Mary Dagworthy

1748 – 1814

A Trenton school teacher who helped the American soldiers

I was born in 1748 to John and Sarah Dagworthy of Maidenhead (now Lawrence Township), New Jersey.  My father was descended from a well-to-do English family and owned a 180 acre farm plus several properties in Trenton. As the protests against the acts of Parliament were heating up in 1774, I was 26 and living and teaching school in Trenton in the building on South Broad Street later known as the Eagle Hotel. Even though my two older brothers fought in the British army during the French and Indian Wars, we supported the fight for independence. I saw firsthand the suffering of the soldiers and was very active in caring for sick and wounded soldiers as well as providing aid to soldiers traveling through town. In June 1780, I joined with a group of Trenton women raising money and making clothing to aid our soldiers. When General Washington was elected as our first President, he came through Trenton on his way to New York to be inaugurated in April 1789. I was one of the young girls and ladies who serenaded him as he passed through a triumphal arch created for him by the citizens of Trenton. I continued to live in Trenton until my death in 1814 at age 66.

Learn More About Mary Dagworthy

I was born in 1748 to John and Sarah Dagworthy of Maidenhead (now Lawrence Township), New Jersey.  My father was descended from a well-to-do English family and owned a 180 acre farm plus several properties in Trenton. He was also a merchant and in 1727 owned a seven ton sloop, the Adventure, registered in Philadelphia. He was recommended for membership on the Governor’s Council for the Province of New Jersey as “an honest, bold man and well affected to the Government, is of the Church of England, a thriving man and at present High Sheriff of the County [Hunterdon] in which he lives.” He died in 1756 when I was just eight years old and left me “a small Silver cup” and, more importantly, provisions for an ample education that allowed me to become an accomplished woman. I became a teacher and was entrusted by my brother, John, with the education of his ward, Elizabeth Dagworthy Aydelott. As the protests against the acts of Parliament were heating up in 1774, I was 26 and living and teaching school in Trenton in the building on South Broad Street later known as the Eagle Hotel.

My oldest brother, John, was in his twenties when I was born. The year I was born he raised a company for a British expedition against Canada. He went to England and was given a Royal officer’s commission in 1753 to command rangers at Fort Cumberland protecting frontier settlements of western Maryland. While at Fort Cumberland he got into an ugly dispute with another young officer, George Washington, because he refused to take orders from the higher ranking Washington who only had a provincial commission while he had a Royal commission. Even though our family might have become Loyalists, we supported the fight for independence. John took up residence in Delaware where he became a militia general when the war for independence broke out.

My brother, Ely, was also older and fought in the French and Indian wars as an officer in the British army and was wounded at Fort Ticonderoga in 1758, when I was ten years old. He was still serving in the British army when the war for independence broke out, but either because he was ill or refused to fight against his fellow Americans, he returned to Trenton in 1775 where he died in early 1776. He bequeathed me a gold seal and I witnessed the signing of a codicil to his will. My older sister, Elizabeth, married William Clayton, a Trenton merchant, who died in 1779. Throughout the war my mother and I lived in Trenton and I taught school. I was a strong supporter of independence and did whatever I could to help us win it.

In addition to the two famous battles fought in Trenton, troops and supplies came through town almost daily during the war. Our town was on the main road between New York and Philadelphia and the Continental Army set up a supply depot and military hospital in it. I saw firsthand the suffering of the soldiers and was very active in caring for sick and wounded soldiers and providing aid to soldiers traveling through town. In June 1780, I joined with a group of Trenton women raising money to aid our soldiers. Most of the women were wives of men serving as militia officers and supply department officials in Trenton and they wanted to contribute also, in addition to caring for their own households. I served as secretary for the group and corresponded with women throughout the State to raise money. By July 17, I was able to write General Washington that we had raised $15,488 and were sending it to him to use as he thought best to help the soldiers. We promised to send additional money as we raised it. Washington wrote back to me that he preferred us to send cloth or clothing – because giving the men money would just cause trouble. While we continued to raise money we also purchased or made clothing items, such as the 380 pairs of stockings we forwarded to General Washington.

I remained single during the war and didn’t marry until 1785, when I was 37. I married Trenton merchant Abraham Hunt whose first wife had died in 1784. When General Washington was elected as our first President, he came through Trenton on his way to New York to be inaugurated in April 1789. I was one of the young girls and ladies who serenaded him as he passed through a triumphal arch created for him by the citizens of Trenton. The arch commemorated the battles that took place in Trenton on December 26, 1776 and January 2, 1777, and the bridge on which the arch was erected had played a critical role in those battles that helped save the Revolution. I continued to live in Trenton until my death in 1814 at age 66.

Mary Dagworthy to Gen. Washington, July 17, 1780; George Washington to Mary Dagworthy, August 6, 1780; Mary Dagworthy to General Washington, December 29, 1780, George Washington Papers in the Library of Congress – online at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gwhtml/gwhome.html.

For a detailed article on the fund raising effort, see: Catherine Hudak, “The Ladies of Trenton: Women’s Political and Public Activism in Revolutionary NJ,” New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Summer 2015, 39.

For more on the Dagworthy family see: Rownall, Ely, Warren Ely, and Daniel Ely, Ely, Revell and Stacye Families who were among the founders of Trenton and Burlington in the Province of West Jersey 1678-1683 with the genealogy of the Ely descendants in America. London: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1910, beginning on page 183.

For more on Washington in Trenton in April 1789 see: Stryker, William S. Washington’s Reception by the People of New Jersey in 1789. Trenton: Naar, Day and Naar, 1882.

Art: Joe Barsin

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