J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Mercy Warren: mother who does everything

I've come to think of Mercy Warren as eighteenth-century Massachusetts's Lady Who Does Everything More Beautifully Than You.

She was from the top class of colonial society, sister of James Otis, Jr., and Samuel A. Otis, and wife of Plymouth County politician James Warren. She wrote and published Patriot propaganda before and during the war, and afterward wrote one of the first American histories of the Revolution, now available on CD-ROM. The Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth has a card table with a top she embroidered intricately to look like a game is being played. Even Abigail Adams was intimidated by her when they first started to correspond.

And, of course, her children adored her. Here is Mercy's letter to her husband James from Plymouth on 21 Sept 1775. He was probably away from home presiding over the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

I found Charles & Henry sitting on the steps of the front door when I arrived—they had just been expressing their ardent wishes to each other that mamah would come in before dinner when I turned the corner having our habitation. One of them had just finished an exclamation to the other "Oh what would I give if mamah was now in sight," you may easily judge what was their rapture when they saw their wishes instantly compleated.

The one leaped into the street to meet me—the other ran into the house in an extacy of joy to communicate the tidings, & finding my children well at this sickly season you will not wonder that with a joy at least equal to their I ran hastily into the entry; but before I had reached the stair top was met by all the lovely flock. Winslow half affronted that I had delayed coming home so long & more than half happy in the return of his fond mother, turned up his smiling cheek to receive a kiss while he failed in the effort to command the grave muscles of his countenance.

George’s brow was covered with pleasure & his grave features not only danced in smiles but broke into a real laugh more expressive of his heartfelt happiness than all the powers of language could convey and before I could sit down and lay aside my riding attire all the choice gleanings of the Garden were offered each one pressing before the other to pour the yellow produce into their mamah’s lap.

Not a complaint was uttered—not a tale was told through the day but what they thought would contribute to the happiness of their best friend; but how short lived is human happiness. The ensuing each one had his little grievance to repeat, as important to them as the laying an unconstitutional tax to the patriot or the piratical seazure of a ship & cargo, after much labour & the promising expectation of profitable returns when the voyage was compleat—but the umpire in your absence soon accommodated all matters to mutual satisfaction and the day was spent in much cheerfulness encircled by my sons.
This letter is from Alice Brown's Mercy Warren, published in 1896.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

I should have stated the Warren boys’ ages. In 1775, Winslow (“half affronted that I had delayed coming home”) was sixteen. Charles was thirteen and Henry eleven (“one leaped into the street to meet me—the other ran into the house in an extacy”). George (“brow was covered with pleasure”) turned nine the day before Mamah wrote her letter.