Women in Camp
By Karen L. Hayden
This article is a reprint of the Bringing Up The Rear from Spring 1991 and features excerpts from The Women of the Revolution, by Elizabeth F. Ellet, 3 volumes, originally published in 1848-50, republished in 1980 by Corner House Publishers, Williamstown, MA 01267.
Though the majority of women stayed at home to tend to family and farm during the Revolution, some women chose to help the army in whatever small ways they could. In their convictions and loving support of their spouses, these military wives' efforts did not go unnoticed.
Five officers' wives were frequently in camp, particularly during the winter season, rendering aid and comfort during some of the Revolution's darkest hours. Martha Washington, as the wife of the Commander-in-Chief, was the unofficial "leader" of all campfollowing wives. When she arrived at Valley Forge, her quarters were in sorry shape. Her husband immediately dispatched some men to repair them. Though the conditions were rough, her kindness and appreciation for their efforts was noted.
Catherine (Littlefield) Greene, wife of Colonel Nathaniel Greene shared "cheerfully the narrow quarters and hard fare of a camp. She partook of the privations of the dreary winter at Valley Forge. " (Vol. 1) Her husband missed her terribly during October of 1780. The War in the South heated up and "his fears for her safety at last impel him to request her not to encounter the risk." She tried to reach him, but failed until the close of the active campaign. There are notes by Kosciusko "which show her kindness to her husband's friends, and the pleasure she took in alleviating their sufferings."
Lucia (Flucker) Knox, wife of Henry Knox, "adhered to her determination to encounter the perils and hardships incident to a military life." She joined her husband in Cambridge during the Siege of Boston, and stayed with him through all the campaigns when her health permitted. She "had a hut on a small farm with her children" near headquarters at Verplanck's Point (NY), when the Northern Army was encamped there. Mrs. Knox was a very independent woman and was said to have influence over both her husband and Washington himself. "It is represented that her presence and cheerful manners did much to diffuse discontentment and enliven dreary scenes." (Vol. 1)
One of Lucia Knox's best friends was Sarah (Fuller) Hull, wife of Mjr. William Hull. She had cultivated tastes and a strong intellect. Mrs. Hull "was with the army in Saratoga and joined the other American ladies in kind and soothing attentions to the fair captives after the surrender.' She followed her husband with the same determination Lucia Knox had.
Rebecca Biddle, wife of Col. Clement Biddle, "gave up the comforts of home to join the army with her husband and was with the camp during the greater part of the war." During one incident near Brandywine, Washington ordered the women to leave camp for safety. Mrs. Biddle asked permission to remain in camp to prepare refreshment for the men after the long day of marching and skirmishing. She sent our a servant to procure provisions and cooked all day. When they returned, Rebecca and her servant served over 100 officers. She was noted for her "cheerful submission ... to all the inconveniences, hardships and losses rendered inevitable by a protracted war."
In reading about these women, as well as others who tended the farms or kept their businesses operating, there is a recurring theme. These couples, who fought side by side for independence, loved and respected each other. They went beyond the "typical" marriages of their time and forged the deepest bonds men and women share. It just goes to show what we are all capable of accomplishing if we receive love and support.