As a wife and mother, Mercy Otis Warren serves as an example of what women were forced to sacrifice during the American Revolution. Since she was also an accomplished writer and historian, she provides us with a unique view of the era. At a time when women were not expected to understand, let alone comment on politics, Mercy wrote poems, plays, commentaries, and eventually a three volume history of the United States. Besides her well-known brother, James Otis, Mercy corresponded with many great names of the day and collected newspapers, diaries, and anything she could get her hands on to document the birth of a nation.
However, Mercy could not entirely devote herself to patriotic politics the way men like John Adams did. She was a wife with a household to maintain. More importantly, she was the mother to five sons. Much as she supported independence from an early point in the Revolution, Mercy was afraid of what might become of her boys if called upon to fight. She wrote to Abigail Adams, ‘not to mention my fears for him with whom I am most tenderly Connected: Methinks I see no Less than five sons who must Buckle on the Harness And perhaps fall a sacrifice to the Manes of Liberty Ere she again revives and spreads her Chearful Banner over this part of the Globe.’Her fears were not assuaged when General Thomas Gage replaced Hutchinson as the governor of Massachusetts, placing the colony under martial law. His authority under the Coercive Acts, which had been passed in response to the destruction of the tea, left colonists feeling vulnerable and without a voice. Boston Harbor lay empty, relieving many of their livelihood, and tensions rose as many, including Mercy, wondered what would come next.
James rushed home, and the Warrens set out for Rhode Island. Mercy later wrote in her History that ‘A scene like this had never before been exhibited on her peaceful plains; and the manner in which it was executed, will leave an indelible stain on a nation, long famed for their courage, humanity and honor.’James and Mercy encountered many other travelers, some witnesses of the fighting at Lexington and Concord. One told them of a story so harrowing that Mercy included a retelling of it in a letter to a friend. ‘I saw yesterday a gentleman who conversed with the brother of a woman cut in pieces in her bed with her new born infant by her side.’ Accounts such as this must have caused internal struggle in the patriotic but fearful Mercy.
If you would like to learn more about Mercy Otis Warren and other amazing 18th century ladies, please consider my newest book, Women of the American Revolution. It is available at Pen & Sword, Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite book retailer.