Catherine Littlefield Greene - Early Life

Early Life

Caty was born on February 17, 1755, off the coast of Rhode Island on Block Island, where her family had settled in the 1660s. She and Nathanael were married in 1774, but had been married less than a year when he was called to war. Thus she had not yet settled into a comfortable life with her husband, their home in Coventry not having yet been completely furnished. Caty, as she was called, dreamed of spending cold winter nights with Nathanael, reading to each other by the firelight, surrounded by their children. She was energetic and independent, but she looked to her husband to take charge and make the decisions. With his involvement in the war, she was forced to assume this role.

Catherine was not content to remain at home without her husband, so she joined Nathanael at his headquarters whenever possible. She had the responsibility of caring for her small children, however. Over the course of the war and shortly after, Catharine had five children that lived past infancy. She was faced with the conflict of mothering her children, yet longing to be with her husband. She desperately wanted to have something like a normal family and when conditions allowed, she brought her babies with her to camp. At other times she left them in the care of family or friends. It was during these separations that Catharine most felt the effects of the war on her family.

When the war finally came to an end and the family was reunited, Caty looked forward to having Nathanael there to share in the responsibility of raising the children and handling business and household affairs. His presence at home "brought a peace of mind unknown to her since the conflict began." She was prepared to let Nathanael take charge and to settle herself into the life of a respected, well-to-do gentleman's wife.

Though Nathanael was not required to be of further service to his country, his involvement in the war had effects in other areas. During his command in the south, he faced very harsh conditions. In order to clothe his soldiers during the winter, he had to personally guarantee thousands of dollars to Charleston merchants. He later discovered that the speculator through whom he had dealt was fraudulent. At the end of the war, the merchants began pressing him for payment on the notes and judgments began coming down from South Carolina courts. He was without sufficient funds and heavily in debt.

Catherine did not adjust well to the idea of being poor. Though they had won the war, they had little to show for it. According to Stegeman, "her dream of wealth and leisure, once the war was over, had been shattered; she could no longer count on even the most basic security." Furthermore, Nathanael decided to move the family to a plantation on the Savannah River called Mulberry Grove, granted to him by the Georgia legislature in gratitude for his services during the war. Here, he hoped to make a living by cultivating rice and pay off their debts by selling their other lands when the markets proved favorable. This was particularly hard on her. She had lived her whole life in the north. She would be leaving behind many friends and what was left of her family on Block Island.

She soon began to realize how heavily these burdens weighed on Nathanael. Catherine now saw before her a "tired, haggard ex-soldier who had given himself to a belief, had signed away his future life, in fact, for that cause." Catharine resolved to do everything in her power to help him. She settled into the arduous domesticity that plantation life required, determined to make Mulberry Grove a success. However, her plan was interrupted when Nathanael died suddenly on June 19, 1786 of sunstroke.

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