Camp Followers

During the Revolution, it was common for numbers of women—“camp followers” was the rather pejorative name given to them—to travel with armies of fighting men. While some dispensed sexual favors, for the most part, these women were soldiers’ wives, often with children, who cooked and washed clothes for the men and nursed the ill and wounded. The American and British armies had camp followers, as did the hired troops. For those officially “attached,” rations were provided in recognition of the useful services they performed.

At various times there were between 1,000 and 2,000 women (and children) with Burgoyne’s forces. After Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga his troops were marched to Boston. In November 1777, Hannah Winthrop described their entrance into town.

Last thursday, which was a very stormy day, a large number of British Troops came softly thro the Town via Watertown to Prospect hill, on Friday we heard the Hessians were to make a Procession in the same rout; we thot we should have nothing to do with them, but View them as they Passt. To be sure, the sight was truly astonishing, I never had the least Idea that the Creation produced such a sordid set of creatures in human Figure—poor, dirty, emaciated men, great numbers of women, who seemd to be the beasts of burthen, having a bushel basket on their back, by which they were bent double, the contents seemd to be Pots & kettles, various sorts of Furniture, children peeping thro the gridirons & other utensils, Some very young Infants who were born on the road; the women with bare feet, cloathd in dirty raggs such Effluvia filld the air while they were passing, had they not been smoaking all the time, I should have been apprehensive of being contaminated by them.

This excerpt is from In the Words of Women, Chapter 3, pages 87-88; illustration by John R. Wright.

posted June 28th, 2012 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Boston, Camp followers, Saratoga

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