The Ride of Betsy Dowdy
It was on the sixth night of a frigid December;
Dark, windy, and stormy, but a night to remember.
In this, the year seventeen seventy-five;
A fine one for patriot legends to ride.
Along the Albermarle coast of North Carolina
Across Currituck Sound, on a lonely sandbar
Where a seaman lived alone with his daughter
And small banker ponies grazed on the dunes,
Where the seagulls cried and the sea stretched far.
Young Betsy Dowdy, of tender sixteen,
Was setting the table for dinner that night.
Her father was mending his nets by the fire
When a sudden pounding was heard on the door.
The neighbor barged in; today on the shore
He'd heard that the infamous Lord Dunmore
Was crossing Virginia with all of his might
And heading for Norfolk, expecting no fight.
The Albermarle was firm in his sight,
And hell-bent on carnage, he was quite keen.
To burn and to slaughter; the colony's plight
Was dangerous and easily seen.
The men, they raged; what could be done?
"If a man," said they, "should take the ride
This moment to the mainland side,
A rider should be in time to warn
The American forces to assemble at dawn
With General Skinner's men and guns
At the Great Bridge, tomorrow morn.
But in the darkness, and with the high tide,
The mist rolling in, and no light from the sun
To show the way through the swamps beyond
And the woods where the wilds of night reside -
It's impossible; no one would get through alive."
Young Betsy just sat and listened awhile
While visions of doom flashed in her head,
Then she stood and, without whisper or word,
With her cape, slipped out to the herding shed
Leaving the men to croak by the fire,
And saddled her pony, sea-born and bred;
In Betsy's heart was one simple desire;
To save her home from the grenadiers' ire.
She mounted her steed, and off she sped
Without a look back at her house on the isle.
The pony's hooves fell with muffled beat
As through the dark, moonstruck fog they flew.
To the narrow point of the sandbar she rode;
No boat would she find waiting there.
So into the sound the pony strode,
And she kept it pointed with great care
For Church Island; her three mile feat
Was over, but her ride not complete.
The sound was only half-crossed, she knew,
And into its murk she again did dare
Until the mainland came into view.
One terror was crossed; the next just begun
As she set the pony once more to run
Through the woods and marshes of the night
Fraught with death and with danger, peril and fright
From native and beast and nature alike.
The moon sailed high; she gave the pony its head
And they covered the miles as onward they sped.
In the cold darkness, just before dawn,
She clattered into Hertford town,
And just as the sky was turning pink,
She made it to Skinner at Yeopim Creek.
"The British are coming!" was her greeting cry.
"To the Great Bridge or Americans die!"
The Colonial forces rallied around
And set out for Norfolk with the first light,
While a mud-spattered girl, her job now done,
Turned her tired steed's head home with the sun.
The quaint humble houses of Albermarle
Were saved from the torch and the sword that night;
For at Great Bridge the British were routed,
And Dunmore retreated to Norfolk from sight.
The rider earned no reknown, fame, or glory
But on history's pages, this girl and her pony,
With love and a heart for her people and country,
Placed firmly her mark as her warning she shouted;
With hope in her heart and a future in sight,
As with danger pursuing, she rode through the night,
A patriot beacon in passionate youth -
A heroine of wisdom and virtue and truth.
May American children still grow to be
Heroes and heroines for their country
With no thought or desire for fame or for wealth,
Would gladly and quickly give of themselves.
May this tale still be told by our firesides
Of brave Betsy Dowdy and her selfless ride.
from 'Whispers in the North'©kakarigeikogirl