Daughters of Liberty

Daughters of Liberty were women who took actions to support resistance to Britain before and during the American Revolution. There was no official organization, although the name was obviously intended to be a parallel to the Sons of Liberty. Throughout the war, an individual woman might refer to herself as a daughter of liberty in private correspondence, especially when helping the war effort through home manufacturing and her role as a consumer. There are three public forms of action usually attached to the idea of Daughters of Liberty. The first and largest set of public actions was a series of public spinning demonstrations held during the boycotts of British trade goods used to protest the Stamp Act, Townshend Duties, and Tea Acts. A successful boycott required colonists to find other sources for imported goods. Women felt Nationly as they turned to home manufacturing to fill the demand for cloth all over the colonies. Between 1768 and 1770, New England women held at least forty-six spinning meetings, with over 1,644 women participating. About two-thirds of these documented demonstrations took place in 1769. Many more people participated as observers, and newspapers reported on the events in detail. Women combined benevolence and religion with their patriotism. Thirty of the demonstrations were held in the homes of clergy, and, in almost every case, women donated products of their labor to the minister or the poor. Many of the women equated liberty not only with freedom from political bondage but also with freedom from the bondage of sin. A second, related use of the term Daughters of Liberty referred to women who refrained from use of boycotted goods. Milcah Martha Moore of Philadelphia recorded a long verse in her commonplace book that included these lines: If the Sons (so degenerate) the Blessing despise, Let the Daughters of Liberty, nobly arise, And tho’ we’ve no Voice, but a negative here, The use of the Taxables, let us forbear. In Boston, 536 Mistresses of Families signed a pledge in 1770 to totally abstain from tea to save this abused Country from Ruin and Slavery. The most famous group of women to sign a pledge were the 51 women of Edenton, North Carolina, who promised in 1774 to follow the resolves of the provincial congress and to do everything they could to support the public good. This declaration was widely publicized and satirized in newspapers. One British cartoonist turned that event into a satirical woodcut, depicting the women as mannish, immoral, and neglectful of women’s duties. Women in Charles Town, South Carolina, signed a similar declaration. Throughout the War for Independence, women continued to see a patriotic role for themselves through their roles as consumers and producers. Both officially and unofficially, women tried to prevent merchants from charging outrageous prices for scarce goods. Between 1776 and 1779, women participated in at least thirty-seven actions in five states, protesting price gouging, and women led the actions in one-third of these cases. As A Daughter of Liberty, living in Marblehead complained in 1779, We cannot get bread nor yet meat, We see the world is nought by cheat. She then went on to call for repentance from sin as a way of bringing the war to an end. The understanding of what it meant to be a Daughter of Liberty often linked both restraint from luxury and personal piety to patriotism. Home manufacturing and restraint from luxury blended in the third major public action taken by women. In 1780, Esther DeBerdt Reed published a call (The Sentiments of an American Woman) to women to put aside vain ornaments and donate the money they would save to a fund for American troops. Thirty-six Philadelphia women responded by forming a group to solicit funds for soldiers. The effort spread beyond Pennsylvania both through newspaper accounts and letters the women sent to the wives of governors of other states. The women raised $300,000 from 1,600 contributors in Pennsylvania. Those in New Jersey and Maryland raised about $32,000 more, and Virginia efforts were equally successful. At George Washington’s request, the money raised was not given directly to the soldiers; instead the women used the funds to buy cloth and make shirts and stockings. It was a fitting demonstration of women’s support of the war and their organizing skill as the conflict entered its critical later stages. While not officially calling themselves Daughters of Liberty, the group continued on in the spirit of the term. Their actions serve as a capstone to women’s support of independence through supportive manufacturing and selective consumption. Joan R. Gundersen See also: Politics and Government (Chronology); Politics and Government (Essay); Revolutionary War; Women. Bibliography Gundersen, Joan R. To Be Useful to the World: Women in Revolutionary America, 1740 1790. New York: Twayne, 1996. Kerber, Linda. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1980. Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750 1800. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980. Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. “Daughters of Liberty’: Religious Women in Revolutionary New England.” In Women in the Age of the American Revolution, edited by Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia for the Capitol Historical Society, 1989. Sons of Liberty Tees: Daughters of Liberty Allan Cole’s A Daughter Of Liberty

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