As we celebrate July 4th, I thought I would write about the role that women played during our Revolutionary War. Schools devote a great deal of time teaching about our male patriots…George Washington, Nathan Hale, Paul Revere and the like. But little, if anything, is taught about how women helped support our country in it’s fight for independence. I certainly didn’t know much when I decided to do a little research for today’s blog.
What I found was that women’s roles were quite traditional and structured to revolve around domestic tasks. But with those tasks came power as well as sacrifice. While formal politics did not include women, ordinary domestic behaviors radiated with political significance. Simple acts such as drinking British tea or ordering clothes from England that before were everyday activities now demonstrated colonial opposition during the years leading up to and during the war. While women could not maintain a political position, they were able to show their support in roles that were already readily accepted in the communities…that which involved working in their home and in the businesses of their fathers and husbands.
Women as consumers had the biggest impact to the revolution. This evolved into the Homespun Movement. Women played a major role in this method of defiance by denouncing silks, satins, and other luxuries in favor of homespun clothing generally made in spinning and quilting bees, sending a strong message of unity against supposed British oppression. In addition to boycotting British textiles, the Homespun Movement served the Continental Army by providing uniforms and blankets. (On a side note…I found it interesting that while male suppliers of these products were deemed exempt from military service, there was no comparable compensation for women doing the same thing. Spinning, weaving, and sewing was considered a woman’s duty and not worthy of financial acknowledgement.)
And while everyone has heard about the Boston Tea Party, women refused to purchase tea for years prior to that event. This was a relatively mild way that women could identify their household as being in support of the patriot war effort. The earlier Edenton Tea Party represented one of the first coordinated and publicized political actions by women in the colonies. Fifty-one women in Edenton, North Carolina signed an agreement officially agreeing to boycott tea and other English products and sent it to British newspapers.
Because of the culture, most women were anonymous as patriots. But not all. Molly “Mom” Rinker was one such dissatisfied English subject willing to fight for her independence. She didn’t sit idly by while British soldiers took over her family’s inn and planned their attacks. As an older, matronly woman, she was the last one who would ever be suspected as a patriot and spy
While soldiers banned the male members of her family from the dining area, Mom was kept at hand so she could wait on the redcoats. She waited on them and listened to their conversations.
Each night after gathering her intelligence, she wrote the information on a small piece of paper and wrapped it around a tiny stone. She then wrapped yarn around the stone until she had a normal, simple looking ball of yarn. Every day, Mom would go to a lovely little spot along her favorite creek and seat herself on a rock. From this rock, she had a pleasant view of the woods. She would then subtly drop the ball of yarn and watch it roll down the small cliff. One of Washington’s men would retrieve the note and disappear into the brush. No one was ever the wiser. The British never saw her converse with anyone. She was never caught; her identity was never revealed.
A simple woman…doing simple things…yet a patriot, nonetheless.