Penelope Barker (1728-1796)
Penelope Barker is famous for hosting the Edenton Tea Party in Edenton, North Carolina, to protest unfair British taxes in 1774.
Born in North Carolina in 1728, Barker married John Hodgson at a young age. By age nineteen, she was widowed with two children of her own and raised three more from her husband’s previous marriage. She remarried a wealthy planter named James Craven. He died when she was twenty-seven years old and, as he had no other heirs, she inherited all of his estate and became the richest woman in North Carolina. She remarried again to Thomas Barker, who frequently traveled to England on business. While he was away, she managed their estates. She also bore three more children.
Tired of the British taxing the colonists while not letting them have a say in the government (“taxation without representation”), Barker wrote a public statement in which she endorsed a boycott of tea and other British products, such as cloth. Ten months after the famous Boston Tea Party organized by men, Barker led a “Tea Party” on October 25, 1774, in the Edenton Home of Elizabeth King. She and fifty other women signed the protest statement. At the meeting, Barker said, “Maybe it has only been men who have protested the king up to now. That only means we women have taken too long to let our voices be heard. We are signing our names to a document, not hiding ourselves behind costumes like the men in Boston did at their tea party. The British will know who we are.” Part of the declaration stated, “We, the aforesaid Ladys will not promote ye wear of any manufacturer from England until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed."
Barker sent the proclamation to a London newspaper, confident the women’s stance would cause a stir in England. British journalists and cartoonists depicted the women in a negative light, as bad mothers and loose women, and did not take them seriously. However, the Patriots in America praised the women for their stance. Women all over the colonies followed Barker’s lead and began boycotting British goods.
Barker died in 1796.
Signers of the Declaration:
Elizabeth P. Ormond
(1) Diane Silcox-Jarrett, “Penelope Barker, Leader of the Edenton Tea Party,” in Heroines of the American Revolution, America’s Founding Mothers (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Green Angle Press, 1998), 17.
(2) “Edenton History FAQs,” Edenton North Carolina, n.d., http://www.edenton.com/history/miscfact.htm (21 June 2006).
- Collins, Gail. America’s Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines (New York: HaperCollins, 2003).
- Cotton, Sally S. History of the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1901-1925 (Raleigh, North Carolina, 1925) reprinted on “The Role of Women in NC History,” Campbell University, n.d., http://www.campbell.edu/faculty/faulkner/NCHist33210-12.pdf.
- Garrison, Webb. Great Stories of the American Revolution: Unusual, Interesting Stories of the Exhilarating Era When a Nation was Born. (Rutledge Hill Press, 1993).
- Silcox-Jarrett, Diane. “Penelope Barker, Leader of the Edenton Tea Party,” in Heroines of the American Revolution, America’s Founding Mothers (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Green Angle Press, 1998).