Archive for the ‘Resistance to British’ Category

“command the attention of the mother and the wife”

A few days late with this post in honor of Women’s History Month (March). It is important to note that many women were politically active during the formation of this nation. HANNAH FAYERWEATHER WINTHROP and MERCY OTIS WARREN were but two. Both women, though giving lip service to the notion that women should occupy themselves with the domestic sphere, believed that they ought to be involved in resisting the British and concerned with establishing a new and independent nation.

Hannah, a dedicated correspondent, was married to John Winthrop, a noted astronomer and professor of mathematics and natural history at Harvard. Mercy was raised in Barnstable on Cape Cod and lived in Plymouth with her husband James Warren who was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, became its speaker, and later was chosen President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Mercy wrote essays, poetry, and dramas attacking British authority. In 1805 she published The History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution.

In the following two letters Hannah and Mercy discuss recent events, including the Boston Tea Party, that they believe will lead to a break between the colonies and Britain. Mercy notes that she and Hannah are blessed with understanding husbands who support their involvement in political affairs. Hannah wrote to Mercy on the first of January 1774. Mercy replied later that month with a long letter in which she envisions a new nation based on equitable principles and respect for the natural rights of its citizens.

I wrote to my dear friend Mrs Warren Novr the 10th . . . but have not heard whether it was receivd. I have been with impatience wishing to know the cause of this interval of Silence. . . .

I have no news of a domestick kind to tell you, we go on in the same little peacefull Circle as usual Varied with alternate sickness & health, sometimes Amused, sometimes astonishd with Viewing Events which happen in the great World. . . . Yonder, the destruction of the detestable weed, made so by cruel exaction, engages our attention. The Virtuous & Noble resolution of America’s Sons in defiance of threatned desolation & misery from arbitary Despots. demands our highest regard may they yet be endowd with all that firmness necessary to Carry them thro all their difficulties till they come off Conquerors . . . .

We hope to see a good account of the Tea Cast away on the Cape. The Union of the Colonies, the firm & sedate resolution of the People is an Omen for good unto us. And be it known unto Britain, even American daughters are Politicians & Patriots and will aid the good work with their Female Efforts. . . .
I subscribe
Your affectionate
Hannah Winthrop

To Madam H Winthrop

When I took up my pen I determined to leave the field of politicks to those whose proper busines it is to speculate and to act at this important crisis; but the occurrences that have lately taken place are so alarming and the subject so interwoven with the enjoyments of social and domestic life as to command the attention of the mother and the wife who before the contest is decided may be called to weep over the manes of her beloved sons, slain by the same sword that deprived of life their intrepid and heroic Father. And Who in these modern days, has arrived at such a degree of Roman virtue as not to grudge the costly sacrifice? I tremble for the event of the present commotions;- there must be a noble struggle to recover the expiring liberties of our injured country; we must re-purchase them at the expence of blood, or tamely acquiesce, and embrace the hand that holds out the chain to us and our children. Much interested in the success of the conflict — I feel myself unequal to the combat yet hope the women will never get the better of that disinterested regard to universal happiness which ought to actuate the benevolent mind. Heaven give us strength to sustain the shock, if this country should be compelled to the last appeal – and forbid that anything in your conduct or my own should countenance the opinions of those who explode every generous principle, deny the existence of patriotism and ridicule all pretences to public virtue. How derogatory to the human character are these ideas! Yet we daily see too many instances of a sordid selfish spirit prompting men to act diametrically opposite to the welfare of society, even where there had been heretofore some pretences to integrity. Whether the Patriots of the present day will be able to effect their laudable designs in our time is very uncertain, yet I trust they will lay the foundation deep and that future generations will not be wanting to themselves, but will maintain and support the priviledges to which they are entitled both by nature and compact By the spirit, firmness, and the happy union in similar measures, which animates the extensive colonies . . . . It appears to me that every step the infatuated Britons have been taking, is but a means of hastning the grandeur and glory of America;- yet still the fears of a fatal interruption of private and social enjoyment often fill my mind with gloomy apprehensions. . . . I wish to see America boast in her turn of science and of Empire,- of Empire not established in the thraldom of nations but on a more equitable base, on such an exalted plan that while for mutual security, the authority of rulers is acknowledged, they may neither be prompted by avarice or ambition to infringe the natural rights of their fellow-men;- nor debase their own species by requiring abject and unworthy submissions, where there is little distinction but what arises from the imperfection of human nature which makes it necessary to submit to some subordination. Though such an happy state, such an equal government, may be considered by some as an Utopian dream; yet you and I can easily conceive of nations and states rising to the highest consequence under more liberal plans than are pointed out by the marble-hearted despots of ancient or modern times. But I expatiate no longer on the prospects of public distress nor dwell on the painful sensations of the human heart in this day of general perplexity, when the hero and the patriot are alternately exhilerated or depressed by the varying aspects of the political Hemisphere;- nor shall I make an apology for touching on a subject a little out of the line of female attention, as we are both happily united to such companions as think us capable of taking part in whatever affects themselves. As for that part of mankind who think every rational pursuit lies beyond the reach of a sex too generally devoted to folly, their censure or applause is equally indifferent to your sincere friend
M Warren

Hannah Winthrop’s letter can be found HERE. The whole of Mercy Otis Warren’s letter can be viewed HERE. Winthrop’s portrait in oil on canvas is by John Singleton Copley done in 1773. It is at the MetropolitanM Museum of Art in New York City. The bronze sculpture of Warren stands in front of the court house in Barnstable on Cape Cod.

posted April 2nd, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Boston Tea Party,Resistance to British,Warren, Mercy Otis,Winthrop, Hannah Fayerweather

“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

next page

   Copyright © 2018 In the Words of Women.