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.

“entreating Friends not to join in the present measure”

The marriage of SARAH LOGAN to Thomas Fisher in 1772 united two of the most important and wealthy families in Philadelphia. As Quakers the Fishers did not approve of violence and theoretically did not take sides in the American Revolution but their sympathies were clearly with the British. Sarah kept a diary that contains her observations on the Revolution and is an important source of information about life in Philadelphia under the control of Pennsylvania officials anticipating a British attack and later during the British occupation. Sarah’s father had recently died and she makes mention of him. She called her husband “Tommy”. They somehow received news of what was going on by word of mouth, by messengers, or by newspapers, such as they were.

November 30, 1776— …. men by order of the Committee of Safety* came for blankets; they took two by force….

* The Committee of Safety was established by the Pennsylvania Assembly in June 1775 and entrusted with the defense of the state.

December 2, 1776— Heard in the morning that [British General William] Howe’s army were on this side of Brunswick. The town in very great confusion. A party of armed men went about the city to shut up the shops & break up the schools, by an order of the Committee of Safety. Dined alone. In the afternoon a company of men came to take Tommy’s name down, & to look at our servant boy Jim, with the intention if he was big enough to take him by force for a soldier, but as he was under 15 they left him, tho’ they took several others not much older….

December 3, 1776— …. Many people moving out of town, but we are as yet preserved in stillness….Dined alone….Sup’d alone.

December 8, 1776— Morning at Meeting….After Meeting heard there was an express come to town last night with an account that Howe’s army were within 3 miles of Princeton & on his march….Stepped over in the afternoon to see Neighbor Evans who was in great distress for fear they should force her sons to the camp….

December 12, 1776— Busy in the morning mending clothes. Heard that 2 men-of-war were in the bay & that several vessels were seen off the Capes …. In the afternoon an edict came out signed by General Putnam*, warning all the inhabitants to be in their houses at 10 o’clock, at the peril of their being sent to jail, & that no physicians are to go out without a pass from Headquarters … which edict greatly alarmed the inhabitants….

* American General Israel Putnam of Massachusetts was the military governor Philadelphia. He ordered what was virtually a state of martial law.

December 13, 1776— …. General Putnam issued a proclamation declaring that any person that set fire to the city should be capitally punished. The evening before a bellman had gone through the city, ordering every person to go this day and assist in entrenching the city. If they did not, their effects were to be seized, but there were few people [who] obeyed the summons. I did not hear of one person going that I knew. Drank tea with my Tommy, who to me is always the best of company….

December 19, 1776— Morning at home at work ….met with John Foulke, who told us that the disorder among the poor sick soldiers was better, that not above 3 or 4 died of a day, but that there had died 10 of a day, & that the smallpox was broken out among them, which he expected would make a great destruction, as not above one in 50 of the Maryland soldiers had had it, many of them not having a bed to lie on or a blanket to cover them ….

December 21, 1776— Morning at home at work …. Heard this day that Howe’s army were in many parts of the Jersies, plundered those that they looked upon as rebels, but were civil & kind to them that were friends to the government, & paid for what they took from them.

December 22, 1776— Morning at Meeting. An Epistle read from the Meeting of Sufferings, entreating Friends not to join in the present measure….

December 25, 1776— …. Morning at Monthly Meeting …. An extract from my dear father’s will was read, wherein he bequeathed £50 to the Women’s Meeting to be given to poor widows, a laudable example & worthy of imitation ….

December 27, 1776— This morning heard an account of the success of our American army against the English at Trenton on Christmas night, which was a very stormy night. Report says that General Washington crossed the river before day at the head of a large body of his army & surprised the Hessians & English before day, that there was not a sufficient number there to oppose them, & that they surrendered themselves prisoners to General Washington except what betook themselves to flight, with he took about 700 prisoners & some cannon with a thousand stand of arms. This piece of news greatly exalted our Whigs, & as much depressed the Tories, but I sincerely hope & believe that before long General Howe will subdue their rebellious spirit & give them but little reason to rejoice….

December 29, 1776— …. Dr. Bond* called here after Meeting & gave us a very melancholy account of the sick soldiers, & says they have the true camp fever which is near akin to the plague. He says 15 or 20 frequently die of a day, that they bury 8 or 10 in a grave, & not above a foot underground. He thinks the disorder will spread & that the inhabitants are in great danger….

* Dr. Thomas Bond was a distinguished Philadelphia physician who supported the patriot cause and volunteered his services.

December 30, 1776— Morning set off to go see Grandmother … but was interrupted by the way, & turned back by a multitude of people going to see the Hessian prisoners march to the barracks. Some people think about 700 marched, with some women & children. They looked but poorly clad, were dressed in blue, & their outside clothes appeared to be dirty. What is remarkable, they say there is not among them one English or Scotch prisoner, but all Hessians. This morning my Tommy conversed with the man who has the care of burying the sick soldiers. He says it is not true that the graves are so shallow, but that they die so fast that he cannot dig graves for them all, & so digs a large hole 15 feet square & 10 feet deep for them all, & so buries them two tier, & that the highest coffin is about five feet underground….

January 1, 1777— …. After supper my Tommy read me a paper called the American Crisis [by Thomas Paine], a most violent, seditious, treasonable paper, [written] purposely to inflame the minds of the people & spirit them on to rebellion, calling the King a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. Heard today that our army are going in great numbers towards Princeton, intending to make an entire conquest of the English, if they can.

January 4, 1777— …. This evening a paper came out from the Committee of Safety unlike anything I ever before heard of, except the Spanish Inquisition, declaring that every person who refused the Continental money should be liable for the first offense to forfeit the goods & a sum of equal value, for the second offense to forfeit the same & to be banished what they are pleased to call this state, to what place & in what manner they shall judge most proper, that all those who have been imprisoned & whose stores have been shut up by them on the account of their refusing it formerly are to be opened, & they are to be subject to this new law, after having experienced all the rigors of the old one—a most extraordinary instance of arbitrary power & of the liberty we shall enjoy should their government ever be established, a tyrannical government it will prove from weak & wicked men.

January 8, 1777— …. Morning went to meeting, which was silent. In the afternoon went to see Sally Allen at William Allen’s, where she had come a few days before, being turned out of her house by our troops because her husband had gone over to General Howe.

January 9, 1777— Morning at home viewing the eclipse of the sun….

More from SARAH LOGAN FISHER in the next post.

Wainwright, Nicholas B., and Sarah Logan Fisher. “”A Diary of Trifling Occurrences”: Philadelphia, 1776-1778.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 82, no. 4 (1958): 414-21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20089127. Illustrations: A view of Philadelphia in 1777 by the artist Archibald Robertson—The New York Public Library Digital Collections; The Crisis by Thomas Paine; Continental money 1777.

“sort of a little biography”

A couple of months ago there was an article in my local paper that described a situation in a nearby middle school. The social studies teacher had included creating a newspaper advertisement for a runaway slave as one of the independent activities available to students for extra credit. Several parents objected and the principal ordered the teacher to remove the project from the list. As a former high school teacher of social studies (not in the district referred to) I found myself conflicted. I would really appreciate comments from readers about whether you think such a project is appropriate and acceptable.

SOME CONTEXT: From a historian’s point of view it has been very difficult to find primary sources in connection with the slave population. Clothing is not likely to exist as it was usually worn out and discarded. Written accounts by enslaved workers in colonial America and later in the United States are rare. Few slaves could read or write; teaching them to do so was a crime in several states. References in plantation account books were usually limited to the sex and age of the slave, perhaps the name, date of acquisition, and the purchase or sale price. Census listings were equally limited. There are precious few details about how enslaved workers looked and dressed, what their lives were like, what skills they possessed.
Ironically ads for runaway slaves often provide answers to these questions because owners not only posted a reward for the return of the “absconded,” a word that was commonly used, but often provided a description of the runaway: color, height and stature, clothing worn and other information. Historians have been working to create archives of advertisements for runaway slaves. Joshua Rothman, a historian at the University of Alabama has said: “They [owners] wanted to provide as much detail about their appearance, their life story, how they carried themselves, what they were wearing . . . Each one of these things [ads for runaway slaves] is sort of a little biography.”

Transcription of the ad: New London, May 16, 1768. Stolen or Run-away from the subscriber, on the 14th Instant (of May), a Negro Woman named SOBINER, between 30 and 40 Years of Age, of a slender Body, and middling Stature, talks good English, and can read well; carried off with her one homespun check’d Woolen Gown, one blue and white striped Linen Ditto, two Linen Shirts, and one Woolen Ditto, three check’d Aprons, two or three pair Woolen Stockings, one quilted Coat, one Side brown, the other striped, a red short Cloak, a chipt Hatt, a Pair white Woolen Mittins, a Cambric Handkerchief, several Caps, and sundry other Articles. Whoever takes up and secures said Negro, so that her Mistress may have her again, shall receive FOUR DOLLARS Reward, if found within twenty Miles of this Place, and FIVE DOLLARS if further, and all necessary Charges paid by LUCRETIA PROCTER. N.B. All Persons are forbid entertaining or concealing said Negro under Penalty of the Law.

I chose the ad above because it was placed in a Connecticut newspaper and shows that slavery was more common in the North than we are likely to admit. And I believe that the list of particular clothing in the ad for Sobiner is due to the fact that the slave owner was a woman.

Back to the use of runaway ads in the social studies curriculum. While readers may have mixed feelings about a student-created ad as a project, I hope that there would be little objection to a teacher’s using several ads as a topic for discussion and critical evaluation in class. Students could look up the numbers of runaways, discuss motives, the risks involved, destinations, penalties for those who helped them, the likelihood of capture, etc. And they could evaluate the ads as primary sources of information: are they accurate, representative, useful, historically significant?

This SITE is the source for the quotation and provides information on this subject as does this SITE. The above ad is one of the many compiled for a PROJECT by students at Wesleyan.

posted August 27th, 2018 by Janet, comments (5), CATEGORIES: Clothes, Connecticut, Lesson plans, Research, Runaway slaves

A Selection of Samplers

In the 18th century girls at a very young age made SAMPLERS which served not only to master stitches but also to learn numbers and the letters of the alphabet and to reinforce religious beliefs and ideas of proper behavior.

ELIZABETH RHODES of Rhode Island made
this sampler during the decade 1770-1780.
Simple in design, it features the alphabet
and numbers from one to ten, and includes
her initials. She used a cross stitch on
linen fabric.

(Courtesy of the Rhode Island Historical Society.)

MARTHA GRAY. who lived in Philadelphia, was between seven and nine years old when she created the beautiful sampler on the right (1779). She used wool thread in cross and tent stitches on open hole canvas, not woven fabric. Quite an accomplishment for one so young.

(Credit: Daughters of the American Republic Museum.)

In 1789, HESTER VANDERBURGH of New Rochelle, New York made the above sampler with a religious motif. Pictured in a domestic setting that includes a house; two trees, one of which is laden with apples; birds; a dog and a deer; are two figures most likely intended to portray Adam and Eve. The twelve-year-old girl used silk thread worked in a cross stitch.

(In the DAR Museum.)

BETSEY CHASE, in 1789, using cotton thread worked in a cross stitch on linen fabric, copied a verse intended to remind her of her mortality. On the top and bottom is the alphabet. The words in the center are “Betsey Chase age ten years now in the bloom of youth prepare for death.” Nice thought!! No information about where she lived.

(At the Rhode Island Historical Society)

See other samplers HERE.

posted August 16th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art, Children, Samplers


One of the accomplishments expected of proper young girls was skill with a needle. From an early age they applied themselves either in school or under the direction of a female family member. Below are some examples of their embroidery. Not in the words of women, but this time in the hands of women.

This beautiful piece of
embroidery was made by
girl from Philadelphia,
in 1752 when she was
between 13 and 15 years
old. The flowering tree
and the bird are obvious.
Look for the rabbit under
the tree.
Owned by Winterthur.

SARAH DERBY from Salem, Massachusetts, embroidered this silk and paint landscape triptych some time between 1763-1766 at the age 19 or 20. Owned by Winterthur.

ANN FLOWER, from Philadelphia,
embroidered the gorgeous coat
of arms (on the right) in 1763
when she was 19 or 20 years old.
Owned by Winterthur.

RACHEL THAXTER of Hingham Massachusetts embroidered the charming scene on the left in 1796 when she was only 10-12 years old. Owned by Winterthur.

Do browse other examples of embroidery from this ARCHIVE.

posted August 14th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art, Children, Embroidery

“Miscellanies, Moral and Instructive”

Readers, you have been introduced to MILCAH MARTHA MOORE as the author of a commonplace book into which she transcribed poems and letters by women she admired, a book which circulated among her friends. After the Revolution, Moore, who was a Quaker, published a book that became one of the most popular collections of readings for use in schools, entitled Miscellanies, Moral and Instructive. She included in the Preface Benjamin Franklin’s comment: “A BOOK containing so many well chosen sentiments, and excellent instructions, put into the hands of our children, cannot but be highly useful to the rising generation.” Moore established a school for indigent girls in Montgomery County and taught there until her death in 1829. She left an endowment to the school. Following are a few excerpts from the book.

BEAUTY is a short-lived flower, which is easily withered. A cultivated mind is a treasure which increases every moment; it is a rich soil, which brings forth a hundred fold.

THAT little incendiary, called the tongue, is more venomous than a poisoned arrow; and more killing than a two-edged sword.

THE use of learning is not to procure popular applause, or excite vain admiration; but to make the possessor more virtuous and useful to society, and his virtue a more conspicuous example to those that are illiterate.

WHO is wise? He that learns from every one. Who is powerful? He that governs his passions. Who is rich? He that is content.

WE often overlook the blessings which are in our possession, to hunt after those which are out of our reach.

Book, published in 1787, digitized by Google from the library of the New York Public Library and uploaded to the Internet Archive by user tpb. It may be viewed HERE. Quoted material can be found on pp. iv, 10, 17, 35, and 50.

posted August 9th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education, Franklin, Benjamin, Moore, Milcah Martha, Quakers, Religion

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