• Exploring American History

‘Have knitting needles, will spy.’ Contact Molly Rinker, Philadelphia

Although it took until 1948 when the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act was passed for women to be recognized for the crucial roles they have played in all of America’s wars, thankfully their determination to do so was not deterred. The fact recognition was not offered only goes to show the level of patriotism and determination these women harbored in service to their country. One such clandestine patriot was Molly “Mom” Rinker.

Molly Rinker is best known for the role she played in helping George Washington’s troops during the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777. The knowledge she possessed of the Wissahickon Valley worked to her advantage, and Washington’s. Though the cliffs could be somewhat impossible to scale, this determined patriot did so like a ghost in a mist.

From her spot high atop a rock that overlooked the valley, Molly was able to view the British comings and goings without being noticed. Here she would knit after laying out her linen to bleach in the sun. As she did so, she periodically “lost” a ball of yarn. The AWOL textile was later “found” by one of Washington’s troops who “discovered” a message concealed within, detailing the movements of the British troops.

Molly aided the cause with more than her knitting skills. She was also a Philadelphia tavern owner. While serving up ale to the British troops who patronized her pub, she always had an ear open to what they were saying. The fact she was a business owner and a woman provided her a level of protection that kept her from being placed on a list of suspicious individuals by the British troops. All the while, her keen skill for observation allowed her the opportunity to glean information needed by the American patriots.

Serving under General George Washington during the Battle of Georgetown, General John Armstrong later stated that had it not been for the bravery and contribution of Molly Rinker, his troops would most likely have been doomed. Though the battle did end in a British victory, it was a case of the British won the battle, but not the war.

The Battle of Germantown proved to be a turning point for the American patriots. As Washington’s Continental Army faced off against the British troops led by Sir William Howe, their determination caught the attention of Comte de Vergennes, the French foreign minister. What he saw, he took back to France and shortly thereafter, the French decided to lend more assistance to the Americans.

Throughout America’s history, though men attempted to relegate women to serving a narrow role in society; their words typically fell on deaf ears. Instead, strong, smart women persevered and found a way to contribute to the cause. Today, a ridge on the eastern side of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park is named “Mom Rinker’s Rock” in her honor. - - - - -

Historic trivia - Between 1839 and 1844, Edgar Allen Poe lived in Philadelphia. During these years, he would visit the Wissahickon Valley on a regular basis. For those in search of a good view of the creek, Poe advised them to travel Ridge Road to Roxborough. There they should take "… the second lane beyond the sixth milestone, to follow this lane to its terminus." It was on one of his visits to the area Poe spotted an elk on Mom Rinker’s Rock. The elk was later featured in his writing, “Morning on the Wissahiccon” in The Opal.

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