Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

The Little Black-Eyed Rebel

T HE British troops under General Howe made Philadelphia their headquarters during the winter of 1777-1778. They entered that city, which was the largest and most important in the thirteen states, on September 26, 1777, having defeated Washington's army in a series of small engagements. The American commander-in-chief withdrew to a safe distance from the city, and prepared to rest and recruit his forces before meeting Howe again.

In the meantime the British General Burgoyne had surrendered at Saratoga, and many troops that had been engaged in fighting him joined Washington's command. By November, 1777, there was a general clamor for Washington to capture Philadelphia. But that city was protected by the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers and could only be approached from the north, and on that side the British had built a chain of fourteen redoubts. Washington realized that his army would have little chance of taking the city from the large British force there, and selected the woods of Whitemarsh for a temporary encampment.

General Howe in Philadelphia heard that the Americans were ill prepared for an attack, and so, on December fourth, he marched fourteen thousand men against them. Washington, with only some seven thousand really effective soldiers, prepared to meet him, but after much manœuvering and several slight skirmishes Howe decided that the Americans were too well protected by the broken country and their entrenchments, and retired into the city again. The rest of the winter Howe spent in Philadelphia, and Washington put his army into winter quarters at Valley Forge, on the Schuylkill River, twenty-one miles outside of Philadelphia. Thus the two armies rested, and waited for spring to renew hostilities. When spring came, to the surprise of the Tories, the British marched out of the city on June 18, 1778, and allowed the Americans to enter unmolested.

The British spent the winter in Philadelphia in entertainments of every fashion; the Americans at Valley Forge had difficulty in getting sufficient food and clothing. With the army so near it was natural that many of the soldiers should try to send messages to their families in the city, and receive word from them. Many plans were tried to dodge the British sentries, and letters were often hidden in the farm-wagons that drove into town with provisions for citizens and soldiers.
One of those who was most active in sending messages was a Philadelphia girl named Mary Redmond. She was known as"The Little Black-eyed Rebel," and Will Carleton's poem tells the true story of one of her successful attempts to smuggle notes from the soldiers at Valley Forge to their wives and children in Philadelphia.

The Little Black-Eyed Rebel

by Will Carleton
[From Poem For Young Americans, by Will Carleton]
Copyright, 1906, by Harper & Brothers

A boy drove into the city, his wagon loaded down

With food to feed the people of the British-governed town;

And the little black-eyed rebel, so innocent and sly,

Was watching for his coming from the corner of her eye.

His face looked broad and honest, his hands were brown and tough,

The clothes he wore upon him were homespun, coarse, and rough;

But one there was who watched him, who long time lingered nigh,

And cast at him sweet glances from the corner of her eye.

He drove up to the market, he waited in the line;

His apples and potatoes were fresh and fair and fine;

But long and long he waited, and no one came to buy,

Save the black-eyed rebel, watching from the corner of her eye.

"Now who will buy my apples?" he shouted, long and loud;

And "Who wants my potatoes?" he repeated to the crowd;

But from all the people round him came no word of a reply,

Save the black-eyed rebel, answering from the corner of her eye.

For she knew that 'neath the lining of the coat he wore that day,

Were long letters from the husbands and the fathers far away,

Who were fighting for the freedom that they meant to gain or die;

And a tear like silver glistened in the corner of her eye.

But the treasures—how to get them? crept the question through her mind,

Since keen enemies were watching for what prizes they might find:

And she paused a while and pondered, with a pretty little sigh;

Then resolve crept through her features, and a shrewdness fired her eye.

So she resolutely walked up to the wagon old and red;

"May I have a dozen apples for a kiss?" she sweetly said:

And the brown face flushed to scarlet; for the boy was somewhat shy,

And he saw her laughing at him from the corner of her eye.

"You may have them all for nothing, and more, if you want," quoth he.

"I will have them, my good fellow, but can pay for them," said she;

And she clambered on the wagon, minding not who all were by,

With a laugh of reckless romping in the corner of her eye.

Clinging round his brawny neck, she clasped her fingers white and small,

And then whispered, "Quick! the letters! thrust them underneath my shawl!

Carry back again this package, and be sure that you are spry!"

And she sweetly smiled upon him from the corner of her eye.

Loud the motley crowd were laughing at the strange, ungirlish freak,

And the boy was scared and panting, and so dashed he could not speak;

And, "Miss, I have good apples," a bolder lad did cry;

But she answered, "No, I thank you," from the corner of her eye.

With the news of loved ones absent to the dear friends they would greet,

Searching them who hungered for them, swift she glided through the street.

"There is nothing worth the doing that it does not pay to try,"

Thought the little black-eyed rebel, with a twinkle in her eye.

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