American History Stories—Volume II - Mara L. Pratt

Lydia Darrah Saves Gen. Washington

At one time, General Washington was very near being attacked by the British army, and his army would very likely have been totally destroyed had not a brave Quaker woman, Lydia Darrah, risked her life to warn him of his danger.

One night, one of the British officers who was stationed in her house, ordered her to see that her family were abed and asleep at a certain hour, and to admit General Howe very quietly, show him to the officer's apartment, and be ready to let him out just as quietly, when he should be ready to go.

Lydia was suspicious. She felt that some treachery was on foot. So when General Howe was safely in his officer's apartment, she took off her shoes, crept softly up-stairs, and listened at the keyhole. There she heard them plan to surprise Washington, and take him and his whole army. When she had heard enough she went trembling to bed, and was apparently so sound asleep that the officer had to knock again and again when he came to rouse her to let General Howe out of the house.

Next day good Mrs. Darrah got a pass from General Howe to go to mill and get some flour ground, outside the lines of the army in Philadelphia. Off she walked with a bag of wheat in her arms, to the outposts of the patriot army, twenty-five miles away. Meeting an officer there, she told her story, and begged the Americans to put Washington at once on his guard. When Howe's forces marched toward White Marsh with the greatest secrecy, they found such excellent preparations to receive them, that they turned round and marched back again, without striking a blow.

The officer questioned Mrs. Darrah. "Were any of your family awake the night General Howe was here?" "Not a soul," she answered. "Then the walls of this house must have heard our plans," he said, "for some one reported them to the rebel Washington. When we got to White Marsh, he was all ready for us, and we had the pleasure of marching back like a parcel of fools."