Mammy Kate was born in Africa in 1740. She was brought to colonial America and then enslaved in Wilkes County, Georgia as an indoor servant for Stephen Heard. Kate had 9 kids with her husband Daddy Jack. Daddy Jack was also a slave for Gov. Stephen Heard; he had worked on Heard's Plantation. Like many heroes, there are folklore and stories surrounding her life. Tales handed down orally through generations of the Heard family (who had owned Kate and other slaves) say Kate was very tall, standing at least six feet. She was a slave born of pure blooded Africans kidnapped from Africa and she said she was the daughter of an African king, and her demeanor was indeed royal.
In early 1779, Mammy Kate mounted a horse named Lightfoot and rode 50 miles to the British fort in Augusta, Georgia. There, her enslaver, Stephen Heard, was one of 23 patriots captured by Loyalist forces and imprisoned at Fort Cornwallis. They had fought in the Battle of Kettle Creek, where they were captured. Mammy Kate was determined to rescue Heard from certain execution. Once she arrived at Fort Augusta, she procured a large clothes basket and made her way by foot into the fort. She offered her services to the redcoats as a washerwoman, and soon had a thriving clientele of British officers who admired her skillful ironing of their ruffled shirts.
Once Mammy Kate had established herself as a trusted washerwoman for the British, she requested permission to do the laundry for Heard. His jailers agreed. Mammy Kate entered Heard's prison cell, delivering freshly laundered linens and a bit of food, then left with a load of dirty ones.
One evening, Mammy Kate entered the prison cell and exited with her basket – curled up inside was Stephen Heard. Kate carried the clothing and some food into the prison in a large basket and once inside somehow placed Heard inside it and carried him out. He was to all accounts a very small man and she was a big strong woman. It was an ingenious plan. Once outside, Mammy Kate and Heard made their way quickly to where Lightfoot and a second horse, Silverheels waited.
Daddy Jack was also waiting in the woods with the horses and took Heard to safety. Heard, who went on to be Governor of Georgia, emancipated Mammy Kate and gave her a small tract of land and a new home. But she remained on the plantation, likely because that was the only life she had ever known. Although a free woman, Mammy Kate continued to work for the Heard family until her death. The Governor died without a will, but his son wrote and filed one, mentioning both Mammy Kate and Daddy Jack. Mammy Kate died in her home built for her by Gov. Stephen Heard in Wilkes County, Georgia. Kate died in 1815 - after making a will leaving each of her nine children to one of Governor Heard's children--of whom there were also nine. So, the children of the devoted black mammy were given to the Heard family by the legal will of their mother... She and Daddy Jack are buried together in the rock walls of Heardmont Cemetery in Elberton, Georgia.
Mammy Kate was the first black woman ever to be honored as a patriot of the American Revolution in the state of Georgia. Daddy Jack was also acknowledged when the Daughters of the American Revolution laid wreaths at their graves.
To correct a popular belief, no matter their skin color, women with the army were required to be respectable, and to perform useful tasks to earn army rations. Those who did not conform were not long tolerated. There are many unknown women who served, but we do know the identities of some. One of those women was Hannah Till.
Hannah was married to Isaac Till and recorded to have had seven children: Andrew Till, born circa 1761; John Till, born circa 1765; Sarah Till, born circa 1771; Daniel Till, born between 1775-1795; Philip Till, born 1775-1795; Isaac Worley Till, born 1778, and William Till, born 1780-1790.
One son was born during the Valley Forge winter. A statement documenting his birth and baptism: “Isaac Worley Till son to Hannah a free Nigroe woman in full Communion with the Church was born in Gen. Washington's Camp Valey forge nineteen months ago and baptized in this 4th Sabbath of Augt. 1779.” Isaac’s birth would have occurred in January or February 1778, at which time Hannah was likely about forty to forty-five years of age. Records indicate that Hannah purchased her freedom in December 1778, eight months prior to her son’s baptism.
A notice of her death read: Died at Philadelphia, Mrs. Hannah Till, a black woman, who had been cook to General Washington and General La Fayette, in all their campaigns during the war of Independence. The latter at my instance went to see her, at No. 182 South Fourth street, when he was here in 1825, and made her a present to be remembered.
Historian John F. Watson wrote of her:
“As a cook/servant in General George Washington’s military household, Hannah Till would have been familiar with the general’s field headquarters; that consisted of the commander-in-chief’s sleeping marquee on the left and the large dining marquee to the right. The storage tent (a horseman’s or wall tent) is just visible behind and to the left of the dining marquee. These tents were reproduced by craftspeople at Colonial Williamsburg, in conjunction with the Museum of the American Revolution. (Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia)
This is the name of a black woman whom I saw in March, 1824, in her 102d year of age—a pious woman, possessing a sound mind and memory, and fruitful of anecdote of the Revolutionary war, in which she had served her seven years of service to General Washington and La Fayette, as cook, &c. I saw her in her own small frame house, No. 182, south Fourth street, a little below Pine street. Her original name was Long Point—a name given her father for his successful conflict with a buck at that place near Smyrna. She was born in Kent county, Delaware. Her master, John Brinkly, Esq. sold her at the age of 15 years, when she was brought to Pennsylvania. At 25 years of age she was sold to Parson Henderson, and went with hi m to Northumberland. At 35 years of age she was sold to Parson Mason, of New York, with whom she dwelt there until the war of the Revolution; she then bought her freedom, and with her husband was hired into General Washington’s military family as cooks—serving with him in all his campaigns for six and a half years, and for half a year she was lent into the service of General La Fayette. With one or the other of these she was present in all the celebrated battles in which they were engaged. She could speak, in a good strong voice, of all the things she saw in her long life, with better recollection and readier utterance than any other narrator with whom I have had occasion so to converse. I inquired regarding the domestic habits of Washington and others: she said he was very positive in requiring compliance with his orders; but was a moderate and indulgent master. He was sometimes familiar among his equals and guests, and would indulge a moderate laugh. He always had his lady with him in the winter campaigns, and on such occasions, was pleased when freed from mixed company and to be alone in his family. He was moderate in eating and drinking. I asked if she knew that he prayed. She answered that she expected he did, but she did not know that he practiced it. I was the more particular in this, because I had heard directly from Isaac Potts, the public Friend at Valley Forge, that he actually saw him, by chance, at prayer in the bushes at or near his place. I asked her if he ever swore; she answered, that ideas about religion were not very strict, and that she thought that he did not strictly guard against it in times of high excitements, and that she well remembered that on one provocation with her, he called her c—d [colored] fool. General La Fayette she praised greatly—said he was very handsome, tall, slender, and genteel, having a fair white and red face, with reddish hair—that he spoke English plain enough—was always very kind. Her words were very emphatic:—`Truly he was a gentleman to meet and to follow!’
As I was interested in the narratives of this old black woman, I thought she might afford some gratification to Gen. La Fayette himself again to see her; I made him therefore acquainted with the leading facts. As I never saw either of the parties afterwards, I may add from the communications of my sister who knew her and visited her occasionally, especially in her 104th year. She says she received from her questions, such answers as these—‘I well remember the arrival of the specie to pay the French army, for the house was so crowded that day that my pastry room was used to lodge the specie in, even while she still used the room. She continued with Washington till after Andre the spy was hung. On that day she saw many tears shed by our officers.’General La Fayette called on her with Messrs. [Tench] Tilghman and Biddle [likely Clement or Nicholas]. To his question, Where was you when General Washington left Morristown? she answered, I remained more than six months with you, Sir, in the same house. He left her, promising to send her money by his son. The sequel was, that her house was embarrassed for arrear groundrents, and she was soon after informed to make herself easy, for La Fayette had cleared it off! and ‘the pious old soul blesses you and him for the interference.’More was said, but it might savour of gossip to say more in this article. She has since gone to her reward.”