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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Women of the American Revolution

With the 4th of July upon us, I thought I would write today about the seldom-sung women who participated in various ways in the Revolutionary War.

Very few women have been given credit for the roles they played in the War for Independence, something that has begun to be corrected. They may not have been the Founding Fathers, but in many ways they ere the Founding Mothers, women whose patriotism led them to serve in both usual and unusual roles during the conflict with England.

Most of the women who served were simply women who followed their husbands onto the battlefields to perform the usual tasks assigned to women: laundresses, cooks, and nurses. These women, called camp followers, accompanied their husbands who were serving in the army. They would do their husband’s laundry and sometimes were also paid by other soldiers to do their laundry as well.

As the soldiers usually cooked for themselves, a woman might cook for her husband alone, or might be paid to cook for the retainers for the camp: blacksmiths, wheelwrights, express riders. They were paid small sums for this service, from 2 shillings a day to $10.00 a month.

Women also served as nurses, another traditional role. The position provided steady income and rations but was fraught with peril in the form of risk of diseases such as smallpox and fevers. The chores—anything from washing the patients, to emptying chamber pots, to assisting the surgeons—were some of the dirtiest jobs available.

Some women were documented as actually serving in the capacity as soldiers. Several wives, working alongside their husbands during the conflict
would take up the job if their husband became wounded or killed. Two of these were Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley and Margaret Corbin. Both were married to Continental soldiers in the artillery. When their husbands became wounded, they stepped in and continued to assist in the firing of the cannons.

Other women actually dressed as men and fought side by side with the other soldiers. The most notable of these was Deborah Sampson Gannet enlisted using her deceased brother’s name, Robert Shurtliff. She fought for several years and was wounded twice. When her identity was discovered, she was honorably discharged and given a pension.

Women still continue to serve their country in these and many other capacities in the military today. May we remember them all and thank them for their service.


Danyluk, Kaia. “Women’s Service with the Revolutionary Army.” Colonial Williamsburg E-Newsletter.
“Women in the American Revolution: On the home front and on the battlefield.” American Battlefield

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