“Revolutionary women . . . shared with cheerfulness and gaiety privations and sufferings to which the situation of their country exposed them. In every stage of this severe trial, they displayed virtues that have not always been attributed to their sex. With a ready acquiescence, with a firmness always cheerful, and a constancy that never lamented all the sacrifices . . . they yielded up the conveniences furnished by wealth and commerce, consenting to share the produce of their labour. They even gave up without regret a considerable portion of the covering designed for their own families, to supply the wants of a distressed soldiery; and heroically suppressed the involuntary sigh which the departure of their brothers, sons and husbands for camp, rendered from their bosoms.”
— Chief Justice John Marshall (1804)
Daughters of Liberty
In spite of the fact that women were not allowed to take part in political life in the eighteenth century, they found ways of making themselves felt in public affairs. At the time of the Stamp Act crisis, some young women who called themselves “Daughters of Liberty” announced that they would accept the attentions of only those young men who were willing to fight against the act “to the last extremity.”
During the nonimportation campaign (when colonists refused to buy British goods imported from England), women in organized groups worked with great zeal to provide for the colonies cloth and other articles which had formerly come from England. Said one paper of the spinning they did, “That disagreeable noise made by the rattling of the footwheel was counted fine music.”
Women also invented all kinds of concoctions made from local plants to take the place of tea. In at least one seaport they had their own tea party. On October 24, 1774, fifty-one women in Edenton, North Carolina, signed a resolution in support of the provincial deputies of North Carolina who had pledged not to drink tea or to wear British cloth. A huge teapot on the Edonton Green and a bronze tablet on the Chowan County Court House commemorate this act.
Women in Newport, Rhode Island, announced their intention to do without luxuries imported from England and asked men to forego “their dearer and more beloved ‘Punch,’ and renounce going so often to Taverns.”
In another pursuit normally open only to men–political propaganda–one woman, Mercy Warren of Plymouth, performed with vigor. She was the sister of James Otis, and she equaled him in brilliance if not opportunity to exercise her talents. However, she did write many letters which were published in Boston newspapers. She also wrote anti-Tory plays at a time when play writing was frowned on even for men in New England. Later she wrote one of the first histories of the American Revolution.
Sybil Ludington was a typical 16 year old girl in 1777. She was the eldest of 12 children and was often responsible for taking care of her younger siblings. She was putting the younger children to bed on the night of April 26, 1777, when word reached her house that the British were burning the town of Danbury, Connecticut, which was only 25 miles away. Her father was a colonel in the local militia. His men were scattered over a wide area around the Ludington house in Fredericksburg, New York (now Ludington). Sybil convinced her father to let her ride and summon the men. She rode on horseback over 40 miles on dark, unmarked roads to spread the alert. Her course took her down through Carmel, on to Mahopac, and around to Kent Cliffs and Farmers Mills and back home. She rode alone with only a stick to prod her horse Star and to knock on the doors spreading the alert in time. The men whom she helped to gather arrived just in time to help drive the British, under the command of General William Tyron (who was also colonial governor of New York), back to their ships in Long Island Sound. In this day and age a sixteen year old girl alone on a darkened street is not safe. One can only imagine what it was like being a 16 year old girl aiding the rebellion during war-time within such a short distance from the fighting and alone with no one for protection. Sybil Ludington was a true American Hero.
Sybil’s contribution to the war was not forgotten. Present day visitors to Putnam County New York can trace her path on that midnight ride by following markers placed along the route, and view a statue of her erected in 1961 on Route 52 beside Gleneida Lake in Carmel on the route. There is a smaller copy of the statue located in Washington, D.C. in Constitution Memorial Hall in Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters
ANNAPOLIS, January 5.
We are requested to insert the following lines, addressed to those AMERICAN LADIES, who have lately distinguished their patriotism, in generously contributing to the relief of the soldiery.
“The attempt is praise.”
ALL hail! superior sex, exalted fair
Mirrors of virtue, heav’n’s peculiar care!
Form’d to inspirit and enoble man,
The immortal finish of creation’s plan;
Accept the tribute of our warmest praise,
The soldier’s blessing and the patriot’s bays!
For fame’s first plaudit we no more contest,
Constrain’d to own it decks the female breast;
While partial prejudice is quite disarm’d,
And e’en pale envy with encomium charm’d;
Freedom no more shall droop her languid head,
Nor dream supine, or sloth’s lethargic bed
No more sit weeping with the vet’ran band,
Those virtuous brave protectors of her land,
Who nobly daring, stem despotic sway,
And shine the patriot wonders of the day:
For lo! these sons her glorious race renew,
Cheer’d by such gifts, and smiles and
More precious treasure in the soldier’s eye,
Than all the wealth Potosi’s mines supply,
Or costly gems th’ enlivening sun awakes–
They prize the offerings fer the donors sakes.
And hence, ye sister angels of each state,
Their honest bosoms glow with joy elate,
Their gallant hearts with gratitude ex- pand,
And trebly feel the bounties of your hand;
And wing’d for you their benedictions rise,
Warm from the soul, and grateful to the skies!
Nor theirs alone: th’ historian patriots fir’d
Shall feel the gen’rous virtue you’ve inspir’d;
Invent new epithets to warm their page,
And bid you live admir’d from age to age;
With sweet applauses dwell on ev’ry name,
Endear your mem’ries, and embalm your fame
And thus the future bards shall soar sub- lime,
And waft you glorious down the stream of time,
The breeze of panegyric swell each sail,
And plaudits pure perfume th’ encreasing gale;
Then freedom’s ensign, thus inscrib’d, shall wave–
“The patriot females who their country save,”
Till time’s abyss, absorb’d in heav’nly lays,
Shall flow in your eternity of praise.
Esther Reed launched the creation of the Ladies’ Association of Philadelphia with the publication of a broadside “Sentiments of an American Woman.” Keenly aware of the limited scope of earlier women’s efforts and referring to women as “brave Americans,” Reed urged women to “render themselves more really useful” to the public good. In their addendum to the letter, Reed and Sarah Franklin Bache offered a specific plan for how women could achieve this goal
THE SENTIMENTS of an AMERICAN WOMAN
ON the commencement of actual war, the Women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country. Animated by the purest patriotism, they are sensible of sorrow at this day, in not offering more than barren wishes for the success of so glorious a Revolution. They aspire to render themselves more really useful; and this sentiment is universal from the north to the south of the Thirteen United States. Our ambition is kindled by the same of those heroines of antiquity, who have rendered their sex illustrious, and have proved to the universe, that, if the weakness of our Constitution, if opinion and manners did not forbid us to march to glory by the same paths as the Men, we should at least equal, and sometimes surpass them in our love for the public good. I glory in all that which my sex has done great and commendable. I call to mind with enthusiasm and with admiration, all those acts of courage, of constancy and patriotism, which history has transmitted to us: The people favoured by Heaven, preserved from destruction by the virtues, the zeal and the resolution of Deborah, of Judith, of Esther! The fortitude of the mother of the Massachabees, in giving up her sons to die before her eyes: Rome saved from the fury of a victorious enemy by the efforts of Volumnia, and other Roman Ladies: So many famous sieges where the Women have been seen forgeting the weakness of their sex, building new walls, digging trenches with their feeble hands, furnishing arms to their defenders, they themselves darting the missile weapons on the enemy, resigning the ornaments of their apparel, and their fortune, to fill the public treasury, and to hasten the deliverance of their country; burying themselves under its ruins, throwing themselves into the flames rather than submit to the disgrace of humiliation before a proud enemy.
Born for liberty, disdaining to bear the irons of a tyrannic Government, we associate ourselves to the grandeur of those Sovereigns,cherished and revered, who have held with so much splendour the scepter of the greatest States, The Batildas, the Elizabeths, the Maries, the Catharines, who have extended the empire of liberty, and contented to reign by sweetness and justice, have broken the chains of slavery, forged by tryants in the times of ignorance and barbarity. The Spanish Women, do they not make, at this moment, the most patriotic sacrifices, to encrease the means of victory in the hands of their Sovereign. He is a friend to the French Nation. It was the Maid of Orleans who drove from the kingdom of France the ancestors of those same British, whose odious yoke we have just shaken off; and whom it is necessary that we drive from this Continent.
But I must limit myself to the recollection of this small number of atchievements. Who knows if persons disposed to censure, and sometimes too severely with regard to us, may not disapprove our appearing acquainted even with the actions of which our sex boasts? We are at least certain, that he cannot be a good citizen who will not applaud our efforts for the relief of the armies which defend our lives, our possessions, our liberty? The situation of our soldiery has been represented to me; the evils inseparable from war, and the firm and generous spirit which has enabled them to support these. But it has been said, that they may apprehend, that, in the course of a long war, the view of their distresses may be lost, and their services be forgottten. Forgotten! never; I can answer in the name of all my sex. Brave Americans, your disinterestedness, your courage, and your constancy will always be dear to America, as long as she shall preserve her virtue.
We know that at a distance from the theatre of war, if we enjoy any tranquility, it is the fruit of your watchings, your labours, your dangers. If I live happy in the midst of my family; if my husband cultivates his field, and reaps his harvest in peace; if, surrounded with my children, I myself nourish the youngest, and press it to my bosom, without being affraid of feeing myself separated from it, by a ferocious enemy; if the house in which we dwell; if our barns, our orchards are safe at the present time from the hands of those incendiaries, it is to you that we owe it. And shall we hesitate to evidence to you our gratitude? Shall we hesitate to wear a cloathing more simple; hair dressed less elegant, while at the price of this small privation, we shall deserve your benedictions. Who, amongst us, will not renounce with the highest pleasure, those vain ornaments, when-she shall consider that the valiant defenders of America will be able to draw some advantage from the money which she may have laid out in these; that they will be better defended from the rigours of the seasons, that after their painful toils, they will receive some extraordinary and unexpected relief; that these presents will perhaps be valued by them at a greater price, when they will have it in their power to say: This is the offering of the Ladies. The time is arrived to display the same sentiments which animated us at the beginning of the Revolution, when we renounced the use of teas, however agreeable to our taste, rather than receive them from our persecutors; when we made it appear to them that we placed former necessaries in the rank of superfluities, when our liberty was interested; when our republican and laborious hands spun the flax, prepared the linen intended for the use of our soldiers; when exiles and fugitives we supported with courage all the evils which are the concomitants of war. Let us not lose a moment; let us be engaged to offer the homage of our gratitude at the altar of military valour, and you, our brave deliverers, while mercenary slaves combat to cause you to share with them, the irons with which they are loaded, receive with a free hand our offering, the purest which can be presented to your virtue,
By An AMERICAN WOMAN.
IDEAS, relative to the manner of forwarding to the American Soldiers, the Presents of the American Women.
ALL plans are eligible, when doing good is the object; there is however one more preferable; and when the operation is extensive, we cannot give it too much uniformity. On the other side, the wants of our army do not permit the slowness of an ordinary path. it is not in one month, nor in eight days, that we would relieve our soldiery. It is immediately, and our impatience does not permit us to proceed by the long circuity of collectors, receivers and treasurers. As my idea with regard to this, have been approved by some Ladies of my friends, I will explain them here; every other person will not be less at liberty to prepare and to adopt a different plan.
1st. All Women and Girls will be received without exception, to present their patriotic offering; and, as it is absolutely voluntary, every one will regulate it according to her ability, and her disposition. The shilling offered by the Widow or the young girl, will be received as well as the most considerable sums presented by the Women who have the happiness to join to their patriotism, greater means to be useful.
2d. A Lady chosen by the others in each county, shall be the Treasuress; and to render her task more simple, and more easy, she will not receive but determinate sums, in a round number, from twenty hard dollars to any greater sum. The exchange forty dollars in paper for one dollar in specie.It is hoped that there will not be one Woman who will not with pleasure charge herself with the embarrassment which will attend so honorable an operation.
3d. The Women who shall not be in a condition to send twenty dollars in specie, or above, will join in as great a number as will be necessary to make this or any greater sum, and one amongst them will carry it, or cause it to be sent to the Treasuress.
4th. The Treasuress of the county will receive the money, and will keep a register, writing the sums in her book, and causing it to be signed at the side of the whole by the person who has presented it.
5th. When several Women shall join together to make a total sum of twenty dollars or more, she amongst them who shall have the charge to carry it to the Treasuress, will make mention of all their names on the register, if her associates shall have so directed her; those whose choice it shall be, will have the liberty to remain unknown.
6th. As soon as the Treasuress of the county shall judge, that the sums which she shall have received, deserve to be sent to their destination, she will cause them to be presented with the lists, to the wife of the Governor or President of the State, who will be the Treasuress-General of the State; and she will cause it to be set down in her register, and have it sent to Mistress Washington. If the Governor or President are unmarried, all will address themselves to the wife of the Vice-President, if there is one, or of the Chief-Justice, &c.
7th. Women settled in the distant parts of the country, and not chusing for any particular reason as for the sake of greater expedition, to remit their Capital to the Treasurers, may send it directly to the wife of the Governor, or President, &c, or to Mistress Washington, who, if she shall judge necessary, will in a short answer to the sender, acquaint her with the reception of it.
8th. As Mrs. Washington may be absent from the camp when the greater part of the banks shall be sent there the American Women considering, that General Washington is the Father and Friend of the Soldiery; that he is himself, the first Soldier of the Republic, and that their offering will be received at its destination,as soon as it shall have come to his hands, they will pray him, to take the charge of receiving it, in the absence of Mrs. Washington.
9th. General Washington will dispose of this fund in the manner that he shall judge most advantageous to the Soldiery. The American Women desire only that it may not be considered as to be employed, to procure to the army, the objects of subsistence, arms or cloathing, which are due to them by the Continent. It is an extraordinary bounty intended to render the condition of the Soldier more pleasant, and not to hold place of the things which they ought to receive from the Congress, or from the States.
10th. If the General judges necessary, he will publish at the end of a certain time, an amount of that which shall have been received from each particular State.
11th. The Women who shall send their offerings, will have in their choice to conceal or to give their names; and if it shall be thought proper, on a fit occasion, to publish one day the lists, they only, who shall consent, shall be named; when with regard to the sums sent, there will be no mention made, if they so desire it.