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NH Women in the Revolution


Patriotic Acts

Not all wives of Revolutionary soldiers stayed at home working and worrying. Those who could afford to travel and who had plenty of house hold help joined their husbands when possible. In a letter of February 26, 1776, Dr. Bartlett refers to Mary's forth coming visit to Philadelphia. Such a journey would be quite an undertaking, and it is presumed that Mary would have stayed there for a few weeks to make the expense and effort worth while.

Possible portrait of Molly SThere is a persistent and romantic legend that soon after John Stark left for the scene of fighting in Massachusetts, his wife Molly followed, carrying extra clothing and money. She is said to have ridden on horseback through the woods, guided only by spotted (blazed) trees. It is unlikely that Molly, pregnant with her ninth child, would have started out on a journey of 60 miles in such a fashion. The wife of the newly elected colonel of the First New Hampshire Regiment would probably have driven in a high wheeled chaise over main roads, spending the night en route with relatives in Atkinson or at a respectable inn.

Molly visited her husband several times at his headquarters at the Royall House in Medford. There she observed both British and American maneuvers from a third-story window high above the Mystic River. When hundreds of people rushed to rooftops and high ground to watch the Battle of Bunker Hill, Molly climbed Pasture Hill to see the smoke and flames rising above Charlestown and to listen to the sound of cannon fire, no doubt fearing for the life of her gallant husband.

There are no accounts of wives at Ticonderoga, Albany, or Trenton, but they clearly were in their husbands' thoughts . After a trip to Albany, Judge Patten wrote, "Brought back to Mrs. Newman a pair of silver shoe and knee buckles and eight dollars," and "To Lieutenant McCalley's wife ten dollars in cash." From Philadelphia Dr. Bartlett sent chintz for three gowns for Mary, and silver sleeve buttons for the children.

While families of other communities were enduring hardships, those of Portsmouth and Exeter were enjoying a measure of prosperity, thanks to the trading and shipbuilding activity in the coastal city and the location of the new inland capital. Long accustomed to fine silks and furnishings in elegant mansions, some women continued their luxurious living, to the displeasure of those who were willing to sacrifice for the patriotic cause. The majority of housewives had given up imported tea after the tax controversy, taking what pleasure they could in Liberty Tea made of ribwort or other herbs.

Mrs. Abigail Butler of Nottingham felt strongly about tea drinkers. According to a poetic account published a century later, she was so incensed when a traveler staying at Butler Tavern attempted to take a package of tea from his pocket that:

Then quickly she darted forward,
Her plate of meat she let fall,
And with one deft stroke of the carver,
Cut coat-tails, pocket and all,
Threw them into the blazing fire-place
Before he had time to think,
While she said in a voice triumphant,
"That tea you shall never drink. "

Another ardently patriotic group of women met in Portsmouth in the summer of 1777 to piece together an American flag for John Paul Jones's ship, the Ranger. A popular legend says Mary Langdon, Caroline Chandler, Augusta Pierce and Dorothy Hall cut up their best gowns for the stars and stripes, while Mrs. Helen Seavey sacrificed the white silk dress in which she had only recently been married.

New Hampshire was the only state in which no actual battles were fought, but throughout the state women proved they were ready to defend themselves and their homes if necessary. Prudence Wright of Hollis led a group of women dressed in men's clothes in the capture of a local Tory who was found to be carrying dispatches to the enemy in his boots. When a false rumor of attack from the sea reached Greenland, Elinor Johnson started out on the road to Rye with her musket, ready to meet the enemy.

Colonial women had learned early how to handle firearms. When only fifteen, Molly Stark had used a musket to guard the fort built by her father, Capt. Caleb Page, in Starkstown (Dunbarton), while men were working in the fields. Later, when the mother of several children, she is said to have shot a bear.

Bears and even wolves were constant threats to rural families. Mrs. Mary Hall of Mason thought wolves were about to enter her cabin while her husband, Deacon Hall, was absent. With her children's help, she pushed every piece of furniture against the door and spent a sleepless night waiting for morning light to drive the animals away.

Mary Bartlett, Molly Stark, Polly Locke, Molly Reid and others showed what women were willing to do to support the efforts of their men at war. Their courage and capability made it possible for New Hampshire soldiers to fight for their country without fearing excessively for the safety of those at home.

Mary Bartlett expressed their awareness of the gravity of the times when she wrote to her husband on July 6, 1776, "I believe this Year will decide the fate of america.'' And so, with the help of the women of the Revolution, it did.

by Olive Tardiff. Originally published in "NH: Years of Revolution," Profiles Publications and the NH Bicentennial Commision, 1976. Reprinted by permission of the author.  First published online here in 1997.

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