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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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ruth Otis: no Daughter of Liberty

Ruth Cunningham, daughter of a wealthy Boston merchant, married James Otis, Jr., in 1755. He was the son of an important gentleman from Barnstable and Boston's most brilliant young lawyer; people anticipated a bright career in the royal patronage system for him.

The marriage probably turned out to be more than Ruth Otis bargained for. In the early 1760s James decided to throw his lot in with the Boston merchants and then with the popular party in Massachusetts politics. Ruth still favored the Crown. Plus, there was the whole madness thing to deal with.

Here's a not very sympathetic letter about Ruth Otis from Hannah Winthrop, wife of Harvard professor John Winthrop, to Mercy Warren in 1769. Warren was Otis's sister-in-law. Both she and Winthrop, and all three women's husbands, were strongly in favor of a boycott of British goods to protest the Townshend Act.

I went to see Mrs. Otis the other day. She seems not to be in a good state of health. I received a Visit lately from Master Jemmy [James and Ruth Otis's son, also named James, then age ten]. I will give you an anecdote of him. A gentleman telling him what a Fine lady his mama is & he hoped he would be a good Boy & behave exceeding well to her, my young Master gave this spirited answer, I know my Mama is a fine Lady, but she would be a much finer if she was a Daughter of Liberty.
Ruth Otis never changed her mind politically. When she died in 1789, she reportedly still preferred the British government to the new U.S. of A. that her brother-in-law Samuel A. Otis had gone to work for.

Ruth outlived both her husband, who was struck by lightning (yes, struck by lightning) in 1783, and her son, who died at British captivity in 1777. Of her two daughters, one married a British officer and moved to England; the other married the son of Gen. Benjamin Lincoln of Hingham. So the family remained split.

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