By KrisAnne Hall, JD
Many who would rewrite history, would have us to believe the women during the revolution were oppressed subservient wives of overbearing, misogynistic husbands who dictated policy in the home. Nothing could be further from the truth. The founding women of our nation carried themselves with dignity and strength; believing with their hearts and souls the value of Liberty was worthy of their families’ sacrifice. These were women of principle, of courage, and of great resolve, willing to sacrifice all so that their children could be free.
Many will recognize the men for their contributions, but true history will reveal that the wives of these men were just as important to the battle for freedom. We all have heard the jest that “if momma isn’t happy, then nobody’s happy.” That is not something that is said just because it’s funny. So why would we think that human nature was any different in 1774? The women of our founding nation were just as involved as the men, and often times bolder in their assertions.
When Parliament and King George began attempting to recoup the money spent during the French and Indian wars by imposing unreasonable taxes absent any representation for the people of the colonies, outrage was the response. Our founding families relied on the goods imported from England to conduct their everyday lives. The taxes imposed upon these goods and many others were seen as a form of slavery and oppression. When petition after petition to the Parliament and the King were ignored, more drastic measures were required. George Washington asserted that a boycott of English goods may be a more effective way of getting the government’s attention.
Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren
To stir patriotic sentiment even hotter, patriotic newspapers offered suggestions about colonial substitutes for imported teas, including sassafras, raspberry and mint. In support of these protests countless women gathered in private homes for spinning parties or participated in public spinning contests. Two women, whose names should be recognized, were Abigail Adams and her historian friend, Mercy Otis Warren. These were women of position, with husbands of reputation, yet they shunned tea and proudly wore homespun garments in lieu of British finery.
James Warren was the president of the Massachusetts Provisional Congress and member of the Sons of Liberty, but it was his wife, Mercy Otis Warren, whose patriotic efforts encouraged the war efforts. Mercy was the first American woman playwright and was a prolific author of anti-British propaganda plays. She was the first American woman history and wrote a three volume history of the American Revolution, “The Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution.” Contrary to today’s history books and the accounts of people like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Mercy was very involved in politics and was the first American woman political advisor. She advised politicians, generals, and presidents. Mercy even had the audacity to print her disapproval of the Constitution as it was written, absent the Bill of Rights. Mercy was a staunch anti-federalist who believed the Constitution trusted the federal government with too much power and publicly and boldly demanded the addition of the Bill of Rights. Her friend, Abigail Adams, said in 1773 that Mercy was “a sincere lover of [her] country” It was said that Mercy was so grieved by Great Britain’s actions that she felt her nation to be “oppressed and insulted”.
Mercy Otis Warren was a vocal contributor to the independent efforts of the colonies and great pen pal to John Adams. John Adams often took great comfort from the words and advice of Mercy. In one letter, Mercy voices the sentiment of the American people.
“America stands armed with resolution and virtue; but she still recoils at the idea of drawing the sword against the nation from whence she derived her origin. Yet Britain, like an unnatural parent, is ready to plunge her dagger into the bosom of her affectionate offspring. But may we not yet hope for more lenient measures!”
Hannah Winthrop, wife of Dr. Winthrop, describes Mercy in January 1773 as “That noble patriotic spirit which sparkles must warm the heart that has the least sensibilities, especially must it invigorate a mind of a like fellow feeling for this once happy country. How often do we see people blind to their own interests precipitately maddening on to their own destruction!” As we look around today, I know that we can certainly empathize with Hannah’s frustrations.
Hannah Winthrop, Penelope Barker and Elizabeth King
Shortly after Samuel Adams and his men threw tea up and down the coast of America, a second Tea Party protest erupted within the hearts and minds of the women. A great revolutionary heroine by the name of Penelope Barker wrote a public statement in which she endorsed a boycott of tea and other British products, such as cloth. Ten months after the famous Boston Tea Party organized by men, Barker led a “Tea Party” on October 25, 1774, in the Edenton Home of Elizabeth King. She and fifty other women signed the protest statement. At the meeting, Barker said, “Maybe it has only been men who have protested the king up to now. That only means we women have taken too long to let our voices be heard. We are signing our names to a document, not hiding ourselves behind costumes like the men in Boston did at their tea party. The British will know who we are.” The women of this Tea Party signed a declaration that stated, “We, the aforesaid Ladys will not promote ye wear of any manufacturer from England until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed.”
The amazing part of this public protest and notice sent to parliament and the King was that these were women whose husbands and fathers were men of reputation. Many of the men related to these women were English merchants. The fact these women signed their names to a document of protest showed their courage and their dedication to the principle that the Liberty of their children was more important than a paycheck or even their lives.
On Jan. 1st, 1774, Hannah Winthrop’s patriotic spirit cries out.
“Yonder, the destruction of the detestable weed, made so by cruel exaction, engages our attention. The virtuous and noble resolution of America’s sons, in defiance of threatened desolation and misery from arbitrary despots, demands our highest regard. May they yet be endowed with all that firmness necessary to-carry them through all their difficulties, till they come off conquerors. We hope to see good accounts of the tea cast away on the Cape. The union of the Colonies, the firm and sedate resolution of the people, is an omen for good unto us.”
These brave women of resolve did not simply support the efforts of the men fighting for Liberty; they themselves sacrificed everything for Liberty. They were outcasts to the Loyalists. They were called “harlots” and “loose women,” and were literally chased from their homes, sometimes as their homes burned to the ground. Elizabeth Adams, wife of Samuel Adams, had to hide in a small cottage far from the city, since her father was an English Merchant. In a letter to Samuel, she does not chastise him or berate him for his neglect of their family. Instead she reassures him that all is well at home and that he should concentrate on the battle at hand. She writes;
“I beg you would not give yourself any pain on our being so Near the Camp; the place I am in is so Situated, that if the Regulars should ever take Prospect Hill, which God forbid, I should be able to make an Escape, as I am Within a few stones casts of a Back Road, Which Leads to the Most Retired part of Newtown …. I beg you to Excuse the very poor Writing as My paper is Bad and my pen made with Scissars. I should be glad (My dear), if you shouldn’t come down soon, you would Write me Word Who to apply to for some Money, for I am low in Cash and every thing (sic) is very dear.” Feb 19 1775
Mary Bartlett wife of Dr. Bartlett, was as ardent in her patriotism as her husband. When their home lay in ruins and the family were driven to seek shelter and safety elsewhere, she fled to their little farm, which she managed from then on, leaving her husband free to devote himself almost entirely to the fight. In all her letters to her husband and her children, there is not one word of regret for his situation or pity for herself, left alone to bear the duties forced upon her by the tyranny of the British government. She had no complaints, only a spirit of loving, helpful sympathy for everything that her husband was going through.
These women believed their sacrifice was just as much a fight for Liberty as the lives lost on the battlefield. These were women of courage and resolve, willing to give everything for Liberty. Mercy Otis Warren wrote, they were “…ready to sacrifice their devoted lives to preserve inviolate, and to convey to their children the inherent rights of men, conferred on all by the God of nature, and the privileges of Englishmen claimed by Americans from the sacred sanction of compacts.”
Mercy was amazing at voicing the feelings and fears of these brave women in the battle for Liberty.
“I have my fears. Yet, notwithstanding the complicated difficulties that rise before us, there is no receding; and I should blush if in any instance the weak passions of my sex should damp the fortitude, the patriotism, and the manly resolution of yours. May nothing ever check that glorious spirit of freedom which inspires the patriot in the cabinet, and the hero in the field, with courage to maintain their righteous cause, and to endeavor to transmit the claim to posterity, even if they must seal the rich conveyance to their children with their own blood.”
There is a story told, about a British officer reporting to British General Cornwallis of the progress of the war with the colonies. As it is told, the British have become very frustrated and even discouraged by the opposition of the colonists. In relaying the affairs of the troops, the British officer says to Gen. Cornwallis, “Sir, we may destroy all the men in America, and we shall still have all we can do to defeat the women.” You see, by that time, the colonial women had nearly decimated the British linen industry with their boycott.
We could learn a great deal about what real women act and sound like from the words and deeds of these great heroines. And, as I am sure you can now see, the revisionists have been lying to us for many years. These women were not oppressed by their misogynistic men to the point of servitude. They were bold and brave women of resolve. They were dedicated to the cause of Liberty and the battle against tyranny. In her display of patriotism, Hannah Winthrop uttered the following battle cry,
“And be it known unto Britain, even American daughters are politicians and patriots, and will aid the good work with their female efforts.”
These women believed in their hearts and in their souls that without Liberty, life was not worth living. They supported their husbands and gave everything they could to ensure that their children would live free. As Mercy put it, “We will stand against tyranny today or our children will bow tomorrow.” How can we deny these great women their due? These are the women of Liberty and they are heroes worthy of recognition. Without them, America would not be the shining city on a hill and the last bastion of hope. We should honor what these brave women have done not only for America, but for the world.
This article merely scratches the surface teaching the women who were essential to the formation of our America. If you would like to learn or teach more of these women, please get the DVD: Forgotten Founders, found at https://www.krisannehall.com/index.php/store/dvds/the-forgotten-founders