This presidential address was delivered at the 133rd annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held in Chicago, on January 4, 2019.

History on the Diagonal

A poem by Emily Dickinson inspired the title of this address. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” Dickinson began: “Success in Circuit lies.” She concluded the verse a few lines later thus: “The Truth must dazzle gradually / or every man be blind.”1

In the canon of feminist literature, Dickinson’s “telling it slant” has been interpreted as describing a tactic adopted by women to challenge male prerogative subtly but effectively. Many female authors, critics argue, have approached masculine dominance from the side, employing an indirect means of undermining men’s authority while at the same time avoiding an obvious frontal clash. Such a technique could indeed promise success through circuitous methods, success that would be achieved gradually and dazzle rather than blind audiences with its revelations of truth.2

But here I mean something different by the phrase “telling it slant” and by my title, “History on the Diagonal.” Rather than explicitly depicting a confrontation with male prerogative (although that could well be part of the mix), I advocate asking historical questions in new ways—from the side, as it were, or from the standpoint of “the other.” I encourage historians to address central historical issues creatively by approaching them from unusual perspectives, including the perspective of groups that traditionally have not dominated the telling of history—in other words, from the position of women and so-called “minorities,” who are of course not always that. As an Early Americanist, I will draw primarily on examples from the scholarly literature that focus on America before the Civil War, but my contention is that the same prescriptions can apply in all historical fields. Further, it is important to make clear that by singling out certain works as exemplifying the approaches I recommend, I do not mean to imply that they constitute the sole possible examples of excellent historical writing. Rather, they are just that—exempla that represent many other works as well. In a recent column in Perspectives on History, I reflected on my response to a 1983 survey distributed by the Committee on Women Historians (now the Committee on Gender Equity) asking for women historians’ thoughts about the historical profession’s attitudes toward female historians, women’s history, and those who studied it. That response surfaced in an archival file being examined by Allison Miller, the editor of Perspectives, who sent me a scan. I will not here repeat the contents of the column, or the entire document, but rather will focus on one aspect of it: my sense then, which persists to this day, that many historians, mostly men but including some women, “have not yet fully assimilated women’s history scholarship or recognized its significance.” Such scholars, I continued in the mid-1980s, “isolate the insights of women’s history, placing them in a separate category that does not affect the core of their work.” Indeed, I admitted, I and other early practitioners of and enthusiasts for women’s history had been “naive” to assume that the insights of the field would be “fully integrated into history” and that “women’s history” as such would accordingly “self-destruct.”3

The foundation of the approach I advocate lies in always asking historical questions differentiated into analytical categories, rather than supposing that everyone in the set of people one is studying has similar interests or concerns. A failing of early “family” history, for example, lay in the unexamined assumption that all members of those families shared the concerns and perspectives of the husband/father, which are commonly the most readily accessible.4 Often scholars assume that all their subjects either are straight or have gender identities that can be defined by a male/female binary.5 Too seldom do historians of past politics recognize that their primary subjects are explicitly male, with priorities that derive from their masculine identity and social roles.6 Historians who have focused on slavery, servitude, or class have been more aware of the need to address those basic divisions, but even in such studies, gender has often been elided or ignored.7

In that failing, I include my own early work. My first book, based on my dissertation and published as The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774–1789, embarrassingly does not include an index entry for “women.” I personally prepared that index, and although the names of female loyalist exiles appear occasionally in the volume, the category “women” was not in my head as I composed the dissertation, or later the book.8 Therefore, even though I quoted from correspondence revealing that women confronted special difficulties in exile, and even though I had taken notes on claims for compensation that female loyalists submitted to the British government after the war, the tables in the dissertation (they were not published in the book) that reported the results of those claims did not single out women in any way. Nearly all of the female claimants were loyalists’ widows, and I must have silently conflated widows’ claims for compensation with those of the male counterparts of their deceased husbands in the same occupational categories. In chapter 8 of the dissertation, the tables are therefore titled “Small Landowners,” “Large Landowners,” “Tradesmen and Skilled Laborers,” and “Professional Men,” in addition to several categories of merchants.9

I have several times told the story I will now repeat. After I became interested in women’s history (about the time that first book was published), I began to research the experiences of women during the Revolution, but in a very unsystematic way, without much of a scholarly compass for guidance. In large part that was because the few works on women in early America published before the 1970s had essentially ignored the American Revolution, focusing instead on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries prior to the war.10

While sitting in my Ithaca apartment one Sunday afternoon and wondering how to forge a path into the morass that the history of women in the Revolution then seemed to me, I suddenly remembered those female loyalist claimants. I had recorded a total of about 1,500 claims; in retrospect, I thought that women had produced perhaps 100 of them. I knew little about women, but I knew a great deal about loyalists and their claims: perhaps the female loyalists could be my guides to their contemporaries. I went through the boxes of 4×6 note cards I had stored at the apartment, one for every loyalist claimant, and pulled out all submitted by women. I was astonished at the result—a substantial pile of approximately 300 cards.

All those women, I quickly realized, could help me to combat an assumption of previous historians about colonial women: that in early America, wives had been their husbands’ true partners in life and in business, and that they had been more fully integrated into the economies of their communities than they were after the industrialization of the post-revolutionary decades. Applicants had to describe their property to the British Loyalist Claims Commission in order to request compensation for their losses, often without access to deeds or other documents that had been left behind in America. They had to rely on their memories and to some extent on networks of also-exiled neighbors to convince the commission that they had suffered the forfeitures of property they described. The questions the records could answer were obvious: Could women give as full accounts of lost properties as their husbands did? How did they characterize the family’s possessions? And if I asked whether their claims had the same rate of success as men’s overall, what would I find? To answer those questions, I recognized that I had to return to the Public Record Office, then on Chancery Lane in central London, and review the commission’s records, this time explicitly seeking women and rereading all those claims by women with such new questions in mind. Doing so the next summer turned up another 160 or so female claimants—women who had contacted the commission but who, for one reason or another, had never completed their claims. Even the voluminous sources I had consulted for the dissertation, in short, had been incomplete in that they excluded many loyalists who had failed to finish applications for compensation. And women appeared more likely than men to have fallen into that category, often precisely because they knew few details about their family’s lost property.11

The results of that investigation became my first published work of women’s history, an article that appeared in the bicentennial issue of the William and Mary Quarterly in July 1976. It reported on eighteenth-century American women’s familiarity with household possessions and their lack of knowledge about land values or family businesses, unless the women in question had been widowed before the war. It detailed what they knew and what they did not, concluding that their testimonies drew on their own personal knowledge, not on any information their husbands would have shared with them, had they truly worked in concert with each other. It furthermore recounted their many struggles in exile—struggles worse than those of their male counterparts, which I had described in the book. Doing that work taught me the importance of asking gender-differentiated questions, and convinced me of the revolutionary potential of women’s history.12

I eventually published the book that resulted from all my research on the topic of women and the Revolution in 1980 as Liberty’s Daughters. As often happens, another historian—Linda Kerber, a former president of this organization—was researching and writing her book on a similar topic at the same time. Women of the Republic appeared within six months of mine. Together, our works launched a new field of study, a development of which I remain very proud.13

This story has a coda. Committed to gendered analyses after I finished Liberty’s Daughters, I embarked on the research for what became Founding Mothers & Fathers, my third monograph, with such questions firmly in mind. And I discovered, as I explained in that book, that in the seventeenth century, elevated social standing was more important than gender in determining the public roles of high-status women. Their social and economic prominence, I argued, helped to explain the assumptions that guided the actions, ideas, and impact of such early colonial women as Mistress Margaret Brent of Maryland and Mistress Anne Hutchinson of Massachusetts Bay, to cite only the most obvious examples. Ironically, my attention to gendered definitions alerted me to the significance of the absence of those definitions, but that insight was possible only because gender-differentiated inquiries had been at the forefront of my mind as I researched and drafted the book.14

Other scholars who begin with a focus on gender have explored diverse historical circumstances in which gender identity at birth has not been wholly dispositive for women or men. Those circumstances include times and places in which people seemingly born as one sex deliberately and for various reasons adopt clothing of the other; in which babies have ambiguous genitalia; or in which race trumps gender, just as in the seventeenth century high status did the same.15 But even when gender does not supply an absolute and unchanging category into which historians can definitively place people, awareness of gender divisions is nevertheless key to understanding the relative absence or obscuring of those divisions in different situations.

Although I ignored gender analysis in my dissertation and my first book, I did not do the same with race, for I noted briefly in both works that the Claims Commission treated formerly enslaved black loyalists dismissively, and I soon wrote an article about their fate in England and eventually Sierra Leone.16 Scholars of race in American history have always been less naive than were the first modern scholars of women’s history like myself, for they never expected their field to self-destruct; nor have they ever anticipated that their subject would be fully integrated into the story of America writ large. The story they told, and have continued to tell, shines an important spotlight on the unique experiences of Africans in America. Yet uniqueness is not the whole story, as many subjects would benefit from the comparative treatment of whites and blacks.

Indeed, if any topic in American history would seem to require scholarship encompassing both black and white Americans, it is abolitionism, the struggle that began in the late eighteenth century to end the enslavement of people of African (and sometimes Native American) descent. Yet for many years white historians conceived of abolitionism as a benevolent project of other whites, and blacks as the recipients of that largesse rather than as active participants in the movement. For example, Dwight Dumond’s Antislavery, published in 1961, is more than four hundred pages and forty-four chapters long; one nine-page chapter, titled “Negro Leaders,” supplies the sole discussion of African Americans’ involvement. Aileen Kraditor’s 1969 Means and Ends in American Abolitionism rarely mentions Frederick Douglass while devoting many pages to discussions of such white abolitionists as Wendell Phillips and Lewis Tappan. Even Gerda Lerner’s justly praised biography of the sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké fails to examine the efforts of the many free black women who actively supported the cause of abolition.17

In those books, Dumond, Kraditor, and Lerner wrote about white abolitionists without mentioning the exclusion of blacks from their studies. But years later, in 1982, when Lawrence Friedman addressed abolitionism in a religious context, he felt compelled to explain why he only occasionally discussed black abolitionists and concentrated rather on those whites who became “immediatist” abolitionists in the 1830s. The black activists, he wrote, answered to “different drummers” and had more expansive concerns than whites, being “more attentive to the concrete everyday economic and social struggles of black Northerners” than were their white counterparts. They also devoted time and energy to various “black initiated responses to the specific problems of the Northern Negro.”18 Why those differences required him to ignore African American activists was not mentioned in the text. Friedman primarily confined discussion of black abolitionists to his chapter 6, titled “The Chord of Prejudice,” which—as indicated by that title—stressed whites’ attitudes toward their black compatriots in the abolition movement more than African Americans’ own ideas and actions. It perhaps goes without saying that Friedman also focused almost exclusively on men.19

When Friedman wrote about Frederick Douglass’s conflicts with his white comrades, he did so in part from Douglass’s standpoint, but those passages were rare in the wider context of the book.20 How much can be gained from taking a broader approach—treating activists of both races in equal measure—is evident in Manisha Sinha’s 2016 study of the abolitionist movement, The Slave’s Cause, which should become the touchstone for numerous subsequent works. Beginning the book with black and white antislavery activists in the eighteenth century and carrying her story through the Civil War, Sinha stresses the radical character of abolitionism and the involvement of people of both races in the struggle. Her comprehensive survey, based chiefly though not exclusively on secondary sources, charts a path that many other historians could usefully follow in coming years.21

Yet Sinha deals less successfully with gender difference than with race. She confines her discussion of black and white women’s role in the movement largely to one chapter, focusing primarily on outlining their organizational efforts. Going beyond Sinha, Margaret Washington, in her recent essay “Religion, Reform, and Antislavery,” demonstrates vividly how “[t]ogether and independently, white and black women crafted visions of socioreligious reform in America.” She traces their activities not only in organizations but as individuals—white and black, women and men—concentrating on the decades from the 1820s through the early 1850s. Bringing into alignment previously distinct narratives of male and female abolitionists of both races adds immeasurably to our understanding of that remarkable period of conflict and reform. Washington definitively demonstrates the commitment to biracial action of courageous female leaders.22


Approaching history “on the diagonal” can involve a number of strategies, some of which I detail here, with examples of each, in no particular order. What follows should not be seen as a list that excludes other possibilities with the same characteristics—that is, creative and unusual approaches to asking historical questions. It is intended merely to be suggestive and thought-provoking.

Adding the lens of race or gender to an existing historiography that has ignored either or both. Such a tactic can bring together interpretations previously seen as conflicting or contradictory. A prime example is Kristin Hoganson’s Fighting for American Manhood. Hoganson’s persuasive analysis of the gendered language employed by those who promoted the Spanish-American War in 1898 provides a comprehensive framework for understanding the seemingly disparate concerns of different jingoistic thinkers. She includes those who argued for the imperialistic annexation of new territories, those who stressed the importance of avenging the sinking of the battleship Maine, those who expressed sympathy for Cubans, and others who simply sought partisan advantage. Exposing the deeply gendered cultural foundations of American foreign policy in the late nineteenth century does more than add another element to a variety of existing interpretations; it offers a coherent means of creating further avenues for research.23

Developing new analytical categories that supersede and replace older ones, thus unifying what had been disparate areas of scholarship. Corinne Field’s The Struggle for Equal Adulthood examines suffrage struggles before the Civil War through a filter supplied by concepts of age. With such an analytical tool, Field is able to fuse previously distinct discussions of voting rights for men and women, blacks and whites. Whereas earlier historians confined themselves to studying the suffrage claims of one or at most two of the four groups, Field’s use of suffrage opponents’ rhetoric likening such claimants to “children” demonstrates the common themes that linked them all.24

Taking a body of evidence collected in the past for one purpose and commonly used to investigate that same purpose, but instead employing it creatively for another. In this category I place James Sidbury’s Ploughshares into Swords. As he states in the introduction, Sidbury studied the testimony and related records of participants in Gabriel’s conspiracy in 1800–1801 “to open a window on the perceptions of people of African descent in Richmond at the turn of the nineteenth century.” The details of the conspiracy itself constitute only part of his story; the major thrust of the book analyzes the society that gave birth to it.25 As someone who has personally worked in two other remarkably large sets of evidence in a less creative way, I challenge early American historians to use the records of the Salem witch trials, available in an accurate and comprehensive edition since 2009, or the unpublished, voluminous records of the British Loyalist Claims Commission in the 1780s to study what underlies each, respectively: life in Massachusetts villages in the final decades of the seventeenth century, or life in the American colonies prior to and during the American Revolution.26

Reversing a standard question, in effect turning scholarship upside down. Here I cite both Nell Painter’s The History of White People and Bill Foster’s The Captors’ Narrative. The contents of these works, and how they turn historians’ usual categories of analysis back on themselves, are obvious from their titles. Painter examines the history of “whiteness” rather than the far more common “blackness”; and instead of the familiar trope of the colonial captivity narrative, Foster looks at accounts of the French nuns who ended up as the captors of New England men taken in the Indian wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Both books accordingly open new and important areas of inquiry.27

Tackling major events by adopting the perspective of “the other.” A prime recent example is Lisa Brooks’s Our Beloved Kin, which explodes the standard narrative of King Philip’s War in late-seventeenth-century New England. Brooks, a Native scholar, retells what historians have tended to regard as a well-known tale. For her, the often nameless warrior raiders of other accounts become individually identified “protectors” of family and wider kin, and Native Christian converts—nominal allies of English settlers—become men and women caught in almost unimaginably difficult dilemmas caused by conflicting loyalties and responsibilities. Her reworking of Mary Rowlandson’s famous captivity narrative from a Native standpoint is, in a word, brilliant. Throughout the book, Brooks is alert to gender and racial categories as they were understood and expressed at the time, which is not necessarily the way historians today have perceived and described them. She does not claim to have written a definitive revision of the standard account of the war, but rather to have proposed alternative narratives that can lead to a new understanding of the conflict and of all the Native groups enmeshed in it.28

Adopting an unusual line of inquiry that suggests new ways of thinking about historical source material. This last constitutes my own contribution in this address to studying “history on the diagonal.” The analytical approach I employ focuses on the phenomenon that has been termed rhetorical femininity.29 That phrase, coined by a scholar of English literature, refers to publications that appear under a woman’s name, but which may or may not have been written by a woman. On a very few occasions in eighteenth-century America, the authors of such essays can be identified. Most famous, of course, are the young Benjamin Franklin’s Silence Dogood letters. Franklin assumed the persona of a rural clergyman’s elderly widow in order to satirize Cotton Mather and, among other aims, to question the value of a Harvard education (to which he, as the fifteenth child of a candlemaker, could not aspire). Occasionally, the author of such pieces is known to be female. But in most instances the gender of the author must be surmised from content and tone, or that question must be elided. My discussion will refer to all such authors as she, because that was how they presented themselves, unless a masculine identity was clearly indicated.30

The context is always important. Many of the obviously male authors in eighteenth-century periodicals employed women’s voices primarily for humorous purposes. By the 1760s and 1770s—my concern here—the conventions of rhetorical femininity had long been established in the colonial press, conventions I considered in my 2011 book, Separated by Their Sex. Authors adopting female names could write critiques of women’s foibles, could criticize male behavior on occasion, and could discuss courtship and marriage. But such nominal women could consider only that limited range of topics without arousing the ire of male readers, who tended to respond with published invective if purportedly female writers strayed outside those well-known boundaries. Before the mid1760s, permissible topics definitely did not include politics.31

And so essays in traditional style in the late 1760s and early 1770s signed by such rhetorically feminine names as “Belinda,” “Julia,” and “Mary Wisewood” discussed women’s behavior, and a purported twenty-one-year-old New Yorker, “E. Morelove,” sought a husband, eliciting replies from “J. Vanity,” “Jack Ramble,” and one who signed only with initials.32 Yet during those politically charged years, nominal women also began to address political subjects. For example, in early 1766, “Tabitha Strawbonnet” satirized women who pledged to forgo proper mourning garb in order to protest the 1765 Stamp Act. She wrote with studied exaggeration, “This single Step, if well followed, will have a greater Effect on the Prosperity of this Country, than an 100 Prussian Regiments of Death, with manly Remonstrances in one Hand, and flaming Swords in the other.” She speculated that such women might replace black clothing with white or red dresses or hats, but warned women not to appear in church “with Crimson, much less with a Scarlet Hat,” because such colors reminded onlookers of “the painted Girl of the Town” or even “a Crab and a Lobster boiled.”33

Six years later, in 1772, “Eleutherina,” who was described as “a young Lady” living in the country, submitted to the Boston Gazette via two male intermediaries a letter she addressed to Queen Charlotte. Eleutherina asked the queen to act on behalf of the oppressed Americans and to help “put away the wicked [advisors] from before the king, that thy throne may be established in righteousness.” She described the colonists’ “ardent love” for the queen and their “affection and esteem” for her and the house of Hanover, which she had joined by marriage. Eleutherina warned the queen, “You are surrounded by the worst enemies in the vestiture of friends,” asserting that “the glory of Britain depends on America,” and predicting a “dismal fate” for Britain should its leaders continue on their present political course. Please, she begged the queen, use “your kindly sweet influence to save us Americans, because we cannot fall alone; Britain must be involved in our ruin.” She averred that the colonists were the proper heirs of Britain’s love of liberty. “Shall we surrender to the invidious usurpers and rapacious vultures”? she asked. “We expect a resistance even to a deluge of blood.” Americans trusted in God, and if they were to die, “we shall fall gloriously.”34

A response to Eleutherina’s presumption came not from a man but from other nominal women. “THE LADIES OF NEW-ENGLAND, over the tea-table assembled,” wrote as a group to dissent from “the late Indecent, unjust, and dishonorary Address of a certain forward and loquacious young Lady.” They questioned Eleutherina’s identity, charging that her letter bore a strong resemblance of “sentiment and composition” to essays authored by Candidus (known then and now to be Samuel Adams). Having accused her of actually being a prominent man, they nevertheless went on to treat her as a woman. Decrying her “effrontery” in claiming to speak for others of her sex, they declared her characterizations of the king’s ministers to be violations of “that delicacy and decorum” which ladies should display—and that the allegations she offered were “groundless, false, and seditious.” Moreover, her insistence that Britain was dependent on America was “not easily reconcilable with common sense,” and that nation certainly did not face ruin, as Eleutherina predicted. They described her writings as “the causeless ravings of an enthusiast in petticoats.” They concurred that Americans enjoyed more liberty than Britons, attributing that to the parent nation’s “patronage and tenderness.” They found “shocking” her reference to “a deluge of blood,” yet agreed that Americans would resist by force any British attacks on the colonies. Still, they pronounced Eleutherina’s letter to Queen Charlotte “totally inconsistent with the female character.” Eschewing the potential for “curtain lectures,” whether “royal or conjugal,” they insisted on the queen’s or any wife’s primary duty to obey her husband, and her ultimate gain from pleasing him.35

Perhaps the tea-table ladies were correct, and Samuel Adams was Eleutherina’s alter ego. Or perhaps she really was “an enthusiast in petticoats,” the “young lady” from the country she claimed to be. But in the end it did not matter. This exchange of rhetorically feminine authors on a political subject was unique because it was initiated by a nominal woman and replied to by other nominal women. It nevertheless conformed to the conventions of feminine discourse. Eleutherina’s address was directed to a woman, Queen Charlotte, its contents revolving around standard themes such as a wife’s influence on her husband and fears that colonists often expressed about George III’s evil advisors. Likewise, the response, too, adhered to the norms of femininity in its charge that Eleutherina had not shown the “delicacy and decorum” expected from women. The tea-table ladies insisted that in addressing the queen as she did, Eleutherina was in effect promoting marital discord in the royal family, an effect surely to be avoided.

That Eleutherina’s critics said they were over a “tea-table assembled” was entirely appropriate in light of Anglo-American women’s long association with sociable tea drinking. In colonial culture dating back to the first decades of the eighteenth century, “ladies” were figured as tea drinkers, and much evidence suggests that the trope had both symbolic and real resonance. American women, particularly the well-to-do, did socialize over tea, as their menfolk socialized over ale at taverns. And so when groups of colonial women acted collectively in these years, tea was often the chief subject of their concern. Parliament’s adoption of the Tea Act in 1773 led to boycotts throughout the colonies to oppose imports from the East India Company, boycotts in which patriotic women enthusiastically participated and which elicited extensive coverage in newspapers.36

Anti-tea poetry composed in a rhetorically feminine voice constituted an important component of the publicity supporting the tea boycott. “A Lady’s Adieu to her Tea Table” appeared in two versions in different newspapers, one rhymed and one not. The first began, “Farewell the Tea Board, with its gaudy Equipage, / Of Cups and Saucers, Cream Bucket, Sugar Tongs,” while the rhymed imitation read, “Farewell the Teaboard, with your gaudy attire, / Ye cups and ye saucers, that I did admire.” Another poem, “Virginia Banishing Tea, by a Lady,” started, “Begon[e] pernicious baneful Tea, / With all Pandora’s ills possess’d.” And a group of women from Bedford, Massachusetts, purportedly focused a poetic resolution on replacements for imports, telling “the Gentlemen of that Place” that they would “bid adieu to India stuff, / Before we’ll lose our Liberty.”37

Reports and commentaries about tea frequently instigated statements by nominal women. For instance, “A Woman” complained in the Massachusetts Spy about recent opinion pieces intended to convince women that drinking tea was bad for their health. If tea had long been known to be “a baneful weed, a poisonous draught,” she wrote, “why were not these arguments used against the use of it in former times, before it was thought a political evil?” Give us “political reasons” not to drink tea, she requested, rather than “telling us scare crow stories about it.”38 Supplying such reasons, a South Carolina “Planter’s Wife” informed “my Sisters” that continuing to drink tea “greatly assisted the Enemies of America, to enslave ourselves and posterity.” She insisted, “we no longer have any Confidence in the British Parliament” and can expect nothing from Britain but “Cruelty and Injustice.” William Tennent III, signing himself “The Husband of the Planter’s Wife,” then followed up her statement with an even more fervent one of his own, declaring that if American women did not give up their “darling Tea-Dish Ceremony,” they would be facilitating the deaths of their husbands and sons. “It is for Tea that the very Vitals of America are stabbed,” he wrote melodramatically, and all women had to do to save themselves and their families was to forgo “a meer Ceremony—worse; a Time consuming Poison.” Their abstention from tea would win the applause of all Americans, he declared, and “your Country will rise and call you blessed.”39

Tennent was unusual not only in the fervor of his over-the-top language but also in the seriousness with which he took women’s protest activities. More often, male and some rhetorically female authors satirized women’s commitment to boycott tea, just as “Tabitha Strawbonnet” had satirized their forgoing proper mourning clothes. When women publicly participated in the boycott, they opened themselves to the possibility of ridicule by those who saw women’s collective political actions as risible rather than patriotic. For example, one wit produced “resolves” from “the fair Daughters of Liberty” in Hartford, Connecticut. The “daughters,” it was said, had found tea guilty of “High Treason,” so they pledged to “HANG the Tea Kettle, DRAW the tea, and QUARTER the Toast.” Similarly, “Susanna Spindle,” the “Moderatrix” of “the Matrons of Liberty” in New Hampshire, reported resolves that included the declaration that American women “are entitled to all the Liberties which the Women in Great Britain enjoy, and particularly to drink Tea.” The “Matrons” voted that they would stop sipping tea only after their husbands stopped “Tipling” liquor.40

Some nominally female authors responded to such lampooning of women’s political activity. Those adopting a rhetorically feminine voice had long been allowed, perhaps even expected, to reply to attacks on women for their supposed inherent faults, such as vanity, a preference for coxcombs, or excessive attraction to fine clothing. During the 1760s and 1770s, nominal women employed the same tactic to reply when newspaper articles cast aspersions on women’s attempts to support the cause of resistance. In addition to tea drinking, ritualized public spinning bees, in which New England women competed to spin the most thread to symbolize their ability to replace imported textiles, were widely publicized and drew similar critical attention.41

A prime example of an exchange between men and women over such actions took place in the pages of two Boston newspapers in 1767. This time, the antagonists almost certainly had the gender identities they claimed to represent. The controversy began when one Henry Flynt addressed “the Ladies of North America” in an essay in the Boston Gazette in early November of that year. Flynt offered his female contemporaries “a few well-intended Sentiments,” urging them to “lay aside all superfluous Ornaments for a Season.” About six weeks later, “A Young American” joined the chorus, advising both men and women to practice “Frugality, Oeconomy, and Industry” and to avoid “Luxury and Prodigality.” He urged women to wear only homespun clothing manufactured in America, and to desist from discussing “Dress, Scandal, and Detraction.” Those comments might not have aroused women’s ire had it not been for the further remarks of a man signing himself “Squibo.” He accused some Boston “Ladies of the first quality” of drinking only rum when they held patriotic spinning bees, because rum was “the principal and almost only manufacture of this country,” and drinking it allowed them to avoid “that pernicious and enervating thing called Tea.”42

Three women signing themselves Aspatia, Belinda, and Corinna responded with fury to Squibo and his two predecessors. American women, they declared, had been “diverse times addressed as persons of consequence in the present oeconomical regulations.”43 Squibo, though, had “scandalously insulted” them. They warned him to never again “presume to throw his unmanly squibs on the ladies of Boston,” who were “exceeded by none” in their “modesty of apparel, purity and delicacy of manners, improvement of mind, and virtuous characters.” He might have thought he was joking about their imbibing rum rather than tea, but if so, the joke fell flat. As for the “young American,” because of his youth they “charitably” excused him for “groundlessly” insinuating that they only discussed scandal. They also replied to Henry Flynt, declaring that women could judge appropriate dress for themselves; they would decide whether and when to replace well-worn imported garments with homespun clothing that might initially cost more. The three signers of the letter admitted that they did not know if other female Bostonians agreed with them, but indicated that many “respectable” women were willing to be “ridiculed” and “lampooned” by the “little wits and foplings of the present day” in order to support the American cause. To those who supposed women inferior to men, they concluded resoundingly: “Inferior in abusive Sarcasm, Inferior in personal Invective, in low Wit, we glory to be. But Inferior in Veracity, Honesty, Sincerity, Industry, Love of Virtue, of Liberty, and of our Country, we wou’d not willingly be to any.”44

The lampoons of women’s patriotic activities by rhetorically feminine voices increased in number during the 1770s, as did defenses of such activities. Occasionally such defenses veered into criticisms of men more subtle and clever than men’s parodies of women. In one case the author has been firmly identified: Hannah Griffits, a Philadelphia Quaker. A poem she published and signed “A Female,” titled “The Female Patriots, Addressed to the Daughters of Liberty in America, 1768,” systematically addressed the taxes Britain had levied on Americans under the Townsend duties, touching briefly on each item taxed to raise revenue for the empire. She analogized colonial men to babies, who, “kept by a Sugar-Plumb quietly down, / Supinely asleep, & depriv’d of their Sight / Are stripped of their Freedom, and robb’d of their Right,” while women, who had no vote, nevertheless acted in defense of America. Merchants, she wrote, could import all they wished, but women would not purchase such goods; and women would “bid Grenville to see, / That rather than Freedom we part with our Tea.” They would not buy taxed, imported paper, for “to remonstrate our Grief, / We can speak viva Voce, or scratch on a Leaf.” Women would do without similarly taxed dyes and paints, employing berry juice instead. By doing all this, she concluded, “Thus acting—we point out their Duty to Men. / And should the Bound-Pensioners tell us to hush, / We can throw back the Satire, by bidding them blush.”45

To Griffits, then, the same female activists who were mercilessly parodied by others were the true patriots, and men were no better than babies. A “Sugar-Plumb” pacifier kept them asleep and blind. She expanded on her theme of masculine cowardice in other lines of verse. Men were prevented from acting by partisan loyalties or “fear of a Frown.” Such concerns did not dissuade women, who would “nobly arise” to use their power as consumers to boycott all taxed goods. She proposed substitutes for each, and proudly proclaimed, “trust me a Woman by honest Invention / Might give this State Doctor a Dose of Prevention.” She urged women to “join mutual in this,” although the effort might seem “small,” for they could thwart the minister’s plans. Most importantly, they would model patriotism for their menfolk, encouraging them to oppose Britain’s oppressive schemes.46

Griffits’s bold verse stood out in patriot writings for its use of rhetorically feminine terminology to critique men by referring to them as babies and to women’s ability to improvise from necessity in running a household. But the most extensive and successful deployment of such tropes came not from a patriot but from one of their opponents: an author employing the pseudonym “Mary V.V.” on a fourteen-page pamphlet in verse titled A Dialogue, between a Southern Delegate, and His Spouse, on His Return from the Grand Continental Congress. This was, the title page pronounced, “A Fragment inscribed to the Married Ladies of America, by their most sincere and Affectionate Friend and Servant.” The clear implication of Mary’s initials, V.V., was vice versa, indicating her dissent from the praise heaped on the congress after its adjournment in late October 1774. The New York printer James Rivington published A Dialogue less than two months later. That information did not appear on the title page, but he advertised it in his New York Gazetteer and in at least one other pamphlet he published that month. That the anonymous author intended the wife to be seen as the dominant voice in the pamphlet was evident in the choice of a rhetorically feminine pseudonym.47

As befitted a fragment, the dialogue began in mid-sentence, with the husband’s phrase “in less than a Year,” and the wife’s reply, “Mark me Sir, you’ll repent of’t, as sure as you’re there,” certainly a reference looking ahead to the second congress, planned for May 1775. The husband next urges the wife to “be a little discreet,” or the neighbors will overhear her criticisms, and complains that she seems uninterested in his opinion, though many others “often have ask’d it, and have follow’d it too.” He admits that he did not agree with some of the steps the congress took, implying that the delegates were often drunk during their debates: “Men, when drunk, are all Heroes, all prudent, all gallant; / Stark Fools, become Sages; rank Cowards, grow valiant.” She turns that assessment back onto him: “I protest this same Congress’s a very fine School; / A Man comes back a Chatham, who went there a Fool.” That elicits the traditional riposte of a man to a woman, “But prithee, Dear, dabble not in our Politics.” She greets that statement with a “Horse-laugh,” but he persists: “Mind thy Household-Affairs, teach thy children to read, / And never, Dear, with Politics, trouble thy Head.”48

The wife then challenges his assertion that women should have nothing to do with politics, proceeding to argue that delegates’ wives would have managed matters at the congress better than the delegates did. She asks pointedly: “Because Men are Males, are they all Politicians? / Why then I presume they’re Divines and Physicians, / And born all with Talents every Station to fill.” Wives, she avers, would not have tried to “bluster and frighten” England, as the men did. The husband replies that he and the other congressmen did their best, but the wife will have none of it. From then until the end of the pamphlet five pages later, he has only three scattered lines. The “dialogue” instead becomes a monologue, a cleverly rhymed set of critiques of congressional actions, couched in expressions of concern for her husband.49

The wife insists that she always has his interests in mind. “Could I see you in Prison, or hang’d, without Pain? / Then, pray, have not I reason enough to complain?” She holds out the specter of bloody warfare ahead, reminding her spouse that the congress was supposed to petition Parliament about Americans’ grievances, but instead committed “little short, of High Treason.” Indeed, “You resolv’d, you enacted, like a sovereign Pow’r,” and the cost of disobeying congressional decrees was “our Fortunes, and Fames,” though at least not “Gibbets, and Flames.” Congress’s recently enacted import boycott and its threat to halt exports in the future, she contends, could ruin “thousands, and thousands,” for “without daring to bite, you’re shewing your Teeth, / You’ve contriv’d to starve, all the poor People to death.” When delegates from New York or Pennsylvania proposed “some wise Plan,” he and the others rejected it; and instead of sending Parliament respectful petitions, they drafted a series of addresses filled with “Insult, Rebellion, and Treason.” Because of all these mistakes, she indicates, “I am distracted with Fear, and my Hair stands on end.”50

At that point the husband interjects that she has been overly influenced by “Romances, and Plays,” but she responds that she is being realistic about the danger facing the colonies. Forget Britain for a moment, she comments; what about the “rank Tyranny” in America itself because of the “Courts of Inspection” that have been established by the Continental Association? “Could the Inquisition, Venice, Rome, or Japan, / Have devised so horrid, so wicked a Plan?” She concludes with the thought that if “Spirits infernal” bent on revenge had been in charge of the congress, they could not have chosen a more destructive path than did the delegates. The dialogue ends:

Let Fools, Pedants, and Husbands, continue to hate
The Advice of us Women, and call it all Prate:
Whilst you are in Danger, by your good Leave, my Dear,
Both by Night and by Day, I will ring in your Ear—
Make your Peace:—Fear the King:—The Parliament fear.
Oh! my Country! remember, that a Woman unknown,
Cry’d aloud,—like Cassandra, in Oracular Tone,
Repent! Or you are forever, forever undone.51

The rhetorically feminine approach of A Dialogue, coupled with its poetic format, made it one of the more accessible, more clever, and possibly more persuasive pamphlets that attacked the Continental Congress. The group of New York–area Anglican clergymen who also published with James Rivington developed far more learned and comprehensive attacks on the congress, but Mary V.V. hit all the major points, and within a familial context that any reader could understand.52 She warned that the congress had not sought conciliation with Britain, as had been anticipated, but had instead made matters much worse. The Continental Association, with its non-importation and planned non-exportation agreements, would destroy the American economy and starve the colonists, poor people in particular. At the same time, it was but a weak weapon in the colonists’ arsenal. The committees of observation and inspection established under the association were as bad as, if not worse than, the Inquisition. Bloodshed and ruin, she predicted, lay in America’s future.

Other loyalists conveyed the same warning, most notably Daniel Leonard, writing as Massachusettensis in Boston at about the same time that Mary V.V. penned her words.53 Yet political commentary from a woman must have carried added meaning and impact because of its relative novelty. Notably, Mary V.V. did not back down when confronted by her husband about her venture into politics: in fact, she laughed in his face. She displayed no wifely submission. And she not only defended women’s wisdom—asserting that wives would have been more successful at the congress than their husbands—but attacked men’s pretense of being especially qualified to consider political subjects. Her iconoclasm was particularly unusual in its overt challenge to men’s political dominance. She did not simply question the wisdom of what the congressmen had done (even her husband did that, in part). Rather, she raised the issue of whether masculinity automatically endowed men with an exclusive right to public preeminence. A Dialogue was a parody, but with an underlying message of disputing men’s authority—more, perhaps, than the author ever intended.

The radical potential of a rhetorically feminine voice in the context of the mid-1770s became even clearer in a parody meeting of the Daughters of Liberty that appeared in a Boston newspaper in May 1774. Six signatories, all using species of trees as their last names (for example, Tabbatha Beech and Patience Hemlock) and representing their place of residence as Kennebec, Maine, declared that they had been “fired with a love of Independance” by the actions of Boston’s patriots. They accordingly insisted that woman is “a free and Independant Being” who could resist all efforts to subordinate her to “the Tyranny of Husbands.” All laws, they asserted, were “intolerable Grievances,” and government itself was “a public Nuisance.” Therefore, no one could be compelled to obey laws to which they had not consented in person or by a representative. As was well known, they continued, the ladies of Kennebec had not been consulted about tea, and so they formally protested against “all those who have been in any Manner assisting, abetting or conniving at the Destruction and Detention of that delicious Herb.” They regarded “violent Proceedings” against tea as “not only a scandalous Invasion of our Tea-Table Privileges, but a daring Attempt to reduce the Daughters of Freedom under their arbitrary and capricious Power.” They then switched to attacking rum, which they claimed had injured their husbands and families, vowing to prevent the importation of that “pestilent Enemy” into Maine. They ended by threatening to tie violators to trees where they could be bitten by “black Flies and Musketoes,” those distinctly Maine pests, and promised to prevent their husbands from supplying Boston with wood products in retaliation for Bostonians’ campaign against tea.54

The satirical complaint against men depriving women of their favorite beverage was familiar, but the language about declaring women’s independence from their husbands’ authority was not. That the rhetorically feminine parodist chose to employ it was striking, preceding by about two years Abigail Adams’s much-quoted similar plea to her husband John to “remember the Ladies” to free them from their husbands’ tyranny. Of course, her assertion was more serious than theirs, but the very fact that they used the language in a parody demonstrated that political ideas could spill over into familial relations, even if that language was meant to be taken as a joke. This rhetorically feminine publication, like A Dialogue, between a Southern Delegate, and His Spouse, accordingly provides compelling evidence about commonly overlooked gendered aspects of the American Revolution. Women could draw on the revolutionaries’ own language of resistance to Britain to begin to claim rights for themselves, even though that movement would not culminate formally until 1848, when the Seneca Falls Declaration mimicked the Declaration of Independence. Moreover, that the authors of both the pamphlet and the lampoon of the Kennebec ladies were almost certainly male demonstrated that men, too, had started to grasp the possible implications of revolutionary ideology for uses never considered by its initial promulgators.

In the same manner, enslaved and formerly enslaved African Americans could and did employ the revolutionaries’ language expressing fears of “enslavement” at the hands of Britons in challenges to the bondage they endured. That language did not initiate their claims to freedom but enabled its articulation in terms that their white compatriots could comprehend and occasionally affirm.55

Therefore, this example of approaching history “on the diagonal” contributes a new and telling piece of evidence to the controversy about the Revolution’s impact on American women that I originally considered in Liberty’s Daughters almost four decades ago. Even in lampoons, revolutionary ideology turned out to have what can only be termed “revolutionary” penumbras. Ideas and actions could not be controlled by the white male leaders who initially developed and pursued them. Women, actual and rhetorical, grasped the significance of the revolutionaries’ concepts and applied them to novel ends. Success lay many years in the future, but it was a beginning.

Mary Beth Norton served as president of the American Historical Association in 2018. She recently retired as Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University, after teaching there for forty-seven years. Additional works not cited in the notes to this essay are her monograph In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (New York, 2002) and her co-authored textbook A People and a Nation, which has appeared in multiple editions and with two different publishers since 1982. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Philosophical Society and is an Honorary Fellow, Newnham College, University of Cambridge.



Thanks to Corinne Field, Durba Ghosh, Clifton Hood, I. V. Hull, Susan Stryker, Margaret Washington, and Karin Wulf for advice and assistance.


  1. F1263 (1872), in R. W. Franklin, ed., The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge, Mass., 1999), 494. []
  2. See the discussion of “telling it slant” in Judy Long, Telling Women’s Lives: Subject/Narrator/ Reader/Text (New York, 1999), 37–40. []
  3. Mary Beth Norton, “Assessing Women’s History from a Personal Angle,” Perspectives on History 56, no. 8 (2018): 5–6; [Norton], “further comments” in response to 1983 survey, Linda Levy Peck files, unprocessed, AHA archives. Joan W. Scott, in “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (December 1986): 1053–1075, explores some similar themes, but in a very different way; see especially 1054. []
  4. A classic example is Philip J. Greven Jr., Four Generations: Population, Land, and Family in Colonial Andover, Massachusetts (Ithaca, NY, 1970), which treats families as though they are composed only of men, concerned about the transmission of landed property from father to son. []
  5. For an overview challenging that binary in the modern American context, see Susan Stryker, Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution, 2nd ed. (Berkeley, Calif., 2017). See also Kritika Agarwal, “What Is Trans History? From Activist and Academic Roots, a Field Takes Shape,” Perspectives on History 56, no. 5 (May 2018): 17–20. []
  6. One partial exception is John Gilbert McCurdy, Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States (Ithaca, NY, 2009), which also deals with the usually elided issue of men’s marital status. Most works on masculinity have approached the topic through a social or sexual lens. See, for example, the essays in Thomas A. Foster, ed., New Men: Manliness in Early America (New York, 2011), some of which discuss men’s experiences in the colonial military, but none of which address politics explicitly. In one part of Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society (New York, 1996), I addressed politics as masculine, in conjunction with examining men’s interactions with other men; see especially 207–222. []
  7. Thus John W. Blassingame’s pioneering The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, revised and enlarged ed. (New York, 1979), focused on men to the near exclusion of women, a deficiency later corrected by Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South (New York, 1985). []
  8. Mary Beth Norton, The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774–1789 (Boston, 1972), 333 (for missing “women”); Norton, “The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1969). Anne Firor Scott long ago pointed out this absence to me, to my chagrin. Skimming the index for this essay showed that in the text I named twelve individual women, three only in conjunction with their husbands (as “Mr. and Mrs.”). Married women I identified with their husbands’ names as well as their own; e.g., “Amory Katherine (Mrs. John).” All the women without such identifications were young and single (e.g., “Clarke, Jenny”) or widowed (e.g., “Winslow, Hannah”). []
  9. See tables in Norton, “The British-Americans,” 456–457, 459–460, 462–463, 465–466; and my recognition of problems specific to women, 142. It is possible that no women’s claims appeared in the tables, for I wrote on 453 n. 91 that my compilation excluded all claims that were disallowed in whole or in part, which probably was true of more women’s claims than men’s, for reasons I explain below; or I may simply have silently omitted them. []
  10. The key works then were Mary Sumner Benson, Women in Eighteenth-Century America: A Study of Opinion and Social Usage (New York, 1935); and Julia Cherry Spruill, Women’s Life and Work in the Southern Colonies (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1938). Also relevant was Mary Ritter Beard, Woman as Force in History: A Study in Traditions and Realities (New York, 1946). One scholarly article from the 1940s did address my subject: Elizabeth Cometti, “Women in the American Revolution,” New England Quarterly 20, no. 3 (1947): 329–346. While I worked on the book, two other studies appeared: Linda Grant De Pauw, Founding Mothers: Women in America in the Revolutionary Era (Boston, 1975); and Joan Hoff Wilson, “The Illusion of Change: Women and the American Revolution,” in Alfred H. Young, ed., The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism (DeKalb, Ill., 1976), 383–445. []
  11. For the dissertation, I had focused my research on the files designated as Audit Office (AO) 12, which are the formal records of the commission. At that time, I consulted AO 13, the miscellaneous papers submitted by claimants, only for those states for which AO 12 files had been lost. But the AO 13 files (fortunately indexed by name) identified women who had never reached the stage of formal application, and those were the ones I added to reach a total of 468 examples. []
  12. Mary Beth Norton, “Eighteenth-Century American Women in Peace and War: The Case of the Loyalists,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, 33, no. 3 (1976): 386–409. []
  13. Mary Beth Norton, Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750–1800 (Boston, 1980; 2nd ed., Ithaca, NY, 1996); Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (1980; repr., New York, 1986). In 2005, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of our books, we participated with commentators in a session at the annual conference of the Society for the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR), transcripts of which were published online: “Women Making History, 1750–1800, 1980–2005,” Uncommon Sense, Numerous studies of women in the era of the Revolution and early republic have since been published, including Susan Branson, These Fiery Frenchified Dames: Women and Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 2001); Clare A. Lyons, Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730–1830 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2006); Rosemarie Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic (Philadelphia, 2007); and Susan E. Klepp, Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760–1820 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2009). []
  14. Norton, Founding Mothers & Fathers, chap. 3, 281–292, chap. 8. Published that same year, Kathleen M. Brown’s Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill, NC, 1996) examined—as the title indicates—white and black women and white male slave owners, but did not deal with the status issues on which I focused. See also Kirsten Fischer, Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina (Ithaca, NY, 2002). []
  15. On transsexuality, see Joanne Meyerowitz, How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States (Cambridge, Mass., 2002); and Jen Manion, “Gender Expression in Antebellum America: Accessing the Privileges and Freedoms of White Men,” in Leslie Brown, Jacqueline Castledine, and Anne Valk, eds., US Women’s History: Untangling the Threads (New Brunswick, NJ, 2017), 127–146. On intersex people, the most comprehensive book is Elizabeth Reis, Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex (Baltimore, 2009). On the intersection of race and gender, see Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (1987): 64–81; and Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Shelly Eversley, and Jennifer L. Morgan, “‘Whatcha Gonna Do?’ Revisiting ‘Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,’” Women’s Studies Quarterly 35, no. 1/2 (2007): 299–309. []
  16. Norton, The British-Americans, 226; Norton, “The British-Americans,” 272. The commissioners rationalized their dismissive treatment of black claimants by noting that freedom in Britain was adequate compensation for their loyalty. My article on those men predated my work on women: “The Fate of Some Black Loyalists of the American Revolution,” Journal of Negro History 58, no. 4 (1973): 402–426. []
  17. Dwight Lowell Dumond, Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1961), chap. 39; Aileen S. Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and His Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834–1850 (New York, 1969); Gerda Lerner, The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels against Slavery (Boston, 1967), which was subsequently reprinted with a new subtitle, Pioneers for Woman’s Rights and Abolition (New York, 1967), with Woman’s then changed to Women’s in later editions (Oxford, 1998; Chapel Hill, NC, 2004). Lerner’s book was the subject of a recent AHR Reappraisal; see Jacqueline Jones, “Living the Examined Life in the Antebellum North, and in the Post–World War II United States,” American Historical Review 123, no. 5 (December 2018): 1547–1559. Kraditor’s chapter 3, titled “The Woman Question,” deals exclusively with such white women as the Grimkés and Abby Kelley (Foster). The African American historian Benjamin Quarles published Black Abolitionists (New York, 1969) to correct the omissions in such works. []
  18. Lawrence J. Friedman, Gregarious Saints: Self and Community in American Abolitionism, 1830–1870 (New York, 1982), 2. []
  19. Ibid., especially 160–187. []
  20. Ibid., 187–195. []
  21. Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (New Haven, Conn., 2016). []
  22. Cf. Manisha Sinha, “The Woman Question,” chap. 9 in Sinha, The Slave’s Cause, 266–298; with Margaret Washington, “Religion, Reform, and Antislavery,” in Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor and Lisa G. Materson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of American Women’s and Gender History (New York, 2018), 417–442, here 434. Although abolitionists comprise obvious subjects for those interested in the intersection of race and gender, other recent works have also employed such analytical categories to great effect, particularly books focusing on African American women. See, for example, Sarah Haley, No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity (Chapel Hill, NC, 2016). []
  23. Kristin L. Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven, Conn., 1998). []
  24. Corinne T. Field, The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill, NC, 2014). []
  25. James Sidbury, Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel’s Virginia, 1730–1810 (New York, 1997), quote from 1. []
  26. Bernard Rosenthal, general ed., Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt (New York, 2009), corrects many errors in previously available publications. (The editors of the volume include several Finnish linguists, who have a special interest in seventeenth-century American English, and who recognized the records as the most complete body of evidence they could access.) The Loyalist records, in AO 12 and 13 and a few other locations in the National Archives at Kew, include many detailed narratives of individuals’ experiences both before and during the war. Only portions of those narratives are inflected by the narrators’ loyalism. The sole publication I know that used the loyalist records in this way is Catherine S. Crary, “The Humble Immigrant and the American Dream: Some Case Histories, 1746–1776,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 46, no. 1 (1959): 46–66. []
  27. Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People (New York, 2010); William Henry Foster, The Captors’ Narrative: Catholic Women and Their Puritan Men on the Early American Frontier (Ithaca, NY, 2003). []
  28. Lisa Brooks, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War (New Haven, Conn., 2018). The recent edition of Rowlandson used by Brooks is Mary White Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, with Related Documents, ed. Neal Salisbury (New York, 1997). Disclosure: In 1999, Brooks wrote about Weetamoo, Mary Rowlandson’s Native mistress, for my seminar in early American history while she was a graduate student at Cornell, and she thanks me for my early encouragement of the work in her acknowledgments. []
  29. For the concept, see Tedra Osell, “Tatling Women in the Public Sphere: Rhetorical Femininity and the English Essay Periodical,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 38, no. 2 (2005): 283–300. []
  30. See the discussion in Mary Beth Norton, Separated by Their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World (Ithaca, NY, 2011), 144–146, 153–161. []
  31. Ibid., especially 155–156, 109–135. []
  32. “Belinda” to Mr. Holt, New York Journal, April 4, 1768; “Julia” to Miss Charlotte—, with publication requested by “one of your female readers,” Pennsylvania Packet, May 18, 1772; “Mary Wisewood,” in response to a letter from her married daughter, Massachusetts Gazette & Boston Post Boy, February 26, 1770; “E. Morelove” to the printers, with replies from G—e S—n, Jack Ramble, and J. Vanity, New York Chronicle, June 22, 29, July 6, 13, 1769. []
  33. Tabitha Strawbonnet, “An Address to the Ladies—from an Inferior,” Boston Gazette, January 6, 1766. Tabitha presented herself as a female servant, referring to her “Master” at one point in the essay. On clothing, see, e.g., “Mary Lovetruth’s” criticism of an essay by “Pythagoras” in the Massachusetts Spy, November 8, 1770. []
  34. Eleutherina, “To the QUEEN,” Boston Gazette, January 27, 1772. The heading explained that Eleutherina’s letter was “inclosed in a Letter to a Gentleman in Boston, from his Friend, a worthy Gentleman in the Country, who was requested by the Author, a young Lady in his Neighbourhood, to get it published and forwarded to London.” []
  35. “The LADIES PROTEST,” to Mr. Russell [the printer], The Censor, February 8, 1772. []
  36. Norton, Separated by Their Sex, 164–172; David S. Shields, Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America (Chapel Hill, NC, 1997), chap. 4. []
  37. “A Lady’s Adieu to her Tea Table,” version 1, Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), January 20, 1774; version 2, Essex Journal, March 2, 1774; “Virginia Banishing Tea, by a Lady,” Pennsylvania Journal, September 21, 1774; “Verses Addressed by the Ladies of Bedford . . . ,” Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), March 17, 1774. At John Adams’s request, Mercy Otis Warren wrote a long poem celebrating the destruction of the tea in Boston, which was published in the Boston Gazette, March 21, 1774, but was not reprinted elsewhere. See L. H. Butterfield, ed., Adams Family Correspondence, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), 1: 93, 99–103. []
  38. “A Woman” to Mr. Thomas, Massachusetts Spy, December 23, 1773. But Dr. Thomas Young, a Boston activist, refused to abandon the argument that tea was dangerous; he replied to “A Woman” with the assertion that tea drinking caused a “feeble, lax, effeminate, constitution” that would lead to the birth of “puny” children; Massachusetts Spy, December 30, 1773. For another claim that tea caused ill health, this time for both men and women, see “A Physician” to Mr. Southwick, Newport Mercury, February 28, 1774. []
  39. A Planter’s Wife, “To the Ladies of South Carolina,” South Carolina Gazette & Country Journal, July 19, 1774; The Husband of the Planter’s Wife, “To the Ladies of South Carolina,” South Carolina Gazette & Country Journal, August 2, 1774. If Tennent, the known author of the “Husband” essay, was indeed married to the “Planter’s Wife,” then her identity is also known: Susan Vergereau Tennent; see Norton, Liberty’s Daughters, 57, 159. []
  40. “We hear that a Number of the fair Daughters of Liberty . . . ,” Connecticut Courant, February 22, 1774; “At a meeting of the Matrons of Liberty,” New Hampshire Gazette, February 18, 1774, published in Jere R. Daniell, “Reason and Ridicule: Tea Act Resolutions in New Hampshire,” Historical New Hampshire 20, no. 4 (1965): 23–28, here 26. See also “At a legal meeting of the daughters of LIBERTY,” Newport Mercury, April 11, 1774. []
  41. For earlier rhetorically feminine replies to attacks from men on other topics, see Norton, Separated by Their Sex, 159–161. I discussed the symbolism of the spinning bees in Liberty’s Daughters, 166–169. Cf. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “‘Daughters of Liberty’: Religious Women in Revolutionary New England,” in Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, eds., Women in the Age of the American Revolution (Charlottesville, Va., 1989), 211–243. []
  42. Henry Flynt, “To the Ladies of North America,” Boston Gazette (supplement), November 2, 1767; “A Young American” to the printers, Boston Gazette, December 21, 1767; “Squibo” to Mr. Draper, Massachusetts Gazette & Boston News Letter, December 24, 1767 (reprinted in Providence Gazette, January 2, 1768). []
  43. For Aspatia, Belinda, and Corinna, see the following note; and for some examples of the treatment of women as “persons of consequence” in these years, see “Deborah Meanwell” to Mr. Southwick, Newport Mercury, May 29, 1769; “Sally Tickle” to Mr. Holt, New York Journal, January 1, 1773; the poem “Address to the Ladies,” New York Gazette & Weekly Post Boy, November 16, 1767 (reprinted in other newspapers, including the New Hampshire Gazette, November 27, 1767); and another poem, “On reading an Invitation to the Spinners in the Pennsylvania Gazette,” Pennsylvania Gazette, August 16, 1775 (reprinted in Newport Mercury, September 4, 1775, retitled “An invitation to the FAIR-SEX, to assist in supporting their country’s freedom”). []
  44. Aspatia, Belinda, and Corinna, “To the Publishers of the Boston and Massachusetts Gazettes,” Boston Gazette, December 28, 1767 (reprinted in Providence Gazette, January 9, 1768). See also “The Ladies” to Mr. Hall, Newport Mercury, December 14, 1767; and “Margery Distaff” to Mr. Timothy, Massachusetts Gazette & Boston Post Boy, November 6, 1769 (reprinted from South Carolina Gazette, October 5, 1769). []
  45. Published in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, December 28, 1769. For Griffits, see Catherine La Courreye Blecki and Karin A. Wulf, eds., Milcah Martha Moore’s Book: A Commonplace Book from Revolutionary America (University Park, Pa., 1997), which reprints many of her poems; “The Female Patriots” is on 172–173. []
  46. Blecki and Wulf, Milcah Martha Moore’s Book, 172–173. But perhaps she later changed her mind, for probably after March 1, 1775, when the Continental Congress’s full prohibition on drinking tea went into effect, she wrote a poem titled “The Ladies Lamentation over an empty Cannister,” which accused congressmen of having committed “an evil Deed” by banning “this prescious Indian weed.” One couplet asked, “Why all their Malice shown to Tea, / So near, so dear—belov’d by me”? Ibid., 247. []
  47. Mary V.V., A Dialogue, between a Southern Delegate, and His Spouse, on His Return from the Grand Continental Congress (n.p., 1774). The title page simply gave the year of publication and no other information, not even the place. Rivington also concealed his name on other loyalist pamphlets he published at the time, although he placed that information on patriot pamphlets by such authors as Philip Livingston and Alexander Hamilton. For the advertisements, see Rivington’s New York Gazetteer, December 8, 1774; and the last two pages of Samuel Seabury’s A View of the Controversy between Great-Britain and Her Colonies: Including a Mode of Determining Their Present Disputes, Finally and Effectually, and of Preventing All Future Contentions (New York, 1774), with a date of December 24. Mary V.V.’s identity is unknown, but she could well have been Rivington himself. The only other discussion of this pamphlet of which I am aware is Benjamin H. Irvin, “Of Eloquence ‘Manly’ and ‘Monstrous’: The Henpecked Husband in Revolutionary Political Debate, 1774–1775,” in Foster, New Men, 195–216, especially 206–211. As that title suggests, Irvin focuses on the husband in the dialogue rather than the wife. []
  48. Mary V.V., A Dialogue, between a Southern Delegate, and His Spouse, 3–7. []
  49. Ibid., 7–9. []
  50. Ibid., 9–12. []
  51. Ibid., 12–14. For a later loyalist poem, “by a Lady,” see “Poets Corner,” Pennsylvania Ledger, February 11, 1775. []
  52. See Norton, The British-Americans, 16–24, on the Anglicans and other loyalist pamphleteers of 1774–1775. My forthcoming book, 1774: Year of Revolution, discusses the loyalist pamphleteers in greater detail. []
  53. [Daniel Leonard], Massachusettensis; or, A Series of Letters: Containing a Faithful State of Many Important and Striking Facts, Which Laid the Foundation of the Present Troubles in the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, Interspersed with Animadversions and Reflections, Originally Addressed to the People of That Province and Worthy the Consideration of the True Patriots of This Country (London, 1776). See especially the first letter for dire predictions. []
  54. Tabbatha Beech et al., “To all the Inhabitants of the Earth,” Massachusetts Gazette & Boston Post Boy, May 30, 1774. []
  55. See, for example, the Reverend John Allen’s sermon The Watchman’s Alarm to Lord N—H; or, The British Parliamentary Boston Port-Bill Unwraped (Salem, Mass., 1774), 25–28. Cf. the antislavery essays by “A Son of Africa,” Massachusetts Spy, February 10, 1774; Caesar Sarter, Essex Journal, August 17, 1774; and Bristol Lambee, Providence Gazette, October 22, 1774. For slaves’ petitions to colonial governments that employed such language, see Thomas J. Davis, “Emancipation Rhetoric, Natural Rights, and Revolutionary New England: A Note on Four Black Petitions in Massachusetts, 1773–1777,” New England Quarterly 62, no. 2 (1989): 248–263. []