They say that behind every great man is a great woman, and this was especially the case during the Revolutionary War when women played a critical role to the American war effort.
In her book Patriot’s in Petticoats: Heroines of the American Revolution children’s book author Shirley Raye Redmond shares many of these amazing stories. She took some time this week to speak with the Political Insider about five of those remarkable women.
“The women of colonial America had courage and guts in spades,” Redmond told the Political Insider. “The British were well aware of it. In fact, General Cornwallis sent dispatches back to England lamenting that even if the British killed all the American men, they’d still have to fight the American women. That shows just how committed the women were to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Mary Katharine Goddard was co-owner of Baltimore’s first newspaper the Maryland Journal. Goddard established herself as the breaking news source for the Revolutionary War so when the printers in Philadelphia refused to print the Declaration of Independence for fear of committing treason, Goddard bravely stepped in.
“As I recall, Mary Kate co-owned the newspaper with her brother but when he left the business she took over,” Redmond said. “Actually, more women ran businesses during this time than we’ve been taught. Most of the wives of the signers of the Declaration were keeping businesses afloat while their husbands were away establishing a new nation.”
When Britain invaded Philadelphia in 1776, Goddard was given a handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence which she set to type. She also paid for post riders to deliver copies to the newly declared states when the new Congress did not have funds to do so.
Her name actually appears in tiny print underneath John Hancock’s signature at the bottom of the copies she printed.
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Esther Reed was a mother of five children and a patriot. She desired to help the war effort, so she raised money to go towards soldier salaries. However, when she wrote to General George Washington about her plan, he encouraged her to use the money to provide uniforms for the soldiers instead.
“Originally, they wanted to give cash to all of Washington’s soldiers,” Redmond explained. “They raised $300,000! Contributors included housemaids and wealthy women like Lafayette’s wife. But Washington feared many of the men would drink or waste the money, so he asked for clothing instead. I don’t know how many shirts and other clothing items such as socks and mufflers they produced, but it must have been quite a bit considering the funding.”
Reed passed away before her project was completed so Benjamin Franklin’s daughter, Sarah Franklin Bache, took over. She organized sewing groups to produce the needed shirts and she encouraged the women to sew their names into the collars of the shirts they made.
Mammy Kate was an enslaved worker from Georgia who pulled off one of the greatest deception’s of the war to rescue her her slave master, Colonel Stephen Heard. During the battle of Kettle Creek Heard was wounded and captured by the British. Kate devised a plan to rescue him.
She walked to the British fort with a large wash basket and offered to do laundry for the soldiers. She also asked to do Colonel Heard’s wash. She learned that Heard was soon to be hanged for treason.
Kate returned to the fort twice a week for several weeks and even brought the laundry home to wash and iron. One day she whispered to Heard to hide in the basket and she covered him with shirts. Fortunately for Heard, he was a petite man, because the 6-foot-1 Kate was able to hoist the basket onto her hip and carry it out of the fort. The British soldiers even waved goodbye to her.
She had hidden two horses in the woods which they used to make their escape.
“Mammy Kate is unforgettable, isn’t she! After Kate rescued Colonel Stephen Heard on the eve of his execution, the grateful Heard granted Kate her freedom, gave her a tract of land and a four-room house,” Redmond said. “She later married a man named Daddy Jack, with whom she had several children. Kate and Heard remained friends for the remainder of their lives and are buried in the same cemetery.”
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Martha Bell was a mother of five and a farmer’s wife. In 1781, British General Lord Cornwallis camped on her plantation for two days. After his stay, the Americans asked Martha to spy on him. Martha rode into Cornwallis’s camp and forced her way to the general’s tent where accused his men of theft.
While the accusation was sorted out, Bell counted cannons and horses and the number of wounded men — information which the American army used in it’s next battle.
Martha continued spying for the Americans. She frequently travelled at night to carry out her missions and whenever she was stopped and questioned she said she was a midwife on her way to attend a birth.
The Guilford National Military Park in North Carolina erected a monument in her honor, calling her an “enthusiastic patriot and revolutionary heroine.”
While you may know that Martha Washington spent time tending to and knitting socks for soldiers at Valley Forge, you may not have heard of Polly Cooper, an indigenous woman who served as a nurse at the camp. Polly, a member of the Oneida tribe, travelled from New York to Washington to deliver corn to the starving army during the hard winters of 1777 and 1778.
When she saw the suffering soldiers there she decided to stay and help. She cooked healing soups and made medicine for the sick and wounded.
During battles she even brought water to the soldiers and cooked meals for General Washington himself. Washington offered to pay her for her service, but she refused to accept the money.
“Polly and her people played a significant role in saving a part of George Washington’s hard-pressed army,” Redmond said. “George and Martha Washington appreciated her efforts and they presented Polly with a beautiful shawl which the Oneida treasure to this very day.”
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