Way Back When … 1779
Women played a variety of roles during the Revolutionary War, and some of their experiences will be explored at the Fairfield Museum’s next “History Bites” lunchtime lecture. Dr. Elizabeth Rose will discuss “Women and the Revolution” on Wednesday, June 27, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Back in the 1770s women in the colonies kept the home front together, but as the war progressed they also followed the army and even served as soldiers and spies.
Women were typically excluded from political life, but many wanted to find a way to be active and to show their patriotism. One of the ways colonial women expressed their patriotism was through boycotts. The success of a boycott often depended on the support of women, as women typically made the decisions about what the household ate and drank and how they dressed. Another way women assisted in the war was at the military camps. Most were there to serve essential support roles such as cooking, washing and nursing, but some (like widows and others who faced poverty during the war) were there as a last resort so they could receive small rations and space in a tent. Peddlers and prostitutes also followed the camps.
On the home front most women remained behind to defend and manage their homes. Mary Silliman, who is pictured here, held her household and farm together after her husband was kidnapped and held prisoner by the British for a year. On May 2, 1779 the Loyalists captured her husband, Gold Selleck Silliman. Mary was six months pregnant at the time. She worked hard to help secure her husband’s return by writing letters to and entertaining important people like Connecticut Governor Trumbull.
Women also served as a sort of auxiliary to militia units in small skirmishes, where much of the war’s actual fighting took place. Sybil Ludington was just 16 years old when she volunteered to assist her father, Col. Henry Ludington. In April of 1777 he got word that he needed to gather his militia (located in Putnam and Duchess county, New York) for a march to Danbury, 25 miles away, where British forces were destroying Continental Army supplies. Sybil roused the militia, riding a circuit of 40 miles at night, knocking on farm doors and yelling that the British were in Danbury. They were too late to save Danbury, but the militia did harass British soldiers all the way back to Long Island Sound, including at the Battle of Ridgefield.
Learn more about these colonial women and their roles in the Revolutionary War at the June 27 lecture. Dr. Rose will be joined by Catie White, a recent college graduate who wrote a prize-winning senior thesis called “Homespun Heroes: How Women Fought the American Revolution with Textiles.”
The year Mary Silliman’s husband, Gold Selleck Silliman, was captured by Loyalists.
The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Members of the museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org. The Fairfield Museum relies on funding from individuals, corporations, and foundations. The museum is especially grateful for support from the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Office of the Arts, the State of Connecticut, town of Fairfield and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.