Bringing Up The Rear: Mary Slocum

By Karen L. Hayden

I think all of us have a few guilty pleasures related to reenacting that the rest of the world would never understand. It is in this spirit that I picked up a copy of Sweet Liberty at the flea market. I wanted to check out in slow motion just who got their "15 minutes of fame" in the movie. But more than that, I wanted to know how accurately the story of Mary Slocum was portrayed.

Alan Alda's character was right on target in defending this extraordinary woman from the ravages of modern day Hollywood. Her story was exciting enough that it didn't need embellishment.

Mary (Hooks) Slocum was born in North Carolina in 1760. Her family moved about in North Carolina, finally settling in the region of Goshen. After her mother's death, her father married the widow of John Charles Slocum. At 18, she married her stepmother's son, Ezekiel Slocum, who had inherited a plantation from his father. They settled into married life, but their tranquility was short lived. Tory activity in their area shattered their world, as houses were burned and their owners hung on saplings.

A charming blue-eyed woman with a quick wit and independent spirit, Mary is described as an excellent horsewoman, strong enough to "split a few rails." Like the women of her day, she had mastered all of the skills of making the home and did what was necessary to survive. Her husband joined a band of light horse to scout the area for enemies, leaving her often to tend the plantation with just a few black slaves. It was during one of these absences in 1781 that Colonel Tarleton moved in for a short stay.

One could imagine a women with a young son reacting with fear and loathing when "Bloody" Tarleton rides up in all his finery with his entire troop. He informs her that he will be staying in her house and his troops will camp in her orchard and surrounding fields. Mary, however, keeps her wits about her and informs Tarleton that they are his prisoners.

While she's feeding him a delectable dinner complete with fine peach brandy, Mary has dispatched one of her most trusted slaves, "Big George," to travel to a nearby mill to have a sack of corn ground into meal. The real purpose of the trip is to warn her husband about their uninvited guests.

Unwittingly, Slocum and a few of his men were chasing some Tories down this road when Big George stops him. At this point, Tarleton's troops have been alerted. It is too late to go back and too dangerous to go forward. They have to make a dash for it over the garden fence. Tarleton watches them ride away, but decides not to follow them, fearing an ambush.

Mary's gracious hospitality may have saved her husband that day. She earned the respect of Tarleton. He promised her that nothing except what was needed by the army would be taken. She would be reimbursed for these items.

But Mary was not just seen; she was also heard. She reported the following conversation to a close friend later.

Captain: "Colonel, when we conquer this country, is it not to be divided among us?"

Tarleton: "The officers of this army will undoubtedly receive large possessions of the conquered American provinces."

Mary: "Allow me to observe and prophesy. The only land in these United States which will ever remain in possession of a British officer will measure but six feet by two."

(If anyone has a verification of this in another source, please let me know.)

This woman had nerves of steel.In Sweet Liberty, the Hollywood producer—who wants people in the story to 1. defy authority, 2. destroy property, and 3. take people's clothes off—had two out of the three in Mary's story. And if he wanted the third, he would simply have to portray the obvious love and passion of the Slocums. Her connection to her husband was so strong that, in 1776, she rode all night to find him when a dreamlike vision showed her that he was in mortal danger. She told a friend later that she did not know whether she was awake or asleep when she saw the picture of her husband's troops all bloody from battle. She arrived in time to tend to the wounded and is credited with saving Frank Cogdell. Her husband still talked about her presence at the battle in his golden years.

Not being a fool, Mary thanked God for protecting her during the occupation of her home. Considering what Tarleton was capable of, she was blessed when he decided to behave in the British tradition of military officers with honor and gentility. The book I have does not mention if the Slocums had more than one child. Her young son, who played with Tarleton's men during the occupation, grew up to become a Congressman. Mary and Ezekiel Slocum lived happily together for sixty years until her death on March 6, 1836.

Say, wait a minute...whose bare butt was that? Better back it up again and look in slow motion. Another of those guilty pleasures. Then, of course, this is probably my favorite: "It's a musket, you moron."

Who can fault a movie with such a great line?

Footnote: Mary Slocum's story can be found in several books. My information comes from "The American Women of the American Revolution: Vol.1" by Elizabeth F. Ellet. It was first published in 1848. Some of the notes in the book indicate that Ms. Ellet attempted to get first hand information about each woman she includes in the series. Some of their children would have still been alive to tell their mother's stories. In one footnote about Sarah Reeves Gibbes, whose house was occupied in 1780, Ellet confirmed her facts with three different sources.

Copyright © 1998 Karen L. Hayden. All rights reserved.