Remembering the Women of the Revolution

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Sarah Benjamin

Sarah Benjamin, who accompanied her soldier husband to Yorktown in 1781, is profiled in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown’s “Witnesses to War” exhibit.

The 1840s saw a renewed interest in stories about people who had actually participated in the American Revolution. Only a few of these individuals still lived (one of them, Sarah Osborn Benjamin, is profiled in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown galleries), and there was a widespread realization that soon the opportunity to record firsthand accounts of the war would be gone. The availability of a new technology, photography, supported this trend. The possibility of preserving a visual record of these last survivors of the revolutionary generation helped promote a widespread interest in recording the personal experiences of those who had lived through the war.

New York-born writer Elizabeth Ellet was concerned, in particular, that the stories of women who took an active part in the Revolution would never be recorded. Therefore she began an ambitious project to document the lives of the individuals she called “Revolutionary Women.” The result of her research was a multivolume work entitled “Revolutionary Women in the War for American Independence.”

One of the most charming of the stories Ellet records is that of Isabella Barber Ferguson of South Carolina. During the Revolution, when Loyalists tried to persuade Isabella’s husband to support the King’s cause, she reacted with anger, proclaiming, “I am a rebel, glorying in the name. My brothers are rebels, and the dog Trip is a rebel too… Rebel and be free that is my creed.” – Isabella Barber Ferguson, 1780.

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