Thursday, March 29, 2012

Treasures from the SFC: Loyalist Women of Massachusetts, Part II

"...when Law, humanity, nor justis is Sufferd to take place__"

The final post in our Women's History Month series picks up the theme from our previous installment, charting the experience of Loyalist women behind American lines in eastern Massachusetts. Today's letter by Sarah Dering Thomas, the aunt of Elizabeth Dering (the recipient of both letters), continues the story from where Anna Winslow's note left off. Writing in May 1781, Sarah left no doubt that the Loyalists in her area were still suffering from persecution from their Whig neighbors. Like Winslow, Thomas looks to religious imagery to help contextualize the problem, hoping "to loose an earthly inheritance for an heavenly one." Of particular note in this letter is a possible reference to Loyalist flight: Dering's Cousin Charles is preparing for a voyage, which one can easily imagine meant an escape from the increasingly ascendant Whigs, during a period of the war where British fortunes were beginning to ebb. Of particular note in this letter is the fact that Elizabeth Dering, despite her family's political affiliations, seemed to enjoy freedom of movement and socialization in Boston, a hotbed of Revolutionary fervor. For the full story, please see the complete transcript of the letter below.


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.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Treasures from the SFC: A Letter from Home

"I hope to have the pleasure of Seeing you very Soon, I think every minute an hour, and every hour a day, and every day, a Week till I see you..."

In the annals of American history, the most moving letters from home to soldiers on the front lines are often considered to be from our Civil War. This latest offering from the Sol Feinstone Collection provides an example of a wife's affection that is every bit as poignant and moving as any document written during the great conflict of the mid-nineteenth century. On 13 September 1777, Elizabeth Morrison wrote from her home in Bedford, Massachusetts, to her husband John, who was posted with his regiment in Bennington, Vermont. Though John presumably hailed from Bedford as well, he was serving in Captain Samuel McConnell's Company of the 11th New Hampshire Regiment of Militia, commanded by Col. Thomas Stickney. The answer to why a Massachusetts man was serving in a New Hampshire militia unit may come from the fact that Stickney was a native of Bedford, a town that neighbored the more famous town of Concord, Massachusetts. In raising his militia regiment in 1777, Stickney may well have called upon old friends in Bedford to help supply him with recruits. The 11th saw hard service in 1777, first reinforcing the garrison of Fort Ticonderoga in the spring, then joining General John Stark's Brigade for the Battle of Bennington in August. Judging by Elizabeth's letter, John escaped unharmed, though many of his colleagues would not have been so lucky. As her letter shows, John's family missed him a great deal, leading Elizabeth to use every argument in her power to cajole him home and head off any impulses he might have entertained to serve longer than his allotted time. The full transcript of the letter, which is available below, testifies to the heartfelt bonds that linked the home front to the front lines during the Revolution, and which made the war extremely difficult for those civilians, even in protected areas, who had relations serving with the army.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Treasures from the SFC: The Stamp Act and Matrimony

"As For News hear None talke of But the Stampt Act & hangin Burning &c--- Burying men Alive"

In the second installment of our 2012 Women's History Month blog posts, we turn to back to undigitized holdings of the Sol Feinstone Collection, the David Library's premiere ensemble of manuscripts. On November 10, 1765, Mrs. Ruth Hopkins of Providence, Rhode Island, wrote to her husband, Captain George Hopkins of the Ship Nancy, somewhere near Suriname, to apprise him of recent developments. Her letter demonstrates a remarkable juxtaposition between political and domestic affairs. Ruth began by graphically (though briefly) describing the violence shaking Boston during the Stamp Act Crisis. The second part of her letter adopts an opposite tone, focusing on the rash of elderly marriages taking place against the backdrop of the imperial crisis, along with some commentary on the recent visit of a Miss Robinson, who apparently entranced the local male population with her feminine charms. The full text of this letter is available below and serves as a reminder that domestic affairs did not always respond to political drama in the ways one might expect.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Letters from the Front: Women enlisting in the Continental Army

"I told him I had suspicion of his being lame, and Desired Capt Flavin to Afficiate as Doctor in searching he did, and soon made the Discovery by Pulling out the Teats of A Plump Young Girl, which caused Great divertion..."

For our first Women's History Month post, we return to the Letters from the Front sub-collection for this dispatch from William Barton, which provides an extremely rare example of a woman attempting to enlist in the Continental Army. According to Heitman's Officers of the Continental Army, four William Barton's served in the American forces during the war. The most likely candidate for the author of this letter was acting as a First Lieutenant in the 1st New Jersey Regiment at the time of this letter. In his account written at Elizabethtown, NJ, on 17 November 1778, Barton relates how an individual appearing to be a young man presented himself for service in the Barton's regiment. A few behavioral mistakes gave Barton sufficient pause to call in his fellow officers to examine the recruit for lameness. The resulting events provide a graphic account of the fate that lay in store for any woman who challenged contemporary gender roles by attempting to pass as a man in the army. For the entire letter, please read below. Our thanks go to Library Research Assistant David Swain for this transcript.