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, December 06, 2017

A London Lad on the “Edenton ladies”

James Iredell (1751-1799, shown here) moved from England to America in 1767 in search of better prospects. Through family connections he got an office in the Customs service at the small port of Edenton, North Carolina. He also studied the law under Samuel Johnston, married his mentor’s sister in 1774, and established himself as a rising young gentleman.

Iredell supported the American resistance to Parliament’s new laws, writing a pamphlet on the subject titled To the Inhabitants of Great Britain in 1774. North Carolina being a small-population colony with only two newspapers, this made him a prominent local Patriot.

On 31 Jan 1775, Iredell’s seventeen-year-old brother Arthur sent him a letter from London, mostly about why he hadn’t written earlier and about his own studies in law books. But Arthur Iredell had also noticed rare news from Edenton in the Morning Chronicle. At least I assume he saw it there since I’ve found no evidence it was reprinted widely in the British press. Arthur wrote:
I see by the newspapers the Edenton ladies have signalized themselves by their protest against tea-drinking. The name of Johnston I see among others; are any of my sister[-in-law]’s relations patriotic heroines? Is there a female Congress at Edenton too? I hope not, for we Englishmen are afraid of the male Congress, but if the ladies, who have ever, since the Amazonian Era, been esteemed the most formidable enemies, if they, I say, should attack us, the most fatal consequence is to be dreaded. So dexterous in the handling of a dart, each wound they give is mortal; whilst we, so unhappily formed by nature, the more we strive to conquer them, the more are conquered!

The Edenton ladies, conscious, I suppose, of this superiority on their side, by former experience, are willing, I imagine, to crush us into atoms, by their omnipotency; the only security on our side, to prevent the impending ruin, that I can perceive, is the probability that there are but few places in America which possess so much female artillery as Edenton. Pray let me know all the particulars when you favor me with a letter.
Arthur Iredell thus responded to the Edenton women’s political activity with a standard eighteenth-century male trope: that women, despite having no political and limited economic rights, wielded such powerful sex appeal that men couldn’t possibly stand up to them.

Arthur eventually became a minister in England, marrying in 1792. James became a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their rich uncle in Jamaica disinherited James for opposing the Crown, so Arthur received his slave-labor plantation. In 1804 he visited the island to check out that property and died.

TOMORROW: A second response from London.

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