“I Desire You Would Remember the Ladies.” Abigail Adams wrote those words to her husband John Adams at the start of the revolution with an ardent hope that while laying the foundation of the United States men would not forget the contributions of their female counterparts and make them equal in the new country. Talented, inspiring, awesome women grace the new country with their achievements at the helm of the Revolutionary War, but they rarely grace the pages of history books. We honor the contributions of some of these rowdy revolutionaries in this week’s blog as we all gear up to celebrate the Fourth of July!
Much of what Abigail Adams wrote to her husband is considered the early roots of the women’s rights movement in early America. She wrote to her husband about the importance of including women in the models laid out for the new country, saying in one letter, “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” These were strong words for the time and, although the her husband did not heed her words, they were prophetic. The Women’s Suffrage movement at the turn of the century successfully secured the right to vote and many women continue the fight for gender equality today, fulfilling Abigail’s promise of rebellion from any statute which allows injustice.
Elizabeth Griscom was her real name, but it’s Betsy Ross that people remember as the woman who created the first American flag. While there is no direct evidence of this, it is widely believed that Betsy is the one who created the most iconic symbol of America, but this is not her only contribution. A widow at 24, she is also believed to have distracted a Hessian colonel whose forces could have won the Battle of Trenton for the British. Her second husband was taken prisoner by the British and died in confinement. She had five daughters with her third and final husband, John Claypoole and lived until the age of 84.
Martha Custis Washington
A constant figure of hope for the soldiers her husband commanded, Martha Custis Washington spent more time traveling with her husband during the war than she did without him at their home in Mount Vernon. She acted as the unofficial treasurer of the revolution, collecting money from contribution funds throughout the colonies to help fund the battles. A brilliant woman (she taught herself French!), she became the first First Lady of the United States and, after her death, was remembered in an obituary as, “the worthy partner of the worthiest of men.”
The first published black author of America, Phyllis Wheatley’s name goes down in history one whom even George Washington praised. This could be due in part to the fact that she wrote and presented to General Washington a poem about him. After being sold into slavery around the age of 7 to the Wheatley family, Nathanial and Susanna, son and daughter of the Wheatleys, taught a young Phyllis how to read. When they noticed her proclivity for writing, she was encouraged to continue and gained a celebrity in her own right. She gained her freedom only after all members of the Wheatley family had either died or left the country, though her yearning for freedom was apparent in her writing. One of her most famous pieces states, “In every human Beast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression and pants for Deliverance.”
Mercy Otis Warren
Another revolutionary writer lauded by Washington was Mercy Otis Warren. She served as an advisor to many revolutionary men. In a letter to her husband, John Adams once said of Warren, “Tell your wife that God Almighty has entrusted her with the Powers for the good of the World, which…he bestows on few of the human race.” A playwright, Mercy wrote six plays mocking the British forces which was still punishable as treason if the war had not ended in favor of the Patriot forces. She also wrote and published the first official account of the revolution using her own notes from conversations with key players in the war. Most of her documents published and distributed during the revolution sought to inspire Patriot forces and bring more to the cause, a goal which she achieved in every respect.
Known by her fellow soldiers as Robert Shirtliffe, Deborah Sampson wasn’t about to let the men have all the fun in battle. She cut her hair, wrapped cloth tightly around her breasts, and disguised herself successfully as a soldier in the Patriot army. After being wounded in battle, some accounts say that she removed shrapnel from her own leg after escaping one doctor to avoid being discovered. However, her next doctor, Barnabas Binney, noticed the cloth which held down her breasts, but let her recover in his own home to help keep her secret. After the war, she petitioned to receive pension for her service which she was granted. Upon her death, her husband became the only widower to receive a soldier’s pension from his wife’s service in the Revolutionary War.
Margaret Cochran Corbin
Afraid to let her husband go to battle by himself, Margaret Cochran Corbin accompanied him as a nurse onto the battlefield. “Molly Pitcher” assisted soldiers by bringing pitchers of water to the fighting men, a common practice at the time. After her husband was mortally wounded, she took over his post on the cannon crew and continued firing until she was severely wounded in her chest, arm, and jaw. Her wounds never healed, and she was assigned to the Invalid Regiment after she lost the use of her arm. She became the first woman in American history to receive a full military pension for her efforts in the war.
Nancy Hart’s involvement in the rebellion is Georgia is well-known to residents there. She once shot two of six British soldiers who required she cook for them after they questioned her about her aid to Patriot forces (a matter which she didn’t deny even at the risk of death). She slyly passed their weapons out the window to her daughter while they ate and killed the first two out of self-defense while she awaited her husband’s return. The rest were hanged. She also disguised herself as an insane man to uncover important intel from a British camp which she passed onto the Patriots. Hart County, Georgia is named for her and her likeness hangs in the state capital building.