100 Years of Memory

Saturday, December 26, 2015
Hannah Handy was the unquestioned hero of what is still one of the deadliest days in Upper Valley history. Four people were killed in the Royalton Raid, the Oct. 16, 1780 action in the Revolutionary War, which turned out to be the last major raid in New England.

The toll could have been much worse if not for Handy. When a party of Mohawks, commanded by Lt. Richard Houghton of the British army, swept down on the handful of colonists in Royalton, Sharon and Tunbridge and took most of the menfolk as prisoners, Handy tore after them in pursuit of her young son. She forded the White River with the help of an Indian the Handys had fed and housed, and talked Houghton into giving back her son and eight other young boys.

Yet Handy’s deeds are known only among people familiar with Vermont’s early history. She is buried in an unknown grave, either in the White River Valley, or in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., where she died. And she likely wouldn’t be remembered much even in Royalton, but for a monument erected 100 years ago.

Seen from a distance, the monument is a bit of an oddity, thanks in part to its name, The Handy Memorial, in big block letters. Carved of Barre granite, the arch stands alone on the north side of the South Royalton green, apart from the town’s war memorials. Its arch lines up with the door of the church across the street and with the former train station, now a bank branch, on the opposite side of the green. On one side, it lists the names of those captured, killed or rescued. On the other is a dedication to Handy: “In honor of Hannah Hunter Handy who rescued nine children from the Indians at the burning of Royalton, Oct.16, 1870. Later she married Gideon Mosher of Sharon, Vt.”

“Before they widened the road, it had a little green space around it,” said John Dumville, of the town’s historical society and for 36 years the chief overseer of Vermont’s historic sites.

The monument has stood largely unchanged since it was installed, in August 1915. The town didn’t note its centennial this past year. The road salt has not been kind to the base of the structure, two concrete and stone pedestals. Slate around the bottom has come loose and one of the pedestals has deep cracks around the stones.

“Looking at it, I can see that something needs to be done,” Dumville said during a recent conversation at the memorial.

There aren’t many monuments to women of the Colonial era, and the only reason the Handy Memorial was built had to do with another woman. Evelyn M. Wood Lovejoy, who was director of Royalton Academy and the author of the two-volume History of Royalton, Vt., 1769-1911, called for construction of a monument to Hannah Handy and raised money for it.

Her history gives a lengthy account of the burning of Royalton, as the event is often called. Nearly three dozen homes and half as many barns were burned in the raid and much of the village’s livestock was killed.

The raid was “an attempt by the British to terrorize the frontier settlements” and turn them back to British rule, Dumville said. The treaty that ended the Revolutionary War wasn’t signed until 1783, and the Royalton Raid took place after the British had lost the northern states, but before the Continental Army’s 1781 victory at Yorktown.

Once the raid began, Handy’s husband, Robert Handy, rode off to the fort in Bethel to raise the alarm. “It is said,” Lovejoy wrote in her account, “that Mrs. Handy had gone but a short distance when she met Indians on the run, who took away her seven-year-old boy, Michael.” (A more recent account of the raid, We Go As Captives , by Royalton author Neil Goodwin, gives Michael’s age as 10 years old.)

The Indians said they planned to make Michael into a soldier, but Handy wouldn’t hear of it. “I will follow you to Canada before I give up that boy,” Lovejoy wrote, citing Handy.

After crossing the river with the help of the Indian, who is not named in any of the accounts, Handy begged for the return of her son. After winning his release, she pressed for the release of the other boys. She noted that the boys would slow down the raiding party, and that if any of the children died it would fall heavily on Lt. Houghton’s conscience and would turn public sentiment even more strongly against the British.

Lovejoy wrote: “Mrs. Handy is said to have been about 27 years of age at this time and from a description of her as she appeared in old age, there is no doubt that she was a young woman of attractive personality. Young Lieut. Houghton could not withstand the charm of the agonized mother, beautiful in the strength and courage of her mother-love, and his better nature was awakened by her unselfish and fearless pleading for her neighbors’ children. This surrender to the higher dictates of his conscience, and the kind act of the Indian in aiding Mrs. Handy across the river, are almost the only touches that relieve the brutal savagery of the events of this day.”

Hannah Handy, according to both Lovejoy and Goodwin, was from Sharon, although it seems likely she was born somewhere else and brought to Vermont as a child. Aside from her brave deed, she seems to have lived a quiet, even unremarkable life. Robert Handy, one of Royalton’s original grantees, died after the raid, although it isn’t clear how or when he died. As the memorial attests, Hannah remarried Gideon Mosher and lived with him in Sharon. After her second husband died, Hannah, then known as “Mrs. Mosher,” went to Hoosick Falls, N.Y., to live with her daughter, Lucretia, who was a few years younger than Michael.

Evelyn Lovejoy appears to have started her campaign for a memorial in her town history.

“It would seem that the memory of Mrs. Handy’s deed would be kept green in the hearts of those benefited thereby, and that some suitable recognition of her merit would have been given ere this by them or their descendants,” Lovejoy wrote. “She sleeps today in an unknown grave.”

The stories passed down to Lovejoy’s day held that Handy had been given “a brooch or medal in honor of her heroism,” but Lovejoy, 100 years closer to the life of Hannah Handy than we are, could not verify it.

The old stories also said that Handy was buried “in the old cemetery in the lower part of Sharon village,” but her heirs were certain she died in Hoosick Falls and was interred there.

“No records can be found that throw any light on the subject,” wrote Lovejoy, who donated the proceeds from her history to construction of the memorial and of the Royalton Memorial Library.

“Mr’s Lovejoy was writing letters constantly, soliciting donations,” Dumville said.

(As an aside, Dumville noted that when the Mormon Church donated $200, many mainline Protestants threatened to withhold their contributions. Lovejoy was forced to return the Mormons’ money. “She was crushed that the town showed that much bigotry,” Dumville said.)

Her fundraising pitch might have sounded something like what she wrote in her 1911 book: “Some lasting monument to her memory should be reared, and as her resting place is unknown and likely to remain so, no more fitting place for a monument can be found than in the vicinity of South Royalton, where her imperishable deed was performed.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

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