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The American Revolutionary War, also known as the American War of Independence, was a battle between the British troops and continental forces. When the USA attained self-governance in 1783, the conflict had begun in 1775. (Passant 25). Thirteen former British colonies formally declared their independence, which incited the masters to act violently and start the conflict. Sons of Liberty were incensed by the stamp act, which imposed punitive taxes and policies in the colonies without input, and they destroyed the shipment of tea as a result. (Smith 135). But without the involvement of women, the conflict would not have been won. Men and women both participated in the fight for liberation. (Passant 26). As such, this paper seeks to establish the role of women in the American revolutionary war, their contributions such provision of food and funds, as well as the portrayal of women by historians in published articles.
Despite the limited literature and insignificant historical portrayal of women as part of the liberation struggle in the USA, women played a pivotal role in the battle (Waldstreicher 730). Women organized fund drives to provide financial and material support to the continental soldiers during the campaign. As such, it is essential to understand how women contributed to the struggle on various fronts as discussed below.
The passing of Townshend Act in 1765 that ensured that the colonial government levy funds across a variety of commodities attracted resistance throughout the colonies. In response, Sons of Liberty and daughters of liberty groups were established to oppose the move. Sons of liberty were comprised of men while the daughters of liberty were groups of energetic young women who supported their friends, husbands, and relatives in resisting the British oppressive tax rules. The women through their group for Daughter of Liberty endorsed the liberation move through a boycott of British products.
The group conducted public campaigns where they advised other women to boycott the British products and join the task force, which spearheaded the manufacturing of American goods. This form of economic sabotage by the women reduced British earning from their colonies thereby negatively affecting revenue generation (Passant 26). Moreover, the women did not only boycott the products but also lead the production initiatives that oversaw the manufacturing of American-made products (Smith 136). The primary raw material in manufacturing cloths, textile, was mainly imported from Britain, and by spearheading the alternative local manufacture of fabrics, was an act of political rebellion. Besides, women organized public exhibitions where they demonstrated to the women how they could make clothes. Through this initiative, women significantly contributed to the struggle by sewing uniforms for the soldiers, providing financial support as well as manufacturing bullets to support the battle (Waldstreicher 722). On the other hand, women became self-claimed managers and farmers to help their families. Women ran small businesses, which equipped them with social and entrepreneurial skill. Passant (22) notes that women provided supplies to the soldiers. Interestingly, women developed advanced entrepreneurial skills during the war that saw them successfully run their husband’s businesses that generated much profit used to fund the war as well as provide basic supplies. The traditional role of women during the revolutionary war changed. Women started to head businesses and families, something that was not possible before the war. Passant indicates that women were traditionally submissive to their husband (23). As such, the annihilation presented women with opportunities that assisted them in determining the new role of liberated American women. Some women such as the wife of the former George Washington’s secretary, Esther Reed DeBerdt, formed an association of women who volunteered to provide the troops with clothing. Esther organized a fundraising that led to the collection $300,000 (Smith 136). Her initiative spread across six states where the clergy got inspired by her achievement towards the support of the liberation army.
Traditionally, women were barred from participating in combatant activities. The role of women in every society in North America and the world, in general, did not recognize female soldiers (Passant 28). Most women whose husbands were actively engaged in war accompanied their husbands and boyfriends to the military camps to clean their dresses. Martha Washington, the wife of George Washington always accompanied her husband anytime they went to war with the British Army (Smith 134). Women inspired their men, friends, and relatives to fight for a just course, which would free all the Americans from colonization. Besides, the women mended torn uniforms for the soldiers, cooked, cleaned clothes as well as taking care of the war casualties by tending to their wounds (Passant 29). Also, the women scavenged for food to feed their soldiers as well as herding animals. The role that women played significantly contributed to the success of the continental forces against the British.
Furthermore, the women spied on the British military camps, which assisted the army to predict the movements of the British army. For instance, an American woman named Margaret Kemble Gage married British army general Thomas Gage served as a source of intelligent information for the rebel army (Small 101). She would get access to the British military plans that would enable the American rebel soldiers always to be a step ahead, which escalated the success rate of the continental forces. Despite limited historical evidence on the role played by Margaret, historian documented that she served as a spy for the continental army (Waldstreicher 725). As such, it is crucial to underscore that in as much as she was married to a Briton for which she became a part; she still spied on her people proves beyond doubt the deep attachment by women in ensuring the success of their army. Petersen indicates that success in the battlefield does not require a mighty army but an intelligent plan, ambushing the adversaries while minimizing casualty (301). The women provided support and information that helped the military in planning attacks on the British camps.
During the Battle of Monmouth (1778), women provided water despite the harsh weather condition to the soldiers (Smith 136). During this fight, Mary Ludwick replaced her wounded husband, William Hays, on the battlefield. Besides, she fought at the battle at Valley Forge where the continental army became victorious with minimal casualties (Waldstreicher 726). Additionally, another woman by the name Deborah Samson of Massachusetts impersonated herself and served in the military (Waldstreicher 722). Upon her injury at the battle at Tarrytown, she refused to be attended to by a male doctor and decided to stitch up herself. Women were forbidden from serving in the continental army, a policy that was disregarded by Deborah to serve her country. This was an act of patriotism despite being considered by other military personnel as challenging behavior.
Moreover, women formed armed groups that protected their homes and children in the absence of men. For instance, women in Massachusetts dressed up as men, took arms, and patrolled the town (Waldstreicher 727). Women also hid highly sensitive information under petty coats and passed the information to their soldiers without being noticed by the colonial soldiers. Some women such as Sarah Decker, Harriet Prudence, Deborah Champion, Lydia Darragh, and Patterson Hall passed highly classified intelligence to their American compatriots, thereby aiding in the success of their military actions against the Britons (Waldstreicher 733). However, despite the contribution of women towards American victory in the war, the post-independent government still undermined women and restricted their roles to family duties. Interestingly, some women like Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren again rose to prominence in the continental politics and defended the rights of women (Waldstreicher 728).
Besides, Abigail Adams, the wife of Massachusetts Congressional delegate John Adams after the victory in the independence war, advised her husband to remember the women in the new form of governance (Waldstreicher 720). Abigail reiterated to her husband that the failure to include women in the new form of governance would lead to another revolution by women against men. Another notable female character in the American Revolution was Mercy Otis Warren, the wife of Joseph Warren. The Boston patriot recorded the events of the revolution as well as playwriting the events (Waldstreicher 710). Her documentaries have enabled the current generation to develop an insight into the struggle that women underwent in supporting the continental forces. She was highly devoted to the patriotic front. In 1774, before the war begun at Concord and Lexington, she wrote, “America stands armed with resolution and virtue, but she still recoils at the idea of drawing the sword against the nation from whence she derived her origin” (Small 101). In 1805, after the end of the war for independence, Warren published her book History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (Small 101). Her effort through literary appreciation by documenting the American revolutions provides a tale of successful women who fought for their freedom alongside their men in realizing the American dream of a free nation.
Another influential contributor to the American Revolution was Phillis Wheatley, an African American slave in Boston. Phillis published a poem narrating her experiences and the role of women in supporting the American Revolution (Smith 137). Her first publication, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, became very famous throughout the continent. Other works that she published was the poem concerning George Washington, the continental army commandant called To his Excellency George Washington which she presented to him at Cambridge in 1776 (Petersen 318). Upon the death of her master in 1778, she became a free woman. In addition, Sibyl Ludington was a powerful teenager who traversed New York where she raised an armed militia that attacked the Britons who had attacked Danbury, Connecticut. She then erected a monumental horse statue to Ludington in Carmel, New York.
Furthermore, a notable revolutionary woman Betsy Ross engineered the first American flag. The sewn flag had thirteen white and red strips with thirteen stars, which symbolized the thirteen states of the United States that opposed the oppressive taxation policies implemented by the British in 1775 leading to the war. By June 1777, the Congress passed the Flag Act that fully adopted the Ross design that is still flying high in the world’s greatest and powerful nation and across all its embassies all over the world (Petersen 312). The American flag is a symbol of the powerful contribution by women in the revolutionary war. In spite of the loss of lives of some heroines during the war, the few women who lived to tell the tale were very proud of their involvement in the war (Petersen 315).
Therefore, it is important to note that women underwent both heroic and horrific moments in the struggle for independence from the Britons (Smith 136). Some watched their families cleared when the colonial soldiers penetrated into their hometowns and villages while others were raped and tortured (Small 101).
Military historians and general historical scholarship have disregarded the history of women and their involvement in the American revolutionary war. The high level of marginalization of women after their voluntary participation in the liberation of the American continent from British imperial rule undermines their achievements (Small 101). Women took arms and fought against the British army alongside the continental army, but the available sources indicate that after the war, the perception of women concerning the performance of domestic duties intensified (Waldstreicher 702). During the revelation, Petersen confirmed that women demonstrated their audacity by taking arms to defend their families and towns in the absence of men (304). Some disguised themselves and used false identities to fight alongside men to ensure that America emerged victoriously.
In evaluating the role of women in America and the women warriors, the available literature is insufficient regarding the participation of women in the war. What happened? Did women play no role in the liberation struggle? Why are historians silent about the role of women in the struggle? The American flag that is flying high across the globe was the work of Ross. Nevertheless, do the Americans recognize her despite her contribution during the revolution and after independence by designing the American flag? It is evident that women supported the course during and after the revolutionary wars by performing various roles such as nursing, physicians, laundresses, armament worker as well as combatants (Waldstreicher 730). Depending on the societal expectations, Petersen indicates that women performed their roles beyond the societal anticipations (310). In as much as women were not allowed to serve in the military officially, they broke the odds and registered the services unnoticed by the majority white soldiers. At the beginning of the revolution, the continental army was small in size but grew over time as women joined as well as encouraging their youthful sons to join the course and liberate their nation. Small urges that women were instrumental in the victory of the US against the Britons (101). Women acted as spies and provided the compatriots with information that helped them successfully plan military ambush that weakened the British army.
The Revolutionary War spearheaded by George Washington fought on many fronts with stretched and limited military personnel. As such, Petersen indicates that over 5000 black people fought alongside the army but on a different platform as George did not trust any white soldiers (320). As such, recorded that the black men fought in small groups called militias that spontaneously attacked the Britons, thereby reducing their influence. On the other hand, Small underscore that the war exigencies attracted more than 20,000 women who provided support and sustenance for the military personnel (101). Despite not being military personnel, women significantly contributed to the success of the revolution. As the war intensified, Small noted that desertion of the army was one of the significant problems that the continental army commandant George Washington faced (101). Smith states that most combatants withdrew from the service due to long periods of deprivation, insufficient clothing, footwear, and food (133). Upon realization by the women, the motive behind desertion, many women groups in Massachusetts and Philadelphia organized fund drives and public demonstration of the stitching process to raise funds and make clothes for the soldiers (Small 101). They provided food for the compatriots, nursed their wounds, washed their clothes, and provided food. It is after this effort by women that the army started to swell again and confronted the enemies aggressively (Smith 135). However, the aftermath of the war left women more vulnerable to men. A male chauvinist society ensued, and women achievements and contributions in the fight were neglected. As such, the available literature on the American Revolutionary War was biased and did not acknowledge the role of women (Small 101).
The paper has established that the American women significantly contributed to the success of the American Revolutionary War. The women provided services such as nursing, cooking, and spying. Women also took care of the family businesses as well as properties. The women provided clothes and food to the soldiers. Some women rode across New York inciting youths to join militias and support the continental soldiers in defeating the Britons. Despite the silence by historians on the role and achievements of women in the revolutionary war and their mistreatment by not being allowed to participate in politics, their contribution is still evident. The United States Flag is a reminder of the determination by women in supporting the just course.
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Petersen, Tony. "The Spirit of Party: John Adams, Jonathan Sewall, and the Role of Republican Ideology in the Coming of the American Revolution." Historian, vol. 79, no. 2, Summer2017, pp. 301-323.
Schocket, Andrew M. "The American Revolution Rebooted: Hamilton and Genre in Contemporary Culture." Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 37, no. 2, Summer2017, pp. 263-269.
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Smith, Barbara Clark. "Remembering the American Revolution, 1776-1890." Journal of American History, vol. 103, no. 1, June 2016, pp. 133-137.
Waldstreicher, David. "Ancients, Moderns, and Africans: Phillis Wheatley and the Politics of Empire and Slavery in the American Revolution." Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 37, no. 4, Winter2017, pp. 701-733.
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