Many who would rewrite history, would have us to believe the women during the revolution were oppressed subservient wives of overbearing husbands who dictated policy in the home. Nothing could be further from the truth. The founding women of our nation carried themselves with dignity and strength; believing with their hearts and souls the value of Liberty was worthy of their families’ sacrifice. These were women of principle, of courage, and of great resolve, willing to sacrifice all so that their children could be free.
Many will recognize the men for their contributions, but true history will reveal that the wives of these men were just as important to the battle for freedom. We all have heard the jest that “if momma isn’t happy, then nobody’s happy.” That is not something that is said just because it’s funny. So why would we think that human nature was any different in 1774? The women of our founding nation were just as involved as the men, and often times bolder in their assertions.
When Parliament and King George began attempting to recoup the money spent during the French and Indian wars by imposing unreasonable taxes absent any representation for the people of the colonies, outrage was the response. Our founding families relied on the goods imported from England to conduct their everyday lives. The taxes imposed upon these goods and many others were seen as a form of slavery and oppression. When petition after petition to the Parliament and the King were ignored, more drastic measures were required. George Washington asserted that a boycott of English goods may be a more effective way of getting the government’s attention.
Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren
To stir patriotic sentiment even hotter, patriotic newspapers offered suggestions about colonial substitutes for imported teas, including sassafras, raspberry and mint. In support of these protests countless women gathered in private homes for spinning parties or participated in public spinning contests. Two women, whose names should be recognized, were Abigail Adams and her historian friend, Mercy Otis Warren. These were women of position, with husbands of reputation, yet they shunned tea and proudly wore homespun garments in lieu of British finery.
James Warren was the president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and member of the Sons of Liberty, but it was his wife, Mercy Otis Warren, whose patriotic efforts encouraged the war efforts. Mercy was a prolific author of anti-British propaganda plays and an historian of the American Revolution. Her friend, Abigail Adams, said in 1773 that Mercy was “a sincere lover of [her] country” It was said that Mercy was so grieved by Great Britain’s actions that she felt her nation to be “oppressed and insulted”.
Mercy Otis Warren was a vocal contributor to the independent efforts of the colonies and great pen pal to John Adams. John Adams often took great comfort from the words and advice of Mercy. In one letter, Mercy voices the sentiment of the American people.
“America stands armed with resolution and virtue; but she still recoils at the idea of drawing the sword against the nation from whence she derived her origin. Yet Britain, like an unnatural parent, is ready to plunge her dagger into the bosom of her affectionate offspring. But may we not yet hope for more lenient measures!”
Hannah Winthrop, wife of Dr. Winthrop, describes Mercy in January 1773 as “That noble patriotic spirit which sparkles must warm the heart that has the least sensibilities, especially must it invigorate a mind of a like fellow feeling for this once happy country. How often do we see people blind to their own interests precipitately maddening on to their own destruction!” As we look around today, I know that we can certainly empathize with Hannah’s frustrations.
Hannah Winthrop, Penelope Barker and Elizabeth King
Shortly after Samuel Adams and his men threw tea up and down the coast of America, a second Tea Party protest erupted within the hearts and minds of the women. A great revolutionary heroine by the name of Penelope Barker wrote a public statement in which she endorsed a boycott of tea and other British products, such as cloth. Ten months after the famous Boston Tea Party organized by men, Barker led a “Tea Party” on October 25, 1774, in the Edenton Home of Elizabeth King. She and fifty other women signed the protest statement. At the meeting, Barker said, “Maybe it has only been men who have protested the king up to now. That only means we women have taken too long to let our voices be heard. We are signing our names to a document, not hiding ourselves behind costumes like the men in Boston did at their tea party. The British will know who we are.” The women of this Tea Party signed a declaration that stated, “We, the aforesaid Ladys will not promote ye wear of any manufacturer from England until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed.”
The amazing part of this public protest and notice sent to parliament and the King was that these were women whose husbands and fathers were men of reputation. Many of the men related to these women were English merchants. The fact these women signed their names to a document of protest showed their courage and their dedication to the principle that the Liberty of their children was more important than a paycheck or even their lives.
On Jan. 1st, 1774, Hannah Winthrop’s patriotic spirit cries out.
“Yonder, the destruction of the detestable weed, made so by cruel exaction, engages our attention. The virtuous and noble resolution of America’s sons, in defiance of threatened desolation and misery from arbitrary despots, demands our highest regard. May they yet be endowed with all that firmness necessary to-carry them through all their difficulties, till they come off conquerors. We hope to see good accounts of the tea cast away on the Cape. The union of the Colonies, the firm and sedate resolution of the people, is an omen for good unto us.”