And can we walk through Concords streetsThese lines come from “An Address to the Sons of Liberty Written in the Year 1775” by Ruth Bryant, who was fifteen years old that year. She was the daughter of a doctor in North Bridgewater.
See where the crimson flood,
That gushing from our Brethrens hearts
Like ponds of water stood;
See where our mangled Brethren be
Their bodies scarcely cold!—
Can we embrace the murderers then
When we this scene behold?
That poem was just published for the first time in the July 2010 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly, as part of Rachel Hope Cleves’s article “‘Heedless Youth’: The Revolutionary War Poetry of Ruth Bryant (1760–83).” The journal’s abstract says:
The six manuscript poems by Ruth Bryant of Massachusetts, published here for the first time, are possibly the only surviving poems written by a female youth during the War for Independence, although revolutionary newspapers occasionally printed poems written by girls. The original poems are archived at the Bureau County Historical Society in Princeton, Illinois, where they were preserved because of the author’s connection to her nephew, the nineteenth-century poet and editor William Cullen Bryant.While this article and others are available online only to subscribers, many research libraries carry print copies of the journal. (All the book reviews in this issue of the W.M.Q. can be downloaded here.)
Bryant’s poems reveal that girls could participate in the diffusion of revolutionary ideals not only through the rhetoric of “republican motherhood” evoked by adult women but also through a juvenile model of martial femininity. Bryant’s poems show a passion for the battlefield often absent from adult women’s poetry. And yet Bryant’s poems also operate comfortably within expectations for female poets during the eighteenth century, using typical feminine genres such as ex tempore courtship verses, elegies, and acrostics. The poems shed light on how, under revolutionary pressure, the gender system could bend without breaking.