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A Different Story

The story of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) is often summed up by a list of leaders, events, and dates: Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence in 1776, General George Washington crossing the Delaware River in 1776, the surrender of the British at Yorktown in 1781.

© Getty American seamstress Betsy Ross showing the first design of the American flag to George Washington in Philadelphia. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

By Gina DeAngelis, Cricket Media

The story of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) is often summed up by a list of leaders, events, and dates: Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence in 1776, General George Washington crossing the Delaware River in 1776, the surrender of the British at Yorktown in 1781. This issue tells a different story.

At the beginning of the war, about 2.5 million people lived in the 13 Colonies. About half of those people were women, but not much is known about them. The few Colonial women who achieved fame often were wealthy or connected to famous men. Until the 1800s, girls and women were not offered the same educational opportunities as boys and men were. Most women and girls in the 1700s were not taught how to read or write, so they left few historical records. And it is through the study of written records—letters, wills, journals, articles—that historians learn and understand the stories of people who lived in the past. In the absence of written history, women’s stories have been unknown or ignored.

We can paint a broad picture of what life was like for most women during the war. In the 1700s, women were busy from sunup to sundown. In an age before electricity or refrigeration, people grew much of their own food. Women planted and tended gardens. They invested hours in cooking, storing, and preserving the produce from their gardens. They planned what food to save for the winter, when food would be harder to obtain. They took care of animals, such as chickens and goats and cows.

Women made and mended clothing for their families. Sometimes they even spun the cloth first. They did the laundry, which included making soap, washing clothes by hand, and hanging them up to dry. They cared for and taught children. They nursed the sick, who might include their families, elderly relatives, and neighbors.

Children pitched in, too. They carried firewood. They hauled water from wells in heavy buckets. They cared for animals and ran errands. They helped their parents and others do different tasks. They got to play, but chores came first.

As the country moved toward war, many traditional household tasks, such as preparing food, doing laundry, and caring for the sick, became important services that women also filled on behalf of the Continental Army. By putting their skills in those areas to work, women performed the behind-the-scenes tasks that met the basic daily needs of the soldiers. The men were then allowed to focus on conducting a full-scale war.

The men who served in the Continental Congresses or joined the Continental Army often were gone for months or years. With fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons off fighting, women also completed the jobs that men had done. Women became the ones to plant and harvest large crops, cut wood, fix roofs and fences, and maintain valuable tools. While some women hired and managed laborers and learned how to keep accounts and records, most women simply assumed the responsibilities of caring for their farms, businesses, and families.

In the absence of men, women not only stepped in, they also stepped up. They did some amazing things. They supported the soldiers fighting for American independence. They spied. They resisted. They advised. Some women were so daring and heroic that people remembered their brave actions. Historians have worked hard to piece together and document those stories. Thanks to their work, we know that women of all ages and races participated in the struggle for American independence.

Gina DeAngelis is so crazy about history that she moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, because Williamsburg and nearby Jamestown and Yorktown make up America’s “Historic Triangle.” (You should visit someday!) She likes to read, and she writes a lot.

Did You Know? In the 1770s, citizenship was a privilege reserved for white males. The Declaration of Independence did not apply to women, African Americans, and Native Americans.




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Kids Magazine: A Different Story
A Different Story
The story of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) is often summed up by a list of leaders, events, and dates: Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence in 1776, General George Washington crossing the Delaware River in 1776, the surrender of the British at Yorktown in 1781.
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