Women in the Revolutionary War
The following anecdote of Mrs. Elliott (Charleston, SC) has been mentioned. An officer of the royal army, noted for his cruelty and relentless persecution of those opposed to his political views, was one day walking with her in a garden where there was a great variety of flowers. "What is this, madam?" he asked, pointing to the chamomile. "The rebel flower," she replied. "And why is it called the rebel flower?" asked the officer. "Because," answered Mrs. Elliott, "it always flourishes most when trampled upon."
When her father was arrested and put on board a transport ship to be sent into exile, Mrs. Elliott, who had received the intelligence in the country, hastened to Charleston and solicited permission to bid him farewell. Her request was granted. She went on board the vessel in which he was a prisoner, but had scarcely entered the cabin, when, oppressed with grief, she fainted, and was laid upon a couch. The captain, in alarm, recommended a variety of remedies, and at last said "A cordial would revive her; we have some fine French liqueur." On hearing this, Mrs. Elliott sprang from her couch in sudden excitement. "The French!" she exclaimed; "who speaks of the French? God bless the nation!" Then, turning to her father, she strove by her touching eloquence to sustain him under his misfortunes, and inspire him with hope for the future. "Let not oppression shake your fortitude," she said, "nor the hope of gentler treatment cause you for a moment to swerve from strict duty. Better times are in store for us; the bravery of the Americans, and the friendly aid of France, will yet achieve the deliverance of our country from oppression. We shall meet again, my father, and meet with joy."
Noble Deeds of American Women by Jesse Clement
ANN ELLIOTT, the wife of Lewis Morris, was born at Accabee (family home seven miles from Charleston, SC). In Charleston, while the city was occupied by the British, she wore a bonnet decorated with thirteen small plumes, as a token of her attachment to republican principles; and for her patriotic spirit, was called "the beautiful rebel." Kosciusko was her admirer and correspondent. An English officer, the second son of a noble family, who was billeted upon her mother, became so enamored of her that he sought the good offices of one of her female friends to intercede in his behalf; and even offered, if she would favor him, to join the Americans. Miss Elliott bade her friend say to him in reply, that to her former want of esteem, was added scorn for a man capable of betraying his sovereign for selfish interest. She had before declined the gift of a splendid English saddle horse, of which he wished her acceptance. She would not attend church, as she had been accustomed, in Charleston, while prayers were offered there for the success of the British arms; preferring to join in the service read at her mother's house, where petitions were put up for the downfall of the invaders.
At one time, while Colonel Morris, to whom she was then engaged, was on a visit to her at Accabee, the attention of the family was drawn to the windows by an unusual noise, and they perceived that the house was surrounded by the Black Dragoons, in search of the young officer, who had no time to escape. Ann went to one of the windows, opened it, and presenting herself to the view of the dragoons, demanded what they wanted. "We want the rebel!" was the reply. "Go and look for him in the American army!" answered the young girl. "How dare you disturb a family under the protection of both armies?" Her firmness and resolution conquered; and the enemy departed without further molestation.
Colonel and Mrs. Morris owned, among other possessions, a cotton plantation on the Edisto River, about four miles from Charleston, called the Round 0, which is mentioned in Lee's Southern War. They had also a residence upon Sullivan's Island. In September of one year there was so severe a gale that several houses were blown down. The house of Colonel Morris, which stood on a narrow part of the island, was undermined by the advance of the tide. There was only time to remove the family to a neighbor's, when the house fell, overthrown by the assault of wind and waves.
Noble Deeds of American Women by Jesse Clement
The incident of Jane Elliott's first acquaintance with her husband might adorn a chapter in the romance of the real. She was the only child of Charles Elliott, of St. Paul's parish - a staunch whig in principle, who exhibited his devotion to the cause by equipping a considerable body of troops at his own expense; but fell a victim to disease ere the war had been waged in Carolina. His daughter having imbibed his opinions endeavored to serve the cause he had espoused, by the bestowal of a portion of her wealth for the relief of the wounded American soldiers, and to contribute to the establishment of hospitals for that purpose. Not satisfied with this substantial aid, Miss Elliott gave her personal supervision to certain wards in the hospital, which she visited to attend to the sufferers. It was on one of these ministering visits that she first saw Colonel Washington, who had been wounded and taken prisoner in the cavalry charge at Eutaw Springs, and sent to Charleston for surgical aid, and for safe keeping. The interest with which the young girl heard the story of his perils, the sympathy given to his misfortunes, and the gratitude and admiration of the brave young soldier, may all be imagined, as leading to the reciprocal sentiment that soon grew up between them. Miss Elliott was then in the early bloom of youth, and surpassingly beautiful. Her manners were dignified, yet gentle and winning; her perceptions quick, and her nature frank and generous. Homage had been paid to her charms by the conquerors, from which she turned to succor the defenders of her country. Major Barry, whose pen seems to have celebrated the charms of many rebel fair ones, addressed a poem "to Jane Elliott playing the guitar," which was lately found in the ruins of Accabee by a daughter of Mrs. Lewis Morris. These lines may serve as a specimen:
"Sweet harmonist! whom nature triply arms
With virtue, beauty, music's powerful charms,
Say, why combin'd, when each resistless power
Might mark its conquest to the fleeting hour?”
Colonel Washington was a gallant officer imbued with the chivalric feeling of that period, ardent in patriotism, and covered with the brilliant renown of a successful soldier. It was not strange that two so congenial should love each other, and become bound by a mutual pledge to unite their fortunes; but the marriage did not take place till the spring of 1782. With the return of peace the soldier exchanged the fatigues of the camp for the quiet avocations of the planter, establishing himself at the family seat of his wife, at Sandy Hill, South Carolina. They had two children; one of whom, a daughter, is yet living. Mrs. Washington survived her husband about twenty years, and died in 1830, at the age of sixty-six.
Noble Deeds of American Women by Jesse Clement
SABINA ELLIOTT of Charleston and St. John’s Island, SC, widowed, employed herself constantly in useful domestic occupations; and was remarkable for industry and economy of time. She superintended the manufacture of the wool and cotton worn by her slaves, to whom she was most kind and indulgent; and made salt on her plantation during the war. Some of the stockings knit by her are still extant, having the date, 1776, knit in the threads.
When the British ransacked her plantation, a British officer ordered the plundering of her poultry houses. Afterwards she observed, straying about the premises, an old muscovy drake, which had escaped the general search. She had him caught, and mounting a servant on horseback, ordered him to follow and deliver the bird to the officer with her compliments; as she concluded that in the hurry of departure, it had been left altogether by accident.
Noble Deeds of American Women by Jesse Clement
SARAH HOPTON – LOYALIST
The sufferings of the sick and wounded American prisoners after the fall of Charleston appealed to female benevolence also among the loyalists. Though attached to the royal cause, Mrs. SARAH HOPTON and her daughters were indefatigable in their attentions to the sufferers, whom many feared to visit in consequence of the prevalence of a contagious fever in the hospitals. The English were well supplied with necessary stores; the Americans were destitute, and therefore experienced their kindness and bounty. Their servants were continually employed in carrying them nourishment and articles needed; and in some cases, they paid the hire of nurses, where personal services were indispensable. They soothed the death-bed of many with the consolations of religion, prayed with those who were in danger, and joined with the convalescent in returning thanks. These kind offices were rendered to men of whose political principles and acts they disapproved, while great bitterness of feeling existed between the opposing parties; but no prejudice could make these Christian women insensible to the claims of humanity.
The lessons of piety and charity - the great lessons of life taught by Mrs. Hopton to her daughters, were afterwards neither forgotten nor neglected. They were prominent in promoting the diffusion of religious education, and devoted to such objects their energies and wealth. Two of them aided in the establishment of a charity school for the education of female orphans. Mrs. Gregorie, the eldest daughter, appropriated a fund to aid in the support of this school, with many other bequests to different religious associations.
Noble Deeds of American Women by Jesse Clement
"Actuated by the most glorious cause that mankind ever fought in, I am to defend this post to the very last extremity."1 The words of an American soldier during the American Revolution. However, this soldier was different from all the other soldiers. This soldier's name was Margaret Corbin, who survived the British attack on Fort Washington. Most importantly, she was a female participant in a war where the chief fighters were men.
Most history textbooks overlook women's roles in the American Revolution. Little is covered on women's contribution to the America's independence. The truth is, women were fiercely active in the independence cause and made gains for themselves.
Women's roles were limited in the colonial times. Marriage and motherhood were the primary goals for women. They lost property and legal rights upon marriage.2 Therefore, women were not expected to participate in the war.
Despite their low positions in society, women did participate. On the home front, they sewed uniforms and knitted stockings for the soldiers. With their husbands away fighting, some women had to take over as weavers, carpenters, blacksmiths, or shipbuilders. Others transformed their homes into hospitals for the wounded. One famous caretaker was Margaret Hill Morris. Because she demonstrated great expertise in medicine and herbal remedies, the sick depended on her. Every morning she made rounds to sick or wounded soldiers lodged in area homes.3
Like their male counterparts, women held protests against British goods. The Edenton Tea Party is one example. On one October day in 1774, fifty-one women signed Penelope Baker's declaration to ban English imports. They renounced drinking British tea and wearing clothes made of British cloth. However, unlike the Boston Tea Party, the signers did not attempt to hide their identities, and boldly signed their true names.4
Paul Revere was not the only one who announced the British's arrival. Sybil Ludington rode through Connecticut on a chilly April night and yelled that the British were burning Danbury and warned soldiers to prepare for a raid. Thanks to her daring actions, the British were halted at Ridgefield, Connecticut on April 27, 1777 and were forced to retreat to Long Island Sound5
Both men and women fought on the battlefield. Hundreds of women served as nurses, laundresses, cooks and companions to the male soldiers in the Continental Army.6 In addition, there were some that actually engaged in battle. Seeing "no reason to believe that any consideration foreign to the purest patriotism,"7 Deborah Sampson put on men's clothing and called herself Robert Shirtliffe in order to enlist in the Army. "Robert Shirtliffe" fought courageously; "his" company defeated marauding Indians north of Ticonderoga.8 There is also the valiancy of the water carrier Mary Hays, otherwise known as Molly Pitcher, who took up arms after her husband fell.9 As a six-foot tall woman, Nancy Hart was considered an Amazon Warrior. Living in the Georgia frontier, this "War Woman" aimed and, with deadly accuracy, shot British soldiers who invaded the area.10 Mentioned in the beginning of this essay was Margaret Corbin, another woman on the battlefield.
There were many American spies during the war, but the most remarkable one was Lydia Darragh of Philadelphia, a Quaker. Tricking the British soldiers conferencing in her home into believing that she was asleep, Friend Lydia learned that they were going to surprise Washington's army at Whitemarsh. Shocked, she proceeded the next day to Frankford pretending to fill her flour sack at a flourmill there. After clearing the British outposts, she ran into the American army and revealed the British's strategy. With this vital information, the Continental Army was able to thwart the British's plans.11
In the end, the Americans won the American Revolution and independence from the British. In the spirit of the Revolution, women also gained some independence from their confining roles because of their efforts in the war. Greater numbers of young girls were allowed to go to school. More women held jobs, campaigned against slavery, improved prisons and poorhouses conditions, and advocated women's rights.12 Abigail Adams, a fervent advocate of women's rights, wrote to her husband John Adams at the Continental Congress that "If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation."13
In conclusion, women contributed a great deal to the American Revolution. Their actions on the home front and on the battlefields relieved the men from the extra planning, mobilizing, and combating that they would have had to execute without the help of the women. This allowed the Continental Army to fully concentrate on defeating the British and acquiring sovereignty. America could not have been the powerful independent nation it is today without the service of the women.
American Athenas; Women in the Revolution by Tina Ann Nguyen
The following is by D. Michael Ryan, Sergeant/drummer with the Concord Minute Men, an 18th Century historical interpreter for the National Park Service, and Associate Dean of Students at Boston College.
In the telling of our colonial history, often the norm is to find absent much mention of the women and their roles in defining moments. Yet even surrounding the 19 April 1775 events, the daughters of America's liberty were visible and actively involved.
For example, might it be that the actions of two ladies were a major factor in the fight at Concord's North Bridge? Margaret Kemble Gage, American born wife of Boston's British military governor, was suspected by both sides and harbored hopes that her husband's actions would not be the cause of blood-spilling. It is believed that she may have been the "spy" who leaked word of the Regulars' mission to Concord.
At age 71, Concordian Martha Moulton was at home when the soldiers entered town. When sparks from burning captured materials caught the Town House roof on fire, Martha begged and harangued the British into extinguishing the blaze. Resulting smoke, observed by the Americans mustered near Buttrick's farm, caused them to march to the town's rescue precipitating the "shot heard 'round the world".
Various acts of bravery were inacted that day by women. Mrs. Amos Wood, Concord, saved military stores from British capture by insisting a locked room harbored women and thus it was left unopened.
Hannah Barron (also Barns, Burns), protected the Provincial Treasurer's chest of money and important papers by blocking soldiers' entrance to a tavern room, claiming it and the trunk to be hers.
Abigail Wright, wife of the Concord Tavern proprietor, is said to have secreted the Church communion silver in soap barrels to avoid their being stolen. The same tale is attributed to Mrs. Jeremiah Robinson, who supposedly gathered the silver, hid it in her basement soap barrels and barricaded her door against British intrusion.
Rebecca Barrett, wife of Concord's militia colonel, helped hide military stores and equipment about the farm then remained at home to protect family and property from the expected British. She fed the searching soldiers upon request but refused money thrown at her commenting that "we are commanded to feed our enemy" and that their coins were "the price of blood". Rebecca's actions saved valuable military materials from discovery as well as her property from damage and her son from arrest.
Another Barrett woman - James and Rebecca's granddaughter, Meliscent, age 15 - had learned from a British officer how to roll powder cartridges. On the night of 18 April, she supervised young women of Concord in preparing these items which were most likely used against the Regulars at North Bridge.
For most wives and mothers, it was a time of fear, trauma, uncertainty, terror and often sadness as their husbands and sons went off to fight. Yet the women contributed to freedom's stand as best they could. Lydia Mulliken, Lexington, watched her fiance Dr. Prescott ride off with Revere and Dawes to warn Concord of the British threat. During the enemy's retreat, the soldiers would burn her house and shop.
Lincoln's Mary Flint Hartwell, hearing Dr. Prescott's night alarm for her minute man husband, handed their baby to a servant and ran a distance in the dark to warn Lincoln's Captain Smith of the approaching danger.
From her house near Lexington Green, Ruth Harrington watched her husband Jonathan (standing with Parker's company), struck by a British musket ball, crawl to their house and die at her feet.
From the Manse, Phoebe Bliss Emerson, the Concord minister's wife, would watch in dismay the Bridge fight and wonder after the welfare of William.
Hannah Davis, Acton, like many wives, would see husband Isaac march to Concord, intuition telling her that she would never see him again. He died in the British volley at the Bridge.
In Menotomy (Arlington), Mother Batherick while digging dandelions accepted the surrender of six fleeing British soldiers with the admonishment, "...tell King George that an old women took six of his grenadiers prisoner."
Throughout the day, many women would gather family valuables and children then flee to neighboring towns or into nearby woods for protection from the marauding British.
Others like Alice Stearns Abbott with her mother and sisters remained at home (Watertown) making cartridges and sending food for the army. Later she would write, "I suppose it was a dreadful day in our house and sad indeed for our brother, so dearly loved, never came home."
In Memory, Mrs. Butterfield would return home to find a bleeding, dying British officer in her bed. Though accused of being a Tory, she cared for him some 10 days until he died. When a neighbor threatened to kill the officer, Butterfield protected him shouting, "Only cowards would want to kill a dying man."
Some women went to extraordinary lengths in liberty's cause. At Pepperell, following the men's departure for Concord, the women met, formed a military company, dressed as men, armed themselves and patrolled the town. Prudence Cummings, elected captain, captured a Tory officer at gun point. Such exploits would set the stage for later female military heroes such as Margaret Corbin ("Captain Molly", 1776, Battle of Ft. Washington, NY, wounded/ captured); Mary Ludwig Hays ("Molly Pitcher", 1778, Battle of Monmouth, NJ); Deborah Sampson (Continental Army soldier 1782-83, disguised as a man, wounded twice).
Thus from its earliest days, America's struggle for liberty and freedom was waged by and had great impact upon America's women and as well as its men. Such should never be overlooked, ignored or taken lightly.
The following is from "The proportion of Women which ought to be allowed..." An Overview of Continental Army Female Camp Followers by John U. Rees; Published in The Continental Soldier (Journal of the Continental Line), vol. VIII, no. 3 (Spring 1995), 51-58.
Like all the armies that preceded it the Continental Army was not just a community of men. Numbers of women and their accompanying children followed the troops throughout the war, performing tasks that contributed to the soldiers’ welfare.
From the war’s beginning women’s numbers fluctuated greatly between regiments, and from company to company within each regiment. In December 1777 a return for the main army at Valley Forge showed a total of 400 women present, or one woman for each forty-four enlisted men (though it is possible there were more women with the army during the previous summer). In January 1783, a return for the army at New Windsor gave an average of one woman for every twenty-six enlisted men. During the intervening years the average ratio may have been within the range of one-to-thirty and one-to-thirty-five, or approximately three percent of the total number of troops. From available information, it seems that early in the war it was not at all remarkable for an individual company to contain no women. This situation had changed by 1783 when the average was two women for each company in the main army. And, as a rule, some organizations, such as Washington’s Life Guard, the Corps of Sappers and Miners, artillery units, and regiments or companies from occupied areas of New York, had greater than average proportions of women.1
Variation in follower numbers among different organizations is illustrated by a series of five "Weekly return[s] of provisions and Stores Issued to the Grand Army under the Immediate Command of ... General Washington Including the Park of Artillery at Pluckemin." These documents cover the period 21 April to 28 May 1779 and are unique in showing numbers of women with eight brigades of the main army under Washington at the end of the Middlebrook, New Jersey winter camp, and just prior to the summer campaign. Middlebrook unit proportions are as follows:2
1779 Middlebrook Return: Average Number of Women Per Company
(Nine companies per regiment, unless otherwise noted)
1st Pennsylvania Brigade
Four regiments 28 women per regiment 3 women per company
2nd Pennsylvania Brigade
Four regiments 27 women per regiment 3 women per company
1st Maryland Brigade
Four regiments 21 women per regiment 2 women per company
2nd Maryland Brigade
Four regiments 22 women per regiment 2 women per company
Muhlenberg's Virginia Brigade
Four regiments 11 women per regiment (eight companies) 1 women per company
Five regiments 15 women per regiment 1 women per company
Woodford's Virginia Brigade
Five regiments 10 women per regiment (eight companies) 1 women per company
Four regiments 26 women per regiment 3 women per company
Scott's Virginia Brigade
Five regiments 17 women per regiment (eight companies) 1 women per company
Twenty-two companies 3 women per company
Information we have concerning American female followers is particularly interesting when compared to numbers accompanying Crown forces’ regiments. In February 1783, Robert Morris referred to "the british Prisoners of War who have Herds of Women with them." This comment is borne out by returns of British camp followers throughout the war. In May 1777 the ratio of women with British forces in New York was about one for every eight men, while German units contained approximately one woman for every thirty men. In August 1781 the troops in New York and its outposts were shown to have a ratio of one woman to every four and one-half British troops, and one to fifteen for the Germans.3
Regardless of numbers, the women who followed the Continental Army were important in various ways. Unlike some of their British counterparts, most could not support themselves unless the army sustained them. In their own words they "could earn their Rations, but the Soldier, nay the Officer, for whom they Wash has naught to pay them." They did, however, perform duties such as washing, and sometimes cooking, for those men to whom they were related or otherwise associated with. As the war progressed these dual duties (most particularly laundering) were increasingly required of them in return for their continued presence with the army. Importantly, besides performing practical tasks, they provided some semblance of home life for the men. This seemingly minor service was extremely important considering that the War for Independence continued for eight years and soldiers fought tedium more often than they did the enemy.4
"Rations... Without Whiskey":
Women’s Food Allowance
In May 1776 British General William Howe’s forces in Halifax, Nova Scotia, boarded ship en route to New York. He stipulated on 2 May, “Six Women p[e]r Comp[an]y will be allowed to embark with each Reg[imen]t … Provisions will be allowed at the rate of half a Ration for each Woman, & a Quarter for each Child that is left behind.” Based solely on Howe’s orders it has often been assumed that Continental Army followers were given a reduced ration. Admitting that the fledgling American army mirrored prewar British usage, research shows that actual British army practice in both conflicts was a full portion to women on campaign or performing other army-approved services. Documentary evidence supports that quantity for Continental Army women. A series of "Returns of the daily Issues of Provisions to the Troops at the Post of Wyoming, from May 9th. to the [27th]" 1779, shows that women were allowed the same ration as common soldiers (i.e., one full ration per day) and that food issued during this period was typical for the war. From the 10th to the 20th of May rations consisted of one pound of flour, and either one pound of pork or one and one quarter pounds of fish. Beginning on 21 May, pork disappeared from the ration and the issue of fish decreased, eventually to be replaced entirely by one and one quarter pounds of beef. In 1781 returns for Colonel Joseph Vose's Light Battalion indicate two rations for each officer and one ration for each common soldier and woman. And a "Return of the number of Women and Children... that drew Rations under the late Regulations" lists the specific number of rations allowed prior to January 1783. Under the "late Regulations," each woman was given one full ration and each child a half-ration, similar to the British dependent allowance in the French and Indian War, which consisted of either a full or two-thirds of a ration of food.5
The food ration issued to Continental troops and their followers was based on a standard originally set in 1776: "One pound of beef, or 3/4 of a pound of pork or one pound of fish, per day. One pound of bread or flour per day. Three pints of peas or beans per week, or vegetables equivalent, at one dollar per bushel for peas or beans. One pint of milk per man per day. One half-pint of rice, or one pint of Indian meal per man per week. One quart of spruce beer, or cider, per man per day, or nine gallons of mollasses per company of one hundred men per week. Three pounds of candles to one hundred men per week, for guards. Twenty pounds of soft, or eight pounds of hard, soap for one hundred men per week." Eventually, a small amount of rum or other alcohol was also included. In 1782, returns of women and children in Colonel Henry Jackson's Regiment stipulated they be given "Rations... Without Whiskey."6
Necessity and nutrition required that some method be found by which this basic ration could be supplemented. This was especially important since items such as milk, cider, vegetables and soap proved to be difficult, and often impossible, to obtain. In July 1777, it was stipulated that "As nothing can be more comfortable and wholesome to the army than vegetables, every encouragement is to be given to the Country people, to bring them in [to market] … The General recommends temporary ovens to each brigade, which, by men who understand it, can be erected in a few hours. Bread baked in these, will be much wholesomer than the sodden cakes [firecakes] which are but too commonly used." Besides the occasional issue of extraordinary edibles by the army, additional foodstuff was bought, bartered for, or stolen by soldiers and their followers throughout the war.7
To add to the problem of feeding the army, the system of supplying the troops sometimes failed due to bad weather, crop failure, economic conditions or ineptitude in the quartermaster or commissary department. At Valley Forge in the winter of 1778, it was necessary to temporarily adjust the daily ration. General orders of February 8th noted, "that instead of the ration heretofore Issued there should be Issued a pound and a half of flouer, one lb of Beef or 3/4 Salt pork and a certain Quantity of Spirits..." It had been previously ordered on 29 January that "The Commissaries in future to Issue [a] quart of Salt to every 100 lb fresh Beef." This was to prove more or less the common ration during winter cantonments.8
"Some men washed their own clothing."
Women's Duties and Shelter
In August 1777, General George Washington wrote, "the multitude of women in particular, especially those who are pregnant, or have children, are a clog upon every movement. The Commander in Chief therefore earnestly recommends it to the officers commanding brigades and corps, to use every reasonable method in their power to get rid of all such as are not absolutely necessary..." He was, however, to find it impossible to rid the army entirely of these persistent females who performed any number of "necessary" tasks. As Washington admitted later in the war, he "was obliged to give Provisions to the extra Women in these Regiments, or lose by Desertion, perhaps to the Enemy, some of the oldest and best Soldiers In the Service."9
Any females who chose to follow the army were allotted provisions; in return they were expected to perform some sort of service to benefit the troops. Their primary role was that of "Wash Women," a task various documents describe followers performing from 1776 through 1783. During the 1776 campaign in New York’s Mohawk Valley, one company of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment contained seventy-one enlisted men and three "Washer-Women," giving a ratio of one woman to twenty-four soldiers. In sharp contrast to these numbers was the proportion found in Colonel John Lamb's artillery regiment in September of 1780: "one Woman to Wash for ten." The number of "Wash Women" in the 9th Massachusetts Regiment over a period of three and a half months during the summer of 1782 is also documented. The approximate average for those months was one laundress for every thirty-five enlisted men. Due to the small number of women with the army, especially early in the war, many men would have done their own washing. 10
It is evident that while some women washed primarily for enlisted men, others performed the same service solely for officers. During the Yorktown Siege, follower Sarah Osborn "took her stand just back of the American tents, about a mile from the town, and busied herself washing, mending, and cooking for the soldiers, in which she was assisted by the other females; some men washed their own clothing [emphasis added]." First New York Regiment fifer’s wife Maria Cronkite stated that she "accompanied her husband... in the service... and continued in said service in the capacity of washerwoman for the officers until the close of the war where her husband was duly discharged. That she had while in said service several children..." 11
Cooking was usually performed by the soldiers in messes of six, the same number of men usually assigned to a tent. There were occasions when the soldiers’ duties made it necessary to have followers prepare meals. At Yorktown in 1781, Sarah Osborn mentioned that she "cooked and carried in beef, and bread, and coffee (In a gallon pot) to the soldiers in the entrenchment." As to the day of Cornwallis's surrender, she stated that "having provisions ready, [she] carried the same down to the entrenchments that morning, and four of the soldiers whom she was in the habit of cooking for ate their breakfasts." At the Battle of Brandywine, Jacob Nagle served with Proctor's artillery. He described the situation at the action’s onset:12
The provision waggons being sent a way, we ware three day without provisions excepting what the farmers brought in to sell in their waggons and what the soldiers could plunder from the farmers. I went to my father [lieutenant colonel, 9th Pennsylvania], his rigment being on our right, and received a neats tounge from him … Mr. Hosner bought some potatoes and butter the evening before the Brittish arrived, and we concluded to have a glorious mess for breakfast. Mr. Hosner gave it to one of the soldiers wives that remained with the army to cook for us in the morning. Early in the morning, she had the camp kittle on a small fier about 100 yards in the rear of the Grand Artilery, with all our delicious meal, which we expected to enjoy. The Brittish at this time hoisted the red flag on the top of the farm house on the rige of the hill a breast of us, and their artilery advancing towards us down the ploughed field, we then begin a cannonading... Unfortunately one of the enemies shot dismounted the poor camp kettle with the fier and all its contents away with it. The woman informed Mr. Folkner. He replied, ‘Never mind, we have no time to eat now.’ Therefore we made another fast day.
In many respects regimental women were accorded the same treatment as common soldiers. As previously noted they were given the same food ration as enlisted men (excepting alcohol). It seems this parity was also extended when it came to shelter. General John Sullivan's 17 August 1777 division orders stipulated that six enlisted men occupy a tent, and also allotted one tent for every six "Waggoners [or] weomen." A roster of Captain Ross's Company, 3rd New Jersey Regiment, in June 1777 emphasizes the inclusion of women in mess groups. In this listing of eight messes, seven had five or six people, the same number assigned to a tent. Two of the mess squads included women, one of whom was Margaret Johnson, wife of Sergeant Samuel Johnson, the other being Elizabeth Evans, Private Emanuel Evans’ wife. It is probable that, due to the exigencies of army life, the women in these two mess squads shared tents with the men.13
"Coming into the line of fire."
Women on the March or on Campaign
Army followers occasionally were exposed to battlefield dangers, though such was the exception rather than the rule. Stated practice in the Continental Army through most of the war was for women to travel with the army’s baggage when on campaign. There were occasions when women and children were purposely left behind when troops were sent with a short-term detachment or on a special mission. During Major General John Sullivan's 1779 expedition against the Indians of Pennsylvania and New York, women and children accompanied the troops only as far as Tioga in northern Pennsylvania. In late August the commanding general decided that for the advance into New York, “the Troops should Move as light as possible, the Officers are requested to leave at the Garrison all the Baggage they can possibly spare. All the Women & Children to be left at this place ...” Consequently, orders were issued on the 24th that only those women "as may be applied to the use of the Hospital, or may be deem'd necessary to keep the Soldier's clean at their Return" were to remain at the new post, called Fort Sullivan. The rest were sent back to Wyoming, Pennsylvania, where orders were given "to the Commissary... to Issue Rations to those [returned] Women & Children."14
Similarly, on 1 August 1780, as Washington's army was preparing to move into New Jersey to provision the army, the commander in chief ordered division and brigade commanders "to exert themselves to get in readiness as fast as possible... Convalescents and such men as are otherwise absolutely unfit to march yet capable of doing duty in a fixed post are to be left at Verplanks and Stoney points... All the Women and Children of the Army are also to be left at these Posts for a few days where the commanding officers will see that they are furnished with rations as usual." And when a detachment of troops under the Marquis de Lafayette was sent south in February 1781, the soldiers’ wives were left behind, it being thought that the "service will be but a temporary one." It was later discovered by both the soldiers and their women that Lafayette’s force would be absent longer than had been expected. As a result, between May and July, four women made their way south to join Vose's Massachusetts Light Battalion. Presumably, other females also were able to rejoin the men of Lafayette's contingent in Virginia.15
Later in 1781, when a portion of the army was readying itself for the southward march to Yorktown, General Washington directed that "as the Detachment under... Major General Lincoln are to consider themselves as Light-troops who are always supposed to be fit for action and free from every incumbrance [the commander in chief] cannot help advising them to take the present opportunity of depositing at West Point such of their Women as are not able to undergo the fatigue of frequent marches and also every article of Baggage which they can in any wise dispence with..." While numbers of women did accompany Washington’s troops to Yorktown, exactly how many is not known. Based on a conservative and historically based estimate placing female followers at 3 percent of unit rank and file strength, and allowing for campaign limitations, roughly fifty women marched south with Washington’s 2,525 enlisted men.16
As previously stated, female followers and their dependents were under orders to march with the baggage wagons. The first such order was issued in July 1777, and similar directives appeared at least once each subsequent year until 1781. In 1780, one order stipulated that the officer commanding the baggage escort "is to allow no women to ride in the waggons unless their peculiar circumstances require it." Sarah Osborn, the wife of a commissary sergeant, in the company of three other females, traveled with the baggage of Washington's army during the march to Yorktown in the late summer of 1781. She was one of the lucky ones, being allowed the use of a horse for at least part of the trip southward, though at other times she walked or rode in a wagon. It is doubtful that many other female camp followers were likewise afforded use of a horse. If army women elected (and were permitted) to stay with the soldiers, they would have had to rely primarily on their own two feet.17
An example of followers’ occasional disregard for standing orders is found in the cases of several women present at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777. One account, previously cited, describes a woman from an unknown regiment trying to cook while under fire (see Jacob Nagle’s account above). Another narrative records women of the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment who took "the empty canteens of their husbands and friends and returned with them filled with water... during the hottest part of the engagement [on Birmingham Hill], although frequently cautioned as to the danger of coming into the line of fire." The day before the action, a directive had been given that "No baggage is to be kept [with the army]... that can be dispensed with..." The inclusion of women in this command is implied by the 10 July 1777 general order that all "Women [are]... to march with the baggage." Additionally, army orders for 13 September attempted to rein in any recalcitrant camp followers by ordering that "No woman under any pretence whatsoever to go with the army, but to follow the baggage." This last order indicates that female followers’ disobedience was an ongoing problem. Other women known to have marched among the troops or to have been present on the field of battle include Mrs. Grier and Mrs. Warner marching with Benedict Arnold's troops to Quebec in 1775, Margaret Corbin, severely wounded at Fort Washington in 1776, Anna Maria Lane, badly wounded at the Battle of Germantown, and Mary Hays, present at the 1778 Monmouth battle.18
Continental Army general orders, 13 September 1777, reiterated the directive that "No woman under any pretence whatsoever to go with the army, but to follow the baggage." Female followers and their dependants were not allowed to ride in wagons, having to march alongside or behind them. Numbers of women disregarded this order throughout the war and by June 1781 the commander in chief admitted that some women would have to be permitted "to ride in waggons [or] walk in the ranks" with the troops while on the march. "Following the Army" by Pamela Patrick. Used with permission. ©2000 Pamela Patrick, this is NOT free artwork. Visit Pam's website.
Two accounts tell of anonymous American camp followers killed in the fighting near Saratoga, New York during autumn 1777. Ensign Thomas Anburey, 24th Regiment of Foot, wrote in a 10 November 1777 letter, “I was convinced how much the Americans were pushed in our late action, on the 19th of September [first battle of Saratoga, known as Freeman’s Farm], for I met with several dead bodies belonging to the enemy, and amongst them were laying close to each other, two men and a woman, the latter of whom had her arms extended, and her hands grasping cartridges.” In recalling the campaign many years later, Ambrose Collins, of Colonel Thaddeus Cook’s Connecticut militia regiment, told an interviewer, “the American women followed close after the American soldiers, as they were advancing [during the second Saratoga battle, 7 October 1777], and even exposed themselves where the shot were flying, to strip the dead. These were doubtless the basest of their sex …I saw one woman while thus employed, struck by a cannon ball and literally dashed to pieces. I also saw the women attempting to strip a wounded Hessian officer. One woman was attempting to get his watch. He was able to speak and although they could not understand what he said he made so much resistance that they left him …”19
Thomas Anburey also related the story of a woman attached to General John Burgoyne’s army giving birth on the march to Cambridge, Massachusetts after the surrender at Saratoga:
We were two days in crossing the Green Mountains … the roads … were almost impassable, and to add to the difficulty when we had got half over, there came on a heavy fall of snow … in the midst of the heavy snow-storm, upon a baggage cart, and nothing to shelter her from the inclemency of the weather but a bit of an old oil-cloth, a [British] soldier’s wife was delivered of a child, she and the infant are both well … It may be said, that women who follow a camp are of such a masculine nature, they are able to bear all hardships; this woman was quite the reverse, being small, and of a very delicate constitution.20
Compelling testimony to the indomitable spirit and hardiness of women with both armies.
Selma R. Williams in Demeter's Daughters, The Women Who Founded America 1587-1787, pages 241-243 writes:
"Eliabeth Ellet, who compiled the first list of heroines and spies in 1848, found 160 women who qualified. Most conspicuous in this category was nineteen-year-old Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a boy "Timothy Thayer" and joined the Continental Army. She had no trouble entering the ranks in clothing borrowed from one Samuel Leonard.......However, somehow she was recognized and forced to return to civilian life."
Interestingly, Lucy Freeman and Alma Bond, Ph.D. in America's First Woman Warrior: The Courage of Deborah Sampson, p. 89-90, portray Deborah, then residing in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Leonard, coming to her final decision to attempt the disguise. Donning the clothes of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard's son, Samuel, who had already left for the war, Deborah's plan would be test her disguise by visiting a fortune teller at Sproat Tavern. Once assured the fortune teller did not recognize Deborah, she proceeded to enlist in the army using the ficticious name Timothy Thayer of Carver. Perhaps, had the comment made by a Mrs. Wood as Deborah signed the Articles of Enlistment - "Thayer holds the quill with his finger in that funny position, like Deborah Sampson" - not gone unnoticed, the course of Deborah's future may have forever been altered that day.
On May 20, 1782, when she was twenty-one, Sampson enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army at Bellingham as a man named Robert Shurtleff (also listed as Shirtliff or Shirtlieff), taking the name of her mother's first-born child, Robert Shurtleff Sampson, who had deceased at the age of 8 years. Deborah's mother had continued to grieve the loss of her first born son, Robert, and this was perhaps another reason for Deborah to gain her mother's admiration in Robert's place by enlisting to fight in the Revolutionary War. On May 20th. 1782, she signed the "Articles of Enlistment" for a three year enlistment which were presented to her at Worcester and was mustered three days later into Captain George Webb's company.
The National Geographic article written by Lonnelle Aikman entitled Patriots in Petticoats, Vol. 148, No. 4, Oct. 1975 reads: "From then on, Deborah Sampson's adventures rivaled fiction, later filling a 1797 biography by Herman Mann, The Female Review: or, Memoirs of an American Young Lady. Her strength and firm chin, shown in a contemporary portrait, explain how she passed for a "smock-faced" boy, too young to grow a beard. Being 5 foot 7 inches tall, she looked tall for a woman and she had bound her breasts tightly to approximate a male physique. Other soldiers teased her about not having to shave, but they assumed that this "boy" was just too young to grow facial hair. She performed her duties as well as any other man. On November 12, 1780, Deborah had renounced the Puritan religion and, subsequently, joined the Baptist Church. Rumors circulating back home about her activities and she was excommunicated from the First Baptist Church of Middleborough, Massachusetts, because of a strong suspicion that she was "dressing in man's clothes and enlisting as a Soldier in the Army." At the time of her excommunication, her regiment had already left Massachusetts.
Sampson was sent with her regiment to West Point, New York, where she apparently was wounded in the leg in a battle near Tarrytown. She tended her own wounds so that her gender would not be discovered. As a result, her leg never healed properly. Having served at West Point for eighteen months and participating in several battles, Deborah was wounded twice on raids along the Hudson. In a skirmish near Tarrytown, she suffered a sword cut to the head, and at Eastchester she took a bullet in her thigh that troubled her the rest of her life. Army records apparently confirm these details of Deborah's military service. Her sexual identity went undetected until she came down with a "malignant fever", then prevalent among the soldiers, and was sent to a hospital in Philadelphia where the attending physician, Dr. Binney, of Philadelphia, discovered her charade, but said nothing. Instead he took her to his own home where she would receive better care. When her health was restored, the doctor met with the commanding officer and subsequently an order was issued for Robert Shirtliffe to carry a letter to General Washington.
When the order came for her to deliver a letter into the hands of the Commander-in-Chief, she knew that her deception was over. She presented herself at the headquarters of Washington, trembling with dread and uncertainty. General Washington, to spare her embarrassment, said nothing. Instead, he sent her with an aide to have some refreshments, then summoned her back. In silence Washington handed Deborah Sampson a discharge from the service, a note with some words of advice, and a sum of money sufficient to bear her expenses home.
Deborah Sampson was honorably discharged from the army at West Point on October 25, 1783 by General Henry Knox and after the war, in 1784, married Benjamin Gannett of Sharon; they had three children - Earl, Mary and Patience - and lived a life of meager existence with her family.
Selma R. Williams in Demeter's Daughters, The Women Who Founded America 1587-1787 writes:
"Besides her unusual wartime career got special recognition in the 1790s. On January 20, 1792, the Massachusetts General Court voted to pay her 34 pounds for past services in the United States army where she 'did actually perform the duty of a soldier.' The all-male legislature added approvingly: 'The said Deborah exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism, by discharging the duties of a faithful, gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her sex unsuspected and unblemished, and was discharged from the service with a fair and honorable character....'"
She also taught at a nearby school. In 1802, Sampson traveled throughout New England and New York giving lectures on her experiences in the military. During her lectures, she wore the military uniform. During George Washington's presidency she received a letter inviting Robert Shirtliffe, or rather Mrs. Gannett, to visit Washington. About nine years after her discharge from the army, she was awarded a pension from the state of Massachusetts in the amount of thirty-four pounds in a lump payment. After Paul Revere sent a letter to Congress on her behalf in 1804, she began receiving a U.S. pension in the amount of four dollars per month. During her stay at the capital, a bill was passed granting her a pension, in addition to certain lands, which she was to receive as an acknowledgment for her services to the country in a military capacity as a Revolutionary Soldier. The abstract of Deborah Sampson's, alias Robert Shurtleff's, pension is found in Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files Volume II: F-M, Abstracted by Virgil D. White, The National Historical Publishing Company, 1991, 1305 which reads:
"GANNET, Deborah alias Robert Shurtleff, 832622, MA line, this lady enl under the name of Robert Shurtleff & was wounded in 1783 & she rec'd a pension under the act of 18 Mar 1818 & had previously been pensioned by the state of MA, she had m Benjamin Gannett on 7 Apr 1784 & she d 29 Apr 1826 & he rec'd a pension from 4 Mar 1831 at $80 per annum for life, a P. Parsons stated she lived in the family of Benjamin Gannett more that 46 yrs after he m Deborah Sampson at his father's in Sharon MAY, they lived at Sharon in Norfolk Co MA, the said Deborah was the daughter of Jonathan Sampson who was b 3 Apr 1729 at plympton MA & her mother was also named Deborah who was the daughter of Elisha Bradford of Kingston MA & her parents were m 27 Oct 1751, she (the sol Deborah) was the granddaughter of Isaac Sampson one of the 1st settlers of Plympton MA, her husband Benjain Gannett d in Jan 1837 & in 1838 final payment was made to Earl B. Gannett, Mary Gilbert & Patience Gay ."
Deborah Sampson Gannett died April 29, 1827 in Sharon, Massachusetts, at age sixty-six. Her children were awarded compensation by a special act of Congress "for the relief of the heirs of Deborah Gannett, a soldier of the Revolution, deceased." Selma R. Williams in Demeter's Daughters, The Women Who Founded America 1587-1787 writes, "After her death on April 29, 1827, at the age of sixty-seven, her husband petitioned Congress for an increased pension, on the grounds that he had burdensome medical bills as a result of her service-connected sickness. A year after his death, Congress on July 7, 1838, responded with an "Act for the relief of the heirs of Deborah Gannett, a soldier of the Revolution," paying a total sum of $466.66 to her three children.
Patrick J. Leonard, Canton Massachusetts Historical Society, writes that Deborah Sampson, alias Robert Shurtleff, soldier of the American Revolution, was honored in a proclamation signed by Governor Michael J. Dukakis on May 23, 1983 to be the "Official Heroine of the State of Massachusetts" –
WOMEN OF THE REVOLUTION
Read the fresh annals of our land the gathering dust of time
Nor yet has fallen on the scroll to dim the tale sublime;
There woman's glory proudly shines, for willingly she gave
Her costliest offerings to uphold the generous and the brave
Who fought her country's battles well; and oft she perilled life
To save a father, brother, friend, In those dark years of strife.
Whatever strong-armed man hath wrought, whatever he hath won,
That goal hath woman also reached, that action hath she done."
Mary M. Chase
"The Lord shall sell Sisera into the hands of a woman." - JUDG.iv.9
The days of Colonial dependence in America were numbered, and came to an end. The British governmental officials were weighed in the balances of justice and humanity, and found wanting. "Taxation without representation" then as now was regarded as iniquitous, and to be frowned upon and disallowed. Finally there came an appeal to arms in defence of a righteous freedom. The bell of liberty rang out upon the air of the New World, and the first century of American freedom began. It should never be forgotten by the children of Revolutionary sires, that there were foremothers, as well as forefathers, who should be honored. There were noble women as well as brave men of the Revolution, who should receive due recognition from posterity, and a generous meed of praise.
It should be well remembered, that when the absolute authority of an unjust parliament and a tyrannical king was asserted and re-asserted, to the annoyance and oppression of the people in America, in response to the proclamation for suppressing rebellion and sedition, as the remonstrances of our forefathers were termed, a woman-ABIGAIL ADAMS in Massachusetts, wrote thus in a letter to her husband, John Adams, at Philadelphia - "This intelligence will make a plain path for you, though a dangerous one. I could not join to-day in the petitions of our worthy pastor for a reconciliation between our no longer parent state, but tyrant and these Colonies. Let us separate: they are unworthy to be our brethren. Let us renounce them and instead of supplications, as formerly, for prosperity and happiness, let us beseech the almighty to blast their counsels, and to bring to nought all their devices."
Said "The New York Tribune" in July, 1875, menting on the above, "Here was a declaration independence, preceding by seven months that has become so famous; and it was signed by a woman."
There is ample evidence of the sympathy which the women of those early days of our nation's history felt with the efforts of their countrymen to rid themselves of a foreign yoke. One woman, addressing a British officer in Boston, wrote from Philadelphia as follows:
"I have retrenched every superfluous expense in my table and family. Tea I have not drunk since last Christmas, nor bought a new cap or gown since your defeat at Lexington; and, what I never did before, have learned to knit, and am now making stockings of wool for my servants; and this way do I throw in my mite to the public good. I know this, that as free I can die but once; but as a slave I shall not be worthy of life. I have the pleasure to assure you that these are the sentiments of all my sister Americans. They have sacrificed assemblies, parties of pleasure, tea-drinking, and finery, to that great spirit of patriotism that actuates all degrees of people throughout this extensive continent."
An address, expressive of the sentiments of the women of the new nation towards their brave defenders, was widely circulated in the land, and read in the churches of Virginia. "We know," it said, "that at a distance from the theatre of war, if we enjoy any tranquillity, it is the fruit of your watchings, your labors, your dangers. And shall we hesitate to evince to you our gratitude? Shall we hesitate to wear clothing more simple, and dress less elegant, while, at the price of this small privation, we shall deserve your benedictions?"
Mrs E F Ellet, in her three volumes of great value, detailing the high sentiments and heroic deeds of the women of the Revolution, declares that "the noble deeds in which this irrepressible spirit breathed itself were not unrewarded by persecution. The case of the Quakeress DEBORAH FRANKLIN who was banished from New York by the British commandant for her liberality in relieving the sufferings of the American prisoners, was one among many. In our days of tranquillity and luxury, imagination can scarcely compass the extent or severity of the trials endured; and it is proportionately difficult to estimate the magnanimity that bore all, not only with uncomplaining patience, but with a cheerful forgetfulness of suffering in view of the desired object. The alarms of war, the roar of the strife itself, could not silence the voice of woman lifted in encouragement or prayer. The horrors of battle or massacre could not drive her from the post of duty. The effect of this devotion cannot be questioned, though it may not now be traced in particular instances. These were, for the most part, known to those who were themselves actors in the who lived in the midst of them. The heroism of Revolutionary women has passed from with the generation who witnessed it, or is seen by faint and occasional glimpses through the obscurity of tradition."
But some knowledge of these noble women of century is given us by Mrs. Ellet, and also in a smaller work called "Noble Deeds of American Women," by Jesse Clement.
Three women bearing the name of Martin deserve to be remembered. The elder, ELIZABETH MARTIN, bore the same relation to the two younger, Grace and Rachel, that Naomi did to Ruth and Orpah. Her sons were in the Revolutionary ranks, seven of them, whom she said as they went, with the spirit of Sparta: "Go, boys, and fight for your country. Fight til death, if you must; but never let your country be dishonored. Were I a man I would go with you."
When a British officer, learning that she had seven sons in the army, sneeringly said she had enough, she replied that she wished she had fifty there.
When another British officer heartlessly told her he saw her son's brains blown out on the field of battle, she calmly replied, "He could not have died in a nobler cause."
"When Charleston was besieged, she had three sons in the place. She heard the report of cannon on the occasion, though nearly a hundred miles west of the besieged city. The wives of the sons were with her, and manifested great uneasiness while listening to the reports; nor could the mother control her feelings any better. While they were indulging in silent and, as we may suppose, painful reflections, the mother suddenly broke the silence by exclaiming, as she raised her hands, 'Thank God! they are the children of the Republic!'"
That there was courage in RACHEL and GRACE MARTIN, was evinced in their capture of important despatches, when, disguised as two rebels, they assailed the British courier and his guard, took the papers, which they speedily forwarded to Gen. Greene, and released the messenger and the two officers who were his guard on parole, while they had not the least suspicion that their captors were women. Boadicea, rushing in her rude chariot over the battle-field, while her long and yellow hair was streaming in the wind, had not more warlike heroism than those two sisters who risked so much to aid their country's defenders.
DEBORAH SAMSON of Plymouth, Mass., disguised herself, and, as a man named Robert Shirtilife, served during the whole of the Revolutionary war, with the same zeal and efficiency, and with the exposure to hardship and fatigue, endured by the other soldiers. She was wounded twice; but her secret remained undiscovered, till, during brain-fever, her sex was discovered by the physician, who then chivalrously took her to his own home. "When her health was restored, her commanding officer, to whom the physician had revealed his discovery, ordered her to carry a letter to Gen. Washington. Certain now of a fact of which she had before been doubtful, that her sex was known, she went with much reluctance to fulfil the order. Washington, after reading the message with great consideration, without speaking a word, gave her her discharge, together with a note containing a few of advice, and some money. She afterwards Benjamin Gannett of Sharon, Mass. She received pension, with a grant of land, for her services as Revolutionary soldier."' Honorable mention of woman-soldier is made in Niles' "Principles and of the Revolution."
ANNA WARNER the wife of Capt. Elijah Bailey the Revolutionary army, earned the title of "The Heroine of Groton," by her devotion to the cause of freedom, and her fearless efforts to aid the wounded on the occasion of the terrible massacre at Fort Griswold in Connecticut. When the blockading fleet in 1813 appeared off the harbor of New London, Conn., she was among the patriotic women who sacrificed articles clothing to supply flannel for cartridges. The editor of "The Democratic Review" visited her in 1846 when she was eighty-eight years old, and as agile as a girl of eighteen. He said of her, 'Such is Mother Bailey. Had she lived in the palmy days of ancient Roman glory, no matron of the mighty empire would have been more highly honored." But she was only a type of many. Patriotic women abounded in the days of the Revolution, and their patriotism lives in their descendants. The historian of Sohoharie has embalmed upon his pages the records of their heroic deeds. Anticipating the needs of the rangers, MRS. ANGELICA VROOMAN caught a bullet-mould, some lead, and an iron spoon, ran to her father's tent, and there moulded a quantity of bullets amid the noise of the battle. "While the firing was kept up at the middle fort, great anxiety prevailed at the upper; and, during this time, Capt. Hager, who commanded the latter, gave orders that the women and children should retire to a long cellar, which he specified, should the enemy attack him. A young lady named MARY HAGIDORN, on hearing these orders, went to Capt. Hager, and said, "Captain, I shall not go into that cellar, should the enemy come. I will take a spear which I can use as well as any man, and help defend the fort." The captain, seeing her determination, answered, 'Then take a spear, Mary, and be ready at the pickets to repel an attack.' She cheerfully obeyed, and held the spear at the picket, till hurrahs for the American flag burst on her ear, and told that all was safe."
Patriotism was not limited to any one section of our country. The North and the South were alike unwilling to submit to British aggression. The wife of Col. Fitzhugh of Maryland collected her slaves, and, in the absence of her husband, prepared to defend their home, when they were visited by British soldiers. The invaders fled in dismay. ANNE FITZHUGH was one who could respond to the exclamation in Proverbs, "Who shall find a valiant woman? The price of her is as things brought from afar." Accompanying her blind husband, whom the saucy Britishers determined to take as prisoner to New York, she left her home half-clad, but firm in her purpose not to leave her helpless charge. She had previously placed pistols in the hands of her sons, and sent them forth from the other side of the house to a place of safety. "It was a cold and rainy night; and with the mere protection of a cloak, which the officer took down and threw over her shoulders before leaving the house, she sallied forth with party. While on the way to the boat, the report of a gun was heard, which the soldiers supposed was the signal of a rebel gathering. They hastened to the boat, where a parole was written out with trembling hands, and placed in the old gentleman's possession. Without even a benediction, he was left on shore with his faithful and fearless companion, who thought but little of her wet feet as she stood and saw the cowardly detachment of British soldiers push off and row away with all their might for safety."
The women of Revolutionary days afforded the poet ample opportunity to praise their devotion and heroism and say, as one did,
"Proud were they by such to stand,
In hammock fort, or glen;
To load the sure old rifle,
To run the leaden ball,
To watch a battling husband's place,
And fill it, should he fall."
This was illustrated in the noble act of a woman whose husband, a gunner named Pitcher, was killed daring the battle of Monmouth; and she then stepped forward, and took his place. "The gun was so well managed as to draw the attention of Gen. Washington to the circumstance, and to call forth an expression of his admiration of her bravery and her fidelity to her country. To show his appreciation of her virtues and her highly valuable services, he conferred on her a lieutenant's commission." She was afterwards known as Captain or Major Molly.
An incident is related, which occurred while Washington was at Valley Forge with his army, and the enemy was in Philadelphia, which proved that a country girl had fidelity and courage. Major Talmage, hearing that such a girl had gone to Philadelphia, ostensibly to sell eggs, but really to obtain information concerning the enemy, moved his detachment to Germantown, and waited with a small party at a tavern in sight of the British outposts. He soon saw the country girl, and was about to be told by her of British plans, when he was informed that their light horse was advancing. "Stepping to the door, he saw them in full pursuit of his patrols. He hastily mounted; but, before he had started his charger, the girl was at his side begging for protection. Quick as thought he ordered her to mount behind him. She obeyed, and in that way rode to Germantown, a distance of three miles. During the whole ride, writes the major in his journal, where we find these details, 'Although there was considerable firing of pistols, and not a little wheeling and charging, she remained unmoved, and never once complained of fear.'
During the war a woman's society was formed, whose object was the relief of the soldiers who were in need of clothing. In 1780 the ladies of Philadelphia city and county sold their jewelry, and converted other trinkets into something more serviceable, collected large sums of money, purchased the raw material, plied the needle with all diligence, and, in a short time, the aggregate amount of their contributions was seventy-five hundred dollars. This sum was raised in and immediately around Philadelphia. The efforts of the ladies were not, however, limited to their own neighborhood. They addressed circulars to the adjoining counties and States, and the response of New Jersey and Maryland was truly generous. The number of shirts made by the ladies of Philadelphia during that patriotic movement was twenty-two hundred. These were cut out at the house of Mrs. Sarah Bache, daughter of Dr Franklin. This lady, writing to a Mrs. Meredith of Trenton, N J, at the time, says, 'I am happy to have it in my power to tell you that the sums given by the good women of Philadelphia, for the benefit of the army, have been much greater than could be expected, and given with so much cheerfulness, and so many blessings, that it was rather a pleasing than a painful task to call for them. I write to claim you as a Philadelphian, and shall think myself honored in your donation."
In the early part of February, 1770, the women of Boston publicly pledged themselves to abstain from the use of tea. On Feb 9 there were three hundred matrons who had become members of the league. Three days after, the young women followed the good example of their mothers, signing the following document:
"We, the daughters of those patriots who have and do now appear for the public interest, and in that principally regard their prosperity, as such do with pleasure engage with them in denying ourselves the drinking of foreign tea, in hopes to frustrate a plan which tends to deprive the whole community of all that is valuable in life." No wonder that after years saw such prodigies of valor in those who showed themselves able to practise such patriotic self-denial. S ide by side the men and women of the Revolution objected to and protested against "taxation without representation." The spirit of the ancestry still lives in the true children of such noble progenitors.
Among the active women of the Revolution was ESTHER REED, the wife of Pres. Reed, who stood at the head of the Relief Association in Philadelphia, and who wrote a letter to Washington, informing him that the subscription of the women amounted to $200,580, and £625, 6s. 8d., in specie. Mrs. Reed died in 1780, at the early age of thirty-four; and it. was thought that her arduous labors hastened her departure. S he was thus a martyr to liberty, and did not alone deserve that distinction. As in the civil war, many other women were overworked, and fell a sacrifice to their patriotic responsibilities and toils.
LYDIA DARRAH is mentioned in the first number of "The American Quarterly Review," as an amiable and heroic Quakeress of Philadelphia, who overheard the order read for the British troops to march out and attack Washington's army, then at White Marsh. She obtained a pass from Gen. Howe, for a visit to a mill for flour; and going safely through the British lines, leaving her bag at the mill, she hastened to the American lines, saw Col. Craig, and told him what she had overheard. By means of that information, the American army was saved; for the British found them prepared, and forbore to make the contemplated attack.
Butler's "History of Groton," in Massachusetts, states that, "After the departure of Col. Prescott's regiment of 'minute-men,' Mrs. David Wright of Pepperell, Mrs. Job Shattuck of Groton, and the neighboring women, collected at what is now Jewett's Bridge, over the Nashua, between Pepperell and Groton, clothed in their absent husbands' apparel, and armed with muskets, pitchforks, and such other weapons as they could find; and, having elected Mrs. Wright their commander, resolutely determined that no foe to freedom, foreign or domestic, should pass that bridge. For rumors were rife, that the regulars were approaching; and frightful stories of slaughter flew rapidly from place to place, and from house to house. Soon there appeared one on horseback, supposed to be treasonably engaged in conveying intelligence to the enemy. By the implicit command of Sergeant Wright, he was immediately arrested, unhorsed, searched, and the treasonable correspondence found concealed in his boots. He was detained prisoner, and sent to Oliver Prescott, Esq., of Groton, and his despatches were sent to the Committee of Safety."
Historians tell us of the Kentucky women braves, who were successful in warding off the attacks of Indians in the early days of our country; and the wife of a Mr. John Merrill of Nelson County is specially mentioned, as brave and successful in her defence of her home during the summer of 1787. She was "a perfect Amazon in strength and courage." Such women were needed in those "dark and bloody days." That American women have never been wanting in bravery, either in Revolutionary days or since, Mrs. ANN CHASE showed to the world, when, at the capture of Tampico in 1846, she displayed the American flag, opposed by the common council. No menaces could awe this intrepid woman, the wife of the American consul, who, in her daring and patriotism, had also previously given Commodore Connor full information in regard to the defence of the place.
DICEY LANGSTON was a South Carolina woman, who was equal to the times of emergency which often came in the days of the Revolution. She was in the good custom of conveying intelligence to the friends of freedom. The British would have despised her as a spy, but we honor her as the friend of a holy cause. She often hazarded her life in crossing marshes and creeks to save the lives of others; and on one occasion, when she was returning from a settlement of Whigs, she was set upon by a party of Tories, and questioned. "The leader of the band then held a pistol to her breast, and threatened to shoot her, if she did not make the wishedfor disclosure. 'Shoot me, if you dare! I will not tell you!' was her dauntless reply, as she opened a long handkerchief that covered her neck and bosom, thus manifesting a willingness to receive the contents of the pistol, if the officer insisted on disclosures or life. The dastard, enraged at her defying movement, was in the act of firing, at which moment one of the soldiers threw up the hand holding the weapon, and the cowerless heart of the girl was permitted to beat on. REBECCA MOTTE has her name also on the scroll of honor, as one who wiffingly consented to the burning of her large mansion, which stood near the trench, in order to effect the capture of Fort Motte, which was then in the hands of the British. The Americans were successful, partly by the firing of arrows so prepared as to set fire to the shingles of the roof; and those arrows had been presented to Mrs. Motte by a favorite African. She saved them when the British officer allowed her to pass out of the fort to the Americans; and he was greatly displeased that they should be used against him.
ELIZABETH STEELE is worthy of note for her patriotic donation made to Gen. Greene in an hour of need. She was the landlady of the hotel in Salisbury, N.C.; and the wounded Americans were brought to her house. The general felt much discouraged; for, added to the defeat at the battle of the Cowpens, he was penniless. Mrs. Steele generously donated to the cause he represented two bags of specie, saying, "Take these, for you will want them, and I can do without them." Gen. Greene's biographer says, "Never did relief come at a more propitious moment; nor would it be straining conjecture, to suppose that he resumed journey with his spirits cheered and brightened by this touching proof of woman's devotion to the cause of her country."
MARY REDMOND was called in Philadelphia "the little black-eyed rebel," because she was so ready to assist women whose husbands were in the American army, in gaining intelligence from the camp. Mrs. Ellet states, that "the despatches were usually sent from their friends by a boy, who carried them stitched in the back of his coat. He came into the city bringing provisions to market. One morning, when there was some reason to fear he was suspected, and his movements watched by the enemy, Mary undertook to get the papers in safety from him. She went, as usual, to the market, and, in a pretended game of romps threw her shawl over the boy's head, and thus secured the prize. She hastened with the papers to her anxious friends, who read them by stealth, after the windows had been carefully closed. When the news came of Burgoyne's surrender, and the Whig women were secretly rejoicing, the sprightly girl, not daring to give vent openly to her exultation, put her head up the chimney, and gave a shout for Gates."
HANNAH ISRAEL, whose maiden name was Erwin, was the wife of a farmer so patriotic, that he declared he would sooner drive his cattle as a present to George Washington, than receive thousands of dollars in British gold for them. He was taken prisoner, and was on board a British frigate anchored in the Delaware in front of his house, when the commander, who had been told of that saying by some telltale loyalists, ordered some soldiers to drive the cattle down to the river's bank, and slaughter them before their rebel owner's eyes. Mrs. Israel, who was brave as a Spartan, divined the purpose of the soldiers, and, calling a boy eight years old, started off in haste to defeat their project. "They threatened, and she defied, till at last they fired at her. The cattle, more terrified than she, scattered over the fields; and, as the balls flew thicker, she called on the little boy 'Joe' the louder and more earnestly to help, determined that the assailants should not have one of the cattle. They did not. She drove them all into the barnyard, when the soldiers, out of respect to her courage or for some other cause, ceased their molestations, and returned to the frigate."
The noble deeds of the days of Revolutionary heroism were not all confined to the women who were of the dominant race. Red women, as well as white, who dwelt in our land in those days, were inspired with generous ardor and benevolent zeal. Says Mr. Clement, "During the Revolution, a young Shawanese Indian was captured by the Cherokees, and sentenced to die at the stake. He was tied, and the usual preparations were made for his execution, when a Cherokee woman went to the warrior to whom the prisoner belonged, and, throwing a parcel of goods at his feet, said she was a widow, and would adopt the captive as her son, and earnestly plead for his deliverance. Her prayer was granted, and the prisoner taken under her care." EMILY GEIGER was a messenger from Gen. Greene to Gen. Sumter. Her mission was a dangerous one, for spies often paid for their temerity with their lives. She was mounted on horseback on a side-saddle, and was intercepted by Lord Rawdon's scouts. She could not deny that she came from the direction of Greene's army; and therefore she was locked up, and an old Tory matron ordered to search her. She did not wish to be proved as a spy, nor have the intelligence in the letter she was bearing imparted to the British. She therefore, while alone, ate up the letter piece by piece, and, when the searcher arrived, she was unable to find any trace of her errand upon her, and she was allowed to depart. She hastened to the camp of Gen Sumter, and delivered her message verbally.
NANCY VAN ALSTINE is said to be "one of the bravest and noblest mothers of the Revolution." Her fifteen children could "rise up and call her blessed," for her life was pure and noble, and, in the days of her country's peril from hostile tribes of Indians, she was fearless and undaunted. The pioneer families in many parts of our land, a century ago, had reason to keep a vigilant watch over their children and goods, lest the startling war-whoop, too often heard, might be followed by theft, destruction, and awful massacre.
MARTHA BRATTON was a woman of the Revolution, of whose deeds and character we may judge by the following toast given at Brattonsville, S.C., on the 12th July, 1839, at a celebration of Huck's defeat: "The memory of Mrs. Martha Bratton. In the hands of an infuriated monster, with the instrument of death around her neck, she nobly refused to betray her husband: in the hour of victory, she remembered mercy, and as a guardian angel interposed in behalf of her inhuman enemies. Throughout the Revolution, she encouraged the Whigs to fight on to the last, to hope on to the end. Honor and gratitude to the woman and heroine, who proved herself so faithful a wife, so firm a friend to liberty!
ELIZABETH ZANE,--she was the young heroine of Fort Henry. When the little band in the garrison at the mouth of Wheeling Creek, in Ohio County, Va., were holding out against thirty or forty times their number of savage assailants, and were about to surrender for lack of powder, Elizabeth Zane insisted upon being the one who should risk life in seeking to obtain a keg which was in a house ten or twelve rods from the gate of the fort. The Indians did not molest her till on her return they divined the nature of her errand, and then they fired upon her; but "the whizzing balls only gave agility to her feet, and herself and the prize were quickly safe within the gate. The result was that the soldiers, inspired with enthusiasm by this heroic adventure, fought with renewed courage; and, before the keg of powder was exhausted, the enemy raised the siege." This occurred during the Revolutionary war.
ESTHER GASTON showed her bravery by mounting her horse, and, with her sister-in-law, hastening to the battle of Rocky Mount. Meeting some cowardly runaways, they asked them for their guns, and proposed to stand in their places, whereupon the men returned to duty; and, while the fight was raging, Esther and her companion cared for the wounded and the dying.
MARY ANN GIBBES, when but a girl of thirteen, earned the name of heroine, as she went back in the dark, and amid firing of guns, to the mansion of her father on John's Island, near Charleston, S.C., in order to rescue a boy cousin who had accidentally been left in the hands of the British when the rest of the family fled. Even the young girls had the spirit of heroism and patriotism which marked the women of the Revolution.
Mrs. WILSON the wife of Robert Wilson, whose own name we do not know, was one worthy to be remembered as the mother of eleven sons, most of whom were soldiers, and some were officers, in the war of the Revolution, and who, when asked by Lord Cornwallis to her influence with her husband and sons, who were his prisoners, to induce them to fight for the crown replied, -
"I have seven sons who are now or have been bearing arms; indeed, my seventh son Zaccheus, who is only fifteen years old, I yesterday assisted to get ready to go and join his brothers in Sumter's army. Now, sooner than see one of my family turn back from this glorious enterprise, I would take these boys," pointing to three or four small sons, "and with them would myself enlist under Sumter's standard, and show my husband and sons how to fight, and, if necessary, to die for their country." That woman deserves to be known as heroine of Steel Creek.
MRS. SHUBRICK, wife of Richard Shubrick, an American soldier who had sought refuge with her, by placing herself before the chamber in which he was secreted, and resolutely telling the British officer, "To men of honor, the chamber of a lady should be as sacred as the sanctuary. I will defend the passage to it, though I perish. You may succeed and enter it, but it shall be over my corpse." The officer ceased further search. On another occasion, she reproved a British sergeant for striking a servant of their family, inflicting a severe sabre-wound on his shoulders, because he could not disclose the place where the plate was hidden, and told him to strike her, if any one; for, till she died, no further injury should be done to the aged overseer. The sergeant, discomfited retired.
MARY KNIGHT, the sister of Gen. Warrell, had the following tribute to her patriotism and humanity paid to her by a New Jersey newspaper in July, 1849: "The deceased was one of those devoted women who aided to relieve the horrible sufferings of Washington's army at Valley Forge, cooking and carrying provisions to them alone, in the depth of winter, even passing through the outposts of the British army in the disguise of a market woman. And, when Washington was compelled to retreat before a superior force, she concealed her brother Gen. Warrell - when the British set a price on his head-in a cider-hogshead. in the cellar for three days, and fed him through the bunghole; the house being ransacked four different times by the troops in search of him, without success. She was over ninety years of age at the time of her death."
MARGARET CORBIN was one to whom might have been said,
"Where cannon boomed, where bayonets clashed.
There was thy fiery way."
Mr. Clement's account of her is as follows; "An act " similar to that recorded of Mrs. Pitcher at the battle of Monmouth was performed by Mrs. Margaret Corbin at the attack on Fort Washington. Her husband belonged to the artillery; and standing by his side, and seeing him fall, she unhesitatingly took his place, and heroically performed his duties. Her services were appreciated by the officers of the army, and honorably noticed by Congress. This body passed the following resolution in July, 1779: "Resolved, that Margaret Corbin, wounded and disabled at the battle of Fort Washington while she heroically filled the post of her husband, who was killed by her side serving a piece of artillery, do receive during her natural life, or continuance of said disability, one-half the monthly pay drawn by a soldier in service of these States; and that she now receive, out of public stores, one suit of clothes or value thereof in money."
Other women there were, who won a fair renown in Revolutionary days. The limit of this chapter forbids further mention; but those who will read Mrs. Ellet's "Women of the Revolution" will find her pages full of thrilling interest; and will place the names of ELIZABETH CLAY, SUSANNAH, SABINA, and ANNA ELLIOTT, SARAH HOPTON, JANE WASHINGTON, MARTHA WILSON, and a host of others, whose sympathy encouraged the men who fought for freedom, and whose bravery and valor entitled them to honorable remembrance for many a century, side by side with the names of those who signed the Declaration of Independence, pledged to the cause of liberty "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor."
Source: Hanafore, Phebe A., "Daughters of America on Women of the Century", True and Company, Augusta, ME, 1883.