Catharine Greene

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Catharine Greene (Littlefield)

Also Known As: "Caty / Cathrene / Catherine"
Birthdate: (59)
Birthplace: Block Island, Kings County, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
Death: Died in Camden County, Georgia, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of John Littlefield and Phoebe Littlefield
Wife of Maj. General Nathanael Greene (Continental Army)
Mother of George Washington Greene; Martha Washington Turner; Nathaniel Ray Greene; Louisa Catherine Shaw; Catherine Greene and 1 other
Sister of Simon Ray Littlefield; Nancy Paine and Phebe Sands

Managed by: Private User
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About Catharine Greene

Catharine Littlefield "Caty" Greene (17 February 1755 – 2 September 1814) was the wife of American Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene, a mother of five, and noted for being a supporter of inventor Eli Whitney.

Catharine Littlefield was born on February 17, 1755, off the coast of Rhode Island on Block Island, which her family had helped settle in the 1660s. Her father, John Littlefield, served in the Rhode Island legislature, and her mother, Phebe Ray, was a descendant of the earliest settlers of Block Island. Caty's mother died when she was ten years old, and she was sent to live with an aunt and uncle, Catharine Ray and William Greene, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

Greene learned to read and write while living with her aunt and uncle. Her uncle was a leader of the Whig Party and governor of Rhode Island. Nathanael Greene A notable visitor was Benjamin Franklin, who had been a close friend of Greene's Aunt Catharine. Another frequent caller was Nathanael Greene, a successful merchant who was a distant cousin of her Uncle William's. Nathanael, the son of Rhode Island Quakers, was fourteen years older than she. The two began a courtship in 1772 and were married on July 20, 1774.

Within a year of their marriage the first shots of the American Revolution (1775-83) were fired, and Greene's husband was selected by the Rhode Island Assembly as brigadier general, in charge of Rhode Island's three Continental regiments. During the war Greene was not content to sit at home awaiting word of her husband. Instead, she visited him at his headquarters and joined him at his various encampments. Although friends and family were critical of her conduct, she continued to travel to battle sites and witnessed many battles firsthand.

Greene's presence at her husband's encampments endeared her to the troops and to the other military leaders. George and Martha Washington became friends and supporters of Greene.


Catharine Littlefield "Caty" Greene (17 February 1755 – 2 September 1814) was the wife of American Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene, a mother of five, and noted for being a supporter of inventor Eli Whitney.

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.

Once again, she took on the familiar role of being both mother and father to her children. She met the pressures of rearing her children and handling Nathanael's devastated finances with courage and determination. With the help of the new plantation manager, Phineas Miller (who had been her children's tutor), Mulberry Grove was thriving by 1788. At the urging of a trusted adviser, she personally presented to the United States Congress a petition for indemnity to recover funds that Nathanael had paid to Charleston merchants. On April 27, 1792, President George Washington approved and signed an act that indemnified the Greene estate. In a happy letter to a friend, she wrote: I can tell you my Dear friend that I am in good health and spirits and feel as saucy as you please-not only because I am independent, but because I have gained a complete triumph over some of my friends who did not wish me success-and others who doubted my judgement in managing the business and constantly tormented me to death to give up my obstinancy as it was called-they are now as mute as mice-Not a word dare they utter... O how sweet is revenge! That same year, Catherine met a young man named Eli Whitney, who tutored her neighbor's children. With her encouragement he took up residence at Mulberry Grove to pursue his inventions. Within a year he had produced a model for the cotton gin. In an 1883 article in The North American Review titled "Woman as Inventor", the early feminist and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage claimed that Greene suggested to Whitney the use of a brush-like component instrumental in separating out the seeds and cotton[1]. To date there has been no independent verification of Greene's role in the invention of the gin. However, many believe that Eli Whitney received the patent for the gin and the sole credit in history textbooks for its invention only because social norms inhibited women from registering for patents.

At the end of a long courtship, Catherine was married to Phineas Miller on June 13, 1796 in Philadelphia's First Presbyterian Church. The President and Mrs. Washington served as witnesses to the wedding. Despite previous success and their best efforts, Mulberry Grove fell upon hard times by 1798. Catharine and Phineas, in financing the cotton gin firm of Whitney and Miller, had lost a great deal of money in a land scam. Caty was forced to sell the plantation along with many of Mulberry Grove's slaves[2], moving her family to Cumberland Island. There she and Phineas established a new home on land that had been given to Nathanael. The plantation, called "Dungeness," thrived. They held a total of 210 slaves to work the plantation. In 1803 Phineas died. Catharine stayed at the plantation until she died in 1814 and is buried there.


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Catharine Greene's Timeline

February 17, 1755
Block Island, Kings County, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
February 1776
Age 20
Warwick, Kent, Rhode Island, United States
March 14, 1777
Age 22
Warwick, Kent County, Rhode Island, United States
September 23, 1779
Age 24
Potowomut, Kent County, Rhode Island, United States
January 31, 1780
Age 24
Morristown, Morris, New Jersey, United States
Age 28
Warwick, Kent County, Rhode Island, United States
Age 30
Warwick, Kent, Rhode Island, United States
September 2, 1814
Age 59
Camden County, Georgia, United States