Monday, March 14, 2016

Matrilineal Monday: Revolutionary Mothers

Revolutionary Mothers: 
Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence
By Carol Berkin
NY 2005; Alfred A, Knopf

1.       Englishwomen’s Place in Colonial Society
2.       Women Join the Protest Against English Policy
3.       The Challenge of a Home-Front War
4.       Women Who Followed the Army
5.       General’s Wives and the War
6.       Loyalist Women in Exile
7.       The Revolution in the Lives of Indian Women
8.       African American Women and the American Revolution
9.       Spies, Saboteurs, Couriers, and Other Heroines
10.   The Legacy of Revolution

I am interested in discovering more about how the women in my past took care of their families when their husbands marched off to war. This is one of several books recommended to me by Michael Aikey who lectured at our local community college. The topic of his lecture was ‘Women in War’ and the reading list he shared included books related to several wars.

As you can see this book focuses on the Revolutionary War. I was especially interested in the home front activities during the war. The author wrote:

 “While men faced the enemy, women faced the challenge of managing on their own. With small children to tend, with prices quickly spiraling upward, with shortages of everyday necessities such as pins and medicines, and above all with the loss of the family members who normally tilled the fields, ran the shops, or worked the docks, women did their best to ensure that there would be something to come home to when the soldiers came home.” [page 31]

The women did their best with whatever they had at hand.

 “Women everywhere improvised when household materials ran out. In rural South Carolina, women used thorns for pins. In other regions, they made tea from herbs and flowers. Lacking salt, they preserved foods with a concoction made of walnut ash.” [page 31]

Of course, these brave women were taking care of their homes and children as war raged around and sometimes intruded upon them.

“Women’s efforts to save the family resources were made more difficult by the demands of the military. Whether they were victorious armies or armies on the run, they could destroy in a moment what women of all social classes had labored to preserve. Women were asked, or ordered, by British, patriot, and loyalist commanders alike to bivouac soldiers on their property and officers in their homes. Parlors and kitchens were taken over, and the ‘hostess’ was expected to provide food and do laundry for the military men who had commandeered their houses. These occupying troops drained more than a woman’s energies; they depleted much-needed resources. Farm fences were destroyed, furniture burned, and storerooms emptied. Departing redcoat and Continental officers often ordered a woman’s livestock slaughtered for the march ahead, drained her farm’s supply of grain, and reaped the harvest of her gardens.” [page 34]

There are many examples of women from various parts of the new country who not only took care of their families but helped the soldiers in any way they could.

“If the army needed saltpeter, women made saltpeter, boiling together wood ash and earth scraped from beneath the floors of their houses, adding charcoal and sulfur to produce the powder. If the army needed clothing, women like Mary Fraier of Chester County, Pennsylvania, went door-to-door, soliciting clothes from their neighbors, then cleaned and mended them before delivering them to nearby troops. When the word spread that the military needed metal to produce bullets and cannon shot, women melted down their own pewter tableware, clock weights, and window weights, and solicited their neighbors to do the same.” [page 43]

At the war’s end not only were many of these strong women able to keep their family safe and their homes intact, they clearly demonstrated that women were the equal of men.

“The mental and moral inferiority of women had been attacked before the Revolution, of course. But the war did more than provide additional fodder for philosophical arguments over gender. Women’s participation in the war had given concrete, empirical evidence of their ability to think rationally and make ethical judgements.” [page 151]

Read this book for many more examples of the role women played during America’s struggle for independence and you will find yourself in awe of your maternal ancestors.

To view the reading list of books read my post on Women in War. 

1 comment:

Anna Matthews said...

Sounds like a very interesting read, I'll have to add it to my reading list. I'll bet the lecture was interesting as well.

"Their ability to think rationally and make ethical judgements", that shouldn't be surprising I guess but still makes me shake my head.