The American Revolution

1770s woman ny digital library
1782, A woman delivering equipment at a fort
Photo Credit: NY Public Library, digital ID: 808852
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During the Revolutionary War, women applied the traditional skills they learned as homemakers to espionage work.  Both the British and American armies recruited housewives and young girls as cooks and maids. With their almost unrestricted access to soldiers’ campsites, these women could eavesdrop on conversations about troop movements, leadership changes, and equipment shortages and deliveries without raising suspicion.  Often at great peril, they secretly provided this critical intelligence data to military and civilian leaders.  Some reported directly to General Washington, who came to highly value the information he received from these “agents in place.”

Aiding their cover were prevailing attitudes toward women by their male counterparts:  females were considered innocent and non-threatening.  As such, few commanders viewed these colonial homemakers as cause for concern, despite the fact that they were using women as secret agents to gather vital intelligence for their own armies.

 

More and more records are beginning to surface that suggest something of what these “patriots in petticoats” endured and contributed to the American Revolution, giving new meaning to Abigail Adams’ instructions to her husband John to “remember the ladies.”

abigail adams
Abigail Adams
Photo Credit: NY Public Library, digital ID 424738
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  george washington
Portrait of George Washington
Photo Credit: Library of Congress
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General George Washington, reporting to the Continental Congress:
           
Regarding Elizabeth Burgin an inhabitant of New York.  From the testimony of our own [escaped] officers…it would appear that she has been indefatigable for the relief of the prisoners, and for the facilitation of their escape.  For this conduct she incurred the suspicion of the British, and was forced to make her escape under disturbing circumstances."

 

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