Term Paper: Women in the American Revolution

Pages: 20 (8769 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Drama - World  ·  Buy This Paper

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] She was called Sgt. McCauly [sic] and was wounded at some battle, supposed to be the Brandywine, where her sex was discovered.... It was an unusual circumstance to find women in the ranks disguised as men, such was their ardor for independence.'

"(It is interesting that the editorial continues with the observation),

Elizabeth Canning was at a gun at Fort Washington when her husband was killed and she took his place immediately, loaded, primed and fired the cannon with which he was entrusted. She was wounded in the breast by grapeshot... '"4

This brings us to an important question. How can these many supposed authorities have conflicting information about something, which should be provable with Pennsylvania Military records? The answer may lie in 18th century culture. Although women were camp followers and functioned to perform menial tasks around the camp, they did not serve any military function during the war. They were therefore not listed by individual name in the records of the day. It was not considered proper for women to place themselves in danger, or otherwise stray from traditionally prescribed duties.

The actions of Margaret Corbin and Mary McCauly were outside of society's norms for the time, and were therefore considered extraordinary. Keeping this in mind, Molly Pitcher stands to represent the ideal of self-sacrifice for the common good, as well as courage, duty and bravery. Molly Pitcher is an icon who represents the thousands of women who served bravely with the continental army. These women were the spirits of patriotism. Molly Pitcher is an ideal rather than a real person. The stories that surround Molly Pitcher are very real parts of history, no matter which accounts or theories of identity to which you prescribe.

There are hundreds of other accounts of women performing heroic deeds during the war. For example, Angelica Vrooman, sat calmly in a tent with a bullet mould, some lead and an iron spoon, moulding bullets for the rangers, during the heat of a battle. 5 There are many accounts of women performing heroic deeds in the heat of battle. Our modern ideals would have us admire them, however in the 18th century, these women were sometimes criticized for straying from the norm. For this reason many only existed as oral history until many years later when the stories were written down.

These brave women who scoffed their traditional roles and attitudes exist mainly as legends. However, women did have a very important role during the Revolution. Prior to the war, in response to the passage of the Townsend Acts, the Daughters of Liberty worked with other women to find substitutes for the British goods being boycotted. Well- known wives and families of revolutionaries were often targets for British and Hessian troops. They were often attacked, and their crops, homes, and businesses were destroyed. Although war was considered a role of the men, women were sometimes cast into it's midst by proximity. By supporting their husband's cause, these women boosted the war efforts and gave their husbands an undecided advantage. The Daughters of Liberty and other groups which sprung up around the country made the boycotts work.

Aside from camp followers, make-shift artillerymen, and patriots, women served many important functions during the war, however, due to social attitudes of the time, their deeds were not recorded until later, and many have been lost forever. Not least of these roles was that of spy. One of these women, of whom we have records through her various letters, is Ann Bates. These letters are contained in a collection called the Clinton Collections and are housed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Through her own letters we know that Ann Bates began spying for the British sometime in 1778.

She posed as a peddler, selling thread, needles, knives and utensils to American camp followers. In this manner, Bates traveled through rebel camps, counting the number of men and weapons and meeting with other loyalist sympathizers in the American army. On May 12, 1780 Bates requested to leave Clinton's espionage ring and join her husband, a gun repairman with the British Army, in Charleston, South Carolina."6

Miss Jenny was another woman who spied for the British by infiltrating the American's French allies' army camps. She reported her observations to Baron Ottendorf, who in turn sent her observations to Sir Henry Clinton. 7 The following is an excerpt of her report, sent to Sir Henry Clinton through Baron Ottendorf.

Having followed the main road, keeping always to the right, / she came across a cavalry officer coming from the woods whom she asked, / "Monsier, would you show me the French camp?" He answered her, "Why are / you French?" "Yes, Monsieur," (she replied). "Come with me; I'll take you / there," (he said). The officer led her to the outermost guard post of the camp / after having proposed an amorous liaison to her, even desiring to force her, / which she did not wish under these circumstances. When she arrived at the / main guard post of the camp, the Captain asked her whom she sought. She / answered that she came from the direction of York, having learned that her / father was there (at the camp), and that she will be delighted to come and see / him; (she said) that she was a seamstress and that her mother was a good wife, / and that they found out that their father returned from France with the troops, / seeing that it was six years since he went to France from Canada." 8

After this encounter, she is questioned and interrogated for two days, all of which she cleverly convinces that she is sincere. After several attempts to "break her," her interrogators get nothing. She was suspected of being a spy, but she held firm to her story and no formal charges could be proven. However, due to her highly suspicious nature, her hair was cut off and then she was led out of camp on a horse. Cutting a woman's hair short was a form of disgrace in colonial times, She was firmly escorted from camp and told never to return. 9

Both the British and Americans employed many spies, many of whom were women who infiltrated the camps and posed as camp followers. While there they gathered intelligence about troop numbers, troop movements and battle plans. They then escaped from the camp and returned to report their findings. These women placed themselves in grave danger, for if discovered, they would most likely be shot. Women were also employed to intercept letters of soldiers, which often times had plans in them as well. Women were used to plant counter intelligence and were a vital part of the Revolutionary War Intelligence scene.

From the writings of women camp followers we get picture of what life was like in a Revolutionary War Military Camp. The following excerpt is from one of these women.

A never had the least idea that the Creation produced such a sordid set of creatures in human figure -- poor, dirty, emaciated men, great numbers of women who seemed to be the beasts of burden, having a bushel baskets on their backs, by which they were bent double, the contents seemed to be pots and kettles, various sorts of furniture, children peeking through the gridirons and other utensils, some very young infants who were born on the road, the women bare feet, clothed in dirty rags." 10

From this description we get a clear picture that life was neither pleasant, nor easy for women who were camp followers. We get a picture of dirt and filth. Disease ran rampant through these camps and claimed many lives. Women were "beasts of burden."

The following mentions the actions of the women in a fort during a battle. It was written about the Seigeo of Fort Henry by Mrs. Jacob Drennon from a journal entry.

Francis Duke, Col. Shepherd's son-in-law, came from Vanmetre's fort, and couldn't be made to stop (commissary of the fort). Col. Zane had just finished him a good house, all to one window, shingle-roofed.... Women ran bullets in frying pans, and two shot. Mrs. Duke cut bullet patches out of a 700 linen piece, like one cutting out shirts. And one Scotchman prayed all day. Rain came up, just after the town was set on fire. The women brought up water in tubs, and scrubbed the roofs. That night the Indians left."11

Another role of women during the American Revolution was that of battle support. They fought fires, re-stocked ammunition, helped with the wounded, brought the men water and food. They sometimes took up arms and fought, when the need arose. To take up arms and fight was rare, and it those women who stand out in history as the unusual. More often,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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