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Nancy Ward and Lydia Russell Bean - Cherokee Woman and White Captive Woman

Phyllis realizes the importance of portraying women in history who made a difference in the world.

Woman Spirit

Kindred Spirits

The story of Nancy Ward and Lydia Russell Bean is heart-warming and proves that from the horrors of war, kindness and humanitarian actions are not only possible, but so rewarding. Nancy Ward was a Cherokee woman. Lydia Russell Bean was a white captive woman who was about to be tortured and killed when Nancy first saw her. Fires had been lit around the woman bound to a stake. These two women who came together like kindred souls made an enormous impact on the lives of each other and their own people.

Nancy Ward (1738 - 1824)

Nancy Ward was born in the Wolf Clan, her mother's clan. The Cherokee are a matrilineal society, so Nancy was a lifelong member of this clan. Nancy's Cherokee name was Nanye-hi, which means "One who goes about." It seems to have been an appropriate name for Nancy, for she spent her whole life "going about" to make life better for her people.

Nancy's mother was called Tame Doe, whose brother was the well-known Cherokee leader Attakullakulla in the 1760s and 1770s. There is no record of further information on Tame Doe or Nancy's father, who may have been of the Leni Lenape tribe.

The home of the Wolf Clan was in Chota, which is now Monroe County, Tennessee. Chota is now an historic Overhill Cherokee site that was a very important town for the Cherokee Nation during the mid 1740s to the late 1880s. The Cherokee people have been a prominent part of the Appalachian regions since long before any British Colonies were established. One of the most significant transitions the Cherokee had to make, that of adjusting to the Europeans and their way of life, was possible in part due to the work of Nancy Ward. She was very instrumental in helping her people make this difficult change from their way of life to one that would help them to go forward.

Nancy Ward was a Beloved Woman, Ghigau, of the Cherokee Nation. In the Cherokee tradition, the title of 'Beloved Woman' was given to those women who were allowed to join in with the men in council and make decisions. At the age of 18, Nancy was given the title of Warrior Woman when she fought by the side of her husband Kingfisher in the Battle of Taliwa in 1775. When Kingfisher was killed, Nancy took his gun and carried on his task of leading their people to a victory. This act of courage gave her the honored place of Ghigau, Beloved Woman of the Cherokee. As Ghigau, Nancy was able to make decisions and one of these was the right to save the life of a captive.

One life Nancy spared was that of Lydia Russell Bean. Lydia had been captured while on her way to Fort Watauga in what is now Elizabethton, Tennessee.

Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals

Fort Watauga

Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals is now a State Historic Site in Elizabethton, Tennessee, USA. During Lydia Russell's time the fort was called Fort Caswell then later changed to Fort Watauga. It was built in the 1770s and reconstructed 200 years later.

Lydia Russell Bean (1726 - 1788)

Lydia Russell was born in Richmond County, Virginia, USA, on September 29, 1726. It is uncertain about the date when she married Captain William Bean of the Virginia Militia. Their first child, William R. Bean was born in 1745, the first white child born in Tennessee. They had seven other children.

William had been on hunting expeditions with Daniel Boone in Watauga Valley in what is now Tennessee. In 1768 he cleared some land in the area where hunting was good, on Boone's Creek that ran off the Watauga River. He built a cabin there and returned to Virginia. A year later he and Lydia moved to Boone's Creek. Lydia's brothers, George and John Russell joined them not long after and soon other relatives and friends moved from Virginia to the small settlement in Watauga.

In July of 1776, Lydia and Samuel Moore, a 13 year old, were on their way to Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals when a band of Cherokee captured them. It is unknown what happened to Samuel Moore, but Lydia was taken to the Cherokee Overhill towns, to be burned at the stake. As she was being bound and the fires lit, Nancy Ward saw what was happening and freed her, using her rights to do so as the Beloved Woman of the Cherokee.

Nancy and Lydia

Lydia had been wounded, was weak and terrified. Lydia was spared and taken into Nancy's home. Nancy nursed the woman back to health and for her kindness and friendship Lydia taught Nancy how to weave. She showed Nancy how to set up a loom and use thread or yarn for spinning.

Nancy saw that this would be a remarkable improvement for the Cherokee. The fine woven, soft and comfortable to wear cloth would replace the rough animal hide clothing the Cherokee wore and also made them less dependent on the traders for the woven cloth they so admired. This new craft of weaving that Nancy learned brought to the traditional Cherokee woman a new role in life. The women took on the task of weaving and the farming they had been doing was left to the men of the tribe. Cherokee women were also able to spend more time on housekeeping instead of working all day in the fields.

Lydia managed to retrieve two of her dairy cows from the settlement and taught Nancy how to raise cattle and how to prepare the dairy products from them. This helped greatly to supplement the diet of the people.

These new things Nancy learned from Lydia changed the way of life considerably for the Cherokee people. Rather than a communal agricultural society they had become more like their European neighbors.

Two Women who Made a Difference

In her later life Nancy took on the role of an ambassador between the Cherokee and the white settlers. From her maternal uncle, Chief Attakullakulla, she learned the art of diplomacy. When John Sevier, delegation leader of the whites complained with shock that such important work was assigned to a woman, Nancy replied that "(women) are your mothers, you are our sons".

Nancy died in 1822 (or 1824). Her son, Fivekiller, said that she was buried in Chota, her home. Nancy is remembered as an important figure to not only the Cherokee, but also as an early pioneer for American women in politics. Lydia died in 1788. In April of 1959 the Lydia Russell Bean Daughters of the Revolution Chapter in Knoxville was established. It is unknown where Lydia was buried. These two women, kindred souls, did so much to show there could be peace and friendship between two cultures. They worked together to make life better for their people.

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Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,

Whose words are images of thought refin’d,

Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be

Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,

When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee

- from "Sonnet in Solitude"

— John Keats

Nancy Ward Monument and Grave

Nancy Ward Grave and Monument

The monument of Nancy Ward in Benton, Tennessee. The other two are graves of her brother, Longfellow and her son Fivekiller. The cemetery is on a hill which overlooks the Ocoee River. Nancy and her people were forced out of the homes in Chota and settled in Ocoee. The monument was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Nancy Ward Chapter, in 1923.

Nancy Ward, Beloved Woman of the Cherokee

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on August 02, 2020:

Hi Laura. What exciting news you have to add to this article and the history of your grandmothers. I would love to know how you traced the lineages. Thank you for reading and sharing your information.

Laura Lively on August 01, 2020:

Thank you, Phyllis, for bringing these important historical events to life in a very personal way. In doing some recent genealogy research, I stumbled upon an exciting anomaly that I never expected. I already knew that I’m a direct descendant of Nancy Ward. I happened to be reading about Lydia Bean (another direct descendant of mine) and learned about Nancy’s and Lydia’s chance encounter and ensuing friendship I previously knew nothing of. I was in shock to learn that two of my grandmothers crossed paths, and one saved the other one’s life! Not to mention the significance of what they taught each other. If you’d like, I can share how I traced the lineages. I try to be diligent, but it’s always good to check additional resources whenever possible. So if my research is accurate, Nancy and Lydia were both my grandmas.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 16, 2019:

Hi Catherine. Thank you for reading and sharing your history. I wish I could help on the DNA issue, but other than what is in my article, I have no other info. Best of luck to you.

Catherine Voegel Martin on December 12, 2019:

Hello: I am descended from Capt. Willie Bean and Lydia Russell with 91 DNA matches to each of them through Ancestry. What I am seeking is information beyond each of them. There seems to be differences of opinions on the parents for both. I have followed up and kept up with any changes of opinions. I've still no concrete decision. My DNA leads me in different directions due to the fact that if other people have the sames mistakes in their tree the DNA will follow. Any concrete information would be helpful for me.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on July 09, 2019:

Hi James. You are welcome. Thank you for sharing your family connection. I would like to know more about William and any of Lydia's family. She was a brave and interesting lady.

James Alvin Hartley on July 05, 2019:

I am related to Ms. Lydia. She is from my mother's side of the family. I had heard stories of her husband William, and other men of the family but never this story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

Rodney Beeman on October 14, 2018:

Greetings, Phyllis: I am a lifelong history buff with a particular interest in the American Indians and Indian warfare. I am quite familiar with the incident you described, but never knew the name of "the white woman captive about to be burned at the stake" I thank you very much for this information.

As for Lydia's traveling companion, young Samuel Moore, I know of at least three sources that state that the Cherokee did in fact burn him at the stake. The location cited is North Carolina, not far from the Tennesee settlements. Probably the war party was a composite group from several villages, and upon disbanding they went their separate ways. At age 13, Sam would have been considered an adult by the Indians. A book entitled "White Into Red", a study of white captives who became "Indianized", the onset of puberty is called "the critical age", the division between children and adults. Children were almost always adopted into their captor's tribe, while adults faced a much more uncertain future. At his age, Sam unfortunately was far enough into the transition to manhood to be treated as an enemy warrior, and tortured to death by fire.

Lydia Russell Bean, at age 50 when captured, was also the victim of "ageism". A younger female captive, of childbearing age, probably would have been spared as a matter of course. The torture of white women was actually a rare occurrence, as burning at the stake was generally considered an honorable fate, reserved for warriors. The other well-documented case is that of Martha Moore and her daughter Jane, who were presented by their Shawnee captors to a party of visiting Cherokee. Angry over their unsuccessful foray against the settlers and several casualties suffered, the Cherokee put the two white women to the torture as an act of vengeance.

The cases I have cited can all be found in the book "The Wild Frontier", by William M. Osborn. An equal-opportunity chronicler of the Indian-White conflict, Osborn relates many atrocities committed by both sides in the 200+ years of hostilities.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 08, 2017:

You are welcome Dorothy.

dorothy adams on December 04, 2017:

love photos and stores, thanks

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on June 20, 2017:

Hi Kelly. Such an interesting ancestor you have there. Yes, thank goodness for Nancy Ward. Thanks, Kelly, for reading and commenting.

Kelly Patrick on June 18, 2017:

Elizabeth Lydia Russell-Bean Was my 6th grandmother. Thank God for Nancy Ward and their unity!

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on October 15, 2016:

Hi Virginia. This is very interesting news. Thank you so much for sharing. It is good to hear from you again. Take care.

Virginia Kearney from United States on October 11, 2016:

Hi Phyllis--I've taken too long to get back to you about this. I just pulled out the information for my daughters recently. There were 3 Russell siblings: George, Lydia and William. George and Lydia married siblings: William and Elizabeth Bean. All four of them traveled together to establish Fort Watauga. Another interesting fact is that William Russell married Martha Henry, the sister of the patriot Patrick Henry.

Here is Lydia's wiki tree link:

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on March 04, 2016:

Oh! Great. I would love to add more information to the story. Have a good trip, Virginia.

Virginia Kearney from United States on March 04, 2016:

Hi Phyllis--I will have to get out my documents to give you more information. I'm going on a trip in a couple of minutes but will be back next week. You are right about the connection. I said it incorrectly. I think Elizabeth Bean married George Russell and William Bean married Lydia Russell. I will have to check my information (done by my cousin's husband who is a semi-professional genealogist) and get back to you. I don't have any pictures although there is a picture of the home George Russell built online.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on March 04, 2016:

Hi VirginaLynne and thank you for the visit. I am very happy to hear from a descendant of someone in Lydia's family. I am a bit confused though about the relations you mention: George Russell was Lydia's brother and his wife was Lydia's sister? Can you clarify that for me, please? It is good to get some information on George and William - I had a difficult time finding information on Lydia's family and sadly no pictures of Lydia. I really appreciate your reading and commenting and your kind praise of well written details. Thank you so much.

Virginia Kearney from United States on March 04, 2016:

I am a descendant of Lydia's brother, George Russell, and his wife Elizabeth, who was Lydia's sister, I believe. I had known about this story but was interested in reading your details, which are well written. Both George and William and his sons fought vital battles against the British during the Revolutionary war. William and Lydia Bean's sons were famous for being crack shots. George was later killed by Indians while out on a hunting expedition with Daniel Boone.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on February 08, 2016:

Hello Mark. You are most welcome. Glad to know this article helped you some. Did you check the 'Find A Grave' site? I found Lydia was listed there, but could find no other information on her except what is in my article. You might also find something about William's parents on passenger lists of ships that came to America during the mid to late 1700s. You have some good information on William, so hopefully something will turn up. Best of luck in your search. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Mark Jarrell on February 08, 2016:

Thank you so very much for this article! I am the family genealogist and the origin of my ancestor William Bean is unknown, so this gives me another direction to research. All that is known/believed is that he and his brother were taken from their mother as boys after their father had died and made indentured servants in the early 1800's, with no further information about the mother. This was in VA (now WV) and William built a house on the south side of Peter's Mtn. near Waiteville. The house is still standing. He owned at least 1337 acres and was a farmer as well as blacksmith. He was shot in the head by soldiers or bandits passing through in the War between the states in 1864, and oddly enough, his son William was shot in the head 20 years later while serving as a Marshal.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on February 06, 2016:

Hi Brenda. I would love to see the sketch Ben Hampton painted. I had a difficult time trying to find images of Nancy Ward that were free to use, and no images of Lydia Russell Bean. Thank you so much for reading and commenting

Brenda on February 06, 2016:

the Chattanooga artist, Ben Hampton painted a sketch of Nancy Ward which was beautiful. He is deceased. I enjoyed your article very much.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on October 21, 2015:

Hi Penny. That is great to hear. You must be proud of her. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Penny on October 21, 2015:

Lydia was my 6th Great Grandmother. Thank you for the lovely story.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on October 04, 2014:

Hi Suzette. You are most welcome. You are so right when you say " It is proof we can live in peace with those different than ourselves." All we have to do is reach out and accept people for who they are, learn from them, teach them and respect each other - so simple, but it makes a huge difference in the world when it spreads. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on October 04, 2014:

Phyllis, this is such an interesting and informative hub. What an inspirational story! Too bad we can't find peace in this world like these two exceptional women. What role models they are. Thanks for sharing their story with us. It is proof we can live in peace with those different than ourselves.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on October 03, 2014:

Hi oceansnsunsets. I am so glad you enjoyed learning about Nancy Ward and Lydia Bean. It is quite an interesting story. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it.

Paula from The Midwest, USA on October 03, 2014:

Hi Phyllis, thank you for sharing this story. History is so fascinating, and this part of it is not as familiar to me, so I great appreciate learning more of it. It is hard to imagine what life must have been like for these women, but it helps to get the little glimpses that we can. All of our choices really do matter, and can have life long repercussions. Thank you again for sharing.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on October 03, 2014:

Hi Pamela. Thank you very much for the kind comment. Glad you enjoyed reading the hub. They were remarkable women. Thanks for the votes and sharing, I appreciate it.

Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on October 03, 2014:

I really enjoyed learning about these two women. You're a great writer and you have such a variety of topics on your profile page. I will be back soon to read more. Voting way up and Sharing.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on April 14, 2014:

Hi gardener den. You are most welcome. Thank you for your very kind comment. I love writing about our history and how some people made a difference in this world.

Dennis Hoyman from Southwestern, Pennsylvania on April 14, 2014:

Phyllis I love this hub! Your story telling or writing is great! Keep up the great work and write about more of these kind of stories. Thanks Again Gardener Den

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on March 28, 2014:

Hi Kevin. Thank you very much for your kind words. I am happy you enjoyed this story. Both Nancy and Lydia were remarkable women.

The Examiner-1 on March 28, 2014:

Amazing article Phyllis. They seemed 'attracted' to each other - like sisters. Even though it was true, it was like a fiction novel that could not put down until I reached the end. I am glad that they helped each other in the ways that they did. Very good piece of writing. :-)


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on March 20, 2014:

Dane, I read your "Cherokee Chiefs , Settlers, and the War of 1776", what a great hub and so much information you provided. I left a comment there for you. It is so interesting to read your historical events after reading my story of Nancy Ward and Lydia Bean. It is a story within a story. Thanks again for stopping by and taking me over to your hub.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on March 20, 2014:

Thank you so much, teaches. The women of those times amaze me with all they did and knew. As always, I so appreciate your visit and comment.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on March 20, 2014:

Hi Peg. Thank you. I really enjoyed researching and writing about Nancy and Lydia. I have known about Nancy Ward for a long time, but just recently found out more on Lydia Russell Bean. They were amazing women for sure I appreciate your reading and commenting, Peg, thanks.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on March 20, 2014:

Thank you, Dane, so much. I will have to hop over and find your story -- it sounds interesting. I am happy you enjoyed this hub and I really appreciate your visit and comment. Thanks again, Dane.

Dianna Mendez on March 20, 2014:

Another fascinating post of history on two very important women who made a difference. They selflessly gave to the Cherokee much knowledge of basic living skills.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on March 20, 2014:

Phyllis, This incredible story of two women is fascinating and well told. What an amazing time to be alive that must have been. This would make a great movie.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on March 20, 2014:

How awesome, Phyllis! You know I included Nancy Ward in an HP story called Cherokee Chiefs , Settlers, and the War of 1776. But I certainly didn't know anything like what you have researched and written. This was a great read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Well done, Phyllis!

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