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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hannah Willson, a Woman in "Sailor's Apparel"

One of my fascinations in sailors of the eighteenth century is the unfortunate crew that was sent deep into the wilderness along with General Braddock.

With the outbreak of war in America in 1754, Britain dispatched Braddock with a sizable army to remove the French from the Ohio country. Departing from his headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, Braddock brought along a huge battery of artillery, regiments of regular soldiers, American provincial units, camp followers, and (most surprisingly) a small unit of tarpawlins.

The sailors were drawn from the Royal Navy ships that had carried the soldiers across the Atlantic, which Braddock, 'thought would be very serviceable on the march, if it should be found necessary to pass the rivers in floats or in boats.'

This expedition led to the creation of Braddock Road, quite a bit of which still exists today. Unfortunately for them, that's all it accomplished. On approaching the French Fort Duquesne, just after crossing the Monongahela River, Braddock's force was ambushed by a contingent of French regulars, militia, and Native American allies. The British suffered a stunning and decisive defeat, one that ensured the war in America would continue into the 1760's. 

In the future I will talk a bit more about the experiences and character of the sailors who fought and died alongside their lobsterback comrades, but for now I'll just highlight thiss absolutely fascinating tidbit:

Virginia Gazette,  September 5, 1755, page 4
Here's a transcription to make it easier to search:
RAN away from the Subscriber, living in Winchester Town, Frederick County, on Tuesday the 12th of August, a Servant Woman, named Hannah Wilson, about 30 Years of Age, of a middle Statue, good Complexion, born in Denmark, but speaks Low Dutch, and pretty good English ; and, it is supposed, she went away with some Sailors that were in the Battle on the Monongahela, and were going to their Ship at Hampton : She had on when she went away a blue quilted Petticoat, a white Flannel ditto, a red flower'd Jacket, and a white ditto, but no Shoes : it is suppos'd that she has dress'd herself in Sailor's Apparel, in Order to go to London with the said Sailors. Whoever will apprehend and secure the said Runaway, so that she may be had again, shall have Three Pistoles Reward, besides all reasonable Charges, paid by        Henry Brinker.
Among those sailors that survived the Battle of Monongahela (and the casualties were remarkably high) it appears discipline was lacking. Hannah willingly attached herself to their mess and made her way toward the sea to join them across the Atlantic. I don't know yet if she made it aboard, but it is further evidence that a woman in sailor's clothing was not confined to fiction.

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