Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker kept a diary from 1758 until a day before her death in 1807. Her entries provide intimate glimpses of life during the heady period of the Revolution and the establishment of the new nation. The daughter of a well-to-do Quaker family in Philadelphia, Elizabeth received an education unusual for women of the time: she attended Anthony Benezet’s Friends school. In 1761 she married Henry Drinker and the two continued to be active members of the Quaker community.
With the Declaration of Independence and the beginning of the war for independence Quakers came under intense scrutiny because of their belief in nonviolence. In Pennsylvania those who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the new state government were suspected of being Tories. Many of the so-called “disaffected” were detained in “an illegeal, unprecedented manner,” according to Elizabeth Drinker, and sent into exile. Her husband was one of these, leaving Elizabeth and their children to manage as best they could in the house on the corner of Front Street and Drinker’s Alley.
When the British occupied Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, Elizabeth, as a lone woman, feared for the safety of her family and herself. Imagine her anxiety when, with winter approaching, she had to deal with a British officer seeking lodgings on December 18, 237 years ago.
An Officer who calls himself Major [Crammond], call’d this Afternoon, to look for Quarters for some Oiffecer of distinction, I plead off, he would have preswaded me that it was a necessary protiction at these times to have one in the House; said I must consider of it, that he would call in a day or two, I desir’d to be excus’d, and after some more talk we parted, he behaved with politeness, which has not been the case at many other places; they have been very rude and impudent at some houses,—I wish I may come off so; but at same time fear we must have some with us, as many Friends have them, and it seems likely to be a general thing. This has been a trying day to my Spirits. . . . I have just finish’d a Letter to my dearest tis now past 12 o’clock, and Watch [a dog] has put me in a flutter, by his violent barking, as if some one was in the Alley, which I believe was the case—hail since Night.
The next day, December 19, Elizabeth noted:
. . . Major Crammond came to know if I had consulted any of my friends on ye matter. I told him my sister was out on that business; that I expected that we, who were at present lone women, would be excused. He said he feared not, for tho’ I might put him off (as it was for himself he applied); yet, as a great number of foreign Troops were to be quartered in this neighborhood, he believed they might be troublesome. We had a good deal of talk about the mal-behavior of British officers, which he, by no means, justified. I told him how I had been frightened by ye officer, that thief-like stole my servant Girl over ye fence, and of many other particulars of their bad conduct that had come to my knowledge. He said, that yesterday I had told him what sort of a man would suit in my Family; if I was obliged to take any, he was conscious that some of those qualities were his (which were early hours, and little company); that there were very few of ye officers he could recommend . . . and that he would call again tomorrow to know my mind further. So he went off. I am straitened how to act, and yet determined. I maybe troubled with others much worse, for this man appears to be much of a Gentleman—but while I can keep clear of them, I intend to do so. They have marked ye doors of Houses against their consent, and some of ye inhabitants have looked out for officers of reputation, (if any such be), to come into their Families, by way of protection, and to keep off others.