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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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Look at Loyalist Ladies from Common-place

Common-place has a couple of new articles on Loyalists in the American Revolution. The first is from Prof. Kacy Tillman at the University of Tampa: “What is a Female Loyalist?”
Female Loyalists, like their male counterparts, are typically defined as being ideologically opposed to separating from Great Britain, but their inability to vote, fight, or legislate complicates how we understand their political affiliation. Many Loyalist women were persecuted because of familial ties to other Loyalists, and not because of their own political opinions, in part because eighteenth-century society did not view women as political creatures.

Early in the Revolution, women with Loyalist husbands could claim neutrality, since they could not own property or sign oaths of loyalty. Under coverture—the legal doctrine that held that a woman’s legal rights were subsumed by her husband’s upon marriage—husbands assumed a political position on their wives’ behalf, which rendered women politically invisible. Sometimes, this invisibility worked in their favor. Women (both Loyalists and Rebels) were allowed to take food, clothing, and letters across enemy lines—even into prisons—because they were not considered a threat.

Letters written by Loyalist women during the war show that such women were considered (and considered themselves) Loyalists not only if they verbally supported independence from or war with England, but also if they married a Loyalist, imported and sold British goods, resisted edicts from Committees of Safety or other local militias, delivered intelligence for the British, declared pacifism, and/or fled occupied cities to live with other Loyalist exiles.
Tillman discusses Elizabeth Inman (shown above), Christian Barnes, Sarah Deming (1722-1788), and Ann Hulton as Boston-area women whose lives were affected by their, or their families’, political loyalties. All were from the upper class, probably a reflection of which women left papers for us to read.

However, the article doesn’t make clear that Inman never left Massachusetts, even after Patriot newspapers had named her as suspicious. Her husband Ralph, older brother James Murray, and many friends like Christian Barnes and the Cumings sisters were definitely Loyalists, but was she? Or was she more wedded to her property than to any ideology?

And I don’t think Deming counts as a Loyalist at all, though some of her Winslow relatives were and she expressed concern for them. Tillman quotes two of Deming’s accounts of fleeing Boston in April 1775, but not the part of her journal that complains about more British troops arriving in the town and states her determination ”to git out of their reach.” All the more evidence that it’s hard to determine the political leanings of people whom society tried to keep out of politics.


G. Lovely said...

Sadly the voices of middle and lower class women of the era are mostly silent, and would be even more likely to be so if their opinions differed from that of their Loyalist spouses. Do any survive? Possibly later memoirs?

Mark said...


J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the link.

Those Winslow women appear to be from the generation after Sarah (Winslow) Deming—contemporaries of pre-war letter-writer Anna Green Winslow.

J. L. Bell said...

I think the best surviving sources about Loyalists' wives are letters that those women sent to their relatives, thus keeping their feelings within the family. For example, Esther Sewall, wife of Massachusetts Attorney General Jonathan Sewall, didn’t want to leave America but felt she had to follow her husband and sons.