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Old 11-18-2018, 09:30 AM
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Post Lydia Darragh - 1729-1789

Edited by Debra Michals, PhD | 2015

Lydia Barrington Darragh was a Philadelphia Quaker who became a Patriot spy during the American Revolution. Her courageous efforts helped prepare General George Washington for an attack by the British in December of 1777.

Born in 1729 in Dublin, Ireland, Lydia Barrington married family friend William Darragh in 1753. A few years later, the couple moved to America, settling in Philadelphia with its large Quaker community. William Darragh worked as a tutor; Lydia as a midwife. She raised five children; four others died in infancy. Although Quakers were pacifists—and most remained neutral during the Revolutionary War—the Darraghs secretly supported the rebel cause.

In September of 1777, after several victories over Washington’s army, the British marched triumphantly into Philadelphia. When Washington’s October bid to retake the city failed, he and his troops retreated to Whitemarsh. Nearly one-third of Philadelphia’s population evacuated the city. As well-known Quakers, the Darraghs felt relatively safe remaining in their home. British General Sir William Howe established his camp across the street from the Darraghs’, where he was easily spied by Lydia. Her fourteen-year-old son John smuggled her coded notes about British activities to her eldest son Charles, a Patriot soldier.

In late fall of 1777, British troops demanded use of the Darragh’s home for meetings. Darragh—aided by a cousin in the British army—persuaded the British to allow her family to stay in their home. The youngest children were sent to relatives outside the city.

On December 2, 1777, British officers held a secret meeting at the Darragh home, ordering the family to remain in their bedrooms. But Darragh hid in a closet where she overheard their plans for a surprise December 4th attack on Washington’s army at Whitemarsh.

Determined to warn Washington, Darragh used her role as homemaker to receive a pass from Howe to visit her children and obtain flour from the Frankford mill. On December 4th, Darragh made the long and dangerous walk past patrol stops to the mill. She filled her flour sack and journeyed toward the Rising Sun Tavern, a known Patriot message center. In Darragh’s account to her daughter Ann, she informed an American officer she recognized about Howe’s planned attack, and he then told Colonel Elias Boudinot, who warned Whitemarsh. An account by a British soldier differs, claiming that Darragh handed Boudinot a needle book with various pockets, one of which held a message about the surprise attack.

Either way, Darragh’s bravery gave Washington time to prepare his troops. After four days of minimal fighting in what was ultimately a standoff, Howe and his troops returned to Philadelphia. Once there, the British began an investigation into who leaked their plan. Darragh was questioned, but officers believed her denials that no one had been awake during the soldiers’ meeting.

In June of 1778, the British left Philadelphia, and Darragh was reunited with her children. In 1783, her husband William died. Three years later, Darragh moved into a new house and ran a store until her death in 1789.

Darragh’s daughter Ann published the story of her mother’s spy work in 1827. In 1877, various people began to question the narrative’s veracity, but speculation subsided in 1909 when Boudinot’s memoirs were published, corroborating Darragh’s role.
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Old 11-18-2018, 11:53 AM
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HC - another posting on Darragh

Photo link of Lydia:

Quakers are committed to pacifism. They reject sacraments, ritual and formal ministry, hold meetings at which any member may speak, and promote many causes for social reform. Since Lydia and her husband were raised as Quakers, that is what they taught their children to be as well. However, their eldest son Charles broke this when he enlisted in the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment.

Spying for the Americans

After the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777, they stationed soldiers in citizens' home. One of those homes was the Darragh home. On the night of December 2, 1777, they even held a conference there with top British officers. There, General William Howe finalized plans for an attack on Whitemarsh on the 4th.

The other officers listened intently to his story.

Unbeknownst to them, so did Lydia Darragh.

Hurriedly, she made notes, rolled up the paper she wrote them on, stuffed them in the pocket of a book, and rushed to the Rising Sun Tavern, where Elias Boudinot was serving as Commissary of Prisoners. There, as many other women did, she asked permission to leave the city in order to go the countryside and purchase flour. Unlike other women, she also pressed a needle book into his hands with many pockets.

He told her to wait while he secured permission, but she left while he was gone. At that point, he went through the book and found the rolled up note, saying that General Howe would be going out with 5,000 men, 13 cannons, and 11 boats on wheels.

Immediately he rode post to American headquarters.

Later, after the failed offensive, Major Andre, the British spymaster, would report, "One thing is certain, the enemy had notice of our coming, were prepared for us, and we marched back like a parcel of fools. The walls must have ears."

These things are recorded in the journals of Elias Boudinot, and are only made possible by the ridiculous 18th century notion that women couldn't understand the intricacies of war. Thus, the British officers were not afraid to speak freely in a house that had only mere women in it. Further, when Major Andre went searching for the leak later, he believed Lydia Darragh when she told him she was sleeping while they discussed their plans.

Note: despite a lot of searching, we couldn't find out what Mr. Darragh was doing the night of Dec. 2, 1777. It is clear that he was not at the house, nor was he questioned when the British went searching for spies. Nonetheless, no one bothers mentioning what he was doing! It's possible he was not even alive by this time, it being 25 years after their marriage.

Final Years

After the death of her husband, in 1783 she ran a store until her death in December 26, 1789.

Philadelphia During the Revolutionary War

Queen Anne's War,fought in between 1702 and 1713, cut off trade to the city, causing the city much financial pain. The war was closely suffered by a depression in the 1720's, which caused Philly's population to begin to dwindle.

In her earlier years, "The City of Brotherly Love" had been a major export and trade center. So in order to help not only Philadelphia but themselves, England and some other European countries helped them build their farmlands back up.

Philadelphia was the headquarters, if not the official capitol, of the colonies during the American Revolutionary War. This historical city hosted the First Continental Congress, which was held in Carpenter's Hall, before the war, and the Second Continental Congress, which signed the Declaration of Independence.

Thus it was that General William Howe was thrilled to outmaneuver George Washington and march into Philadelphia without opposition on September 26, 1777.

Tense conflict ensued, however, because American patriots stripped the city of supplies before they arrived. Even the Liberty Bell was carried out to prevent the British from making bullets from it!

It took the British two months to defeat American forts along the Delaware River and begin to bring in supplies. By then, their skirmishes with the continental army and the damages that resulted had angered the populace. Worse, General Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga in October had inspired French trust in the Americans and brought them into the war.

By spring of 1778, General Howe, fearing being cut off by French ships at the mouth of the Delaware, simply fled Philadelphia for New York, returning it to the Americans for good.

Philadelphia had been taken by the British and lost without a shot being fired!

Political and religious tensions began to grow when more religions were introduced such as Quakers, Pietists, Anglicans, and Catholics. Religious controversy led to riots in the 1740's as a result of this. In October of '42, the riots climaxed in an event known as the "Bloody Election" or the "Philadelphia Election Riot of 1742."

Pickpockets and criminals prospered during the unrest. Nonetheless, by the mid 1700s' Philadelphia surpassed even Boston in population. Few fled the city despite its problems.

By the 1750's, Philadelphia had a permanent trading center, which Benjamin Franklin, who had become a leading citizen in the city, helped improve. Benjamin Franklin also built a hospital for the poor, established the first public library, started the first American police force. He also started a fire department called the Union Fire Company which is still in operation today.

Thus, Philadelphia was a thriving, central city when the War for Independence began.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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