We have organizations honoring ancestors who fought or otherwise assisted in making the American Revolution a success. Yet, how often do we give thought to the sacrifices of women in that same historical period?
On March 12, 1776 newspapers in the city of
Baltimore urged citizens
to recognize the sacrifices and contributions of women to the cause of
How much of an impact that acknowledgement had isn’t known. But history shows the role of women was critical to the success of the movement. Don’t forget, not only didn’t women have the vote at the time, they also had little say in what men determined to do.
While men were boycotting products in opposition to British taxation, we too often fail to recognize those products were usually items important to women. As an example, tea was the drink favored by women while men more often consumed alcohol. There’s a scene in my novel “The Accidental Spy” where Dan and Nell use counterfeit money to purchase imported fabrics: With the blockade, which had cut off imports to the city, many considered it patriotic to dress in homespun. Whether they were truly patriots or simply didn’t want to pay the price for what remained, I don’t know.
The mere lack of items they valued is a minor point in enumerating the sacrifices of women in behalf of the cause of liberty. Women could do little to prevent their husbands and sons from going off to war, a situation which left them responsible for the maintenance of home and/or business and could result in destitution. Records show many women followed their spouses and children to the battlefront. History often erroneously paints these “camp followers” as prostitutes when, in actuality, a majority provided moral and physical support as nurses, cooks, seamstresses and even occasionally as spies or soldiers.
A number, among them Deborah Samson and Margaret Corbin, have been identified as women who donned men’s clothing and enlisted as soldiers. Many more (on both sides) performed duty as spies. In “The Accidental Spy,” I included two Loyalists—Nell Bates (fictional) and Ann Bates (actual).
Women were even more important in raising the funds necessary to continue the fight. Esther deBerdt Reed, wife of Joseph Reed,
Pennsylvania’s governor, and Sarah Franklin Bache,
Benjamin Franklin’s daughter, founded the Ladies Foundation in Philadelphia, which raised
money to fund the war effort.
Nor was the sacrifice limited to the patriotic side. The wives and mothers of those who remained loyal to the Crown were equally active in efforts to support their husbands and sons. After the Pennsylvania Assembly passed the Act of Attainer in March 1778, the estate of Joseph Galloway, a Philadelphian who had sought to reconcile the colonists and
seized and sold at auction along with that of other loyalists. Galloway fled to
safety in New York.
His wife stayed behind and the auction left her impoverished.
So it’s fitting in this National Women’s History Month we recognize these women who equally sacrificed for what they held important.