WELCOME TO THE BLOG IN THE WORDS OF WOMEN

Based largely on the book of the same name, the blog is a kind of trailer for it and the primary source material it contains. An invitation, you might say … to eavesdrop on the lives of women writing 250 years ago … to become acquainted with 144 little-known but amazingly articulate chroniclers … and to discover a valuable new perspective on the Revolutionary Era.

The women featured lived between 1765 and 1799. But once you attune your ears to their way of writing, their voices easily leapfrog across the centuries. Read just a few sentences and you’ll find yourself back in time, entering their concerns, sharing their feelings. And what they have to say is always fascinating, often eye-opening, sometimes heart-rending.

Please bookmark the blog and visit regularly to see which writers and issues are being featured. There are two new posts weekly: on Monday and Thursday. And do explore those related to the many topics listed on the right. In addition to posts based on the book, others introduce the writings of women who didn’t make it into the book or who turn up as a result of ongoing research. To subscribe via email, click here. Leave a comment. Email a question. And enjoy your visits.

Cannons and Concord

As a subscriber to J.L. Bell’s blog Boston 1775, and an admirer of his work, I am pleased to note that he has a book just out. Entitled The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, it tells the story of four cannons smuggled out of militia armories in Boston and transported by Patriots to Concord in an attempt to build an artillery force. It was to capture these that General Thomas Gage sent British troops in April of 1775 to Concord via Lexington. The troops were challenged by Patriot militiamen and engaged with them along the route from and back to Boston. This operation is generally regarded as the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The book launch on June 2 will be hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Kudos to Mr. Bell.
Coincidentally the U.S. Postal Service will be at the at the MHS to introduce a new stamp commemorating the 250th anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1776.

posted May 26th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Battles, Boston, British soldiers, Gage, General Thomas, Lexington and Concord

“Poor wives are made to Honour and obey”

Women during the eighteenth century were subject to the authority of men, whether father, brother, or husband. Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, a text used in the training of American lawyers, had this to say about the relation of men and women in marriage. “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law, that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated in that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything.” The wife was a feme covert. Things were beginning to change in America given the war and the assumption of many responsibilities hitherto considered outside the sphere of women. Society, however, was still basically patriarchical and a husband was considered to have the right of reasonable chastisement. ELIZA WILKINSON, a young South Carolina woman, wrote this poem after having seen a woman experience physical violence at the hands of her husband.

Poor wives are made to Honour and obey,
Must yield unto a husband’s lordly way.
Whether you live in Peace, or horrid strife,
You must stay with him, aye, and that for life.
If he proves kind, then happy you will be,
If otherways——O! dreadful misery!——
Kind husbands now-adays you scarcely find
The lover’s seldom in the husband’s mind.
The imperious Mortal makes his wife his slave.
He will, he won’t, yet knows not what he’d have.
While she—poor trembling Soul! in vain doth try
To please him: marks the motion of his eye;
He still storms on, while from his eyes flash fire.
She trembles more —is ready to expire.
Wou’d any stander by but hand a glass [mirror]
He’d start! amaz’d! to see his frightfull face.
O shamefull sight, he cou’d not then dispute.
But that he made himself a very brute.
Guard me good Heaven whene’er I change my state!
That this may never be my wretched fate.——

Wilkinson is implying that marriage is basically a crap shoot and is warning young women to be cautious when contemplating it: “Guard me good Heaven whene’er I change my state!” The lucky ones will have a peaceful and happy marriage; the unlucky ones may suffer both psychological and physical abuse with only a slight likelihood of legal relief as divorce was difficult.

Frey, Sylvia and Marian J. Morton, A Documentary History of Women in Pre-Industrial America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986), pages 207-08.

posted May 23rd, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Marriage, Wilkinson, Eliza

“They have sold and have stripped me of everything “

Although the legal status of slavery in the South was untouched by the Revolutionary War the chaos engendered by that conflict made it possible for many slaves to escape, some to join the British with their offer of freedom, others to try to survive on their own. A few masters had manumitted their slaves and there was a small population of free blacks. These were always in danger of being seized by marauding bands or opportunistic individuals and forced back into slavery. The following petition of one Margareta Powell to the governor of Maryland in 1779 illustrates the plight of one such woman and her family.

The Humble Petition of Margareta Powell to his Excellency the Governor of the State of Maryland

Show that your Honor humble petitioner being formerly the property of a certain late John Campbell lastly living near the Fork of Potocktion near Mr.Henry Ridgley’s in the year 1764. My master John Campbell set me free and for to certify the same, I have enclosed a certificate from the gentleman whom my master employed to enter me upon the Records. At the decease of my master he left me part of 200 acres of land and part of the moveable which was left by him for support of myself and my children whom my master had set free altogether for the space of three years before my master decease. My children were free dealers throughout the neighborhood, those that were of age have taken the oath of fidelity and have entered into the service of their country and one of them having a furlong to come to see me. They who have disinherited me have taken and sold him for life time and if the other should come from the camp they threaten to do the same to him—and all the rest of my children and grandchildren throughout the neighborhood. They have sold and have stripped me of everything I had and burned me out of my house and I being old and infirm and unable to help myself I most humbly implore your honor would look into the affair and help the wronged and afflicted and I shall be in duty bound to pray and thank your excellency.
Margareta Powell

The man who claims this right from me and my children is one John Ashton, a Priest—he sold my child to a certain Thomas Snowden residing in the same neighborhood and he has sold them to others about the neighborhood Fork of Potocktion.
Ann Arundal County

It is not known whether Margareta’s petition was successful. The fact that she sought redress is evidence of her courage and determination to preserve her children’s freedom and to keep the family unit together.

Source: Sylvia R. Frey and Marian J. Morton, New World, New Roles: A Documentary History of Women in Pre-Industrial America (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1986) p137-38, from: Maryland State Papers, Blue Book IV, 10, Maryland Hall of Records, Annapolis, MD.

posted May 19th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Free blacks, Powell, Margareta, Slaves/slavery, The South

“Mrs. Adams’s drawing room”

ELIZABETH STODDERT, the daughter of Rebecca and Benjamin Stoddert, President Adams’s secretary of the navy, wrote to her aunt in January 1800 from Philadelphia describing the memorial held there for George Washington who had died in December.

There was a funeral eulogium last Thursday pronounced by General Lee, and the most splendid procession ever seen in America. . . . Mamma was not well enough to go to the procession. . . .
I must not omit to tell you, that though mama has not been as yet to wait on Mrs. Adams, that good and handsome old lady called to see her this afternoon, with her daughter Mrs. Smith, and brought more plum-cake for the children than all of them could eat. You may be sure after this she is a great favorite of the whole family.

REBECCA STODDERT wrote to her sister on February 23, 1800 of her visit to Mrs. Adams levée.

. . . . I have been to . . . Mrs. Adams’s drawing room, which was a very full one, and well worth going to . . . . Mrs. Adams was extremely kind. . . . she not only desired me to move from a window where I was sitting, but in the course of the evening sent to me to know if I would have some drops. From my pale looks she took it in her head that I was going to faint, which brought a little red to my cheeks. . . .
I have been kindly and prettily asked by both Mr. and Mrs. Liston [Robert Liston was the British minister plenipotentiary to the United States] to go to their house the public day of having company, which is something like Mrs. Adams’s drawing room, only that Mrs. Liston sometimes has dances and at others cards. She mentions in the winter when they commence, and that is looked upon as an invitation, and all of her acquaintances go that choose it or that wish to show her respect. I go because I respect them both extremely.

Mrs. Stoddert wrote again in April 1800:

I saw Mrs. Washington when she was in Philadelphia for the first time in my life. I visited her in the morning at Mrs. Powell’s where she stayed, and in the evening she very politely called on me, but I could not prevail on her to stay to tea. She left the city the next morning, and is expected to return the first of May, when I hope I shall see her again. She appears to be a mild, lady-like woman. I should like to hear her sing. I am sure I have heard she excelled in both playing and singing.

Congress met in Washington for the first time in the fall of 1800. In 1791, it had passed the Residence Act designating an area along the Potomac River as the site of the capital of the United States. (It was in the center of the country at that time.) Land was donated from both Maryland and Virginia and the city to be built there was called Washington, often referred to as the “Federal City.” It was in an unfinished state when Abigail Adams took up a brief residence in the president’s house. See her amusing description of its condition she penned to her daughter Nabby.
When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, Mrs. Stoddert briefly returned to her home in Georgetown but she and her husband shortly moved to Bostwick in Maryland which Rebecca had inherited from her father. She died there in 1802. The family’s finances were much reduced by Benjamin Stoddert’s speculation in land by the time he died in 1813. Husband and wife are buried in Addison Chapel in St. George’s County, Maryland.

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, pages 815, 817-18. Henrietta Liston’s portrait is by Gilbert Stuart, 1800. My colleague and friend Louise North has compiled and edited The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2014). It is a great read.

“I have good chickens”

Writing from Trenton, to which the Stodderts moved with the government to avoid exposure to yellow fever in Philadelphia , REBECCA STODDERT recounts her efforts to adjust to a new location. She tries to find sheet music that her niece Eliza requested and she goes on to describe the house the family lives in until they return to Philadelphia in the fall.

September, 1799My Dear Eliza,—It will give Betsy [her daughter] much satisfaction to get you the music you say you shall want, or anything else, indeed, that you may need. I did suppose one could supply all their reasonable needs in Philadelphia if one had but money. I find I was mistaken. I had made Betsy try all the music shops to get “Miller” for Harriet and Nancy, but to no purpose. I tried myself, too, at one or two shops, but all in vain. I hope I shall be more fortunate in my endeavors to serve you. She has the “Chase” by Haydn, and says it is much easier than Fisher’s “Rondo.” We brought the instrument with us from Philadelphia; but for want of a teacher, I wish Betsy may not lose what little she has gained by Mr. Taylor.

If I was a “gad,” I should enjoy myself very much here. The inhabitants are very sociable and very polite to strangers. I have been visited by several, and in one instance met with much kindness.

The governor’s lady I have not seen (this is the seat of government, you must know), because I have not waited on her. When I return the ladies’ visits which I have received I shall wait on her.

I suppose when I tell you that this house, which I find fault with, contains nine rooms, you will think I am very unreasonable to be displeased with it, but if you were to see it you would think of it as I do. Down-stairs are two rooms and an entry, as they call passages here and in Philadelphia; upstairs are seven rooms, but you must not suppose they are only over the above-mentioned two. One is over the kitchen, and another over a store which we have at the end of the house. The greatest evil I have to complain of is a number of small ants, which are troublesome. But I have good chickens, which, for my life, I could not have till I came here. It is the practice in Philadelphia to buy them at market alive and kill them the same day. I do not suppose half a dozen families think of fatting them up before they kill them. This, by way of specimen of what is done in large cities. Houses and furniture as clean as possible; but there all cleanliness ends, I daresay. How I shall wonder at myself when I get home again—you know where I mean, don’t you?—that I was ever able to eat particularly!

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, pages 813-14. The chicken illustrated is one of several breeds raised at Colonial Williamsburg.


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