Elizabeth Phifer Blackwelder: A Maternal Heroine of the Revolution

9 May 2014

Headstone of Betsey Phifer Blackwelder, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery, Mount Pleasant, NC. Courtesy of Denise F., www.findagrave.com.

This Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day. Throughout history, mothers have played important roles in support of, and in defense of, their homes, families and communities during times of strife. Many of these mostly unsung women have shown remarkable strength, perseverance and devotion in the face of hardship and danger. One such woman was Elizabeth Phifer Blackwelder.

Elizabeth (Betsey) Phifer was born on 4 April 1724 in Basel, Switzerland. She grew up to marry Gottlieb Schwarzwalder and traveled with him to America. Upon arrival, her husband and his family Anglicized their name and he became Caleb Blackwelder. They settled in eastern Cabarrus County (then part of Anson) in 1761.

The Blackwelders became very active during the American Revolution. Caleb, in his fifties, was thought to be too old to fight, so offered his services gathering supplies such as horses, food and ammunition for the troops. He was captured, perhaps by a band of Tories who roamed the area around Mount Pleasant, and taken to a British prison in Camden, South Carolina. John Blackwelder, the son of Betsey and Caleb, as well as their son-in-law, John Paul Barringer, were Patriots fighting for the American side and also ended up as prisoners-of-war in Camden. Brave Betsey, also in her fifties at the time, got into her wagon and rode to Camden in an attempt to free her three family members.

When Betsey arrived, the camp was full of smallpox victims. She began nursing British and Americans alike. While there, it is thought that she may have worked alongside the mother of Andrew Jackson, who was nursing her older son at the same time. Betsey’s son John perished from the dreadful disease. When her husband and son-in-law were released, she was able to bring them back to the Mount Pleasant area as a reward for her nursing duties.

Betsey was a well-connected lady. Her nephews John and Martin Phifer were both quite prominent during the Revolution. They were the sons of Martin Phifer and Margaret Blackwelder, brother and sister to Caleb and Betsey. John was a signer of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and Martin served under George Washington. Washington even stayed with Martin at his Red Hill Inn, off of Poplar Tent Road, as he was traveling north from Charleston in his presidential duties.

Betsey’s son-in-law, John Paul Barringer, was part of a group that rode to Raleigh to address the North Carolina Assembly to seek the formation of a county separate from Mecklenburg. Stephen Cabarrus, popular Speaker of the House of Representatives was to cast the tie breaking vote. Legend has it that when Cabarrus called for a recess, Barringer whispered to him that if he voted for the split, the new county would be named Cabarrus. He did and it was so named!

Betsey is listed by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) as a Revolutionary Patriot. Her grave at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church is inscribed with the words, “A HEROINE OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION”.

Courtesy of Vicki Bost Isenhour, Eastern Cabarrus Historical Society