Answering Liberty’s Call: Anna Stone’s Daring Ride to Valley Forge (Fidelis Publishing, 2021) blends family lore, fact, and fiction into a gripping tale of a woman who risks her life for family and country in the winter of 1778.
In 1778, war may be men’s business, but that doesn’t stop Anna Stone from getting involved in the fight for liberty. When her soldier husband and brothers face starvation at Valley Forge, Anna is not content to pray and worry. She gets on her horse and strikes out alone over two hundred miles of rough roads to bring them life-sustaining supplies.
Eighty miles from her destination, Anna learns of a plot to overthrow General Washington and replace him with a commander who will surrender. With the fate of the American Revolution in her hands, she agrees to carry a message of warning and races to reach Valley Forge before one of the conspirators, who is in hot pursuit, can intercept her.
Women played no formal role in the American Revolution, yet they were hardly passive observers in the conflict. They took part in public demonstrations against British policies alongside their husbands and brothers and were elemental in the most important protest of all—boycotting British manufactured goods.
The American Revolution changed these women’s lives irrevocably. With their men off to battle, many shouldered the responsibility of running family farms and businesses. They managed their homes, raised children, and mobilized on the home front.
Eschewing manufactured cloth from England, women brought their spinning wheels out of storage, and spinning bees became so popular that they drew spectators. The Boston Evening Post reported on one such event, saying, “the ladies…may vie with the men in contributing to the preservation and prosperity of their country and equally share in the honor of it.”
If honor and glory drove men to the battlefield, the fight for independence must also have ignited women’s pride, tempered thought it was by the pain of loneliness and loss.
Anna Stone, the protagonist of Answering Liberty’s Call, dislikes the long separation from her soldier husband, Benjamin, even as she shares his desire for independence. It is her faith in him, in the cause of liberty, and in the military’s leadership that bolster her sense of duty and patriotism:
I didn’t protest when Benjamin joined the Culpeper Minutemen in the fall of 1775, for it was every able-bodied man’s duty to serve in the militia. He was delighted—far more than I, to be honest—when the Virginia Assembly called the Minutemen to defend the arsenal at Williamsburg just before Christmastide. When he returned three months later, he was restless. Even though Governor Dunmore’s expulsion from the colony restored peace to Virginia, Benjamin would not be content until the unrest in all the colonies was resolved.
Though he spent long days in the fields or the orchards, he often rode off after supper to spend a few hours at Edwards’ Ordinary in nearby Fauquier Court House. There, he and his fellows followed the news of the continuing rebellion in the north and rejoiced in the daring exploits of the Sons of Liberty.
Unsure how to make him understand my worry, I settled for pointing out it did not look well when a preacher spent more time in the ordinary than in church.
Between Benjamin’s return from the Culpeper Minutemen’s triumph at the Battle of Great Bridge in December 1775 and his departure with the Third Virginia in October 1776, the focus of the conflict shifted. Once the Continental Congress declared the colonies’ independence from Great Britain, a return to the status quo was no longer an option. The prospect of fighting to establish an independent new nation must have been both exhilarating and terrifying. In the novel, Anna recalls her range of emotions on the Sunday Benjamin read the Declaration of Independence aloud to his congregation:
“Brothers and sisters, surely there is more that binds us as Americans than drives us apart. I ask you, what would you be willing to sacrifice to secure a future free from Crown rule for yourselves and your children?
“It is written, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, ‘For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.’
“In Thomas Paine’s Epistle to the Quakers, he asserts that all men dislike violence and want peace, but there comes a time when violence is inevitable.”
He unrolled the parchment. “This is a copy of our Continental Congress’s Declaration of Independence. The original is on its way to England and King George. I am privileged to be the one to share this message with you.
“‘In Congress, July 4, 1776. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another …’”
As he read, I scanned the faces of the people in the congregation and saw the dawning excitement I experienced a few months before. But now, fear overshadowed my excitement. What would independence from England and Crown rule mean? What would it cost to gain it?
As I watched my husband stand before his congregation, I could almost see the fresh flames burst forth from the smoldering coals of his ideals.
Now, as then, a military spouse clings to a sense of patriotism to make a loved one’s service and sacrifice more tolerable. Anna journeys from her home in Virginia to Valley Forge and witnesses firsthand the disorganization and corruption within Congress and the army, forcing her to confront complex issues that threaten her sense of patriotism and her support for the cause.
In the novel, Anna sees the war from both sides. On the home front, she chafes at the lack of news and communication and worries about hers and her children’s futures should Benjamin not return.
But when she hears of the privations at Valley Forge, and then receives word that her brothers are ill–possibly with smallpox–she cannot remain at home.
Anna’s actions have been immortalized in Stone family lore–and though we know her name, she represents the countless unsung women who took action in defense of their country during the fight for American independence.
Anna Asbury Stone, my 6x-great grandmother, is counted among Ohio women because her family moved west from Virginia after the American Revolution, eventually settling in Harrison County. A Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Cambridge, Ohio is named in her honor.
Think you might be a descendant of Anna and Benjamin? It’s highly possible! They had eleven children, and many of them settled in Ohio. My research, both genealogical and historical, is available on my website.