In May 1777, Lucy Knox wrote to her husband serving in George Washington’s army about all aspects going on in Boston.
She told her husband pickles and linen were sent to him through Capt. Searjent. She bemoaned the rising costs of goods during wartime and gossiped about revolutionaries holding suspected British loyalists.
“The price of everything is so exorbitant indeed it is difficult to get the necessarys of life here, at any prices — the evil increases daily — … this and the behaviour of our town meeting has almost made me a tory,” she wrote.
During each Fourth of July celebration, I think of the colonial women. History records well the heroism and foresight of the Founding Fathers.
But, there were plenty of founding mothers.
Life would have been hard enough without modern medicine and infrastructure. We take for granted things like running water, grocery stores, ibuprofen, vaccines and off-the-rack clothing.
Those women deserve big respect for handling matters on the home front and playing a direct role in the revolution, whether making uniforms or serving as spies.
Lucy Flucker Knox grew up in the elite, daughter of the third highest-ranking member of the British government in the colonies. She defied her family by marrying Henry Knox, a common bookstore owner, and was disowned.
During the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the couple escaped with Knox’s sword sewn into the quilting of her coat’s lining. He joined the militia in the siege of Boston, leading efforts to erect fortifications.
Many of their love letters survived and are kept at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. It chronicles the rise of Knox to become one of George Washington’s top officers and his wife’s attention to political winds.
From Lucy as peace neared: “I hope you will not consider yourself commander in chief of your own house … there is such a thing as equal command” in marriage.
Abigail Adams finally received her due, but it took a 2001 bestseller from writer David McCullough for that to happen. Thousands of her letters, written to her husband and other notable figures including Thomas Jefferson, are preserved.
McCullough describes Abigail as one of the most extraordinary of all Americans “who could hold her own with anybody, in her own time and since.”
“She was spirited, strong, idealist, a force and intellectually, she was at the forefront,” McCullough said in a C-SPAN interview. “She was an astute woman with good judgment, good political judgment.”
With the press a major player in the war, women picked up their pens.
Mercy Otis Warren is one of the first American female playwrights, publishing satirical work critical of the British (most notably “The Adulateur”). She held political protest meetings in her home while chronicling events and writing poems and dramas.
In 1805, Warren wrote the three-volume “A History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution,” considered the first historical documentation of the revolution.
Mary Katherine Goddard was the printer who published the first copy of the Declaration of Independence. She put her full name at the bottom of the page, “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katherine Goddard.”
She signed the document, but she’s not considered a “signer.” A copy is held at the Library of Congress.
As the first published African American female poet (and only second woman), Phillis Wheatley wrote pieces favoring the Americans, one praising the appointment of Washington as commander of the Continental Army. A slave, captured in Africa at age 8, she was a leading literary abolitionist writer, arguing slavery was holding back the country from greatness.
Women were also part of spy networks.
The famous Culper Ring included Anna Strong, who would arrange clothes on a line outside her Long Island homestead to relay information.
In Philadelphia, British soldiers took over the home of the Darraghs. Lydia Darragh hid in a closet to hear their military planning then crossed British lines to warn Washington’s camp of a planned Dec. 4, 1777, attack.
Catherine Moore Barry aided in the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina by warning the American soldiers of the approaching British.
Then, there was Sybil Ludington, who was Paul Revere’s equal. The 16-year-old rode 40 miles on horseback in April 1777 warning Connecticut rebels that the British were coming.
At least two women received war veteran pensions for fighting in the Revolutionary War.
Margaret Cochran Corbin was a camp follower, as many wives were. She helped the troops with cooking, laundry and other domestic necessities. After British attacked Fort Washington in November 1776, John Corbin was killed and his wife took over as the canon gunner. She was seriously injured and left with a disfigured jaw and loss of use of her left arm.
Deborah Samson, a 20-year-old released from indentured farm work, re-invented herself as Robert Shurtlieff, bound her chest and joined the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. Her identity was uncovered after a near-death injury, and she was honorably discharged.
Nanyehi earned the title Beloved Woman during a battle with the Creek tribe, becoming a top decision maker and warrior. Also known as Nancy Ward, Nanyehi persuaded the Cherokee to side with the Americans.
After the war, she helped negotiate peace with the new country. Though, she warned her tribe against ceding any more land.
U.S. independence wasn’t won by men alone.
As John Adams toiled away with the Continental Congress, Abigail now famously wrote to him in March 1776: “I would desire you would remember the ladies.”
Mayor G.T. Bynum speaks during the 1921 Mass Graves Public Oversight Meeting.