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History Revisited: Mother Bailey earns tributes through years

Groton’s Anna (Warner) Bailey, also known as “Mother Bailey,” was known for two noteworthy episodes during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. These events brought her national recognition and fame, but with a little digging there are some other interesting, little-known facts concerning one of Groton’s most well known historic personalities.

Although Anna Bailey was never blessed with children, she was commonly referred to as Mother Bailey. Extensive research, to date, has failed to identify any specific information as to why she was referred to by this name.

It was known that she was extremely fond of children and devoted herself to their interests. There are several mentions of her making cookies and handing them out to children while she walked down the street.

Many children also paid visits to the Bailey house, where Anna kept them entertained with various tales and stories.

It was also said that she was famous for her qualities as a nurse and “in discharge of her self-imposed duties by the bedside.”

In going back to the time after the loss of her uncle at the Battle of Groton Heights, it is said that Anna, besides taking on the lead of running her uncle’s farm, also took on a larger role in helping her aunt care for her five children.

It could be a combination of all the above which was the motivator for Anna adopting the name “Mother Bailey.”

Because her actions during the American Revolution and War of 1812 were often described as patriotic acts, Mother Bailey was considered by many to be a heroine. She had the distinct honor and pleasure to have had been paid visits by three United States presidents — James Monroe, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. She was also visited by Colonel Richard M. Johnson, who served as vice president under President Martin Van Buren, from 1837 to 1841.

Other dignitaries who visited Mother Bailey included French General Marquis de Lafayette, who fought in both the American and French Revolutions and General Lewis Cass, who served as the secretary of war for President Andrew Jackson.

Mother Bailey was considered a staunch Democrat in her politics and despised politicians from the [then] “Whig” party. As the story goes, etchings and drawings of her favorite politicians were displayed on the walls in the living room of her house; however, drawings of those she disliked were hung upside down inside the outbuildings of her house.

Some have indicated the outbuilding was the woodshed while others say it was the outhouse.

Andrew Jackson’s fondness for Mother Bailey was so great that he afforded her a gift of a wrought iron fence to place around her house on Thames Street. Much of this fence, although in serious need of repair, is still in place at the house today.

As bizarre as it may seem today, Mother Bailey enjoyed the hobby of collecting locks of hair. She requested and received locks of hair for her collection from Presidents Johnson and Van Buren and kept these prized possessions inside a wooden box made from the wood of the three-masted frigate USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”).

The box was reportedly a gift to her from Governor Henry Dodge of Wisconsin.

Throughout the years, several other honors and tributes were bestowed upon her including the following:

n A military ball held in her honor in New London in 1785.

n In 1786, the annual encampment for the Connecticut Militia in Hartford was named Camp Mother Bailey.

n Officially naming the Groton and Stonington Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) the Anna Warner Bailey Chapter in 1894.

n Several poems written in her honor, including one by Emeline Tate Walker and another by Frances Lester Roland.

n At least two songs written about her, including “Mother Bailey” by Carl Lorenz and “The Legend of Mother Bailey” by Mystic’s noted vocalist and composer Kay Pere.

An unusual and controversial tribute to Mother Bailey involved the production and sale of a medication called “Mother Bailey’s Quieting Syrup.” Produced in the late 1860s, over 10 years after the death of Mother Bailey, the syrup was marketed throughout the country as being a remedy “for children, which greatly assists [the] child through the months of teething, allays all pain, reduces inflammation, corrects acidity of the stomach and never fails to regulate the bowels.”

This “cure all” children’s medicine, which was reportedly an old family recipe used by the Mother Bailey family for years, was subsequently removed from the market after studies revealed that its components were ethyl alcohol and powdered opium (commonly referred to as Laudanum), which if taken in excess or over a long period of time could result in addiction or even death.

One of the most prestigious awards was bestowed upon Mother Bailey in 2001, some 150 years after her death, when President George W. Bush, in a proclamation recognizing Women’s History Month wrote: “Our Nation boasts a rich history of women whose heroic achievements speak to the sense of excellence, potential, and patriotism shared by all Americans. Anna Warner Bailey’s and Clara Barton’s courage in war has inspired generations of men and women called upon to fight for America.”

There are many other facts, stories and legends about Mother Bailey that unfortunately, due to space limitations, cannot be relayed in this article. The life, patriotic deeds and stories about Anna Warner Bailey are historically significant to not only Groton, but the country, and certainly merit documenting. It is hoped that someday someone, maybe even this author, will take the time to do so.

Jim Streeter is the Groton town historian.


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