1716 - 1797
Nursed Wounded Soldiers after Attack on Fort Mercer Built on her Husband’s Land
I was born into the Cooper family in Woodbury and married fellow Quaker James Whitall. Between 1760 and 1762 I kept a diary and recorded how to live a Christian life. It concerned me that my husband and sons were not as serious in their religion as I was. The society I saw around me was so dangerously sinful that I worried we would receive judgment from God. That judgment came in 1777 when Patriot soldiers came to our property to build a fort on the Delaware River. As a Quaker pacifist, James told them, “This is your war and not mine.” But, we could not stop them. When about 1200 Hessians attacked this Fort Mercer on October 22, I calmly sat down to do some spinning. When a stray shot entered the house I simply moved to the cellar to continue. After the battle, I turned our home into a hospital and nursed wounded soldiers. While I cared for their wounds with what I had available, I could not help reminding those who complained that they had brought their misery on themselves by engaging in violence and war. A few weeks later the American army was forced to abandon Fort Mercer and the British army ransacked our house. After the war, life returned to normal. I died at the age 82 during a Yellow Fever epidemic that also took five of my children. My actions when war came to our doorstep led future generations to hail me as the “Heroine of Red Bank.”
Learn More About Ann Cooper Whitall…
I was a hard-working woman who took my Quaker faith and principles seriously. The way I conducted myself when war came to our doorstep led future generations to hail me as the “Heroine of Red Bank.” I was born in Woodbury into the Cooper family. We were devout Quakers descended from William Cooper who had been harassed in England because of his religion. In my early twenties I married fellow Quaker James Whitall and together we had nine children. Between 1760 and 1762, I kept a diary in which I recorded various homemade medical prescriptions and how to properly live a Christian life. I expressed my thoughts that life should be taken seriously with little time for “pratting and talking” on frivolous subjects, laughter, fishing, playing ball, or worrying about nice clothes. I confessed my own sin of over-eating. I was very proud of my grandfather who opposed slavery and chastised Christians involved with it. I once read in a book that “wherever Christianity comes, there comes with it a Sword, a Gun, Powder and Ball.” To me, the people the author wrote about might call themselves Christians, but they did not follow the true religion. It concerned me that my husband and sons were not as serious in their religion as I was. I wrote that they only “go to meeting when they please and … tell me I am no better than themselves nor so good with all my going to meetings.” It truly upset me that “sometimes they are so cross to me all of them and so ugly and unmannerly that there never was a mother so unhappy as I am.” Still, I always honored and took care of my family and even missed Quaker meetings to nurse them when they were sick. The society I saw around me was so dangerously sinful that I worried we would receive judgment from God. That judgment came in 1777 when Patriot soldiers came to our property with orders to build a fort along the Delaware River and they had chosen our farm at Red Bank as its location. As a Quaker pacifist, James told them, “This is your war and not mine.” But, we could not stop them and in the spring of 1777 they built a fort they named Fort Mercer, in honor of General Mercer who had been killed at Princeton the previous January. Their work damaged our property and James drafted a bill for £1526 compensation for making ground unfit for tilling, cutting and destroying timber, and pasturing cattle and horses. In October the fewer than 20 men guarding the fort were reinforced by several hundred soldiers under Colonel Christopher Greene who took command of the fort. They took over most of our house and took our hay to feed their horses. A French officer with them redesigned the fort and ordered our barn torn down and our entire apple orchard cut down for wood to use in the new defenses. When about 1200 Hessians attacked Fort Mercer on October 22, my family has always said that I refused to leave the house during the battle and calmly sat down in our second story room to do some spinning. When a stray shot came into the house near me, I simply gathered up my work and moved down to the cellar to continue with it. After the battle there were several hundred Hessians killed and wounded, but only about 40 of the defenders. I turned our home into a temporary hospital and nursed wounded soldiers. A clergyman who visited later told people that “around 200 were lying on straw in two large rooms, some without arms and legs and others again with their limbs crushed like mush by langrel, some floated in blood, and told me some had died of lack of something to bandage their wounds with.” While I cared for their wounds with what I had available, I could not help reminding those who complained of noise or some discomfort that they had brought their misery on themselves by engaging in violence and war. Several days after the battle we were ordered out of our home by Colonel Greene and he moved into it. He promised to take care of our property, but a few weeks later the American army was forced to abandon Fort Mercer. The British army then ransacked our house and it wasn’t until March 1778 that we were able to return to our home permanently. After the war we continued to seek compensation for damages to our property, but were never paid. We slowly and patiently began to repair the damage done by both armies and eventually things returned to normal. I died at the age 82 during a Yellow Fever epidemic that also took five of my children.
“Diary of Ann Whitall”, transcribed by Jo Ann Wright, Gloucester County Historical Society, Woodbury, NJ, 2011.
“Diary of Job Whitall, Gloucester County, NJ, 1775-1779”, transcribed by Florence Debuff Friel, Gloucester County Historical Society, Woodbury, NJ, 1992.
Whitall Smith, Hannah. John M. Whitall: The Story of his Life. Philadelphia, 1879.
Anderson, Lee Patrick. Forty Minutes by the Delaware: The Story of the Whitalls, Red Bank Plantation and the Battle for Fort Mercer. Universal Publishers, USA, 1999.
Burstyn, Joan N. Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women. Woman’s Project of New Jersey, Inc., Syracuse University Press, 1997, pp. 39-40.
Also see: http://www.whitall.org/flash/ for additional information and opportunities to visit the Whittal house and Fort Mercer
Art: Joe Barsin