Happy Independence Day
As children, we all learned about the Founding Fathers—those men who either fought for American independence or worked in some other way to achieve it. We learned about names like George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. As we grew older, their names and stories stayed with us, and it’s to them our minds often turn on Independence Day. This got me thinking: what about the women of the American Revolution? Surely there were women who fought and labored for independence. What about the Founding Mothers? Researching this question led me to learn about some very interesting people. So to celebrate Independence Day, I thought it would be fun to look at four women who championed freedom and liberty in their own special ways.
Hannah White Arnett
It’s easy to think of American independence as being inevitable. But for the people who actually lived through the Revolution, it was anything but. In fact, the decision whether to join one side or the other was a difficult one. Both patriots (those who favored independence) and loyalists (those who remained loyal to England) probably had good reasons for choosing how they did. But for Hannah Arnett, the choice was obvious. A native of New Jersey, she left no one in doubt about where she stood. Hannah proved this one day when she heard her husband and a group of other men discussing whether to pledge loyalty to England in exchange for a guarantee of life and property. She burst into the room, calling them cowards and traitors. In the 1700s, this was a tremendous show of bravery. But when her husband, Isaac, ordered her to leave, she did what was unthinkable for most women of the era: threatened to leave him if he chose England over America. The threat worked. Isaac chose independence, as did the other men.
Margaret Corbin didn’t just urge her husband to fight in the Revolution … she joined him. It wasn’t uncommon at the time for women to follow their husbands into battle. These women were rarely allowed to fight, but they did perform needed tasks like cooking, washing, and tending to the wounded. But on November 16, 1776, Margaret did even more. She and her husband were stationed at Fort Washington in Manhattan. John’s assignment was to fire one of the two available cannons, but when a German mercenary took his life, Margaret knew what she had to do. Despite seeing her husband die, Margaret took his place in an exposed position with only the cannon itself to protect her. Soon a bullet struck her arm … but she kept firing. Next, she took a bullet to the chest … but kept firing. Even a shot to her jaw couldn’t stop her from manning her husband’s post. Margaret never completely recovered from her wounds, but the government took notice of her heroism. In 1779, she became the first woman in United States history to receive a military pension.
Catharine Moore Barry
Every schoolchild knows the story of Paul Revere’s ride. But he was far from the only American to warn his countrymen that the British were coming. It was 1781, and the British Army had conquered most of South Carolina. They decided to finish the job by taking General Daniel Morgan’s Continental Army by surprise. But Catharine Barry had other ideas. Being familiar with the local terrain, she picked her way cross-country by using difficult and uncertain trails to warn Morgan of the British approach. This gave Morgan enough time to prepare. The result was a stunning victory for the Americans in the Battle of Cowpens, which helped end the British occupation of South Carolina.
Mercy Otis Warren
America in the 19th century was full of women with brilliant minds. Unfortunately, the culture of the time meant most women were either barred from sharing their genius, or lacked the education to realize their own potential. Neither was the case for Warren. As a girl, her parents allowed her to study with her older brother. She had such a natural talent for writing that when John Adams met her, he said, “God Almighty has entrusted her with the Powers for the good of the World, which … he bestows on few of the human race. Instead of being a fault to use them, it would be criminal [for her] to neglect them.” Warren took Adams at his word. Throughout the war, she wrote to both John and Samuel Adams, as well as John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and even George Washington, and became a kind of unofficial advisor to each. She also wrote poems and plays, most of them political, each designed to promote the ideals of liberty and independence. In short, Mercy Otis Warren became one of the preeminent voices of her day, and likely did much to shape the national discussion. She even went on to write the first history of the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson bought several copies.
It’s easy to look back and see American independence as being inevitable. In reality, it was anything but. It was bought and paid for through the bravery, commitment, and sacrifice of both men and women. This Independence Day, let’s do our best to remember not only the men who shaped our nation’s history, but the women as well.
On behalf of all of us here at Bowers Advisory Group, have a happy Independence Day!