The Founding Mothers also fought for the nation’s independence

By Stephan Drew

In just a few days, we will celebrate the anniversary of our independence on July 4.
Much has been written about the men who helped forge this nation. Last year, I wrote about the signers of the Declaration of Independence and what happened to them after they put their signatures on that most important document. For over a century, they were simply called the “founders.” It was not until a 1916 speech that then-senator (and later, president) Warren G. Harding coined the phrase “Founding Fathers.”
He also used the term in his 1921 Inaugural address when he was first sworn in as president. For many decades, it was generally thought that these men, the “Founding Fathers,” had borne a majority of the burden and had acted singlehandedly. We now know that is not true. There were also many women who fought, sacrificed and struggled through the hardships as well.
These women are now referred to as the “Founding Mothers.” They endured agonies rarely known to most of us. But, on this July 4, I would like to take a moment and remember their great efforts to help create this nation that we all love and adore. Through my research for this article, I gained a deep reverence for the sacrifices these great women made. There were many and, unfortunately, I do not have the time or space to include them all. I will, however, tell you about some that I found most impressive.
Martha Washington was the first First Lady of America. But, before that, she was a strong, disciplined woman who served her country well. She was a wealthy widow when she met George Washington. He wooed and won her and she loved him dearly. When the Revolution began, she stood by him and promised to give all she had or could get to support the cause of independence.
Many know that she spent that cold winter with him at Valley Forge. But many may not know that she spent EVERY winter during the Revolution encamped with Washington and his troops. While he was away, she had to manage the farm, her children and the everyday battle to keep everything together.
During the spring, summer and fall, she organized women back home into sewing circles, making linens and quilts for the soldiers. She also directed them in how to can and preserve as much meat, vegetables and fruit as they possibly could.
Each year, in late fall, she would have all these goods packed into wagons and would, in her carriage, lead the procession to the camps to deliver the much needed items to the weak, sickly, starving soldiers. When she arrived, she was always greeted with great fanfare. She increased their morale and the men of the Continental Army loved “Lady Washington.” She provided not only food, clothing and blankets. Each year, she stayed the entire winter and would nurse the sick back to health. She later became the first First Lady and set the tone for future First Ladies to come with her quiet dignity and grace.
Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams, had no formal education – most females didn’t at that time. But, she was taught to read and write by her mother. She studied English and French literature and was a very open-minded woman for her day.
While her husband was away, she also had to keep home and farm together and manage the children. She was not a “shrinking violet” and did not simply “obey” her husband. In fact, they had quite a few disagreements on how the new American government should be formed.
She would often remind him to “not forget the ladies” in their legislation. She was a strong advocate against slavery and made it public that she thought it was “evil and a threat to the American experiment. In March 1776, she wrote a letter saying that she doubted most Virginians could possibly have such a “passion for liberty” if they could deprive other human beings of freedom. After the new government was formed, she lobbied her husband for more inclusiveness for ladies and an end to slavery. Unfortunately, it would be decades before her dream came true. She was the first Second Lady and the second First Lady of the United States.
Dolley Madison was born in a Quaker settlement in North Carolina, the daughter of Mary Coles Payne and John Payne Jr. Since she was born a Quaker, she was able to go to school and, unlike most females of the day, acquired what is now called a “formal education.” Many remember her saving George Washington’s portrait in the White House, as the British were burning the new Washington City. But, she had a long history before and after that.
She married attorney John Todd and they had two sons. Her husband and 3-month-old son died of typhoid, leaving Dolley a widow with a young son to provide for. She married James Madison and moved to Montpelier. Her husband was appointed Secretary of State by President Thomas Jefferson and, as Jefferson’s wife had died, Dolley took a position as “unofficial” First Lady.
Her parties were heralded as great state occasions because she had a knack for taking people from completely opposite sides of an issue and putting them together in one room. She often said, “The women of Virginia know that real friends can be made with a little genial conversation and a great deal of wine.” She had a great deal of fun and much success, except for her remaining son from her first marriage.
Her son, Payne Todd, loved to gamble and drink. Doing so, he ran up huge debts. James Madison, knowing how Dolley loved her son, took great pains to keep his indebtedness from her. Behind her back, James paid off Payne’s debts and even mortgaged their home. After Madison died, Dolley was confronted with the fact that she was penniless. But that didn’t shake her determination. She kept her indomitable spirit until her death.
Hannah Arnett was one of the most tenacious women in New Jersey. In late 1776, the war effort wasn’t going well. With a lack of supplies and ammunition, and the diminished morale of the soldiers, the struggle seemed fruitless.
A group of men met in home of Isaac Arnett in Elizabethtown, N.J., to discuss surrendering to the British Crown in exchange for leniency and protection. When she heard this, Hannah burst into the room, screaming at the gentlemen and calling them cowards. There is no accurate account of exactly what she said but, it was evidently convincing enough to make them change their minds. On her grave marker, it reads, “Here rests Hannah Arnett. Her patriotic words, uttered in the dark days of 1776, summoned discouraged men to keep Elizabethtown loyal to the cause of American Independence.”
Mercy Otis Warren was born in Cape Cod, Mass. She received no formal education but she would eavesdrop on her brother’s tutoring lessons. And she learned quite a bit. Her brother, James Otis, studied law at Harvard and is most famous for his phrase, “No taxation without representation.”
Mercy married James Warren and their home became a place for the Sons of Liberty to meet. Assisted by her friend, Samuel Adams, Mercy began organizing gatherings in her husband’s home. She loved to write and her husband, calling her “the scribbler,” encouraged her to keep a diary of sorts of the conversations of these patriots. She did exactly that.
But she also put her own beliefs on paper. She was a staunch defender of women’s rights and was such a good writer that even John Adams advised James Warren to “always keep your wife apprised of the issues of the day. It would be criminal to neglect her gifts.” Mercy discovered that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. The S.S. Mercy Warren, a World War II Liberty ship, was named in her honor.
Nancy Hart was born in North Carolina but her family migrated to Georgia. She was a tall, broad woman with fiery red hair. One night, a British spy snuck up to her cabin. One of her children, seeing an eye peeking through a knothole in the wall, warned her mother. Nancy, who was making lye soap at the time, took a ladle full of the boiling hot liquid and threw it at the knothole.
She knew her aim hit home when she heard him screaming. He was tied up and put in the barn as a prisoner. Later, when five British soldiers came to her home demanding information, she insisted that no one had passed without her knowledge.
Unsatisfied with her explanation, the soldiers shot her prized turkey and ordered her to cook it as dinner for them. She did so and invited them in. They stacked their guns against the wall and, as they enjoyed the delicious meal she prepared, she plied them with a lot of wine.
As she served them, she passed between them and their guns, stacked against the wall. Each time she passed, she would take a gun and pass it to her daughter on the other side of the wall. When one of the soldiers saw what she was doing, he jumped up to assault her. Nancy grabbed one of the guns and shot him point blank.
Another British soldier advanced on her and she shot him also. Then she held the other three at bay while her children ran for help. A short time later, her husband and some others arrived and captured the English soldiers. They wanted to shoot them but Nancy told them to hang the men instead. A gunshot wound takes hours to kill a man. A hanging is quick. Nancy was humane even to those who weren’t humane to her. Lake Hartwell, between Georgia and South Caroina, is named in her honor, as is Hart County.
Sybil Ludlington of Kent, N.Y., was the female Paul Revere. On April 26, 1771, British troops were planning to attack the Continental Army’s supply depot in Danbury, Conn. The depot needed support and more men to fight and protect it. Without a second thought, young Sybil mounted her horse around 9 p.m. that evening and rode until the early hours of morning.
Traveling along the roads was dangerous in those times. The roads were often muddy and impassable and there were thieves and wild animals everywhere. But this young girl was brave. She put herself into danger and delivered the message to every town she came through, gathering over 400 men to fight off the British attack. Her efforts saved the supply depot and Gen. Washington commended her on her actions. There is a statue in Carmel, N.Y., commemorating her brave deeds.
Esther de Berdt Reed was born in England to a family of Belgian Protestant refugees. She married Joseph Reed and accompanied her husband back to the American Colonies. When she found out what the conditions were, she was appalled. She began to grow angry with her mother country and supported the other patriotic women in Philadelphia. She helped organize the Daughters of Liberty and raised over $7,000 – an enormous sum in those days – to help the Continental Army. She was not native to America but she was recognized as a Daughter of Liberty.
Deborah Read Franklin ran her home, farm, tended her children and ran the printing press while her husband, Benjamin Franklin, served his country at home and abroad.
Deborah Sampson was one of the bravest women in the American Revolution. She stood 5’6” and was much taller than most women in her time. This would become an advantage and create a great opportunity for her. As a widow, she had to provide for her family and, what better way than to sign up as a soldier?
She could pass as a man and was surely tall enough. She joined the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment under the name of Robert Shirtliff. She had always been good with a gun and became a military sharpshooter. In her first battle, she was shot twice in the leg. Fearing that she would be discovered, she begged the other soldiers to leave her to die.
Before a doctor could examine her wound (and her body) she removed the bullets herself, using a penknife and a sewing needle. Later, she was wounded in another battle. This time, a doctor discovered her secret and put her in his house for his wife to tend to her injuries. The doctor gave her an honorable discharge and some money. She was later rewarded a full soldiers’ pension for her courageous service to our country.
Margaret “Molly” Corbin was born in Pennsylvania in 1751. She was 5 when her father was murdered and her mother was kidnapped by Native Americans and was later raised by her uncle. She married John Corbin in 1772 and, when he later joined the Continental Army, she accompanied him, serving as a washwoman and cook to the unit.
She often brought them water and was called “Molly Pitcher.” In November 1776, her husband’s artillery unity was called to N.Y. to help defend Fort Washington. Six hundred patriots pitted against over 4,000 Hessian soldiers but they fought on. During the battle, her husband was killed while packing a cannon. Margaret (“Molly”) immediately took his place and continued to pack and fire the huge cannon until she was too injured by shrapnel and unable to fight. She was severely injured and was enlisted into the Soldiers’ Corps of Invalids and received a pension from Congress for her service. She died at the age of 48 in 1800.
There are so many more examples of the strong, brave and courageous women who are part of our history. I encourage you to study them all. Our history is not something to be ashamed of. Yes, we have had our faults. Yes, it is not perfect even now. But the men and women of the past have brought us to where we are now.
They have fought the battles, endured the hardships, survived the struggles so that WE, as advanced as we are, can look back and thank them. We are so grateful for what they did. They endured a life and many experiences that we will NEVER have to face again … hopefully.
They fought the fight, they suffered the disease, battle wounds and the horrible experience of unsurety so that we, with our iPads, cellphones, luxuries and gadgets will never even know what they went through. This is the legacy they gave to us. This is what they fought, suffered and died for. May we never let them feel that their efforts were in vain. Happy July 4 everyone! I hope you have a wonderful Independence Day!

Author: Stephan Drew

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