Anna Warner Bailey
Patron Saint of the Revolutionary Period
1758 – 1851 A.D.
There was consternation in the little Connecticut village of New London in 1813 when the British fleet chased Decatur into its harbour [sic]. Fear was rife that bombardment would follow, and there were many alive who held vivid remembrance of the capture of Fort Griswold and the atrocities of Arnold and his British and Hessians. There came a hurrying to and fro to put the old fortifications in a state of defence [sic]. The little seaport, with its shipping rotting in its harbour [sic] because of the Embargo Act, was as unprepared for war as the young nation itself. At the last moment it was discovered that there was a lack of flannel for the making of cartridges. The shops and private houses of New London had been canvassed, but still there was not enough.
“Well, then,” said Ephraim Latham, a prominent citizen and member of the Committee of Safety, “I’ll go across to Groton and see what my old friend Mistress Bailey can do for us.”
Over the river Thames he went, to the house of Postmaster Elijah Bailey. He knew the sterling patriotism of the postmaster and his good wife. “Mrs. Bailey,” he said, “the folks over at the fort are short of material for making cartridges. I gathered up all the old flannel I could find in New London, but it wasn’t enough. Can you help us any?”
“You can have mine, then,” she said, and with her scissors she snipped the “shirr string” that secured it, and continued: “It’s a new one and heavy, and I don’t like to lose it, for I don’t know when I’ll get another, but I won’t care if it goes through and Englishman’s insides.”
Of course, Mr. Latham told of the incident and the good dame was ever after called “The Heroine of Groton.”
But Mistress Bailey was a heroine, ready made, long before the soldiers and marines of old Fort Griswold wanted to raise her striped petticoat as a flag under which to fight the British.
On that grim September morning in 1781, when Benedict Arnold came back to the home of his boyhood with a force of British and Hessians to kill, burn, and plunder the defenceless villagers, Col. William Ledyard was in command of Forts Griswold and Trubull, and there were barely enough soldiers in the two to man the walls of Fort Griswold, which was soon overwhelmed. The burning and sacking of New London was one of the foulest blots in the despised career of Arnold, and the butchering of Col. Ledyard with his own sword after he surrendered it to the ruffian Bromfield was in thorough keeping with the act of his soldiery, who piled forty wounded men in a cart and then started it down the hill toward the river. The cart struck a tree and was overturned, throwing out the torn and mangled victims, who were cared for by a little band of women, headed by Fannie Ledyard, a niece of the murdered commandant.
One of the women who helped care for the wounded was Anna Warner, a pretty, flaxen-haired orphan girl who lived with her uncle, about three miles away, and thereby hangs the tale. Mistress Anna had a sweetheart in the garrison, Elijah Bailey, son of a neighbouring [sic] farmer. Young Bailey had been detailed with another soldier to man the advanced battery of one gun. They had fought their gun manually until the near approach of the enemy was likely to cut them off from the fort, when they retired, but not until the lad had spiked his gun so that it might not be turned against his countrymen. That delay lost him his chance to gain the fort and he was captured by the British, carried to New York where for months he suffered the horrors of the prison ships.
After the close of the war, Anna was wedded to the young gunner, and they went to live in the town of Groton, where he had been born and reared. During the administration of President Jefferson, Capt. Bailey, as he was always called by his fellow townsmen, was appointed postmaster, which position he held until his death in 1848, a period of 48 years.
The incident of the flannel petticoat in the War of 1812 brought the good lady into much prominence. She was visited by La Fayette, President Monroe, Gen. Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Col. R.M. Johnson, and other distinguished guests. It is said that Gen. Jackson in a spirit of levity asked see the famous scissors. The old lady showed them, and asked permission to cut off a lock of his hair. Old Hickory was acquiescent, and the scissors and the lock of hair are treasured relics in the possession of descendants of the family to this day.
Mrs. Bailey retained her cheerful, sunny nature, as well as all her faculties, to the last. She died in 1851, being accidentally burned to death. She sleeps beside her boyhood sweetheart and husband for nearly seventy years, in the old burying ground at Groton, and her loyalty and patriotism are kept in loving remembrance by the D.A.R. Chapter which bears her name in Groton and Stonington.
Reference: The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. Third Volume, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.