Americans typically assume that, because they aren’t represented in the historical record, women and minorities in early America had little influence or power. I want to tell you that this simply isn’t true. The truth is that those in power, usually literate white men, chose to exclude women and minorities from the record on purpose. Sure, women could not own property, except in specific circumstances, or vote. However, women still controlled much of what happened in the home and wielded great influence through their husbands and sons, and in certain cases, especially on the frontier, women took on roles that would never have been considered for women in say Boston or Savannah. Below are just a couple of the women that left their mark on Mason County’s early history.
Very few people have ever heard of Nonhelema, the sister of Chief Cornstalk and chieftess of her own town near Chillicothe. She was a fierce warrior, raised to fight alongside her brother, and is known to have fought in Lord Dunmore’s War. She was on the front line with Cornstalk, Blue Jacket, Red Hawk, and Elinipsico, urging her warriors to “fight on and be strong!” After the battle, when Lewis marched into Ohio to meet Dunmore, he stopped outside of what he thought was Cornstalk’s town. In reality, he was too far south and facing Nonhelema’s. After the war, she once again sided with her brother. This time, it was against the British. When a majority of the Shawnee chose to support the British, she and her brother sent warnings to Americans along the frontier, giving them time to prepare for the coming attacks.
Even after Virginian militiamen murdered her brother in 1777, she continued helping the Americans. She became a regular visitor at Fort Randolph, and twice she warned them of imminent attacks, saving them from destruction. She was banished from her tribe for her efforts, and how did America repay her? We owed her a debt that we couldn’t repay, and she asked only for a relatively small land grant in central Ohio. Instead, Congress gave her a pittance yearly ration of food and clothing, the American military detained her during the Northwest Indian War of 1786, and a U.S. soldier murdered her husband while he was under military protection.
The second woman that I want to mention is one that, hopefully, we all know. That is Anne Hennis Trotter Bailey. Anne was born in England, immigrated to America at a young age, and married Richard Trotter, who would die at the Battle of Point Pleasant. Following his death, she joined the militia and carried messages between the frontier forts. Her favorite route from Fort Savannah (Lewisburg) to Fort Lee (Charleston) and on to Fort Randolph. It was while she was at Fort Lee that she met her second husband, John Bailey, and her story was written into legend.
In 1791, the fort was besieged by the Shawnee and running out of gunpowder. The closest supply was 100 miles away at Lewisburg. None of the men would volunteer to make the daring raid through the Shawnee army, but Anne stood and said, “I’ll go.” And out she went! Bursting through the gates on horseback, she made the 200-mile trip in three days, saving the fort, and her husband, from certain death. After the Northwest Indian War ended in 1795, she retired to Mason County, though she continued to travel and visit friends. It’s said that there wasn’t a single home in the Ohio or Kanawha Valley where she wasn’t welcome. Though, as she aged, her son convinced her to move closer to him in Gallia County. She finally gave in, and lived in Gallia County until her death in 1825.
Both of these women came from very different cultures, but led remarkably similar lives. Both were warriors, and both ensured that vital messages were carried to the frontier forts. More importantly, if it wasn’t for these two women, Mason County as we know it today would not exist. The frontier forts would’ve been wiped out and all of the settlers with them.
Information from Virgil Lewis’ History of the Battle of Point Pleasant and Life and Times of Anne Bailey.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.