‘Mrs. Petitcarras’ threw down a gauntlet (soft, white buckskin with a beaded floral pattern?) re: International Women’s Day. We do tend to neglect the distaff side here at FP, I admit. It is high time we tipped a hat and raised a place to the women of the frontier.
Life was hard for everybody on the Ohio Valley Frontier. It was especially hard on women. Much of the work of maintaining a farm and household fell on them, and upon the usually enormous broods of children they bore. Rebecca Boone, wife of the most famous frontiersman of the era, was typical — married at 17, she was often left on her own while Daniel spent months and in one case two years hunting commercially (and unluckily) in the Appalachian backcountry. Whenever Daniel was home, he knocked her up — she bore 10 children between 1757 and 1781. Two of her sons were killed by Indians.
The American Association of University Women describes her laborious way of life — a description that applied to virtually every woman of the backcountry:
Daniel’s long absences made Rebecca the head of their household. She was responsible for feeding and clothing her family. Feeding her family involved planting, tending, harvesting, and preserving fruits and vegetables grown in her kitchen garden and crop fields. She managed the care of typical farm animals such as chickens, pigs, sheep, and cows. Rebecca’s daily chores involved gathering eggs and churning milk to make butter and cheese. Her seasonal chores included butchering and preserving meat and gathering sap to make maple syrup.
Clothing her family was also a major operation that involved many steps. She grew flax and cut wool from her herd of sheep to spin, dye, weave, and finally sew into clothing. Since Daniel, and later her sons, wore buckskin when hunting, she knew how to skin, tan, and prepare hides for clothing, too. She made candles and soap, chopped firewood, and also knew how to make bullets and shoot a gun.
Rebecca followed Daniel from North Carolina to Kentucky to Missouri, and, in part due to her husband’s abysmal business acumen, life never got easy.
Mad Anne Bailey was nobody’s idea of typical. While women had to know how to load and fire a rifle, and some hunted for the pot when their man was away, not too many honed their tactical skills and became Rangers themselves.
Anne Hennis is believed to have been born in 1742 in Liverpool, England, and come to America as an indentured servant. The surname is Dutch. She married a frontiersman named Richard Trotter, who had survived the destruction of General Edward Braddock’s expeditionary force at the hands of French and Indian irregulars in 1755. His luck ran out in 1774, at the Battle of Point Pleasant, when Virginia went to war against the Shawnee nation.
Thereupon his widow adopted male dress, took up rifle and tomahawk, and became a frontier scout, messenger, spy, and Indian fighter. She was the subject of numerous adventures, both true and legendary, and became widely known as the “white squaw of the Kanawha” and more bluntly as “Mad Ann.” (Brittanica.com).
It is not clear whether Mad Anne was truly mentally disturbed — she certainly had suffered a trauma* — or whether the handle was hung on her because her taking on of a male role was considered eccentric.
Her eccentricity wasn’t enough to scare off another suitor; she married a Ranger named John Bailey and moved with him to Clenendin’s Settlement (Charleston, West Virginia) in 1788. Indians besieged the settlement in 1791. As the defenders of Fort Lee ran short of gunpowder, Anne mounted up, evaded the besieging tribesmen, and made a 100-mile ride to retrieve a couple of kegs of the precious powder — a mission she accomplished in three days.
Mad Anne did a better job of escaping danger than her men did. John Bailey was shortly killed by Indians. After the 1795 Treaty of Fort Grenville ended the war in the Old Northwest, Anne moved across the river into Ohio with her son. She served her community as an express rider into her 70s.
* I don’t know how you’d go about it, because the record would surely be sparse, but it would be fascinating to explore how trauma affected the lives of the people of the frontier — whites and First Nations peoples alike. Death or maiming by disease or accident were rife; infant mortality rates were very high. Many, many people were touched by horrific violence. It stands to reason that what we know as PTSD would have been very common.