Welcome to In the Words of Women, a new blog and a newly published book.

Like a trailer for the primary source material collected in the book, this blog serves as an invitation … to eavesdrop on the lives of women writing 250 years ago … to become acquainted with 144 little-known but amazingly articulate chroniclers … to discover a valuable new perspective on the Revolutionary Era.

These women 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 which issues are being featured. To subscribe via email, click here. Click the many topics to the right to learn more. Leave a comment. Email a question. And enjoy your explorations.

“refuseing to Let [her] have her freedom Dues”

The subject of earlier posts here and here was the frequent plight of indentured servants. In addition to ill treatment, many found it difficult to collect the “freedom dues” they were entitled to at the end of their terms of service. Ruth McGee went to court seeking redress.

The Humble Petition of Ruth McGee Humbly sheweth that your petitoner is poor and not Sufficient to Earn her living by reason of a child she hath to maintain, your Petitioners Master Josiah Hibberd refuseing to Let your Petitioner have her freedom Dues Which is mentioned in a pair of Indentures (Viz) A new Suit of Clothes for freedoms and five Pounds in Money and Eight months schooling of which schooling I received but four months and twenty two Days. Likewise your Petitioners Said Master Josiah Hibbard detains your Petitioners cloths that she had whilst she your Petitioner Lived with Said Master that is to say one quilted peticoat Short Gown and Apron. Likewise your Petitioner had seven years and six weeks to serve and your Petitioner had but two months to serve her Said Master Josiah Hibbard When your Petitioner was Sent to the Gaol of this county; furthermore your petitioner having Suffered the rigour of the Law your Petitioner apprehends that she should not be detained from her said freedom Dues but that your Petitioner should [have them] for her Support in this your Petitioner‘s Poor condition So your Petitioner Layeth this her Humble Petition before your worships for redress of said Grievances and your Petitioner in Duty bound Shall Ever Pray
May the 21st Anno Domini 1774

It is unlikely that Ruth McGee prevailed. She admitted to having a child out of wedlock (a crime in Pennsylvania), and had been jailed, and possibly whipped, as punishment. Quaker Josiah Hibberd was no doubt relieved to be rid of such a troublesome servant.

See In the Words of Women page 211 for the peitition.

posted August 18th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Immigrant servants


Perusing the contents of newspapers from the colonial period is fascinating, in fact, addictive. I am fascinated by what may be called “classified ads” like houses to let or for sale, offerings by shopkeepers, rewards offered for the apprehension of thieves and slaves, and the return of stolen goods. Arrivals and departures of ships are listed, as well as information about tides. In the Boston Gazette of January 22, 1770, you will learn that four whites and one black were buried. And there were twelve baptisms in various churches. Advertisements for auctions or public vendues abound. Do you find anything disturbing about this one?

At Ten in the Morning,
Will be Sold by PUBLIC VENDUE,
At the Auction Room in Queen-Street,
A Variety of House-Furniture—amongst which are,
Chest of Draws and Tables, Mahogany Desk and Book Case, Bureau, Feather Beds, Looking-Glasses, Leather-bottom and other Chairs, ——a great variety of China and Glass Ware, all Kinds of Kitchen Furniture, consisting of Copper, Brass, Iron and Tin Ware, very good Pewter, &cc. &cc. A Negro Man about 40 Years of Age, and a Negro Girl about 20. ——Also, a few Dozen of Sterling Madeira, &cc,
One large and one small Dutch Sley, one Curricle, and one Chaise without Wheels, which will be put up at XII o’clock,

The casual treatment of slavery is revealing and rather startling: the sale of a Negro man and girl sandwiched between offerings of pewter and madeira!!!

The advertisement can be found HERE.

An inventory of furniture at Brush Hill

Elizabeth Murray Campbell (age 33) and her second husband James Smith (age 70) lived at his beautiful 300-acre estate called Brush Hill from the time of their marriage in 1760 until his death in 1769, at which time the property became hers. (See posts concerning Elizabeth Murray here, here, and here.) When the widowed Elizabeth went abroad in 1769, her brother James lived on the estate.

Here is an inventory of the furniture in the house, taken in 1770. I confess I enjoy perusing inventories; the objects listed convey a sense of the kind of life the occupants of the house lived. I find the number of items related to food preparation and dining in this list particularly interesting: among them a pewter Calander, a cheese toaster, a Copper Coffee pot, 5 Tramels, 4 Bel[l]ows, and 1 Chaffin dish. An impressive collection, indicative I suspect of extensive entertaining. One item mystifies me: “4 extinguishers.” They are not snuffers as I originally thought as two of these are listed in the second column. Any ideas?

If you are having difficulty reading the manuscript consult the TRANSCRIPTION provided by the fabulous Elizabeth Murray Project.

posted August 11th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Entertaining, Food, Marriage, New England

“as if directed by the Fancy of a FAIRY QUEEN”

Elizabeth Murray Campbell was a successful “she-merchant,” i.e. a shopkeeper, in Boston. See other posts about her here and here. She married three times. A widow at 33, she wed James Smith who was 70. A smart lady, she insisted on a prenuptial agreement that preserved her legal and economic rights which at that time as a married woman would have been ceded, according to the principle of feme couvert, to her husband. When James died, Elizabeth spent two years in Scotland and England. When she returned to Boston she married merchant Ralph Inman with whom she also had a prenuptial agreement.

In July 1772, Ralph Inman gave a huge party to celebrate his son’s graduation from Harvard. Elizabeth, his wife of less than a year, was in charge. It was quite an event. John Rowe, a friend of the family, wrote in his diary that more than 347 people attended the party, including the governor and the lieutenant governor and their families, with 210 people seated at one table. The Boston Gazette of July 20, 1772 featured a description of the festivities.

Among the young Gentlemen who received their first Degree at [the Harvard] Commencement, was the only Son of Ralph Inman, Esq; of Cambridge; who, upon that Occasion gave a very extensive Invitation, in the Name of Himself, Lady and Son, to the Circle of their Acquaintance, to dine at his Seat last Thursday.

We are informed by some of the Company present, that they found a Table of about 150 Feet, under a Canopy on the Green before the House, spread with an Elegance as if directed by the Fancy of a FAIRY QUEEN, but at the same Time capable of giving the most solid Satisfaction to the whole School of EPICURUS; while the Side-board Range would have put a new Smile upon the Cheeks of BACCHUS and his jovial Train. Poor VENUS indeed and her Nymphs must have burst with Envy, had they been present to examine, at one single Prospect, a brilliant Group of more than eight Score Ladies.

The polite, cordial Reception given to the Guests and their benevolent Festivity were mutually a Credit to each other, and need not improve the Advantage of any striking Contrast. After Tea, the Company were conducted to the Pleasures of a Ball at the Court-House.

The newspaper account of the commencement party can be found here. The painting of Elizabeth in 1769 when she was Mrs. Smith is by John Singleton Copley. The image can be found here. The painting is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

posted August 7th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Boston, Entertaining

“Enimys to their Country”

Two orphaned sisters, Ame and Elizabeth “Betsy” Cuming, had been helped by Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith to set up a small shop in Boston where they gave sewing lessons and sold goods imported from Britain. When Smith went to Scotland, Christian Arbuthnot Barnes, wife of businessman Henry Barnes, kept her friend informed about the situation of shopkeepers after Bostonians had resolved to boycott British goods.

Marlborough, November 20, 1769 Last thrusday, which was Thanksgiving Day a Ball was given by Mrs. [James] Murray at Brush Hill [in Milton, Massachusetts] to a number of Gentlemen and Ladys from Boston. Miss E. Cumings was one of the Party. Their goods and ours are arrived in very good order, which has caused a Commity [Committee] from the Well disposed [the patriots] to wait upon them and write to Mr. Barnes with a desire that the Goods may be stored till further orders. And so they are to better purpose I hope then they design’d them for; they are well Charg’d and I dare say will have a quick Sail [sale]. In short those dareing Sons of Libberty are now at the tip top of their Power and . . . even to Speak disrespectfully of the well disposed is a Crime equal to high Treason . . . When the deluded multitude finds they have been led astray by false maxims they may Possibly turn upon them with their own Weapons, what they are many innocent Sufferers have fatally expearanced. This is my Private opinion, but how I came to give it is a mistry for Polliticks is a Puddle I never chose to dabble in.

Barnes wrote again to Smith about an announcement that appeared in the newspaper denouncing the Cuming girls for continuing to sell boycotted goods.

Oh how I long to have one political Laugh with you would you not be deverted to see Squire Barnes and the Two little Miss Cumingses Posted together in a News Paper as Enimys to their Country; do Bless you, send us a little Dash of Politicks from tother side the Water that we may see something that has the appearance of Truth, for our well disposed support such a vast quantity of lies with their other articles that they begin to find a Difficulty in vending them. . . . and now Madm I have only to wish you a Merry Christmas and take my leave of you. . . .
Your affectionate Friend,
The letters appear in In the Words of Women on pages 14-15. The front page notice in the Boston Gazette of January 22, 1770, shaming those who refused to honor the boycott of British goods, can be seen in transcription here.

posted August 4th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Boston, Business, Patriots, Resistance to British

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