain such a position.
At age 44, though, she took up a “hobby” that would become her real passion–mountain climbing. She became the third woman to climb the Swiss Matterhorn and the first woman to do it wearing trousers.
At age 60, she became the first person to scale the north peak of Mount Huascaran in Peru. It took her six attempts to reach the top of the 22,205-foot peak, but she made it, wearing mountain shoes she had designed herself.
At age 82, she climbed Mount Madison in New Hampshire.
Described as slim, dainty and far more scholarly than athletic, Annie was considered an authority on South American economics, politics, geography and social issues.
In an interview with the Associated Press in 1929, she described her thoughts on reaching the summit of Huascaran: “I’m here at last after 10 years of effort, but shall we ever get down again?” The Lima Geographical Society named the north peak, Cumra Ana Peak, in her honor, and the government of Peru gave her a gold medal.
When asked how she began her mountain-climbing career, she answered, “How did it begin? Well, I climbed the Matterhorn as I had wanted to, and after that, it seemed I was always seeking another one...”
Later in the interview she is quoted as saying, “Oh, let’s not say how old I am. I may be called elderly but I am still young and lively.”
She was 79 at the time.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Anna Burras – Founding Mother

Imagine you are 14 years old. You have been sent to work as a lady’s maid to Mistress Margaret Forrest, and suddenly you find that Mistress Forrest and her husband Thomas are sailing across the Atlantic and taking you with them. Such was the fate of Anna Burras, one of the first two women to make their homes in Jamestown, Virginia.
Imagine also that after the long and treacherous journey, Mistress Forrest falls ill–and dies. This turn of events left the young teen virtually alone among a settlement full of men. Anna, it seems, found a safety net in carpenter John Laydon. He married her in November 1608. John had come with the first settlers on the Susan Constant; Anna had landed on September 30, 1608, a passenger on the Mary and Margaret. Her marriage to John, put Anna Burras’ name in the history books as she became the first English-speaking woman to marry in North America. In 1609, she gave birth to a daughter, Virginia. Three other daughters followed. 
Anna and John survived the illness, poor crops and other problems of the Jamestown Colony. They prospered and in 1636, were granted an additional 1250  acres of land because of their status as “ancient planters.”
Anna’s spirit, however, sometimes got her in trouble. There are records noting that she and another woman, Jane Wright, were punished for a breach of discipline in 1611 or 1612, The women were assigned to make shirts and as they ran out of thread, they improvised by raveling thread out of the bottom of the shirts. This made their shirts shorter than those made by women who had not run out of thread. Anna and Jane were whipped for this infraction, and Anna reportedly suffered a miscarriage because of it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Charlotte de Berry - Pirate Captain

Charlotte de Berry was born in 1636. She led an unconventional life, donning male attire at age 17, frequenting barrooms, drinking in silence and then discussing her adventures with her friends. In those barrooms she met Jack Mell, who would become her husband.
She and Jack joined the British Navy, Charlotte posing as Jack’s brother, Dick. There are many legends concerning Charlotte. It is said that while she fought bravely, the crew realized she was a woman. The captain, wanting her for his own, accused Jack of mutiny. Jack was flogged so severely that he died. Charlotte retaliated by stabbing the captain and leaving the ship.
She then led the life of an entertainer in London where she caught the eye of a captain of a merchant ship who forced her to marry him. His crew hated him, and it was easy for Charlotte to persuade them to mutiny. She dispatched the captain by cutting off his head while he slept, took control of the ship, became known as Captain Rudolph and turned to piracy.
While her ship was in a Spanish port for repairs, she met and married Jose Sandano. Sandano joined her aboard ship, but not long afterward, they encountered a severe storm which sank the ship. The survivors clung to a raft for eight days without food and water. Eventually, they were reduced to cannibalism, drawing lots to determine who would be sacrificed. Sandano was the second to be killed. He was not eaten, however, as a ship came to their rescue.
Ironically, pirates soon attacked the ship that rescued them. Charlotte bravely fought off the pirates, but inconsolable at the loss of Sandano, she leaped overboard to her death.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mary Mallon – Typhoid Mary

Poor Mary Mallon! No one remembers that name. To the world, she is known as “Typhoid Mary.”
Mary’s troubles began in 1906 when a New York banker hired her to cook for his family at their rented Long Island summer home. Before the summer was over, six of the 11 persons in the house were suffering from typhoid fever.
The owners hired a civil engineer to find the cause of the outbreak. His investigation led him to suspect the cook. By researching her work history, he found typhoid outbreaks following her–seven in 10 years.
He tracked her down, demanding that she submit to medical tests. She reacted violently–and then disappeared. Eventually, she was found and forced to have the tests, which were positive for the typhoid bacillus. No one explained to Mary exactly how she could carry and spread typhoid fever when she wasn’t ill herself, and she refused to believe that she was a danger to others. 
She was quarantined on North Brother Island, and in 1909 she sued the health department. She lost. A year later, a new health commissioner agreed to release her as long as she never again worked as a cook.
Mary agreed, but other jobs did not pay as well as cooking, and because she did not believe she was the cause of the outbreaks, she returned to cooking–although under an assumed name. In 1915, 25 persons associated with the Sloane Maternity Hospital in Manhattan became ill with typhoid, two of them dying. It didn’t take long to determine that the hospital’s cook, Mary Brown, was really Mary Mallon. Newspaper headlines branded her a “twentieth century witch.”
She returned to North Brother Island, where she spent the remaining 23 years of her life. Her obituary called her the nation’s “most famous medical prisoner.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ellen Clifford Nay – Queen of the Ellendale Mine

The discovery of gold in California in 1849 caused prospectors to drop everything and head west, creating the Gold Rush. Sixty years later, the discovery made by a young mother of two prompted another rush, this time in Nevada.
Ellen Clifford was the daughter of a prospector. Her father had come west from Maryland to seek his fortune in the goldfields. Ellen was born in Nevada, showing at an early age a great aptitude for prospecting. When she married Joseph Nay, she convinced him to go with her to the goldfields. With their two young daughters, they worked hard, both staking their own claims. On March 31, 1909, Ellen spotted a large boulder half buried by sand. She knocked off a piece and discovered it was covered with flecks of gold.  “I never saw so much gold on a single piece of rock before,” she wrote in her diary. The rock weighed 75 pounds and was full of gold.
The Nays and Cliffords kept the discovery a secret until they could lay out lots to be sold off in an orderly fashion. But when the news was released, the old gold fever struck again. A June 1909 news story, dateline Tonopah, NV, reads “Every available vehicle was pressed into service and before noon hundreds of people were on their way to the new camp. Tomorrow morning a newspaper will be published and already there are several saloons and restaurants in the camp.”
The community which sprang up around the find was called Ellendale, and Ellen, proud of what her discovery had wrought, gave tours to reporters and potential investors. By November 1909, the vein of gold was completely tapped out, but the Nays used their proceeds wisely, building a ranch for themselves near Belmont.