Sunday, July 04, 2010

A Knitting Hero of
The American Revolution

It's the Fourth of July, Independence Day in the United States, and now that we're done with eating and watching fireworks, I want to share one of my favorite stories of the American Revolution with y'all.

This is the tale of Old Mom Rinker, the humble and clever wife of an innkeeper in a small town near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Like most innkeepers' wives, she started her day long before dawn: preparing food, washing dishes, preparing more food at midday, washing pots and pans, and then serving supper and ale to local patrons late into the evening, all the while tending to her own family's chores.

At some point during the American Revolution, a group of British officers took a fancy to the Rinker family inn and occupied it, demanding bed, board and service. Of course, she and her family had little choice but to house the British and wait on them at every meal, and to pour ale and whiskey late into the night while the Redcoats spread out their maps on the inn's tables and plotted against General Washington's army.

Fearing that a man would understand their battle plans and betray them, the British officers banned old Mr. Rinker and the other men in the Rinker family from the dining hall in the evenings while they made their battle plans -- but of course they needed to be waited upon, didn't they? They needed someone to fill their plates and tankards, to keep the candles burning and to keep the lamps full of oil as they worked. So they insisted that Mr. Rinker's wife act as their servant.

Old Mom Rinker was no fool. She served as an informant for General Washington's army by offering the most excellent table service to the Redcoats, standing by with food and alcohol, ever ready with more at the side-board so she could always be in the same room while the British spoke of troop manouvres and supply logistics.

Of course, the British officers completely ignored the possibility that this smiling, attentive older woman might be a spy. How could she possibly understand the world of men and warfare, troops and supply lines, rifles and cannons? So they smiled back at her as she topped off their glasses and placed another slice of pie before them.

And every evening ... back in the kitchen ... out of sight ... Rinker took detailed notes on paper, which she then folded carefully around a small stone. This tiny, precious bundle was then wound inside a ball of knitting yarn, safely hidden from the enemy's sight until it could be delivered to a messenger. After all, who would search an old woman's knitting basket for military intelligence?

Thus these important missives were safely hidden. But how to pass the message on?

Every day at about the same time, Old Mom Rinker carried her knitting basket to a flat, rocky outcrop at the edge of a small gorge near the inn, and sat there for a while, knitting stockings -- the picture of domesticity.

If the Redcoat officers noticed her at all, she simply appeared to be a matronly woman, working at her daily knitting, as most women did in the days when families produced nearly all of their clothing at home. From the officer's point of view, perhaps that rocky outcrop was her favorite knitting spot because it provided a pleasant view of the woods below, and a warm, cozy spot to enjoy the afternoon sunshine for half an hour before returning to the drudgery of the kitchen. The sight of Old Mom Rinker in her favorite spot, at about the same time every afternoon, would not have caused the least bit of alarm. Just another part of a housewife's routine.

From the point of view of a sentinel waiting deep in the woods below, her appearance on the edge of the gorge, high above the treeline, meant another thing entirely. It meant that there was news to be gathered.

So each day at about the same time, a mounted solider from Washington's army would arrive at the base of that little cliff, emerging from the woods below. When she spotted him, Rinker would nudge the ball of yarn over the edge.

The ball of yarn -- with a little bit of extra weight from the small stone inside -- would fall, bouncing off the rocky escarpment, unwinding as it descended. And Mom Rinker's detailed notes about British troop movements, so carefully wrapped around the stone, would fall into the hands of the soldier waiting below, who would wave his hat to indicate that it had been received before quietly turning his horse back toward the woods, using an Indian trail which met the narrow road that ran along the bottom of the gorge.

Mom Rinker would rewind the length of yarn, tuck it back into her knitting basket, and continue her work for awhile before returning to her chores at the inn.

You want to know what she was knitting, don't you? Of course, Mom Rinker was hard at work knitting warm stockings for Washington's troops, as were all the local women. These stockings, along with other warm clothing, were delivered by a brave young girl dressed in boy's clothes, a fine young horsewoman who knew the woods very well, and who went from camp to camp with saddlebags full of warm clothes, which were always welcome because they were in such short supply.

The British never suspected a thing. And Old Mom Rinker continued her spying and reporting every night for the duration of the conflict.

And that, dear readers, is the story of how a grandmotherly woman and a ball of sock yarn helped win the American Revolution.

For my American readers, I hope you had a happy Fourth of July. For those of you who live elsewhere, I hope you enjoyed the story.


At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Kinnexa said...

Best thing I've read all day- thanks! Hope you had a happy weekend as well. :)

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a cool story!! Thanks for some extra fun, today.

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Lindy said...

Terrific story - thank you for sharing this bit of American history.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger . . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Oh gracious! What a wonderful story!

At 6:45 PM, Blogger Robin said...

I really like this story. It's new to me, and what a great way to show how much difference one person can make in the world! Thank you for sharing it.

At 1:17 AM, Blogger Abby said...

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