Anyone who has been following my blog knows I look for events and people who history has overlooked moreso than those history rave over to blog about. I find many of these stories very interesting to write about.
I found a very interesting woman named Sally St. Clair [Clare]. I did discover a few morsels of information where it was spelled St. Claire.
She called herself Sally but no one figured out she was a woman. I think because it wasn’t uncommon for men to have female names back then. Button Gwinnett is a good example. Button is usually a girl’s name.
Although, she wasn’t the only woman of African descendant to fight in the American Revolutionary War. Her name is the only one recorded. None of the others, we know their names.
Sally St. Clair [birth date unknown-1782; also spelled St. Clare] was an African American woman from South Carolina who disguised herself as a man and joined the Continental Army and marched right beside the men. Fired a musket right along with them.
The American Revolutionary Soldiers used a variety of different weapons including muskets, pistols, rifles, long rifles, knives, bayonets, tomahawks, axes, swords, sabres, pole arms and cannons.
Her true gender was not discovered until after she was killed in battle during the Siege of Savannah in 1782.
Little is known about St. Clair. She is variously described as a Creole woman, a woman of color, and a woman of African and French descent. Despite all who saw her described her as being black. A rather slender woman whom they thought was a black man.
By some accounts, she joined the army to be with her lover, a sergeant. She may have served as a gunner. We do not know for sure. But we do know she engaged in several battles.
Several sources claim she was killed during the Battle of Savannah in 1778 while manning a cannon.
“Romantic Victorians” such as George Pope Morris claimed that even her lover did not recognize her until after she was killed and her body was prepared for burial. Morris’s poem about St. Clair begins:
In the ranks of Marion’s band,
Through morass and wooded land,
Over beach of yellow sand,
Mountain, plain and valley;
A southern maid, in all her pride,
March’d gayly at her lover’s side,
In such disguise
That e’en his eyes
Did not discover Sally.
Morris describes St. Clair as a “beautiful, dark-eyed Creole girl” with “long, jetty ringlets,” and claims that she died of a lance thrust aimed at her lover, Sergeant Jasper. She blocked it. I don’t know how much truth to that belief is. It was written by a Victorian Romanticist in an age of people being obsessed with the loved one dying for the one they loves. But he gave us the best record we have of her. She would have been forgotten as all women of African origin were after their service to the Continental Army was over. Many were placed back into slavery. Freedom was more likely her reason for fighting, not the love of a man. But of course, no one in the Victorian Age wanted to hear that or read about that.
Sally was a”beautiful, dark-eyed Creole girl” with “long, jetty ringlets,” and it’s claims that she died of a lance thrust aimed at her lover, husband Sergeant Jasper. He goes on to say that “there was not a dry eye in the corps when Sally St. Clair was laid in her grave, near the River Santee, in a green shady nook that looked as if it had been stolen out of Paradise.”
The ringlets could have pulled off since men wore their hair long in those days tied back with a sinew or ribbon. We know of her because of her husband, Sergeant Jasper
Morris goes on to say that “there was not a dry eye in the corps when Sally St. Clair was laid in her grave, near the River Santee, in a green shady nook that looked as if it had been stolen out of Paradise.”
Nearly a hundred years later, Artist Warren Wildwood tells her story in similarly picturesque terms in Thrilling Adventures Among the Early Settlers (1866).
Sally St. Claire, Soldier and Trailblazer
The bits and pieces, I’m able to put together of the story. Her husband, lover or whatever he was to her, didn’t recognize her until she was close enough for him to hear her voice. Inattentiveness and shocked at her being beside him took his mind off the battle resulting in his death.
Sally St. Claire is praised as a woman who fought strongly in the Revolutionary War and died a loyal death.
Not much is known about the childhood of St. Claire, the only things known areabout her adulthood and how she wound up in the war. Some women did this because they loved their husbands and others did it to protect their country, or to prove that they can and will fight in wars. Some did it because the Continental Army offered freedom to slaves who fought for them rather than the British.
Being on the quest for freedom, St. Claire was very confident of herself, proving her confidence by joining the war which was illegal back then. Also, she was very good at keeping secrets because no one knew that she was a women until her death. She was a fierce fighter. It’s said that small women are fierce. She proved it to be true.
The war was very hard for St. Claire, but she got through it. It was difficult because she had to pretend she was a person she was not, which is never easy. St. Claire had to cut her hair, dress in men’s clothes so she could join the army to fight with her husband. Even their relationship and marriage was illegal back then.
I can imagine it was hard to go to the bathroom in private and the real challenge was when she became injured and doctors had to examine her. The only part that was easy was that she slept in uniform and rarely bathed, so, she would not be exposed to other men in the same room.
Unfortunately St. Claire did not live to see the end of Revolutionary War. She died five years before the eight year war ended in September 3, 1783. In some accounts, her husband died before she did, but they both died the same day in “The Battle of the Savannah” in 1778 which is also known as the British Capture of Savannah. Fought on December 29th between local American Patriot Militia and the Continental Army.
The American Patriot Militia was made of American Patriots that fought as an irregular army of nonprofessional soldiers. The Continental Army was established by a resolution of the Continental Congress passed on June 14th, 1755.
The proper name for these soldiers were the Minute Men. Minutemen were civilian colonists who independently organized to form militia companies self-trained in weaponry, tactics, and military strategies from the American colonial partisan militia during the American Revolutionary War. They were known for being ready at a minute’s notice, hence the name. Many of these minute men were women of color.
It’s said St. Claire died in battle, shortly after her husband died from a bullet wound. When her husband died, she fired the cannon that he was using, kept firing it in rage, taking out those who killed him. She kept reloading until she was also shot. The soldiers were very surprised when they found out she was a women because of how extraordinary she fought in the war. She was very good at keeping her secrets, because everyone found out that she was a female when she passed away. Her battle records is connected to his’.
Now, which accounts of her personal life are true. We do not know, but we do know she existed and gave her life so that this nation would live.
Although little is known of Sally St. Claire’s life, the little bit of information that is available is truly amazing, it definitely proves that black women have been fighting for this country from the very start. They should have been recognized for their fight from the very start.
Now, personally, I believe, her husband knew it was his wife. What wife can go anywhere and your husband doesn’t recognize you?