Today it is a pleasure to welcome Samantha Wilcoxson to History the Interesting Bits…. with an article about Mercy Otis Warren and her friend Catharine Macauley. Samantha’s new book Women of the American Revolution – her first non-fiction – provides a fabulous insight into the often-overlooked and severely underestimated women of the period. It is truly illuminating!
Revolutionary Female Friends: Mercy Otis Warren and Catharine Macaulay
In July 1784, Catharine Macaulay arrived in America where she visited Mercy Otis Warren. One wonders if those around them appreciated the historic value of this meeting between two early female historians. Catharine in England and Mercy in America had each written multiple works responding to events of the day in an era when women were not expected to discuss politics let alone write about it. Finally meeting after years of letter writing, it must have been an exciting introduction.
Catharine was outspoken and published in her own name, while Mercy’s satirical plays had been published anonymously. Boldly writing to American patriots to offer her support, Catharine initially corresponded with Mercy’s brother, James Otis Jr, who Catharine wrote was ‘the great guardian of American liberty.’
When James suffered from mental instability following a beating by British customs agents, Mercy took over the correspondence. Both women made astute observations on the evolving political situation. In 1767, Macaulay prophetically wrote that a democratic republic was the ‘only form of government….capable of preserving dominion and freedom to the people.’ The following year, Mercy foresaw that when British soldiers arrived in Boston ‘The American War may be dated from the hostile parade of this day.’
Catharine watched the Revolution from a distance, supporting the American colonies and encouraging members of parliament to consider their position and negotiate rather than losing them altogether. The opposite course was taken with British troops sent to Boston in 1768 and the Coercive Acts passed in 1774. Mercy had an insider’s view of the Revolution. Her husband, another James, served as Paymaster-General, was appointed to the Continental Congress, and sat on the Continental Navy Board. While Mercy was a patriot, she worried about her five sons ‘who must buckle on the harness. And perhaps fall a sacrifice to the manes of liberty.’
When Mercy met Catharine in person for the first time in 1784, she had lost no sons to war, though one had been severely wounded. Perhaps it was not until this meeting that the women realized how different they were. Through letters which focused on their shared political ideas and observations, they may have been convinced that they held more in common that they did.
Catharine arrived in America with a new, young husband. William Graham was twenty-one when he married the forty-seven-year-old Catharine six years earlier. Mercy, who frequently gave her sons moral lectures in her letters, would have been shocked by this relationship and the rumors that Catherine also had an affair with her brother-in-law. The values of simplicity and frugality held by Mercy were not as closely held by Catharine, who patronized the Sans Souci, a fashionable club that Mercy believed was the sort of establishment that would lead the new nation into a rapid decline.
Despite a falling out over their differences on morality, Mercy and Catharine salvaged their friendship before Catharine left America. They continued their correspondence, debating the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed US Constitution as fervently as the men in congress.
Mercy opposed the ratification of the Constitution and attempted to influence state leaders with a pamphlet titled Observations on the New Constitution, and on the Federal and State Conventions by a Columbian Patriot. She was concerned that individual rights were not established in the Constitution. While some states requested the addition of a Bill of Rights, none made their ratification dependent upon it. In a moment of frustration over the course the country was taking, Mercy wrote to Catharine in 1789, ‘we are too poor for Monarchy, too wise for Despotism, and too dissipated, selfish, and extravagant for Republicanism.’
Catharine wrote a letter to George Washington, who she had met during her year in America, congratulating him ‘on the event which placed you at the head of the American government.’ She was also not afraid to share her opinions with him warning of growing inequality between two houses of legislature and the possibility of the ‘evils of Aristocracy’ which America had thus far been ‘exempt from.’
Mercy and Catharine, through their epistolatory relationship, discussed the French Revolution, the writing of Edmund Burke, women’s rights, and any number of topics that 18th century women were not meant to discuss. Their civil discourse came to an end with Catharine’s death on 22 June 1791. Mercy finally published her History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution at age seventy-seven in 1805. She died on 19 October 1814 during the War of 1812, which solidified the independent status of the United States of America.
The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation by Nancy Rubin Stuart https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/catharine-sawbridge-macaulay-graham-1731-1791/ https://allthingsliberty.com/2019/10/catharine-macaulay-her-final-gifts-to-america-and-france-1787-1791
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 book:
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.
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.
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 Books, Amazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly