Friday, March 23, 2012

Treasures from the SFC: Loyalist Women of Massachusetts Part I

"Is it not for our iniquities that we are thus Stricken Smitten of God & afflicted..."

The Sol Feinstone Collection includes a run of letters from Anna Winslow, matron of a Loyalist family in Plymouth County, Massachusetts. In this installment, our third for our Women's History Month series, we see Anna in a reflective mood as she writes to her younger friend, Elizabeth Dering, scion of a neighboring Loyalist family in early 1778. Within the playful dialogue of Winslow's missive lies a darker observation: while some Loyalists remained in Massachusetts following the British evacuation of Boston, they came under increasing pressure from the dominant Whig element. Winslow's letter includes references to Elizabeth's Aunt, Sarah Dering Thomas, and her family, who had been deprived of some parts of their property, including a summer residence on Shelter Island. Originally part of the Plymouth Colony, Shelter Island was eventually claimed by New York and used by the British Army during parts of the war. Dering's invitation to go to Shelter Island may well have been a thinly concealed suggestion of escaping Whig oppression in Massachusetts for safe haven behind British lines. Instead of accepting Dering's offer, Winslow advocates for a more conciliatory strategy for repairing the damage done to New England's social networks by the political schism of the Revolution. Winslow had some reason to hope for a "peace upon honorable & equitable terms," since the British Army was at the time occupying Philadelphia and new peace commissioners were attempting to negotiate with the Continental Congress. This letter, the full transcript of which is available below, provides a window into the mindset of Loyalists behind American lines at a crucial stage of the war.


Sol Feinstone Collection No. 1687
Anna Winslow to Elizabeth Dering, 29 Jan 1778, Marshfield, MA
Transcribed by WP Tatum III, March 2012

“Marshfield January 29 -78

Dear Betsy
            However old & old fashion I am I do assure you my dear I am all ways glad to hear from my young friends for although I may not expect quite so weighty & Serious letters from them I may my dear have some [illegible] sallies which from young fellows if duly restrained will always be agreeable
            It gives me a very Sensible pleasure that you found yourself happy at Marshfield which in itself is one of the dullest places I believe on earth__ But you were with your aunt Thomas whose presence enlivens every place where She comes, & would ensure even [illegible] agreeable.
            You need not refrain writing to me on account of any Superiority in me (that of years excepted)—I am no bodys superior but I need not tell you that more acquaintance will confirm you that herein I preach the truth
            Thank you my dear for your kind invitation to See you at Shelter Island indeed Betsy I should greatly rejoice on such an occasion not only my dear in the pleasure I [illegible] have in seeing the place, but your good family again restored to their pleasure habitation with all their gardens & other pleasures round them it will not be long I hope eer the olive branch will be held up & peace upon honorable & equitable terms will be restored to our once happy [pgs 1] land__ But why are we thus let me offer my young friend__ Is it not for our iniquities that we are thus Stricken Smitten of God & afflicted Surely miss if so suffer a word of exhortation to myself as well as you let us each enquire seriously what hand we have had in helping on the trobles that now invade our land-- & what ever we find amiss let us with full purpose of heart strive against that Action that troubles our camp—
            I wont make you so ill a compliment as to Suppose you tired with a serious exhortation but as my letter is conveniently long you will allow me to present my best wishes in the most friendly terms to your good Pappa mama & brothers—write to me again soon & believe that a letter from you will always be a very great pleasure to your friend

                                                            Anna Winslow

Miss Dering  [Pg 2]” 

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