Today we celebrate Independence Day in the United States of America. A day characterized by BBQs, fireworks, and time with friends and family, it’s also a day when we remember our nation's founders and the men who shaped our country. We find ourselves speaking names like George Washington, Paul Revere, and Thomas Jefferson. But, what about names like Sybil Ludington, Deborah Sampson, or Phillis Wheatley? Women contributed mightily to the path to freedom, and not just on the home front; they worked as spies, alerted Continental troops, placed their name on copies of the Declaration of Independence, and fought for freedom from slavery. Some of these women were women of influence, some had been stolen from their country of birth, and some just wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves. These are names that I wish I'd learned about in school. These are just a few of the badass women of the Revolutionary War.
Sybil Ludington: Sure, we all remember learning about Paul Revere's famous ride, but did you know that at 16, Sybil reportedly rode twice as far to alert militia in the villages of Putnam County, New York and Danbury, Connecticut to the approach of the British military? She rode over 40 miles at night to sound the warning.
Elizabeth Freeman: Born into slavery, Elizabeth was said to be a woman of strong conviction and was characterized as someone who had a strong sense of self. In 1780, inspired by the words from the newly ratified Massachusetts Constitution that "all men are born free and equal...," Elizabeth brought forth a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of slavery in Massachusetts. She won and was set free. After the ruling, Elizabeth changed her last name to Freeman.
Agent 355: Code name for one of the female spies in the the Culper spy ring, historians debate the identity of this spy to this day. What is known though is that she was recruited by Abraham Woodhull, the Culper ring leader, and was likely a woman with connections to important people. She was somehow associated with British Major John Andre, head of British intelligence, and American traitor, Benedict Arnold. She is credited with exposing Andre, which led to his arrest and execution. It's been said that she was arrested when Benedict Arnold deserted and that she was sent to a British prison ship where she died. Other historians, though, theorize that Anna Strong, a neighbor of Abraham Woodhull’s, was Agent 355. Regardless of who Agent 355 was, it's worth noting that female spies did exist...on both sides.
Phillis Wheatley: Phillis was taken from her home in Gambia and brought to the United States as a slave. The family she was sold to recognized Phillis' intelligence and educated her. Soon, she began to compose her own poetry. She published her first poem at age 13 and was set free in 1773. In 1775, Phillis wrote several poems in support of George Washington and the colonies' cause for freedom. She sent the future president one of her poems and was invited to meet him at his home in Cambridge in 1776.
Mary Katherine Goddard: Mary was the first female publisher. Her newspaper routinely 'scooped' other papers with stories of Revolutionary War battles, like the Battle of Bunker Hill, and she herself was threatened and her offices were raided twice. In 1777, Congress asked Mary to print copies of the Declaration of Independence. Yes, other copies of the document had been printed, but these copies included all the names of its signers, an act of treason punishable by death. Do you know whose name was also placed on those copies? That's right, Mary Katherine Goddard included her own name on the bottom of all the copies that she made and distributed throughout the colonies.
Deborah Sampson: Deborah believed in the cause of the Revolutionary War. She wanted to fight, but as a woman she couldn't join the army. But that didn't stop Deborah. Instead, she disguised herself as a man named Robert Shurtleff and fought for the Patriots. At one point, she was shot in her left thigh. Not wanting to be discovered to be a woman, she dug the bullet out herself. The wound later became infected and she was found out and given an honorable discharge. Following the war, she became the only woman to receive a full military pension for her role in the Revolutionary War.
How amazing were these women?! This is just a small list of the ladies who sacrificed much for independence and we encourage you to dig deeper into the contributions of women. These were women who believed so strongly in the cause of freedom, but I would bet that these ladies didn't understand the importance of their contributions. Today, more than 200 years later we know that without them, and countless other women, we may not be celebrating the Fourth of July.