Women In The Revolutionary War Essay Research

Women In The Revolutionary War Essay, Research Paper WOMEN IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR The fate of the European women who came to the New World in the early days of

Women In The Revolutionary War Essay, Research Paper


The fate of the European women who came to the New World in the early days of

colonial settlement was a life of endless hard work. Many of them who came were

already accustomed to physical labor. For those who were not, they quickly adapted.

They had survived the first 150 years of colonial life in America by providing

labor which transformed the forest into farmland. The labor of every able-bodied settler

was desperately needed, and women s traditional work of providing food, clothing, and

cleanliness was necessary for survival. Over the years the women had overcome the test

of time, climate, trials and tribulations, and had helped build a country by hand. In the

year 1776, after many conflicts with the British and the taxation laws, America was

ready to break free and women were ready to help.

Many reputable women aided the cause. They protested importation taxes by

boycotting English products, including tea, a popular item in America. Wherever

women lived they contributed to the war effort. Women spun and wove their own

clothes, in addition to making coats and shirts for the American army. They gave up

their jewelry and cooking utensils so that bullets could be made from them. Almost all

women supplied food and medical aid; and they took over farm work and managed their

husbands businesses while they were away fighting. The Revolutionary war began and

the women, like the men, were ready to do what they could to help.

From the times before, and even after the Revolutionary war, the general thought

of the country was that the womans place was in the home. Yet judging from the stories

and writings of those who lived during the fight for freedom, women could have bettered

the nation if they had shared political power with men. Instead, they were relegated to the

role of housewife, laboring over the cooking and breast-feeding a seemingly endless

procession of babies (Evens, 1). The wife of Christopher Marshall, a member of an

oversight committee for congress, was a typical example. In 1778, her husband wrote

in his journal:

From early in the morning till late at night, she is constantly

employed in the affairs of the family, which for some months has been

very large, for besides the addition to our family in the house, a constant

resort of comers and goers, which seldom go away with dry lips and

hungry bellies. This calls for her constant attendance, not only, to provide,

but also attend at getting prepared in the kitchen, baking our bread and

pies, meat, etc., but also on the table. Her cleanliness about the house, her

attendance in the orchard, cutting and drying apples, of which several

bushels have been procured, add to which her making of cider without

tools, for the constant drink of the family, her seeing all our washing done,

and her fine clothes and my shirts, which are all smoothed by her. Add to

this her making of twenty large cheeses, and that from one cow, and daily

using milk and cream, besides her sewing, knitting, etc. Thus she looketh

well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness

(Evens, 2).

Although there were many women whose entire role in the war was to merely

look after the farm, others took to doing more to aid the Continental Army. This was the

first opportunity for the women to unite for a great common cause beyond the boundaries

of their town or farm.

Women organized themselves into various groups to help aid the army. Every

day women went to the hospitals to care for the sick and wounded; they went to

battlefields to look for the wounded and dead; they buried friends and even enemies.

American prisoners waited for the women to bring the food. They raised grain, harvested

it, and made bread to carry to their relatives in the army or the prisons (Engle, 15).

American Colonial women were ready, in body and mind, for the independence of the

colonies ( 15).

In the early stages of the war, some women were quick to organize themselves

into the Daughters of Liberty. An organization that had originated ten years before to

help enforce nonimportation with the Townsend Duties (Lunardini, p.11). They set up

day-long sewing meetings in order to supply the markets with goods that had been closed

off to importation; they boycotted anything British with unrelenting vigor; and they

cheered on the crowds that tore down royal insignia. Some of the younger women in the

north would not date any man who had not been in service (Engle, 13).

Throughout the war, women collected money for soldiers equipment or relief.

Organized in various communities, women calling themselves the Ladies Association,

helped to finance George Washington s army by going door-to-door and collecting funds.

In Philadelphia, Esther Reed and Sarah Bache (the daughter of Benjamin Franklin) raised

three hundred thousand dollars, which at Washington s suggestion, they used to buy cloth

to make uniforms for the ill-equipped army (Lunardini, 11).

With many of the supplies from England now unavailable, cloth being the most

desired, the colonists had to find any way possible to maintain and keep up the goods

they already possessed. Spinning societies were very common for this purpose. They

allowed the colonial communities and the soldiers to restore their older clothes for

prolonged use (Lunardini, p.11).

Like the cloth, British soap was also rare. Taking matters into her own hands, a

woman from Providence, Rhode Island, had her recipe for soap printed in a number of

newspapers so that people would be able to make it for the troops ( Evens, p.13).

During the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1778 a free,

black women, having received two hard dollars for washing, and hearing

of the distress of our prisoners in the gaol, went to market and bought

some neckbeef and two heads, with some green, and made a pot of as

good broth as she could; but having no more money to buy bread, she got

credit of a baker loaves, all of which were much in want of such supply.

She has since then paid the baker, and says, she never laid out money with

as much satisfaction.-Humanity is the same thing in rich or poor, white or

black (Evans, p.14).

To avoid the many illnesses, and to assure they never became victim to

womanizing troops, many women chose to travel with the army. With not much to look

foprward to except maintaining the farm, many women voulenteered to go with their

husbands even if they would have to fight when faced with confrontation. They earned

money by cooking and doing laundry, and were to later be called camp followers by

other colonists (Lunardini, 12).

While many women cooked and sewed to serve by their husbands side, some

women even went a step further when contributing to the cause. A number of women

picked up weapons in the heat of the battle and fought along side of the men. Women,

could only do this in two ways, by inlisting illegally as a man, or by replacing their

husbands on the battle field. Many women fought, but there were three who stood above

the rest, in courage, strength, and recognition. Deborah Sampson Gannett, who served

under the name as Robert Shurtleff, Margaret Cochran Corbin, and Mary Hays, who was

also known as Molly Pitcher.

At age forty-one, Deborah Sampson Gannett astounded audiences throughout

New England with tales of her adventures during the American Revolution twenty years

before-when she was a soldier in the Continental Army. At a time when other young

women stayed home to run households and tend farms, Deborah Sampson had put on a

uniform, picked up a gun, and gone forth to fight for independence ( Ashby, Ohrn, p.

73). Deborah was taller and stronger than the usual woman, therefore it was easy for her

to present herself as a young man. By using the name Robert Shurtleff, she enlisted in

the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army at Bellingham,

Massachusetts on May 20, 1782 (Ashby, Ohrn, p. 74).

Fighting in skirmishes with British forces throughout New England, Sampson

witnessed and endured all the horrors of war. Still, she kept fighting. For three years she

served in various duties and was wounded twice-the first time by a sword cut on the side

of the head and four ;months later she was shot through the shoulder. Her sexual identity

went undetected until she came down with a brain fever, then prevalent among the

soldiers. The attending physician, Dr. Binney, of Philadelphia, discovered her charade,

but said nothing. Instead he had her taken to his own home where she would receive

better care. When her health was restored the doctor met with Robert s commanding

officer and subsequently an order was issued for Robert Shirtliffe to carry a letter to

General Washington. (This may also be legend as there is no record of her ever being

in Philadelphia) (http://userpages.aug.com/captbarb/femvets.html, p. 1)

When having to face General Washington alone, she knew this would be the end.

She delivered the letter she was sent to give and in return recieved a discharge from the

army, a note from the General, and enough money to pay her way home. In doing all

this, Washington spared her embarrassment by saying nothing which she was very

thankfull for. (p.1).

The state of Massachusetts and the federal government aknowledged Deborah s

services to her country. Both awarded her pensions (Ashby, Ohrn, p. 74).

The second example of the many amazing women who fought to win

independence was Margret Corbin. The revolution broke out four years after Margaret

and John Corbin were married, and John immediately enlisted. He became a private in

Captain Thomas Proctor s First Company of the Pennsylvania Artillery, and Margaret

went with him (Engle, p. 26).

On November 16, the Hessian troops then attacked Fort Washington where

Margaret and her husband were stationed. The Continentals fought to hold the fort

against the large force of attackers, pitting 2,800 men against the almost 9,000 in the

attacking force. Margaret s husband was killed at his cannon. There was no one else to

fire it, so Margaret ran to the cannon and began loading and firing it herself. She

continued firing until she herself was seriously wounded by British grapeshot. The

British captured Fort Washington, and the survivors became their prisoners

(Engle, p. 27).

How she found her way out of British hands nobody knows, but eventually

Margaret made her way back to the American army. She had a very hard time of it, for

her husband was dead and her wound disabled her. This disability stayed with her the

rest of her life.

Margaret s own state of Pennsylvania recognized her heroism and also her

poverty, and in 1779 the state voted to pay her thirty dollars relief and recommended that

the Board of War paid her as well. She was the only woman in the regiment and also the

first woman to recieve pension in the United States (p. 27).

The third, and probably most famous of the women who fought, was Mary Hays.

At the time of the Revolution, Mary Hays was married to William Hays, a soldier in the

Pennsylvania State Regiment of Artillery. During his seven years service she remained

with him at camp and battle sites, lugging buckets of water, aiding the wounded, and

helping at the cannons (Evans, p. 11).

She is said to have been accompanying her husband s regiment when it faced

Clinton at the battle of Monmouth in 1778. The day was a scorching one, and many

soldiers collapsed from the heat. The valiant Molly brought water to the men throughout

the battle, all the while exposing herself to British fire. For this deed she was dubbed

Molly Pitcher by the grateful soldiers. She also rescued and nursed wounded men.

Finally, when her own husband was killed by the enemy, she took charge of firing his

cannon and carried on until the end of the battle. Though she spent the next seven years

in the army and performed heroic deeds, Molly was never given a special pension

(Engle, p. 16).

In some cases women didn t have to resort to weapons; they used their wits.

Lydia Darrah charmed British officers into holding a late night conference in her

Philadelphia home. Pretending to retire for the night, she crept back and listened as the

enemy planned a attack against the American army at Whitemarsh, north of Philadelphia.

The following morning she told her husband that flour was needed from the mill at

Frankford, southeast of Whitemarsh. With permission from General Howe to pass

through British lines, she walked the four or five miles, through snow, to the mill. After

depositing her empty sack, she walked further, toward American outposts. An American

officer on a scouting mission listened attentively as she gave him the information. She

then returned to the mill, picked up the flour, and trudged through snowdrifts to

Philadelphia. When the British army approached Whitemarsh they found Washington s

troops alerted and prepared for them. Being the weaker force, the British returned to

Philadelphia without a conflict (Evans, p. 15).

When many women were fighting battles on the front line, others were expressing

their support, and making their mark on society through the power of their pen. Two of

the most famous were Phillis Wheatley and Mercy Otis Warren.

Phillis Wheatley arrived in America in 1771. She caught the eye of a Boston

Matron, Susan Wheatley, who was looking for a personal servant, and even though

Phillis was young and thin, Susan bought her and took her home. Far from treating her

like a servant, the Wheatleys quickly began acting as if she was a member of the family,

giving her her own room excusing her from the tasks assigned to the other black servants,

and teaching her to read and write. Within two years, Phillis could not only speak

English, but could read it and write in it as well ( Lunardini, p. 13).

Phillis used her newfound skill to write poetry, and published her first poem

when she was fourteen. Her work was so great that many prominent men endorsed her

talents. Thomas Jefferson, for example, sought her out, and John Hancock was one of

eighteen friends of the family who signed the foreword to her book. When the

Revolutionary War broke out, she wrote several pieces supportive of the patriot cause,

including a tribute to George Washington in 1776. He was so impressed that he invited

her to visit him at his headquarters (Lunardini, p. 14)

Phillis married John Peters in 1778, the same year that John Wheatley died, but

the match was not a good one. He got her pregnant and then deserted her three times,

and the third time proved fatal. In 1784, at thirty-one, she and her baby both died of cold

and malnutrition (p. 14)

Another prominent woman writer was Mercy Otis. Mercy was born on

September 25, 1728, in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She was the sister of James Otis, one

of the first leaders for the break from England. Mercy was a highly intelligent woman

and was dedicated to the American cause, yet her gender kept her from getting involved

in politics. Instead she made her statements on the page of her books, which made her a

famous author (http://userpages.aug. com/captbarb/femvets.html p.3).

She married James Warren in 1754 at the age of twenty-six. Warren was a

farmer and merchant from Plymouth, Massachusetts. When her brother James became a

pre-revolution leader, Mercy became a counselor and advisor to him and his friends,

Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Around 1765, Mercy started to write patriotic poetry,

which at the time was used for her and her friends amusement. She published

Massachusetts Song of Liberty and it soon became the most popular song of The

colonies. She then began to write political play, two of which were, The Adulateur and

The Group. Mercy invited many guests into her home, such as George Washington,

John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton (p. 3)

In 1790 she published all of her poetic plays in one book which was dedicated to

George Washington. She also published a three volume book in 1805 called History of

the Revolutionary War. Mercy Otis Warren died on October 19, 1814, in Plymouth


If there was one woman to remember for her stand in the Revolutionary war, it

would be Abigail Adams. She was a strong and brilliant woman who was clearly ahead

of her time. Abigail used her association with the political authorities to try to establish

equality not only for women, but for African Americans as well.

Abigail Adams was every bit her husband s equal in the confines of their

marriage. The wife of John Adams, the second president of the United States, Abigail

Adams became as astute an observer of the political system born out of the Revolutionary

War as any of her husband s colleagues. Although she never pushed the boundaries of

acceptable public behavior for women of her time, her determination to do what had to

be done, did indeed help to shift those boundaries (Lunardini, p.15).

What is actually known about Abigail and John Adams relationship came from

letters written by Abigail over the course of her life, both personal and political. The

political was filled with observations on the status of women in the eighteenth century.

She was very opinionated in her veiws about the wrongness of slavery. When a young

African-American servant boy requested to learn to read and write, Abigail sent him to

the local school (Lunardini, p.16).

Abigail believed as strongly in equal education for girls as she did in equal

education for African-Americans. She wrote often about her belief that girls should be

offered the same education as boys. She was critical of the legal and social status

ascribed to women. This was clearly part of her admonition to John to Remember the

Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put

such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember, all men would be

tyrants if they could. At the same time, it was not a plea to include women in public

life, rather to redistribute power within the family. Emancipating all nations, you insist

upon retaining absolute power over Wives. She went on to say 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

(p. 16).

Abigail Adams undoubtedly thought it humorous to use the same rhetoric that

the Americans used in complaining to the English government, at least to one of the

founding Fathers. But her concerns about the right of women within the family were

serious, and reflected the concerns of may women in the revolutionary era (p. 16).

Mercy Otis Warren and Abigail Smith Adams never changed in their dedication

to the principles of freedom, to the rebellion against British oppression, despite the

ravages and sufferings of war. Mercy wrote to Hannah Winthrop in 1778 that the

capital friends of America in every colony look with indignation and disgust on a man,

whose prime object is the applause of the multitude, and whose vanity leads him to

sacrifice the best interests of his country at the shrine of flattery…While Caesar meditated

triumph over the citizens, and trampled on the liberties of Rome, he squandered gratuities

and scattered largesses among the people…Is not America tainted with all the vices that

stained that ancient Republic (Evens, p. 30)?

Not many women are known for their heroic roles in America s history. There

were many more whose acts have gone unmentioned. All of the women that have

contributed in the effort to bring independence to our country will never receive the

recognition that they were entitled to. Nevertheless, the ones who were documented will

always be prime examples of women s strength, courage, and will to survive.