The Women of the American Revolution/Preface

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

IN offering this work to the public, it is due to the reader no less than the writer, to say something of the extreme difficulty which has been found in obtaining materials sufficiently reliable for a record designed to be strictly authentic. Three quarters of a century have necessarily effaced all recollection of many imposing domestic scenes of the Revolution, and cast over many a veil of obscurity through which it is hard to distinguish their features. Whatever has not been preserved by contemporaneous written testimony, or derived at an early period from immediate actors in the scenes, is liable to the suspicion of being distorted or discolored by the imperfect knowledge, the prejudices, or the fancy of its narrators. It is necessary always to distrust, and very often to reject traditionary information. Much of this character has been received from various sources, but I have refrained from using it in all cases where it was not supported by responsible personal testimony, or where it was found to conflict in any of its details with established historical facts.

Inasmuch as political history says but little-and that vaguely and incidentally-of the Women who bore their part in the Revolution, the materials for a work treating of them and their actions and sufferings, must be derived in great part from private sources. The apparent dearth of information was at first almost disheartening. Except the Letters of Mrs. Adams, no fair exponent of the feelings and trials of the women of the Revolution had been given to the public; for the Letters of Mrs. Wilkinson afford but a limited view of a short period of the war. Of the Southern women, Mrs. Motte was the only one generally remembered in her own State for the act of magnanimity recorded in history; and a few fragmentary anecdotes of female heroism, to be found in Garden's collection, and some historical works-completed the amount of published information on the subject. Letters of friendship and affection-those most faithful transcripts of the heart and mind of individuals, have been earnestly sought, and examined wherever they could be obtained. But letter writing was far less usual among our ancestors than it is at the present day; and the uncertainty, and sometimes the danger attendant upon the transmission of letters were not only an impediment to frequent correspondence, but excluded from that which did exist, much discussion of the all-absorbing subjects of the time. Of the little that was written, too, how small a portion remains in this-as it has been truly called-manuscript-destroying generation! But while much that might have illustrated the influence of woman and the domestic character and feeling of those days, had been lost or obscured by time, it appeared yet possible, by persevering effort, to recover something worthy of an enduring record. With the view of eliciting information for this purpose, application was made severally to the surviving relatives of women remarkable for position or influence, or whose zeal, personal sacrifices, or heroic acts, had contributed to promote the establishment of American Independence.

My success in these applications has not been such as to enable me to fill out entirely my own idea of the work I wished to present to the reader. Some of the sketches are, necessarily brief and meagre, and perhaps few of them do full justice to their subjects. there is, also, inherent difficulty in delineating female character, which impresses itself on the memory of those who have known the individual by delicate traits, that may be felt but not described. The actions of men stand out in prominent relief, and are a safe guide in forming a judgment of them; a woman's sphere, on the other hand, is secluded, and in very few instances does her personal history, even though she may fill a conspicuous position, afford sufficient .incident to throw a strong light upon her character. This want of salient points for description must be felt by all who have attempted a faithful portraiture of some beloved female relative, How much is the difficulty increased when a stranger essays a tribute to those who are no longer among the living, and whose existence was passed for the most part in a quiet round of domestic duties!

It need scarcely be said that the deficiency of material has in no case been supplied by fanciful embellishment. These memoirs are a simple and homely narrative of real occurrences. Wherever details were wanting to fill out the picture, it has been left in outline for some more fortunate limner. No labor of research, no pains in investigation-and none but those who have been similarly engaged can estimate the labor-have been spared in establishing the truth of the statements. It can hardly be expected that inaccuracies have been altogether avoided in a work where the facts have to be drawn from numerous and sometimes conflicting authorities; but errors, if discovered, may be hereafter corrected.

The sketches contained in the first volume, illustrating progressive stages of the war, are arranged with some observance of chronological order; while those in the second do not admit of such a distribution.

Many authorities, including nearly all the books upon the Revolution, have been consulted, and reference is made to those to which I am under special obligations. For the memoir of Mrs. Bache, I am indebted to the pen of Mr. William Duane, of Philadelphia, and for that of Mrs. Allen, to Mr. Henry R. Schoolcraft, of Washington. My grateful acknowledgments are due also to Mr. Jacob B. Moore, Librarian of the New York Historical Society, for valuable advice, and for facilities afforded me in examining the books and manuscripts under his charge; and to Dr. Joseph Johnson, the Rev. James H. Saye, and the Hon. Judge O'Neall, of South Carolina, who have obligingly aided me in the collection of authentic particulars connected with the war in that State. Others have rendered valuable assistance in the same way, and affording me an opportunity of examining family papers in their possession. To them all and to those numerous friends who have encouraged me by their sympathy and kind wishes in this arduous but interesting task-I offer most heartfelt thanks. If the work whose progress they have cherished should be deemed a useful contribution to American History, they will be no less gratified than myself that its design has been accomplished. E. F. E.