Women’s Role in the American Revolution

Women Also Fought for Independence

Image: Molly Pitcher
Monmouth Battle Monument
Monmouth County, New Jersey

When her husband was overcome with fatigue and collapsed, Molly jumped forward and helped to ‘work the gun.’

Taxed by the Mother Country
Relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain slowly, but steadily worsened after the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), which involved all of the major European powers and caused 900,000 to 1,400,000 deaths. The war had plunged the British government deep into debt, and the British Parliament enacted a series of measures to increase tax revenue from the colonies.

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Sarah Franklin Bache

American Patriot and Daughter of Benjamin Franklin

Image: Sarah Franklin Bache
John Hoppner, Artist

Sarah Franklin was born to Benjamin Franklin and Deborah Read Franklin at Philadelphia on the eleventh day of September, 1744. Sarah, known as Sally throughout her life, had a typical education for a girl of her status in eighteenth-century Philadelphia. She had a great love of reading and music and was considered a skilled harpsichordist.

In 1764, Sally had to part with her father when he was sent to Europe for the first time as a representative of the Colony. The people of Pennsylvania were at that time divided into two parties – the supporters and the opponents of the proprietors, the managers of the colony. William Penn’s sons had left their father’s religion – the Quakers – and joined the Church of England, the religion of most of the proprietors. The many Quakers were in opposition.

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Hannah Winthrop

American Patriot

Image: Hannah Winthrop by John Singleton Copley, 1773

Copley was America’s foremost painter of the 18th century. This portrait represents Copley at the height of his power and exhibits the intensive realism that was the principal characteristic of his work at that time. Copley rendered the varying textures of her muslin cap, silk dress and lace cuffs with remarkable precision. In painting the beautifully reflective tabletop upon which she rests her hands, he demonstrated a degree of technical competence equaled by few of his contemporaries.

Hannah Fayerweather was the daughter of Thomas and Hannah Waldo Fayerweather, whose descendants came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Although her exact birth date is not known, she was baptized at the First Church of Boston on February 12, 1727.

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Molly Brant

American Revolution Loyalist

Molly Brant Plaque
Kingston Ontario

Molly Brant was an important Mohawk woman in upstate New York and Canada in the era of the American Revolution, particularly in the Mohawk Valley, the area surrounding the Mohawk River, sandwiched between the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains. Her younger brother, Joseph Brant, grew into a celebrated Mohawk statesman in his own right and rubbed shoulders with the likes of U.S. General George Washington and King George III of England.

Molly Deganwadonti was born in 1736, the daughter of Peter Tehonwaghkwangeraghkwa and his wife Margaret, both Mohawks of the Wolf clan from Canajoharie – the site of a barricaded long house village of the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois Nation in New York. After Peter’s death, Margaret married Brant Kanagaradunkwa, a Mohawk sachem of the Turtle clan, who owned a colonial-style frame house and lived and dressed in the European style.

Although not much is known of Molly’s life at Canajoharie during the 1740s and 1750s, from her infancy through her teenage years and into her early twenties, it is likely that she lived in Nickus Brant’s house. She was well educated in the European ways of life, with her formal education likely taking place in an English mission school, as she learned to speak and write English well.

Molly Brant’s political activity began when she was 18 years old. In 1754, she accompanied a delegation of Mohawk elders to Philadelphia to discuss fraudulent land transactions. This trip may have been part of her training in the Iroquois tradition, for she was to become a clan matron.

A British officer during the French and Indian War, William Johnson dealt honestly with the Mohawk, who appreciated his mastery of their language. His victory over the French and Algonquin in 1755 at the Battle of Lake George, New York, earned him a British knighthood. Johnson was eventually appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the province of New York.

During this time, Molly met Sir William Johnson, and moved into his house, Old Fort Johnson, before the birth of their first son Peter in September 1759. Molly was about 23, while William was 44 years old. She became Johnson’s common-law wife in a traditional Mohawk ceremony. Johnson couldn’t formally marry her because Molly was considered of a lower class. The couple had nine children together, eight of whom survived.

Johnson had acquired 600,000 acres of land in the Mohawk Valley, making him one of the richest men in the colonies. He was a successful colonial trader, and adapted well to Native ways. The Mohawk called him Warraghiyagey, a man of many interests, in tribute to his irrepressible curiosity.

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Penelope Pagett Barker

Inspired by the Boston Tea Party, Barker organized a protest of her own in Edenton, North Carolina. Tired of taxation without representation by the British, she went door to door, inciting women of the town to support a boycott of English tea and other products. At the Edenton Tea Party on October 25, 1774, Barker and fifty other women signed a protest statement.

Penelope Pagett was born on June 17, 1728, in Edenton, North Carolina, to Elizabeth Blount and Dr. Samuel Pagett. Her father’s death, quickly followed by her sister’s death, thrust adult responsibilities on the girl. While still a teen, Penelope became a mother to Elizabeth’s two children and took over management of the family plantation.

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Mary Philipse

George Washington’s First Love

Daughter of Frederick Philipse III, Mary Philipse was born at the Manor Hall, on July 3, 1730. Her father, whose family emigrated to Manhattan in the mid-17th Century from Holland, was lord of the manor of Philipsburgh, and owned an immense landed estate on the Hudson River at present-day Yonkers. He also served as Speaker of the New York Colonial Assembly.

George Washington was a Virginia Colonel, 24 years of age, who had just won his first laurels on the field of battle. On his way to Boston to meet General Shirley, he stopped in New York and called at the house of Colonel Beverly Robinson, one of Washington’s friends from Virginia.

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Mercy Otis Warren

America’s First Female Playwright and Historian

Image: Young Mercy Otis Warren

Mercy Otis Warren was an American writer and playwright, known as the Conscience of the American Revolution. Her proximity to political leaders and events of her day, gives particular value to her writing on the American Revolutionary period. With a life that spanned three wars and the deaths of three sons and a husband, Warren remained undeterred in her pursuit of the intellectual life.

Mercy Otis was born on September 25, 1728 in Barnstable, Massachusetts – on Cape Cod. Naturally political, she involved herself from girlhood in the conversations of the men in her family. Her father encouraged her to excel, which in colonial America meant she was tutored with her Harvard-bound brother James. But for Mercy a college education was impossible.

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Deborah Read Franklin

Wife of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin

Deborah Read Franklin played an important role in the founding of the United States simply by taking on the management of her family businesses. By so doing, she allowed her husband, founding father Benjamin Franklin, the opportunity to actively pursue his role in state and national politics in the decades before and after the American Revolution.

Deborah Read was born about 1707 to John Read, a British carpenter, and his wife Sarah White Read. Whether Deborah was born while her parents still lived in England, or after they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is uncertain. The second of seven children, Read received little formal education. Almost nothing else is known about her childhood.

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