Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. McEwen

Where have I heard this before?

In the telling of it, the stout patriotism displayed by Mrs. Hetty M. McEwen in Frank Moore's Women of the War (1866) sounds quite like the heroic action of Mrs. Pritchard in Tahiti as described by Herman Melville twenty years before, in Typee (1846).

Moore's Mrs. McEwen remains loyal to the Union while dwelling in Nashville. She demonstrates her "high-spirited defiance" of secessionist treason by boldly flying the Stars and Stripes:
When secession was talked of, with her own fingers she stitched together the folds of bunting, and reared the Red, White, and Blue on a flag-staff in the yard of the residence that had been known as theirs almost from the time when Nashville was an Indian fort. As treason grew less and less odious, the flag was subjected to various insults. Boys threw stones at it. The papers noticed it, and advised its removal. Colonel McEwen received an anonymous letter full of plantation venom, and threatening assassination unless the odious colors were removed. --Women of the War 511
When the Rebels come for her flag, Mrs. McKewen goes for her gun:
When at length the machinations of Governor Harris culminated, and Tennessee was made to appear of secession preferences by forty thousand majority, Colonel McEwen fastened a pole into one of his chimneys, and nailed the national colors where they could float solitary, yet dauntless and defiant, over the rebellion-cursed city. The hostility now became fiercer than ever. He was told that the flag must come down from that roof if they had to fire the house to bring it down. He asked his wife what they had better do about the flag, adding that he would sustain her in any course she thought best to adopt. "Load me the shot-gun, Colonel McEwen," said the heroic old lady. And he loaded it for her with sixteen buckshot in each barrel. "Now," added she, "I will take the responsibility of guarding that flag. Whoever attempts to pass my door on their way to the roof for that star-spangled banner, under which my four uncles fell at King's Mountain, must go over my dead body!"  --Women of the War 511
As told by Frank Moore, Mrs. McKewen's verbal parting shot neatly echoes the admirable speech of Melville's equally defiant (though unarmed) Mrs. Pritchard.

Mrs. McKewen:
"Not long after, Governor Harris issued an order for all fire-arms to be brought to him at the state-house, and enforced it by sending a squad of soldiers to Colonel McEwen's house. In reply to their demand she said, "Go tell your master, the governor, that I will not surrender my gun to any one but himself, and, if he wants it, to come in person and risk the consequences."  --Women of the War 512
Mrs. Pritchard:
“Tell the pirate your master,” replied the spirited Englishwoman, pointing to the staff, “that if he wishes to strike those colours, he must come and perform the act himself; I will suffer no one else to do it.” --Typee
No such verbal parallelism occurs in Lucy Hamilton Hooper's poetic treatment. There Mrs. McEwen defies the Nashville traitors outside while tending her dying son, apparently with no need of a shotgun or other weaponry.
Came the day when Fort Donelson
Fell, and the rebel reign was done;
And into Nashville, Buell, then,
Marched with a hundred thousand men,
With waving flags and rolling drums
Past the heroine's house he comes;
He checked his steed and bared his head,
"Soldiers! salute that flag," he said;
"And cheer, boys, cheer!—give three times three
For the bravest woman in Tennessee!" --United States Service Magazine
Looks like an interesting case of mutual borrowing. Frank Moore edited the Rebellion Record which Melville used when composing many of the poems in Battle-Pieces (1866). Around the same time, Moore compiles Women of the War (1866) under the influence of Melville's Typee.

For more on Mrs. McEwen, the University of Virginia Library holds a collection of papers that
chiefly revolves around Robert Houston McEwen (1790-1868) and his wife Henrietta "Hetty" Montgomery Kennedy McEwen (1796-1881).
The headnote on scope and content reports the "McEwens were a well-known and prosperous family" that "was also known for its piety and patriotism."

Carole Stanford Bucy contributes an entry for Hetty Montgomery Kennedy McEwen in the online Tennessee Cyclopedia of History and Culture. AnSearchin News profiles Hetty Kennedy McEwen as "a woman who stood her ground fearlessly" in the series Tennesseans I Wish I had Known.

Portrait of young Hetty McEwen, attributed to George Dury
Image Credit: Case Antiques

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