Continuing the story of Esther De Berdt Reed: Esther was able to return to her home in Philadelphia in 1778 after the British left. She wrote to her brother Dennis in England in September 1779: “[A]fter danger’s past, how sweet is safety and peace—peace, I mean, as to own dwelling; and we are no longer obliged to leave our houses, or stay there with constant dread and apprehension. These are now past, I hope never to return. . . . ”
In May 1780, Esther Reed’s last child was born; he was named George Washington. While she was pregnant, concerned with the welfare of the troops, Esther suggested the idea of a subscription for the relief of the Continental soldiers and orchestrated a network of women to solicit sufficient funds for this purpose. Furthermore, to forestall any possible criticism of this undertaking, she published “The Sentiments of an American Woman” in which she reviewed the brave deeds of women throughout history and extolled the courage and self-sacrifice of the men in the Continental Army.
On the commencement of actual war, the Women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country. Animated by the purist patriotism, they are sensible of sorrow at this day, in not offering more than barren wishes for the success of so glorious a Revolution. They aspire to render themselves more really useful; and this sentiment is universal from the north to the south of the Thirteen United States. Our ambition is kindled by the fame of those heroines of antiquity, who have rendered their sex illustrious, and have proved to the universe, that, if the weakness of our Constitution, if opinion and manners did not forbid us to march to glory by the same paths as the Men, we should at least equal, and sometimes surpass them in our love for the public good. . . .
Who knows if persons disposed to censure, and sometimes too severely with regard to us, may not disapprove our appearing acquainted even with the actions of which our sex boasts? We are at least certain, that he cannot be a good citizen who will not applaud our efforts for the relief of the armies which defend our lives, our possessions, our liberty? The situation of our soldiery has been represented to me; the evils inseperable from war, and the firm and generous spirit which has enabled them to support these. But it has been said, that they may apprehend, that, in the course of a long war, the view of their distresses may be lost, and their services be forgotten. Forgotten! never; I can answer in the name of all my sex. Brave Americans, your disinterestedness, your courage, and your constancy will always be dear to America, as long as she shall preserve her virtue.
We know that, at a distance from the theatre of war, if we enjoy any tranquility, it is the fruit of your watchings, your labours, your dangers. If I live happily in the midst of my family, if my husband cultivates his field, and reaps his harvest in peace; if, surrounded with my children, I myself nourish the youngest, and press it to my bosom, without being affraid of seeing myself seperated from it, by a ferocious enemy; if the house in which we dwell; if our barns, our orchards are safe at the present time from the hands of those incendiaries, it is to you that we owe it. And shall we hesitate to evidence to you our gratitude? Shall we hesitate to wear a cloathing more simple; hair dressed less elegant, while at the price of this small privation, we shall deserve your benedictions. Who, amongst us, will not renounce with the highest pleasure, those vain ornaments, when she shall consider that the valiant defenders of America will be able to draw some advantage from the money which she may have laid out in these; that they will be better defended from the rigours of the seasons, that after their painful toils, they will receive some extraordinary and unexpected relief; that these presents will perhaps be valued by them at a greater price, when they will have it in their power to say: This is the offering of the Ladies. . . .
by An American Woman
Mary Morris wrote to her friend Catharine Livingston about the plan and her part in it:
I dare say you have heard of the Ladys plan for raiseing a Subscription for the Army. I will enclose you one of them but there is an Alterration taken place instead of waiting for the Donations being sent the ladys of each Ward go from dore to dore & collect them. I am one of those, Honourd with this business. Yesterday we began our tour of duty & had the Satisfaction of being very Successful. There were two ladys that were very liberal One 8000 dollars & 10000. . . .
Many men were scandalized by women soliciting door to door, deeming it unseemly. Many made fun of the effort. But it seemed to have worked wonderfully well. By July 4, 1780, Esther Reed wrote General Washington that the ladies had raised “200,580 dollars, and £625 6s. 8d. in specie, which makes in the whole in paper money 300,634 dollars.” She was also proud of the fact that the contributors were from all levels of society: from a black woman, Phillis, to Adrienne de Noailles, Marquise de Lafayette.
Read about Washington’s reaction in the next post.
The material quoted is taken from In the Words of Women, pages 131-32.