New England Preservation: Mother Bailey House

 

By Carla Charter

GROTON, CT. An effort to preserve a home of a Revolutionary War and War of 1812 heroine is underway in Groton. The house, built by Dr. Amos Prentice, stands at the southwest corner of Thames and Broad Street and is known as the Mother Bailey House.

Born in 1758, Anna Warner was orphaned at an early age and went to live with her Grandmother Mills on a farm at Candlewood Hill.  There she helped her uncle, Edward Mills, with the crops and animals.  When the Revolutionary War began, she longed to fight the despised Tories.

On September 6, 1781, when the British attacked Fort Griswold, her uncle Edward, a corporal in the militia, hurried to the fort, leaving behind his wife, a young son, and a very new baby.  When night fell, and the guns were silent, Edward did not return.

At dawn Anna walked the three miles to Fort Griswold, where she found Edward mortally wounded. His last wish was to see his family once more, so Anna hurried back to the farm and returned, this time by horse, with her aunt and the children, to place the infant in the arms of the dying man. This event only served to increase her hatred of the British.

“She really hated the British. It is said in the 1980’s and 1990’s the house had been separated into apartments they were rented to Navy sailors. One of these sailors had a British girlfriend. After a night out the girlfriend decided to spend the night at the house.  In the middle of the night she ran out of the house screaming and refused to go back into the house. Legend suggests that Mother Bailey’s ghost scared her away,” according to Susan Archer, President of the Friends of the Bailey House Foundation.

Warner married veteran soldier Elijah Bailey in 1783.  They were inn keepers on Thames Street below the fort. Mrs. Baileys’ hearty manner and outspoken ways made the tavern popular from the start. Mother Bailey never had any children instead being given the term Mother as a form of respect and endearment.

When the War of 1812 occurred, and with it the barricading of New London Harbor by British ships, it frightened the locals who thought there would be another bloody attack. Most of them packed up their households and fled inland. Mrs. Bailey sent away her household but was still in residence when a messenger from the Fort came by, desperate for cartridges and flannel for wadding. Wadding is material separating the powder from the shot in weapons.  He told Mrs. Bailey of his need.  In a moment, she loosened her long flannel petticoat, stepped out of it, and presented it with a loud wish that the wadding would do its work well.  Amused, bystanders saluted the daring gesture, for in 1813 ladies did not admit to wearing petticoats, much less remove them publicly.  The messenger carried his prize back to Fort Griswold, where it was received with cheers. He then told everyone how he got the fabric.

News of Mother Bailey’s generous and impulsive act spread across the country. The story spread from there according to Susan Archer, President of the Friends of the bailey House Foundation. Newspapers hailed her as the war’s greatest female patriot.

Later, a stream of celebrities knocked at her Groton door: President Monroe in 1817, Lafayette in 1824, and in 1833, President Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.  Part of the fence, gifted to her by President Andrew Jackson, is still standing. As her fame increased, visitors flocked to the tavern to hear the lively tale told from her own lips.

“Mother Bailey held politics close to her heart. She was very opinionated when it came to her political views,” Archer said. It was said she hung up pictures of presidents and any of those she did not like she turned the portraits upside down.

“Her husband Elijah was the first postmaster for the community with the post office, along with the tavern, being in their home. “When he died, she took over as postmaster making her one of the first female postmasters in the country,” Archer said.   On January 19, 1851, as Mother Bailey snoozed in an armchair near an open hearth, her clothes caught fire and she died within an hour at age 93.

Since Mother Bailey’s days the home has passed through various owners then become apartments and is currently owned by the City of Groton. “They would love to see it preserved but do not have the tax base to preserve it.”

It is the wish of the Friends of the Mother Bailey House that the house be saved, repaired, and find life as a cultural and educational resource. “If we were to find a historic preservation group to partner with, we would like the building to be part museum, part visitors center, part meeting space and part archive space. The group would like to see the lower level where the tavern was preserved to look like what a tavern would have looked like in Mother Bailey’s time.   On the first floor there would be a visitor’s center and displays highlighting Mother Bailey, Fort Griswold and the War of 1812.

If a private owner buys it we would like to see the house preserved. with signage to indicate it was her house. A conservative estimate for renovations and preservation of the home is $300,000.

Those wishing to donate to help preserve the Mother Bailey House can do so at gofundme.com/help-save-the-mother-bailey-house . Also proceeds from the book Ghost of Groton Bank by Heli Keeler, which has a chapter on Mother Bailey, will benefit the Friends of the Mother Bailey House.  Preservation organizations interested in partnering with the Friends of the Mother Bailey House can contact them at awbfriends@gmail.com.

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