Archive for the ‘Resistance to British’ Category

“we are struggling for our liberties”

In a letter to her brother dated 28 October 1775, Esther De Berdt Reed, back in Philadelphia, expanded on the mood of the times.

It is with particular pleasure I now sit down to write to my dear Dennis, as I am free from the fear of any prying intruder; the thought that my late letters have been subjected to such curiosity has been a painful restraint upon me, and perhaps I have not been cautious enough in what I have written, but so it is, and if I have committed treason, it must remain. . . . [Mr. Reed’s] service has proved of so much consequence in the councils of the Camp, that he has devoted himself to the service of the public, and I doubt not it will give him as much pleasure in the recollection as any occurrence in his life; —indeed, my dear Dennis, the cause in which he is engaged is the cause of Liberty and virtue, how much soever it may be branded by the names of rebellion and treason. But I need not vindicate or explain the motives of our conduct to you. . . . It seems now to depend on the reception of our last Petition from the Congress to the King, if that should be so considered as to lay a foundation for negotiation, we may be again reconciled,—if not, I imagine WE SHALL DECLARE FOR INDEPENDENCE, and exert our utmost to defend ourselves. This proposition would have alarmed almost every person on the continent a twelvemonth ago, but now the general voice is, if the Ministry and Nation will drive us to it, we must do it, rather than submit, after so many public resolutions to the contrary. In this case . . . no trade can be carried on between the two countries. . . .
My dear little girl . . . has again recovered her usual health, but she is of so delicate a constitution, that she often droops and alarms me. My son Joseph and daughter Hetty are both well. Mama keeps her health and spirits amazingly. Mr. Reed has recovered his by his journey to the Camp. Everybody tells me he is grown so fat I should hardly know him on his return, which I expect will be one day this week. He has been gone from home above four months; his business has suffered not a little, but in such times like these every person must sacrifice something. . . . Adieu, my dear Dennis,—think of us often; remember we are struggling for our liberties and everything that is dear to us in life.
I am ever, most affectionately,
Yours, E. Reed

Joseph Reed gave up a lucrative law practice in Philadelphia to become the secretary and aide-de-camp to General George Washington. He held the rank of colonel.

The letter can be found on pages 96-97 of In the Words of Women. Reed’s portrait is by Charles Willson Peale, engraved by John Sartain.

posted October 22nd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Britain,Patriots,Philadelphia,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Reed, Joseph,Resistance to British,Washington, George

“Nothing is heard now . . . but the trumpet and drum”


When I was a student at Barnard in the 50s, I had the opportunity of attending lectures at Columbia by Henry Steele Commager. I was thrilled because the two-volume work The Growth of the American Republic by Commager and Samuel Eliot Morison was my favorite history of the United States. The accompanying volume of primary sources, The Spirit o f Seventy-Six, was, and still is, impressive, although few women are represented. Below is one of the entries by a woman from Philadelphia—she is anonymous—responding to a friend, a British officer in Boston, who had written a letter to her husband following the battles of Lexington and Concord. “C. S.” assures him that though he may be a public enemy he will continue to be a private friend. She gives a good summary of the various actions the Patriots, both military and civilian, were undertaking. Women doing their share, on their own and pressuring the males in their lives to act.

Sir—We received a letter from you—wherein you let Mr. S. know that you had written after the battle of Lexington, particularly to me—knowing my martial spirit—that I would delight to read the exploits of heroes. Surely, my friend, you must mean the New England heroes, as they alone performed exploits worthy fame—while the regulars, vastly superior in numbers, were obliged to retreat with a rapidity unequalled, except by the French at the battle of Minden. Indeed, General Gage gives them their due praise in his letter home, where he says Lord Percy was remarkable for his activity. You will not, I hope, take offence at any expression that, in the warmth of my heart, should escape me, when I assure you that though we consider you as a public enemy, we regard you as a private friend; and while we detest the cause you are fighting for, we wish well to your own personal interest and safety. Thus far by way of apology. As to the martial spirit you suppose me to possess, you are greatly mistaken. I tremble at the thoughts of war; but of all wars, a civil one: our all is at stake; and we are called upon by every tie that is dear and sacred to exert the spirit that Heaven has given us in this righteous struggle for liberty.

I will tell you what I have done. My only brother I have sent to the camp with my prayers and blessings; I hope he will not disgrace me; I am confident he will behave with honor and emulate the great examples he has before him; and had I twenty sons and brothers they should go. I have retrenched every superfluous expense in my table and family; tea I have not drank since last Christmas, nor bought a new cap or gown since your defeat at Lexington, and what I never did before, have learnt to knit, and am now making stockings of American wool for my servants, and this way do I throw in my mite to the public good. I know this, that as free I can die but once, but as a slave I shall not be worthy of life.
I have the pleasure to assure you that these are the sentiments of all my sister Americans. They have sacrificed both assemblies, parties of pleasure, tea drinking and finery to that great spirit of patriotism that actuates all ranks and degrees of people throughout this extensive continent. If these are the sentiments of females, what must glow in the breasts of our husbands, brothers and sons? They are as with one heart determined to die or be free.

It is not a quibble in politics, a science which few understand, which we are contending for; it is this plain truth, which the most ignorant peasant knows, and is clear to the weakest capacity, that no man has a right to take their money without their consent. The supposition is ridiculous and absurd, as none but highwaymen and robbers attempt it. Can you, my friend, reconcile it with your own good sense, that a body of men in Great Britain, who have little intercourse with America, and of course know nothing of us, nor are supposed to see or feel the misery they would inflict upon us, shall invest themselves with a power to command our lives and properties, at all times and in all cases whatsoever? You say you are no politician. Oh, sir, it requires no Machivelian head to develop this, and to discover this tyranny and oppression. It is written with a sun beam. Every one will see and know it because it will make them feel, and we shall be unworthy of the blessings of Heaven, if we ever submit to it.

All ranks of men amongst us are in arms. Nothing is heard now in our streets but the trumpet and drum; and the universal cry is “Americans, to arms!” All your friends are officers: there are Captain S. D., Lieut. B. and Captain J. S. We have five regiments in the city and country of Philadelphia, complete in arms and uniforms, and very expert at the military manoeuvres. We have companies of light-horse, light infantry, grenadiers, riflemen and Indians, several companies of artillery, and some excellent brass cannon and field pieces. Add to this that every county in Pennsylvania and the Delaware government can send two thousand men to the field. Heaven seems to smile on us, for in the memory of man never were known such quantities of flax,and sheep without number.

We are making powder fast and do not want for ammunition. In short, we want for nothing but ships of war to defend us, which we could procure by making alliances: but such is our attachment to Great Britain that we sincerely wish for reconciliation, and cannot bear the thoughts of throwing off all dependence on her, which such a step would assuredly lead to. The God of mercy will, I hope, open the eyes of our king that he may see, while in seeking our destruction, he will go near to complete his own. It is my ardent prayer that the effusion of blood may be stopped. We hope yet to see you in this city, a friend to the liberties of America, which will give infinite satisfaction to
Your sincere friend, C.S

The letter is from The Revolution in America: or, an attempt to Collect and Preserve some of the Speeches, Orations, & Proceedings with Sketches and remarks on Men and things and other Fugitive or neglected Pieces Belonging to the Revolutionary Period in the United States by H. Niles (Baltimore: Printed and published for the Editor by William Ogden Niles, 1822), pp 505-506, which can found here. It is quoted in Commager, Spirit, 94-96.

“where Virtue reigns”

Charity Clarke (1747-1838) was the daughter of Thomas Clarke and Mary Stillwell of New York City. See posts here and here. Her father was a retired major in the British army who had served in the French and Indian War. He had an estate in lower Manhattan named Chelsea, which Charity inherited. Despite her Loyalist roots, Charity was early disposed to the Patriot cause and carried on a lively exchange of letters with her cousin in England, Joseph Jekyll, on the events surrounding the American Revolution. In 1778, she married the Right Reverend Benjamin Moore who was the Episcopal Bishop of New York, the Rector of Trinity Church, and the President of Columbia College. They had one child, Clement Clarke Moore, who was a prominent biblical scholar and is thought to be the author of the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas.

You smile at our Routs & talk of Strange matamorpheses, but they are only supposed ones, yes the Rigid Beauties of N York frequent assemblies, where inocent amusement promotes good humour, where modesty may appear without a Blush, where Inocence has no foe, & where Virtue reigns; are the assemblies of Great Britain such? If they are, unjustly do we condemn them, as Fashion is an Usurper submitted to in most part of the Globe. America is not free from her Governmint, but then it is only the Habit she takes directions of; our manners are Governed by Reason, and Religion forms our principles—
That Spirit which led Americans to their distress, & made them clad themselves in Homespun, is not fled, & when cause is given will exert itself with double vigor, while we can with Honor wear the soft & ornamental Garbs which Britain furnishes us with, we will repay her for them,—But no sooner do they appear the Badges of disgrace & the marks of true submission to unjustifiable exertions of power than with disdain we will cast them from us, & shew you we can do without them.
[W]hen americans marry[,] affection founded on esteem unites them, Truth & Virtue their choice—Love & Constancy their reward; they marry not Gold nor form Alliances with Titles—so need not fear divorce. Coteries we know not the meaning of—affective patriotism & True Virtue will I trust distinguish America in every Age; and among every nation. —So my Dear Coz you see your fears are grownd[l]ess, America still practices the long (though unboasted) list of Virtues which the Generality of English men have scarce an Idea of. . . .
Many thanks for your care in having my orders (as you call them) so well executed, it will be the highest pleasure to me to have it in my power to execute any you may have in America—I wish you was near enough to mend my pen it has almost exhausted my patience, least it should have the same effect on you, I will hasten to conclude, with my best love to your Sister, Mr. & Mrs. Jekyll, & your uncle my best wishes always attend them & you, that you may long enjoy every blessing of Heaven, & obtain every wish of your [hear]t is the most earnest wish of your affectionate
your affectionat Cousin & friend
Cha Clarke
[New] York Octr 28 1771

The first part of the letter can be found on pages 9-10 of In the Words of Women, the latter part at the Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbiana Ms. 2, Moore Family Papers. The illustration of the mansion house of the Chelsea estate was made by Clement Clarke Moore’s daughter Mary C. Ogden for the first color edition of A Visit from St. Nicholas in 1855. It appears HERE.

posted May 21st, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clarke, Charity,New York,Patriots,Resistance to British

“Woman’s Trifling Needs”

For the last week of April here are two more poems, these by Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814), one today and the other on Thursday. Warren was a patriot, poet, dramatist and historian. See previous posts here, here, here, here, and here. She came from a prosperous Cape Cod family and was educated at home to a degree far above most women. She had close connections to many patriots: her brother James Otis was very active in the resistance to Britain; her husband James Warren served in the Massachusetts legislature; and she carried on a correspondence with friends Abigail Adams, Hannah Fayerweather Winthrop, and John Adams, among others. In 1790 a collection by her called Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous was published including the following poem which had appeared earlier. It supports the boycott of British goods that was one of the first actions taken by the colonies and ridicules those frivolous women who are too weak to participate.

Woman’s Trifling Needs

AN inventory clear
Of all she needs Lamira offers here;
Nor does she fear a rigid Cato’s frown
When she lays by the rich embroidered gown,
And modestly compounds for just enough—
Perhaps, some dozens of more flighty stuff;
With lawns and lustrings, blond, and Mechlin laces,
Fringes and jewels, fans and tweezer-cases;
Gay cloaks, and hats of every shape and size,
Scarfs, cardinals, and ribbons of all dyes;
With ruffles stamped, and aprons of tambour,
Tippets and handkerchiefs, at least three score;
With finest muslins that fair India boasts,
And the choice herbage from Chinesan coasts;
(But while the fragrant hyson leaf regales,
Who’ll wear the homespun produce of the vales?
For if ‘twould save the nation from the curse
Of standing troops; or—name a plague still worse—
Few can this choice, delicious draught give up,
Though all Medea’s poisons fill the cup.)
Add feathers, furs, rich satins, and ducapes,
And bead-dresses in pyramidial shapes;
Sideboards of plate and porcelain profuse,
With fifty dittos that the ladies use;
If my poor treach’rous memory has missed,
Ingenious T——l shall complete the list.
So weak Lamira, and her wants so few,
Who can refuse?—they’re but the sex’s due.
In youth, indeed, an antiquated page
Taught us the threatenings of an Hebrew sage
‘Gainst wimples, mantles, curls, and crisping-pins;
But rank not these among our modern sins;
For when our manners are well understood,
What in the scale is stomacher or hood?
‘Tis true, we love the courtly mien and air,
The pride of dress and all the debonair;
Yet Clara quits the more dressed negligee,
And substitutes the careless Polanee;
Until some fair one from Britannia’s court,
Some jaunty dress or newer taste import;
This sweet temptation could not be withstood,
Though for the purchase paid her father’s blood.
* * * * * * *
Can the stern patriot Clara’s suit deny?
‘Tis Beauty asks, and Reason must comply.

The poem was taken from E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes, 1891. Vol. III: “Literature of the Revolutionary Period, 1765–1787.” It can be found online HERE.

posted April 27th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Fashion,Poetry,Resistance to British,Warren, Mercy Otis,Women Writers

“How shall we be governd so as to retain our Liberties?”

In the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Parliament had passed the Coercive Acts or, as they were referred to by Americans, the Intolerable Acts, by which the British closed the port of Boston, dissolved the provincial assembly, and sent additional troops to occupy the city and quell unrest. The British forays into Lexington and Concord in April to seize stores of ammunition and their confrontation with local militias resulted in a widespread call to arms. Converging on Boston, militiamen began digging trenches and redoubts virtually surrounding Boston. Although the British won the day at the battle of Bunker Hill in June, their losses were so great they could not afford another such “victory.” From that time, the British army was in effect besieged in Boston.

In November 1775, members of the Second Continental Congress, John Adams among them, were meeting in Philadelphia. After having named George Washington to raise a Continental Army for the defense of the American cause and proceed to the Boston area, they were considering what should be done in light of what were viewed as unconstitutional acts on the part of the British Parliament and the rejection of conciliatory petitions from the colonists. Should the colonies separate from Britain or not? And what ought to be the form of government should that separation take place? Abigail Adams poses the latter question to her husband in a letter she wrote on November 27, 1775.

Tis a fortnight to Night since I wrote you a line during which, I have been confined with the Jaundice, Rhumatism and a most voilent cold; I yesterday took a puke which has releived me and I feel much better to day. . . .

I was pleasing myself with the thoughts that you would soon be upon your return. Tis in vain to repine. I hope the publick will reap what I sacrifice.

I wish I knew what mighty things were fabricating. If a form of Goverment is to be Established here what one will be assumed? Will it be left to our assemblies to chuse one? and will not many men have many minds? and shall we not run into Dissentions among ourselves?

I am more & more convinced that Man is a dangerous creature, & that power whether vested in many or a few is ever grasping, & like the grave cries give, give. The great fish swallow up the small, and he who is most strenuous for the Rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the perogatives of Goverment. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which Humane Nature is capable of arriving, & I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.

The Building up a Great Empire, which was only hinted at by my correspondent may now I suppose be realized even by the unbelievers. Yet will not ten thousand Difficulties arise in the formation of it? The Reigns of Goverment have been so long slakned, that I fear the people will not quietly submit to those restraints which are necessary for the peace, & security, of the community; if we seperate from Brittain, what Code of Laws will be established. How shall we be governd so as to retain our Liberties? Can any government be free which is not adminstred by general stated Laws? Who shall frame these Laws? Who will give them force & energy? Tis true your Resolutions as a Body have heithertoo had the force of Laws. But will they continue to have?

When I consider these things and the prejudices of people in favour of Ancient customs & Regulations, I feel anxious for the fate of our Monarchy or Democracy or what ever is to take place. I soon get lost in a Labyrinth of perplexities, but whatever occurs, may justice & righteousness be the Stability of our times, and order arise out of confusion. Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience & perseverance.

I believe I have tired you with politicks. . . . All Letters I believe have come safe to hand. I have Sixteen from you, & wish I had as many more.
Adieu. Yours.

There will be no post on November 27, Thanksgiving. Enjoy the holiday and consider what Abigail pondered on the same date in 1775. Posts will resume on December 1.

Abigail’s letter appears on pages 46-47 of In the Words of Women. It appears in the electronic edition of the Adams Family Papers: Electronic Archives, which can be found HERE.

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