The Patriotism of Lydia Darrah
WHEN the British occupied Philadelphia, the Adjutant-General of the British Army had his quarters in the home of a Quaker, named Darrah, and his wife, Lydia. The two were stanch Patriots, who little liked the private conferences of the British officers, frequently held in their house at night.
One cold and snowy day in December, 1777, the Adjutant-General told Mrs. Darrah to make ready the upper back room of the house for a meeting of his friends, which he intended for that very night.
"Be sure your family are all in bed early, for my friends may stay until a late hour. When they are ready to depart, I will call you that you may let them out, and extinguish the fire and the candles."
She set about doing as she was bid. At the same time, she was so impressed with the mystery of it all, and so suspicious of the purpose of the officer, that she resolved to find out what was going on.
When night came, she saw that her family were in bed, and, after the officers arrived, she bade them good-night, saying she would also retire to her room. So she did, but not to sleep.
After a while she quietly stole, in her stocking feet, along the passage until she came to the room where the officers were in consultation. She placed her ear to the keyhole, and listened intently to what was being said inside.
One of the officers was reading a paper, which was an order from Sir William Howe, arranging for a secret attack on the forces of General Washington. The British troops were to leave Philadelphia on the night of December 4, and to surprise the Patriots before daybreak. The plan was carefully made, and these officers were receiving their instructions.
Mrs. Darrah had heard enough. She went quietly back to her room, and lay down on the bed. In a few minutes, steps were heard along the passage, and there was a rap at her door.
"Come, wake up, Mrs. Darrah, and let us out," demanded the Adjutant-General.
Mrs. Darrah pretended to be asleep, and the officer rapped more loudly and called again. Yawning, and in a sleepy voice, the patriotic woman answered. Then she arose and let the men out of the house. She slept no more that night, for she knew that Washington must be warned; her thoughts were busy with some plan to convey him the information she had.
By dawn she was out of bed and ready for action. She knew that flour was wanted for her family, and so she told her husband that she was going to Frankford to get the needed supply. This was not an unusual thing, since the people in those days depended on the Frankford Mills for their flour, and delivery wagons were not heard of.
The morning was cold, and snow covered the ground. Frankford was five miles away, and Mrs. Darrah had to walk the entire way, and bring back the flour on her shoulder. Bag in hand, the brave woman started on her journey afoot. She stopped at Howe's headquarters to get a passport to leave the city. It was still early in the day when she reached the Mills, and left her bag to be filled with flour. From the Mills she pushed on toward the headquarters of General Washington.
After walking a few miles, she met Lieutenant-Colonel Craig, one of Washington's officers, who had been sent out in search of information. It did not take her long to tell her story to him. He returned rapidly to his own lines, while she walked leisurely back to the Mills, as though there was nothing on her mind. She shouldered her bag of flour, and trudged home through five miles of snow. But she had the satisfaction of realizing that Washington now knew the plans of the enemy.
On the night of December 4, the British troops moved quietly out of Philadelphia, and advanced to attack the supposedly unsuspecting Americans. Just before daybreak, they arrived in front of the American lines, and, to their surprise, found everything ready to receive them: The Patriots were armed and prepared for their foe. In much dismay, the British turned quietly around and marched back to Philadelphia, having gone miles through the cold and darkness for nothing. The Adjutant-General could not imagine how Washington had found out the plans for the attack. The next day he said to Mrs. Darrah:
"It is strange how Washington discovered our purpose. You and your family were all asleep when I gave the orders to the officers, and yet some one found out. We marched miles and miles to find the Americans under arms, with cannon, ready, and then we had to march back like a parcel of children. I wonder who told him we were coming?"
Mrs. Darrah could have enlightened him on this point, but she kept her counsel. It was some months after the British had left Philadelphia before she mentioned to any one the way in which she had outwitted General Howe and saved the Americans from surprise.