Every Independence Day, Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which declared the thirteen American colonies free from British rule. We often use this day to have picnics, watch fireworks, and remember the acts of important and courageous men, like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
However, we often forget that women played an equally important role in gaining American freedom and shaping those original colonies into the nation we have today.
This Fourth of July, remember the Founding Mothers, who worked just as hard as the Fathers to create a new nation.
Deborah Sampson was born on December 17, 1760 in Plympton, Massachusetts.
In 1782, after leaving indentured servitude and spending a year as a teacher and a weaver, Sampson decided to join the war. At only 22 years old, she disguised herself as a man named Robert Shurtleff and joined the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment.
During her nearly two years in the military, Sampson did a lot for the war, including helping to lead 30 soldiers on an expedition that lead to direct combat with British soldiers, raiding and capturing 15 British sympathizers, and scouting for neutral territory.
After a year and a half in service, Sampson was discovered when she became ill and was taken to the hospital, where she lost consciousness.
For her service in the military, she received an honorable discharge on October 23, 1783.
Sybil Ludington was born in Connecticut in 1761, the daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington of the local military regiment.
In April 1777, Colonel Ludington received word that the British were planning to attack Danbury, a nearby town. However, Colonel Ludington’s regiment was currently disbanded for planting season and the men were scattered across the local area.
He sent his 16-year-old daughter Sybil out to ride through the dark woods in order to alert his men of the invasion and urge them to return for battle.
In the end, she rode 40 miles, more than double the length of Paul Revere’s 18-mile midnight ride, and nearly the entire regiment returned by dawn in order to fight the British. For her work, Ludington was personally thanked by General George Washington himself.
Anna “Nancy” Smith Strong
At 20 years old, Anna Smith married Selah Strong in 1760.
Selah Strong was an active patriot and served as a delegate to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1775 and joined the war soon after. He was quickly captured by the British and was imprisoned for much of the war.
With her husband imprisoned, Strong stepped into his patriotic shoes.
Strong is reportedly the only female spy in George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, a group of revolutionaries who gathered information and passed it on to an agent. Strong lived only a few miles away from where the information was exchanged and in this prime position, she used her laundry to send signals between spies about when they were able to drop off information.
There’s also a possibility that Strong is the unknown “355,” a numeric code that meant “woman” in the Culper Spy Ring. This agent supplied information directly to George Washington, played a key role in uncovering Benedict Arnold’s treason, and aided in the arrest of the head of England’s Intelligence Operations in New York.
However, due to lost information, we may never know if 355 was, in fact, Strong.
Perhaps more commonly known as the wife of President John Adams and the mother of President John Quincy Adams, Abigail Adams, born Abigail Smith in 1744, played her own important role in forming the United States.
From 1774 through 1777, Adams’s husband was a key member of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, as a delegate from Massachusetts.
Adams and her husband were known to keep up detailed correspondence over the course of their marriage and she has become well-known for a letter she sent to John during the Continental Congress, dated March 31, 1776, which urged him and the other men to “remember the ladies.”
She stated, “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.”
Through this letter, Adams showed her desire for women to be better protected and represented under the new laws that her husband and the other members of the Continental Congress were making. While, in the end, John did not listen to her advice, this letter helped mark Adams as an early proponent for women’s rights, especially as she worked with other women at the time to help expand women’s education.