March is Women’s History Month, when cultural institutions typically focus on highlighting the contributions of women. This year, with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving U.S. women the right to vote, the state launched a year-long celebration entitled “She Changed the World: North Carolina Women Breaking Barriers.” I have enjoyed learning about some of the women here in Person County that broke barriers, and I wanted to share the story of Revolutionary War spy Jean Carlisle Holman with all of you.
It is exceptionally challenging to find sources information on the impact of women during the Revolutionary War. Much of what we know about these brave individuals comes from stories handed down in families, but the lack of primary sources should not undermine the contribution these women had during a time of great upheaval in our not-yet a country.
According to family lore, Jean Carlisle Holman was active in the politics of colonial America from the time of the regulator movement through the Revolutionary War. She was described as a “full blooded Scotch woman” with a “fiery, double-barreled tongue” that would often move between English and Gaelic in a single conversation. It is difficult to determine when she was born, married or died, and sources vary about these details, but they do not vary in sharing her exploits for the cause of freedom.
Jean and her husband Richard lived in Timberlake, at the time part of Orange County, but now in Person County. Known as Oakland Plantation, the home is said to have hosted meetings of the Regulators, individuals who were fighting for colonial freedom from 1765-1771. The family stories recount that “Mrs. Jean” as she was known, would often participate in the conversations and at least once rode 15-30 miles from home to share information with Thomas Person, who would go on to be a general in the colonial army and for whom Person County is named.
Thomas Person was connected to the Holmans before the war. His plantation in Granville County, named Goshen, was purportedly where the Holman children were educated. A relative of his, either his brother or nephew, married Elizabeth Holman, Mrs. Jean’s daughter. This connection may have led a now-widowed Mrs. Jean to serve as a spy for the colonists. When General Cornwallis took over the town of Hillsborough in 1781, stories say that Mrs. Jean would travel the 15 miles south into town, peddling her vegetables and fruits, collecting tidbits of information from the British soldiers. She would then relay this information to General Person, fighting in her own way for freedom.
Mrs. Jean believed in the cause, and she took it upon herself to do what she could to help. She put herself in danger to collect information, breaking barriers established for women of the time. She made a difference and, regardless of the fact that we can’t “prove” that she did these things, I, for one, find inspiration in her actions. I also look forward to learning more about her as well as other Person County women who broke barriers and changed the world!
Carrie Currie is the museum coordinator at The Person County Museum of History, where she enjoys “Making History Personal.” You can learn more about the museum at www.pcmuseumnc.com