1781 reenactment features General Nathaniel Greene, Elizabeth Maxwell Steele

Published 12:05 am Thursday, October 27, 2022

SALISBURY — General Nathaniel Greene met with Elizabeth Maxwell Steele for a 1781 reenactment of their meeting over 200 years ago at the Rowan Museum last Thursday evening. Greene struggled with his injured knee and his woes. Steele overheard him say, (I am) “wretched beyond measure.” After feeding him at her tavern (along with other guests for the evening), Elizabeth gave food and supplies for his troops to help his cause.

Greene spoke about meeting George Washington and how his wife Catherine danced with General Washington for three hours. Greene, a former Quaker and non-dancer was relieved not to have to. The Greenes named their children George and Martha. Greene spoke of rain and Valley Forge. Steele dried her tears at the loss of two husbands and the hardships she bore. She was puzzled by the conversations at the table about so called, “videos, cell phones and the like.” Guests did their best to explain modern conveniences.

The Salisbury Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is named after Elizabeth Maxwell Steele, “a woman who bucked conventional norms, contributing to the creation of our nation at a turning point in history” according to historian Aaron Kepley who has done extensive research with the speaker of the event.

Historian Gary Freeze spoke with the guests seated in the Messinger room, formerly the Rowan County courtroom. The DAR hosted the event to raise money to benefit the museum and their programming. Freeze shared the timeline of the story of the famous Greene Steele meeting. From 1849 to 1921, historians have been attempting to document the story using lithographs, poems and pageantry. He noted that Elizabeth was not only a tavern manager but land owner and merchant, a very high fashion one. Widowed twice, she was an accomplished woman who ran a business as well-known as Oestreichers, a Salisbury icon. Freeze closed his remarks with the pointing out a voucher discovered by a member of Salisbury’s own DAR. “Vouchers are proof that Elizabeth Maxwell Steele was indeed who historians say she was.”

Dicy McCullough was a guest who was honored for her writing of the children’s book, “Elizabeth Maxwell Steele, A Woman of Courage.” McCullough spoke about how COVID both hindered and inspired parts of the publishing process. Despite obstacles, the book is complete and for sale. Copies will be donated to the Rowan Salisbury School children. COVID inspired the hook for the story, “Do you know someone who has faced hardships or disappointment?

Elizabeth Maxwell Steele overcame hardships, she made a difference in American history.”

Interim Director Amy Pruitt thanked the DAR for raising money for the museum and the history kits they are making available for teachers to use in their classrooms. The museum is honored to support the history curriculum in local education.

Before leaving for the evening, Greene wrote, “O, George! Hide thy face and mourn,” on the back of a portrait of King George III. He left it facing the wall. General Greene was appreciative of the support of the Widow Steele. He acknowledged her gift because it meant he and his troops could get away. “Otherwise, British General Cornwallis might have caught me at the Yadkin River and we might be flying a British flag.”

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