Book Corner: Women of the American Revolution

Women of the American Revolution will explore the trials of war and daily life for women in the United States during the War for Independence. What challenges were caused by the division within communities as some stayed loyal to the king and others became patriots? How much choice did women have as their loyalties were assumed to be that of their husbands or fathers? The lives of women of the American Revolution will be examined through an intimate look at some significant women of the era. Some names will be familiar, such as Martha Washington who travelled to winter camps to care for her husband and rally the troops or Abigail Adams who ran the family’s farms and raised children during John’s long absences. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton is popular for her role in Hamilton the musical, but did you know she was also an early activist working tirelessly for multiple social causes? Decide for yourself if the espionage of Agent 355 or the ride of Sybil Ludington are history or myth. Not all American women served the side of the revolutionaries. Peggy Shippen gambled on the loyalist side and paid severe consequences. From early historian Mercy Otis Warren to Dolley Madison, who defined what it means to be a US First Lady, women of the American Revolution strived to do more than they had previously thought possible during a time of hardship and civil war.

I have to admit, I stepped right out of my comfort zone with Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson. And I know very little about the period – except there was something to do with tea and Boston Harbour – Boston, Massachusetts rather than Boston, Lincolnshire (I am definitely more familiar with the latter!). There was some chap called George Washington, too…

So I was going into this book with a very open mind, eager to learn all I could about the women who helped – or sometimes hindered – in the creation of the United States of America. Women of the American Revolution will certainly give readers a greater understanding of the American Revolution and War of Independence; it fills a gap in the study of the period and is long overdue.

Most books on the American Revolution concentrate on the politics or the military actions, but Samantha Wilcoxson has approached the familiar story from an under represented angle; the women. And what incredible women they were. Some are well known, such as Martha Washington Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison. Others less so famous, such as the mysterious Agent 355. And there is the story of Margaret Shippen Arnold, who was considered incapable of being complicit in her husband’s defection to the British – because she was a woman.

In addition to her household skills, Martha [Washington] was taught to be a lady while confined in corsets that helped form her figure and correct her posture. Virginia ladies of Martha’s time were trained to mimic British aristocracy in their manners and decorum. Simply walking and sitting could be a challenge in the full skirts that were the fashion. Martha apparently learned these skills well, because she flawlessly played the role of hostess as a married woman, even when thrust into the public world as America’s original First Lady (although that title was not used during her husband’s time in office). Her parents ensured that she could ride elegantly in a sidesaddle while maintaining perfect posture. Physical control and poise were also vital when learning to dance, a skill not to be underestimated in its importance in eighteenth century Virginia.

The objective would have been for her to eventually obtain a satisfactory husband, and in this Martha most certainly made her parents proud. Daniel Parke Custis belonged to the closest America had to an aristocracy. Rich and possessing thousands of acres of land, the Custis family was such a step up for Martha that Daniel’s father initially forbade his son to marry her. This is where one gains the first insight into the woman Martha would become. Though only eighteen years old, Martha courageously stood up to her future father-in-law. He had threatened to disinherit Daniel and throw the family silver into the street rather than allow Martha to use it, but she managed to charm him into giving his reluctant blessing. The couple was married when Martha was nineteen years old and her bridegroom was twenty years her senior. This age difference was not uncommon or a barrier to their happiness. The skills Martha had learned at the Dandridge home made her a competent manager of the larger Custis plantation, prophetically named White House.

A large enslaved population made it possible for Daniel and Martha to profitably run the Custis estate. Ne evidence exists that Martha believed owning slaves was immoral or wrong in any way. While she did not support cruel treatment or sales that broke up families, Martha also could not understand when enslaved people ran away from what she felt was a comfortable home. It was a lifestyle she had been born into and never questioned, even as the colonies strived toward their freedom.

Women of the American Revolution is a wonderful collection of the stories of the most remarkable women of the era. Through the historical record and their own letters Samantha Wilcoxson has brought these women back to life, their stories as vivid as they must have been over 200 years ago. The books combines the women’s involvement in the national and international politics and events of the day with their day-to-day lives as wives and mothers. It is an illuminating and informative book on so many levels.

Women of the American Revolution tells the story of these remarkable women, warts and all, but does not try to attach modern-day morals on people who lived so many generations ago. In this way, Samantha Wilcoxson does not ignore the women’s attitude to slavery, or to female emancipation, but explains them in the context of the time. The abundance of letters written by some of the women provide a unique insight into their minds, and into the times they lived in.

And I have to say Samantha Wilcoxson has written an eminently accessible book, whether you are knowledgeable of the era or not. Her research is thorough and impeccable and presented in a beautifully written volume that will stand proud in any library. By focusing on the women, Women of the American Revolution fills a gap in the history and study of the American Revolution. Without a study of the women of the time, no history of any period is complete.

This is Samantha Wilcoxson’s first foray into non-fiction but I truly hope she will write more!

Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson is an informative and entertaining read. I loved this book! And I learned so much! I cannot recommend it highly enough.

To Buy the Book:

Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson is available now from Amazon and Pen and Sword in the UK. It is available for pre-order on Amazon in the US and is now available worldwide from Book Depository.

About the Author:

Samantha Wilcoxson is an author of historical fiction and administrator of a history blog. She has written four full-length novels, three novellas, and two middle grade chapter books. Topics of her writing have ranged from the Wars of the Roses to America’s Civil Rights Movement. Samantha is passionate about history and exploring the personal side of events. In her writing, she urges the reader to truly experience what it might have felt like to live through a moment in history. Samantha’s most recent novel is biographical fiction featuring Catherine Donohue, one of America’s “radium girls.” She is currently working on a novelization of the life of Nathan Hale, and features in Hauntings, an anthology published by the Historical Writers Forum.

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My books:

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Alternate endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my stake what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

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