Hannah Gauntt is enshrined in the legend and lore of Newberry, South Carolina for the bravery she exhibited during the American Revolution.   A woman of “Amazonian” size and strength, Hannah exemplified the courage and toughness of the pioneer women who staked out a living in what was then the thinly settled hinterlands of the American colonies fraught with challenges and danger.   Fortunately, her heroic acts were preserved by the press and the passing down of her story from generation to generation.   Before getting into the deeds that made her famous, let’s set the stage with some background.

Hannah was the eldest child of Israel Gauntt (1725-1780) and Hanna Spencer (1738-1815). She was born around 1762 and spent her entire life in Newberry, South Carolina. Newberry is in the heart of an area known as the Piedmont situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains that covers the western third of the state.   The Gauntts were among a long lineage of Quakers dating back to their patriarch, Peter Gaunt, Hannah’s 2nd great-grandfather.   Peter was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1606.  In 1636, he and his wife, Lydia Hampton, and their baby daughter (also named Lydia), came to America aboard the Mayflower (not the original), and settled in Sandwich, Massachusetts.  Sandwich was part of the Plymouth Colony founded by the first hardy immigrants from England in 1621.

Like so many other Brits, Peter came to America to get away from religious persecution and excessive government control, only to find there was no escape from the reach of the Church of England and the heavy, taxing hand of the King.   Peter, Lydia and others defied the Church by not regularly attending services for which they were severely fined and punished.   Peter did not like being told what he could or could not do (a trait that seems to have been passed down through many generations of Gauntts).   A group of missionaries and followers known as the Society of Friends came to America around the 1650’s.  They became more widely known as Quakers.   Peter and Lydia joined them.

The Quaker William Penn and founder of Pennsylvania in 1681

Founded in England in the middle of the 17th century, the Quakers were persecuted in England and American for their beliefs which included the idea the presence of God exists in every person.  Quakers rejected elaborate religious ceremonies and instead gathered in “meetings” at plain buildings or homes.  They didn’t have official clergy and believed in spiritual equality for men and women.

Many Quakers, including the Gauntts, were compelled to move away from the more oppressive urban centers.   Israel, was born in Burlington, New Jersey, married in North Carolina, and by the time of Hannah’s birth had relocated further into the “country” to Newberry, South Carolina.

Most of the white colonists were initially from England.  German and Scots Irish immigrants began arriving in large numbers in the 1700’s. About 20 percent of the colonies’ inhabitants were enslaved African Americans.  And, of course, there were the Native Americans who had already been living here for thousands of years. 

In this illustration, Newberry was in the heart of the Ninety-Six District

The Piedmont was ideal for agriculture and, particularly, cotton plantations for which slaves were the primary workforce.  Israel was a man of gigantic frame, of great strength, and indomitable courage. He was a successful farmer, blacksmith and amassed land and modest wealth.  At his death in 1800 he left his wife and children almost 800 acres of land, a nice house (which later became an historic landmark) and cash.  Although Quakers had renounced ownership of slaves in 1757, Israel owned at least four slaves which he bequeathed to his heirs.

Picking cotton in Newberry SC

The American Revolutionary War fully broke out in 1775.    It is generally regarded as a war between the settlers of the American colonies along the eastern seaboard who sought independence from British governance and taxation, and British soldiers defending the King’s territories.  But it was also a civil war with Americans fighting and killing other Americans; friends pitted against friends; family members fighting family members.    There were the Patriots who wanted less British control (and ultimately none), and Loyalists who sympathized with England and the King.  The Loyalists were also known as “Tories” and “Kings Men.”

“Bloody Bill” Cunningham-South Carolina’s Most Infamous Tory

[This is from “Bloody Bill Cunningham: Profile of a South Carolina Loyalist,” by Steven Knapp, The Newberry Observer, December 31, 2022]

“No Loyalist from the American Revolution in South Carolina’s backcountry captures the imagination like William “Bloody Bill” Cunningham. Just his nickname, “Bloody Bill,” exemplifies the longstanding infamy he gained in the memory of South Carolinians.

If he had been a Patriot, we would likely remember him as a great hero. In the same way South Carolina views the names of Pickens, Laurens and Marion. Instead, his legacy is a bloody road of murders and revenge raids. His story gives us a glimpse of the complicated reality of Loyalists in the South Carolina backcountry and the brutality of the civil war within the American Revolution. The American Revolution in the Carolina backcountry was a frightful and deeply personal conflict. Those fighting often knew each other and the war became one way to settle old grievances. The war was also one of retaliation. Burnings were followed by burnings, murders by revenge murders. Cunningham was right in the middle of all of it. So, who was the real William Cunningham? Why was he so feared and hated? And why did he side with the British in the American War for Independence?…

Most historians agree that William Cunningham was born in Virginia around 1756 and that his family moved to the Ninety-Six District [western South Carolina] in the 1760s. At the beginning of the American Revolution, before independence was the goal and instead most were fighting to gain more rights under British rule, Cunningham joined the Patriot forces. He took part in the 1775-1776 campaigns against British garrisons and Cherokees in the backcountry, but by 1777 he had left the Patriot cause. Accounts vary as to why Cunningham switched sides but two reasons stand out. First, due to backcountry politics and old rivalries between the Cunninghams and their neighbors, William was passed over for promotion and punished, perhaps overly harshly, for attempts to resign from the militia. Second, and probably the most likely reasons for his changing of uniform: Cunningham’s brother, who suffered from epilepsy and was thus unable to serve in the militia, was executed by Patriots for refusing to serve. It so happened that the commander of the Patriots responsible were led by an old political rival of the Cunninghams, William Ritchie.

At that time, Cunningham was living in exile, due to leaving the Patriot cause, in British held Florida. According to later accounts, Cunningham heard of the death of his brother and walked from Saint Augustine to South Carolina and shot Ritchie while he was having dinner with his family. After exacting his revenge on Ritchie, Cunningham fully committed to the British cause. He raised a regiment of Loyalist militia and commenced on a campaign of raiding and harassing Patriot supporters and supply lines. In 1781, Cunningham embarked on his infamous “Bloody Scout,” during which he attacked the farms of Patriots throughout the upstate of South Carolina, and brutally targeted those who had done him and his family offense in the past. This campaign in particular earned Cunningham the reputation his name still holds. With torch and sword, Cunningham laid waste to his enemies’ homes and lives. At the end of war, Cunningham fled to British held Florida and from there went to either England or the Bahamas. Despite physically leaving South Carolina, Cunningham’s infamy lives on.”

Israel Gauntt sympathized with the cause of the Patriots.   When the War broke out, Israel was too old to fight.  Moreover, Quakers in general did not enlist because of their religious beliefs.   Instead, Israel supplied Patriot troops with food and supplies. This support by Israel and fellow Quakers most likely came to the attention of Bloody Bill Cunningham and members of his gang of Torries. 

Although no specific date was found attached to the events described below, it is likely they took place around 1780 when Hannah Gauntt was about17 years old.  

The Main Event-Torries Attack the Gauntt’s

Gauntt House in Newberry SC

The historic events are colorfully described by Dr. J.W. Daniel in his article, “Amazonians of the Piedmont,” that appeared in the Newberry Weekly Herald, Newberry SC, April 4, 1922.

“The outdoor life, and isolation from the more thickly settled centers of the country, gave the pioneers of the country a spirit of self-reliance, independence and a bold initiative rarely met with in the old portions of the country. We therefore naturally look for extraordinary deeds under such conditions, because the people are driven to do many things that would not be necessary in a more highly developed state of society.

Whatever was accomplished in those isolated settlements had to be done by themselves without the aids that come from organized society, as well as from civil government and moral development which obtain in older settlements. Each member of the pioneer family was a factor in any kind of work that had to be accomplished. There were no specialists, whatever their hands found to do they did it whether it was a man’s work or women’s work as we class them in a more organized society. Necessity is not only the mother of invention but frequently the bravest and most heroic deeds. . ….

Judge O’Neall in The Annals of Newberry tells the story of Hannah Gauntt, the daughter of Israel Gauntt, an old Quaker in Newberry County. He was a peace-loving old gentleman and was reputed to have been the possessor of money, which he kept at his house. A man named Hubbs, who had been one of Bloody Bill Cunningham’s gang, but who at the time of the incident of which I am writing, was an “outlier,” a term applied to men who were not even subject to the order of the Tory leader but waged a campaign of murder and robbery independently.

Hubbs with two confederates road up to the house of Gauntt with the intention of securing the old man’s money and asked for a night’s lodging which was refused. Hubbs alighted and went to the kitchen door and begged for a drink of water. When Mrs. Gauntt turned away from the door to get the water Hubbs stepped inside the kitchen. When the old lady turned back and handed him the water, she observed that he was armed and informed her husband of the fact. The old man sprang to the door and barred it securely, thus shutting out the two confederates and shutting Hubbs within.”

Mrs. E. F. Ellet, in her article “Firesides of the Revolution,” picks up with the story.

“Finding himself thus cut off from his companions, and in peril of capture, the outlaw drew his pistol, with an oath, and presented it at the breast of Gauntt.  At that instant, Hannah Gauntt, the old man’s daughter—a young woman possessed of powerful frame and unflinching courage of her father, sprang suddenly forward, and threw up the pistol, its contents entered the ceiling, and she closed in a desperate struggle with the intruder. 

Hannah succeeded in throwing Hubbs on the floor, where she held him with an iron gripe, notwithstanding his violent struggles to release himself, and his plunging his spurs again and again into her dress and limbs.  While the Amazonian damsel thus pinned him down, her father snapped two loaded muskets at his head, but both missing fire, he clubbed with the last, and with it beat his foe till the stock was broken into fragments, and the barrel bent. He then seized a stone of fourteen pounds weight and dashed it at his head.

The party outside made a few unsuccessful attempts to force the doors and, ruffian-like, unwilling to meet an armed man in full encounter, fired through the window and wounded the brave old man; breaking his arm and sending a ball into his side.  Another ball grazed the temple of the heroic girl.  The wounds Gauntt had received rendered him powerless, and supposing the outlaws intended to break into the house and murder him, he yielded to the entreaties of his wife and daughter, to lose not a moment in getting out of their reach.  He succeeded in escaping unobserved from the rear of the house, and made his way to the barn, where he concealed himself.

Hubbs was not killed, though when the stone struck him the blood spouted up to the low ceiling.  He scrambled to his feet in the confusion of Gauntt’s escape, and leaped on a table under the window, through which he jumped or fell into the yard, striking his head in the descent.  His associates carried him off.  

Hubbs recovered and was, sometimes afterwards, arrested and hanged in Georgia. 

Gauntt recovered from his wounds, and in after years often spoke with astonishment of the hardness of the outlaw’s head.”

Dr. Daniel provided this summation.

“We will never know what our brave mothers of the Piedmont endured to protect themselves from savages on the border, “outliers” hiding in the woods, Tories wreaking vengeance for every member of their gang that fell in warfare and the pressure of British arms. However, they succeeded and wore gracefully the crown of victory which they and their brave sons and husbands won. They endured hardships and privations of which we can have but faint conceptions, they fed the patriots in the field when the state was no longer able to provide for its own troops, and, as I have just shown, when it became absolutely necessary, they sometimes fought.”

Hannah married Joseph Mooney, also of Newberry, in 1780 when she was 18.   They had a son, Joseph Mooney, Jr. in 1813.   Hannah died on February 18, 1816, at the age of 54.   Judge O’Neall, who knew her well over the years, described Hannah as “one of the kindest and most benevolent women.”

Hubbs and his cohorts would no doubt prefer to disagree. 

Sources and Footnotes

Hannah Gauntt is the author’s 4th great aunt, and the eldest child of Israel, his 5th great-grandfather.

Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn in 1681 who was granted the land by King Charles II as settlement of a debt to Penn’s family.   Pennsylvania was the first colony to abolish slavery.   Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Herbert Hoover were Quakers.

Legend has it that when Israel, his brother Zebulon and their families moved to North Carolina from New Jersey, they added another “t” to their name.  Although Israel’s last name is sometimes spelled with only one “t,” this article uses the more accepted spelling of Gauntt with two “t’s.”

“Brave Women of the American Revolutionary War Era,” Genealogy Bank, August 2015 [Online]. Available: Feature Article: Brave Women of the American Revolutionary War Era – Newsletter Archives – GenealogyBank

The Weekly Wisconsin Patriot, January 22, 1859, Madison WI

Israel Gauntt is listed in the Daughters of the American Revolution Index, page 262, for furnishing supplies and support to the Patriots.

“Random Recollections of Revolutionary Characters and Incidents,” Southern Literary Journal, pages 104, 105, 1838

The Weekly Wisconsin Patriot, January 22, 1859, Madison WI

David L. Gauntt, “Peter Gaunt 1610-1680 And Some of His Descendants,” Gloucester County Historical Society, Woodbury, New Jersey, 1988

This is from Dr. Daniel’s 1922 article:

“Hubbs and his gang of cut throats, with the addition of another, a man named Moultrie, who had belonged to Cunningham’s gang, determined to rob the house of Andrew Lee, who resided at Lee’s Ferry on Saluda River on the Newberry side. Only one of the gang again succeeded in effecting an entrance into the house, this time it was Moultrie. Mr. Lee seized and held him till in the struggle they both fell across the bed. While Lee gripped the fellow as they lay on the bed he called to his wife, Nancy, to strike the robber on the head with an axe. The brave woman did so, but in her excitement and agitation the first blow fell on Lee’s hand. The next blow, however, stunned the ruffian who fell on the floor insensible. Lee, then, with his negroes and dogs, drove away the other robbers, came back and secured Moultrie, who was afterwards hanged at Ninety-Six for this and sundry other crimes.”

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Author Bios

Write Me Something Beautiful Authors - Casey and Jimmy Gauntt

Casey Gauntt

is a retired attorney and former senior executive of a major San Diego real estate company. He lives in Solana Beach, California, with his wife, Hilary. Casey grew up in Itasca, Illinois, graduated Lake Park High School in 1968, and received B.S., JD and MBA degrees from the University of Southern California.

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Jimmy Gauntt

was born and raised in Solana Beach and graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2002.   A prestigious Trustee Scholar at the University of Southern California, he majored in English and Spanish. He authored six plays, five screenplays, and a multitude of poems and short stories. Beginning in 2010, the USC English Department annually bestows the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award—aka “The Jimmy”—to the top graduates in English.  Jimmy passed over to the other side in 2008 at age 24.

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