Thursday, March 12, 2015

For Women's History Month: Ann Whittall -- A Guest Blog by Larry Kidder

Larry Kidder, pictured at right, is the author of "A People Harassed and Exhausted: The Story of a New Jersey Militia Regiment in the American Revolution."  March is Women's History Month.

               I have been doing a lot of research lately on individuals in New Jersey who experienced the War of Independence in various ways. A number of these people are women, and during Women’s History Month it is appropriate to really focus on the many roles women played during the war. Most of the time when we think of the Revolution we tend to focus on military or political contributions and don’t really think about how the political and military decisions made by leaders affected the lives of everyday people not associated with the military, both men and women.

              One woman whose actions were determined by events completely outside of her control was Ann Whitall of Red Bank, along the Delaware River. Ann came from a devout Quaker family and she was vehemently opposed to the use of war to solve problems. Although she and her husband, James, tried to avoid the war, it came to their home in 1777 in a particularly violent way. Soldiers of the Patriot army came to their property and informed them that they were going to build a fort on it.  James reminded them that it was their war, not his, but this of course did not stop them. The fort they built at Red Bank, Fort Mercer, was attacked on October 22 by about 1200 Hessians, but Ann refused to leave her house and sat down calmly to do some spinning. A stray shot entered the house, but she did not panic, merely removed to the cellar. Surviving the battle was not the end of her story because when the firing ceased there were a number of wounded soldiers from both sides who needed attention. Her opposition to war did not include ignoring soldiers in need, so she turned her home into a hospital and worked hard to care for the wounded with everything she had available. However, her pity for the wounded was not without limits. She could not help reminding soldiers complaining of their discomfort and broken condition that they had brought it on themselves by participating in war.

              Ann was one of the huge number of ordinary people who simply wanted to go about their everyday lives in a peaceful manner, trying to make the world a better place, but who were caught up in tragic events. Her story is one of showing great courage by not running from danger and also one of upholding humanitarian ideals even while believing that the people in need brought on their own suffering. Learning the story of Ann Whitall should be a reminder that we cannot control what comes our way in life and the only thing we can control is how we deal with it and whether it shatters or strengthens our ideals.

              I first learned about Ann while working on the Meet Your Revolutionary Neighbors project for Crossroads of the American Revolution, a project that benefitted from many hours at the David Library. That program seeks to identify and tell the stories of a wide variety of men and women from throughout New Jersey who experienced situations where they had to make decisions that would greatly influence the course of their lives. The growing group of stories can be viewed on the Crossroads website at