Fort Augusta, Pennsylvania; the fort that Mammy Kate rescued Steven Heard from, via Wikipedia.

The lives of enslaved people, especially women, in United States history have often been intentionally erased by their enslavers to suppress their culture and their individual identities; stories that remain of the lives of enslaved people are limited and far between. Mammy Kate’s story, however, is one of the few that remains of these women during the time of the Revolutionary War. 

Little is known about Mammy Kate–even though her actions were recorded her personal details are incredibly vague–but what is certain is her incredibly heroic actions amidst conflict and uncertainty. 

Steven Heard enslaved Mammy Kate, and thus she was forced to travel with him to Fort Augusta in Pennsylvania when he was detained by the British for supporting the revolutionary cause. Mr Heard was a supporter of the Revolutionary cause, and while Mammy had every reason to be unsupportive of him for fighting for the country’s freedom when she was not free herself, she felt obligated to help him in whatever way possible. 

Stories of Mammy Kate’s specific actions vary, but most of them describe her avoiding detainment and eventually gaining the trust of British troops by washing their clothes and doing their laundry. This continued for many weeks until eventually gained their trust. One day, she asked them if she could bring Steven Heard some new clothing so he would no longer have to sleep in rags—-they obliged. 

Events then happened quickly, and Mammy Kate helped Steven sneak out of prison and potentially saved his life. Her actions allowed Heard to escape, and following their arrival to a more secure location, he granted Mammy Kate her freedom. Records indicate that Mammy Kate stayed with the Heard family until her death, but the date or circumstances surrounding her passing are unknown. 

The story of Mammy Kate provides room for a larger conversation about the place of enslaved women in America’s history, especially the American Revolutionary War. Just because their specific stories are no longer told does not mean that there were not thousands of amazing, heroic, and brave women who worked tirelessly every day to ensure a freer future for America. 

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