Posted on 5 Comments

Frankford Chronicles – Agent Lydia Darragh – Intelligence Operative

It is a privilege to present today, a new work of historic research by Joe Menkevich.  Lydia Darragh is a fascinating subject in Frankford history although she did not live here.  I won’t go into her history since Joe has done the research and you should read it from his narrative.  Whenever we have posted any reference to Lydia Darragh in the past, it has received a large number if hits from the search engines. This new work from Joe, adds to the Darragh story by providing links to other historical documents that support the story.

So picture the period in December of 1777 when Philadelphia was occupied by the British army and the Continental army was camped out at Whitemarsh. Joe’s account brings it all to life. Read it here.


5 thoughts on “Frankford Chronicles – Agent Lydia Darragh – Intelligence Operative

  1. Joe. Nice work. Your application of the 1802/04 Jones-Moore map showing the Rising Sun Tavern in Frankford should help clear up the question of whether old Lydia could have made the journey to and from the Rising Sun Tavern in one day and to have had time to stop in Frankford at the mill. However, the 25 year disconnect (1777-1802) will not satisfy the non-believers.

    Is the notation below proof that there was a Rising Sun Tavern at Frankford in Dec 1777?

    December 11, 1777
    Benjamin Davis, who says he came out of Philad’a the13th of Nov’r,
    having been taken Prisoner at [his House, the Sign of the Rising Sun,]

  2. The 1736 Survey of Frankford is very interesting. It appears to show a bridge over Tacony Creek at Fishers Lane. The present bridge – one of my favorites – has a 1759 date on a stone at the southwest side. Was the 1736 bridge a stone arch bridge?

  3. Fred –

    It was never my intention to rewrite the Lydia Darragh story. However the facts which I have now introduced – should.

    My intention was to introduce many facts that were never explored or investigated by those who chose to write her story & they wrote it like they knew her personally.

    I will not enter in what road Lydia Darragh might of walked or to what mill she may have travalled.

    This publication now proves – there was more than one mill and (we know) there were several other roads.

    As far as I am concerned, a mission was accomplished. The publication of December 06, 1777 by the British is the proof that Lydia Darragh was one of a number of agents and both the British knew a grist-mill in Frankford was the drop point. After that publication, everyone in Philadelphia knew it too.

    I would argue that the net result of that news article was Washington realized there was a “leak” in his intelligence. He had Abraham Carlisle arrested & hanged. On a side note, when Joseph Galloway heard the news that Abraham Carlisle and John Roberts were hung – Galloway was visible shaken.

    To answer your first post about Benjamin Davis – I was pressed for room (in the pdf) and did not include Benjamin Davis’ complete “confession.”

    Davis was being interrogated, but if he was lying about something, it would not be about the name of a tavern or it’s location, as that would easily expose his lie. If he was lying, it was not about the tavern.

    Benjamin Davis was suspected of being a spy and was terrified:

    “Benjamin Davis, who says he came out of Philad’a the 13th of Nov’r, having been taken Prisoner at [his House, the Sign of the Rising Sun,] Frankford.

    That he was kept under Guard 2 or 3 days, & then released. That Mr. Galloway, & one Varnum, late Sheriff of Chester, wanted him to come out as a Spy, & told him he should be well rewarded, but he refused undertaking the matter. …

    That he is a Couzin of Capt. Jos. Richardson. Galloway wanted him to go thro’ Potter’s Camp to Mrs. Wayne’s, from whom he was to get a letter, under pretence of carrying it to the Gen’l, but was to bring it to Galloway with what Discoveries he made, as well at Potter’s as Gen’l Washington’s Camps. But he refused to be concerned.

    That his Wife kept a Tavern at the Rising Sun, he not interfering in the business, being employed as a Taylor in Philad’a, making Clothes for the Army. That his Wife & he have not lived together since last Spring. …

    This man, in his first Examination, said he kept the Rising Sun Tavern, & was there when Gen’l Mifflin’s Baggage Waggon was robb’d last Spring.

    That he kept the House when the Enemy came There, & staid to sell his Liquors.

    That he was taken Prisoner by the Light Horse at his House, the sign of the Rising Sun. …

    Capt. Cross can also inform of Sundry other contradictions in his Confession, & in short he has told four or five different Stories as to Circumstances which induce the strongest suspicions of his Criminality. …”

    If you read this Darragh story in the PDF format, the footnotes are all hyperlinked & active. No more information on Benjamin Davis, (footnote number 12)

    About the name of the tavern – that is a bit of an interesting story for the next post.


  4. Owners of Taverns & Names of Taverns change often.

    The exact location of the Sign of the Rising Sun – was at the bridge, but on the Northern Liberties side of the Creek.

    From my deed research – John Dover became the owner of that tavern before the turn of the century.

    Joseph Paul owned that tavern in 1777.

    September 2, 1762
    CAME to the Frankford Tavern, near Frankford Bridge, on Tuesday the 24th ult. a young sorrel Mare, with a Star in her Forehead, and her Mane platted on the off Side. The Owner coming to said Tavern, on proving his Property, and paying Charges, may have her again.
    August 6, 1767
    TAKEN up on Thursday last, the 30th of July, a large bay horse, about 15 hands high, shod all round, has a small star, and about 6 years old. … The owners are desired to come and prove their properties, and pay charges, when they may have them again, from JACOB FRITZ, at the White Horse, at Frankford bridge.
    November 24, 1773
    To be SOLD, by PUBLIC VENDUE, at Joseph PaulTavern, at Frankford Bridge, on the 13th of next Month, at two oin the afternoon, pursuant to the last will and testament of Robert Harper, late of the Northern Liberties of the city of Philadelphia, deceased.,

    THAT pleasant situated plantation whereon he dwelt, containing about 95 acres of good land, part thereof is well timbered; it is bounded by Frankford Creek and the lands of Nicholas Waln, William Ashbridge, and others; having thereon a good two story stone house, and a kitchen adjoining it, a never failing spring of water near the door, a good barn and stables, a large orchard of grafted fruit, and divers other fruit trees, besides the cherry trees that are on each side the lane leading to the road.

    Also to be sold, at the same time and place, a brick house, and lot of ground, in Oxford, near the Mill race Bridge, adjoining Bristol road, and the road called Adams; it is convenient for a tradesman or store. Attendance will be given and the conditions made known, by SARAH HARPER, Executrix; SAMUEL HARPER, and WILLIAM ASHBRIDGE, Executors. Eleventh Month 20, 1773.
    Entries from Drinker’s Diary:

    1777 Oct. 4. This morning … that a party of Washington’s army had attacked ye English piquet guard at Chestnut Hill.

    I stepped down to neighbor James’; Josey is very ill; Nanny Eve, and Gibbon’s wife at ye mill, were there. They came to town through fear—ye Battle appeared to be very near them, and some of ye Provincials were about Frankford. They have taken away Joseph Paul and some others.
    July 4, 1787
    TO BE LET, And may be entered upon immediately, THAT noted Tavern, the sign of the BLACK HORSE, at Frankford bridge, containing 40 acres of good Land, with convenient stabling and sheds. This stand is very suitable for a store or lumber yard. For terms, apply to the subscriber, on the premises.


  5. Since there appears to be dwindling interest in comments Lydia Darragh, I thought to add one last comment.

    In researching Frankford during the Revolution, I was very pleased to have discovered some of the other area mills which have been missing from the history books.

    In particular I was very proud to have met (in spirit) & put a face on feme sole trader, Mary Peters who was operating a pre-revolutionary grist-mill.

    It’s a good day for Woman’s Rights. (although the feme sole trader laws were not intended to help women). Here is a good read those that might be interested:

    Publication: THE LILY, Devoted To The Interests of Woman
    Date: April 1, 1855

    The Law to “Protect” Married Women.

    Dear Editor—Have you or your readers observed the new law which is now under consideration by our Legislature? If not, allow me to suggest it. It is, I think, worthy your notice. You are interested deeply in the emancipating of woman from the tyranny of poverty. This law has a direct bearing on that subject. I say direct—it is not collateral—for it proposes to legislate to the married woman, the right under certain circumstances, to labor and its products. Singular necessity at this time of day, truly! Yet so it is.— But here is this law as is hereinafter excepted. An Act relating to certain duties and rights of husband and wife and parents and children. It provides—

    1. That the power of any married woman to bequeath or divide her property by will, shall be restricted, as regards the wife, namely; so that any surviving husband may, against her will, elect to take an estate for life in one-third of her realty, and to have one-third of her clear personal estate absolutely or otherwise, only his tenancy by the courtesy in the whole of her real estate for life except as is hereinafter excepted. This law remedies a defect in a previous law, which gave women an advantage over men, and on account of this remedy it meets with my entire approval.

    Sec. 2. That whensoever any husband from drunkenness or profligacy or other cause shall neglect or refuse to provide for his wife, or shall desert her, she shall have all the rights and privileges to a trader under the act of the twenty- second of February, one thousand seven hundred and eighteen, entitled, “An Act concerning traders,” and be subject as therein provided, and her property acquired in any business she may respectably carry on, shall be subject to her free and absolute disposal during life or by will, without any liability to be interfered with or obtained by such husband, and in case of her industry shall go to her next of kin, as if he were previously dead.

    Sec. 4. That creditors, purchasers and others may with certainty and safety transact business with a married woman under the circumstances aforesaid, she may present her petition to the court of common pleas of the proper county, setting forth, under affidavit, the facts which authorize her to act as aforesaid; and if sustained by the testimony of at least two respectable witnesses and the court be satisfied of the justice and propriety of the application, such court may make a decree and grant her a certificate that she shall be authorized to act, have the power and transact business as herein before provided. And such certificate shall be conclusive evidence of her authority until revoked by such court for any failure on her part to perform the duties of this act made incumbent upon her, which may be ascertained upon the petition of any next friend of her children.

    Such is the motive of the bill relating to the labor of married women.

    Now upon using your eyes and your ears, upon seeing the flouting mass of millinery, like “linked sweetness, long drawn out,” every day sailing down Chestnut street, and up again at an angle of an hour, upon hearing on every hand of the good fortune of women, arising from this secluded and protected position; if you are not convinced, it must be because you are both deaf and blind.—
    What if 27,000 women are crying for bread in a single city? Are they not proper objects for charity? And what would the world do without proper objects of charity? Places or rather deposits for cast-off finery.

    It is not enough that we have charity parties donation parties, calico parties, and various gift and benevolent associations, where those who have first made their fortunes off the wages of poor women, may at last deposit a portion of their surplus funds, and thus by a glorious charity, pave their way direct to Heaven! But now, we are to have a law—the acme of all laws which really at the last is about to give the wife the right to transact business. We (I mean the people) have lived I believe, about 1865 years since Christ put forth the glorious precept—the golden rule—“Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you.”— And something like eighty years since, our nation adopted it as the basis of their government, in the sentiment, “All men are born free and equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”— And we have yet to learn, in the good old State of Pennsylvania, originating in a religion of brotherly love, that a married woman has a right to her earnings!

    It is said that the world moves, and hearing it from so many sources we are obliged to believe it; but oh! how slowly does the conviction come! It has taken 1850 years since the introduction of Christianity, to discover that a married woman is entitled to her inheritance. But even now she is not entitled to her earnings. And what does this law propose? to give them to her out and out? to say to her, you who have daily earned your bread over the seething wash-tub, shall be entitled to receive it? You who have stitched, stitched, night after night, to the “wee small hours of the morning,” your pittance shall be yours! No, nothing of the sort. I much fear it will take another 1800 years before this fair state of things can be brought about.

    But it proposes, provided the woman will first be a party to the disgrace of her husband, (a pretty preparation this for a blissful life with him afterward,) if she will first present her affidavit to the court of common pleas, and bring two respectable witnesses to attest the fact that her husband is a drunkard or a profligate, or from any cause refuses or neglects to provide for his family, she may upon permission from such court, go into business, and if she can , at the low wages at which women are compelled to work, provide sustenance for such family, such family is entitled to it, and not the lazy, or drunken husband, as heretofore. Now we think when she gets as far as this, she might as well go a step further, be quite even, and say to him, you go one way and I will another.— For to think of associating in a loving union any longer, would be absurd.

    But this is not all—nor the meanest. The law which is so extremely careful to protect woman so that she may not transgress the bounds of “nature,” and thus defy Jehovah, by going into business unnecessarily, provides that a spy be set upon her actions, and that she be constantly crippled, or at least bored by the petty watchings of some interested or disinterested “next friend” of her children. And when we have got this lean calf of Pharaoh’s leaner kine, we are expected to be thankful. We are expected to cry Eureka!—it is enough! and with thumbs in month play dumb. Well, if so, we should be thankful for very small favors indeed. Not one woman in five thousand would ever avail herself of such a law as that, and ought not. For when it comes to this, that a man is so beastly or so lazy as to compel his wife to this course, it is high time he had quit the cabin. A woman with the slightest self-respect would not live with him, and should not.

    But I ask with what propriety do men make —not such laws alone, curtailing the natural liberty of the individual, but any laws for us? Or if any, how dare they under the full blaze of liberty limit the enterprise of woman, while they protect and encourage that of men? Twenty-seven thousand women crying for bread, who wonders? What protection is given to female labor? What honor, what reward, what compensation? Whenever the labor of her hands may be taken from her and given to another, upon her daring to commit the crime of matrimony—for crime it must be. Nothing else can be made of it. The law defines natural liberty to be the right of disposing of one’s person or property after the manner which he shall judge most consonant to his happiness, so that he do not in any way infringe the right of any other person’s liberty. Are not the earnings of a married woman property, and her property? By what right then do men legislate them away? How has she forfeited them? Is it by criminallty or by voluntary resignation? For these are the only two recognized ways by which she can forfeit them. Certainly not by voluntary resignation, for not one woman in a thousand knows that she resigns these when she enters the married state.— It is the act of a minor in nine instances out of ten who is not competent to transact business for himself, and is therefore not legal. Besides, what right have they to make a law making this compulsory consequence of the marriage ceremony?— None. Nor will it be argued really that marriage is criminal in a woman. The legislation therefore is an usurpation. It is not law, but despotism.— “An absurd custom, an immoral act of the legislature cannot be law.” These acts are both immoral and absurd: since they deprive the individual of that natural right which pertains to every human being; and a violation of which destroys the validity of any law.

    I am every day astonished before such laws as these. It is the most extraordinary legislation ever heard of, and yet it is heard of constantly and scarcely noted—if indeed it be not praised, proving that though

    “Vice is a monster of such hideous mien,
    Which to be hated needs but to be seen,
    Yet seen too oft, familiar with its face,
    We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

    I am utterly confounded at the hypocrisy of this nation, which with one breath declares the inherent laws of our nature, and with the next deprives one half the race of the power to live up to them.

    It is dreadful the havoc that is made in the happiness and prosperity of woman by these wretched laws. We have here a nation of about 20,000,000, one half of whom, presuming them to be married, are. under the plea of protection, denied the rights of labor, or, rather bound out to a legal servitude, and the fruits of their labor taken from them and given to another. And yet they are required to support the government that does it; to be peaceable and loving citizens; to bring up their families in the fear of God—families which their husbands may scatter at a breath, while they have not the power to move from him but by his will.

    We are willing to grant the full measure of humanity to men, but we say that no human being can be properly intrusted with such power plenipotentiary.

    The plea that the husband is compelled to support the wife is all a farce. He is under no requisition to support her; for his liberty being granted him, he can betake himself to the poles or the an-antipodes; while the liberty of the wife being denied her. he can compel her to support him in case and pleasure. Most extraordinary protection this indeed.

    And the consequence of such laws riveted by custom is, we have women whose fragility is proverbial, over whom disease riots at high carnival— women than whom there are none more helpless or more negative—poor, puerile, weak, interesting, lady-like slaves—legal nonentities, born and flourishing under a night shade of despotism, which, whether it comes from law or custom, withers all enterprise and subdues all independence; the mere negations of humanity—fair but fading —lovely and lustrous but dying, always’ dying— fleeting as a shadow, with forms that a grasshopper might span at a hop, and to which the weight of a grasshopper is a burden; they are yet expected to perform all the functions of maternity, and oversee all the labors of the household. Gracious heaven! what a task for these fragile beings! Better be beasts of burden, as the Irish woman— far better than the mere hacks of fashionable society.

    Go into your grave yards and there learn a lesson which reformers and philosophers in vain attempt to teach. Read there the lying inscriptions on our tomb-stones, telling but half the tale.— Mrs. A., B, and C. snatched away by the providence of God—thus heaping our sins on the shoulddrs of Omnipotence—leaving a helpless babe or a disconsolate husband to mourn her loss. They suffer—but oh! what has she not suffered? Could the cold porphyry of the tomb become suddenly invested with the powers of speech, would not its spectre tales of woe draw tears from the flinty earth? Were each body in our cemeteries resurrected, and had each pore in that body a tongue to speak, even they would fail to tell the miseries inflicted by the codjoint-tyrant Law and Custom.

    For I insist, that whenever that little speck, called mind exist, it craves action. I ask food; and it is this choking the life-stream at its fount; forbidding it to flow in its natural channel—this putting a check upon impulse, hope, aspiration, genius and humanity—the withdrawal of the most powerful motives that are permitted to cluster around the heart of man, bracing and nerving him to deeds of heroism and true nobility—this confining woman to two or three avocations, leaving her no choice but matrimony, and even in that state divesting her of the panoply of her self-hood —that is crushing not only woman, but by reaction, man also. In our fear “that women will become man, men are becoming what they have decided women should be—they are falling into feebleness which they have so long cultivated in their companions.”

    The first spring flowers unfolds its blossoms and begs leave to kiss the light, to inhale moisture, and absorb food, as conditions of health and beauty. So the soul of women meekly asks the means of vigor, strength and power, without which life, the untimely flower, it withers and dies. But believe me, this will never come through the curtailing of womans enterprise. The use of the dumb-bells, the practice of callisthenic, of gymnastic, equestrian, and other recreation exercises may answer for a season, but they soon tire. Woman’s whole nature, soul and body, needs to be aroused, and the deepest interest enlisted, to make the reform thorough and permanent.

    Do not suppose, my dear friend, from what have. [illeg] … that I regard this law [illeg] … bad omen. On the contrary, I welcome it as indication of the rising conviction in the minds of man, that they are and have been doing us an injustice. But [in] despise this trimming, temporizing, time-serving, half-hearted legislation. ‘It is unworthy how men, or even honest politicians, who might be supposed, if any body, to have the true sight. It is not so much legislation that we need, as a blotting out of legislation—a whipping out the word male from our Statute Books. One good honest woman in the legislature, who knew what she was about, would do more toward remedying our condition in the law, than all the politicians in Penn. She would have it at heart—they have not, and there is the difference. 

    – source: Accessible Archives

Comments are closed.