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5.5.6 Revolutionary Mothers

Berkin, Carol

Berkin, Carol. Revolutionary Mothers (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 16.

The British government needed to earn money to pay off debts and decided that American colonists, along with British subjects around the empire, should pay additional taxes. After deciding to repeal the Stamp Act due to the protests, a British government official named Charles Townshend proposed another way to collect revenue (money). In what became known as the Townshend Acts of 1767, Parliament increased the amount of taxes, or duties, that colonists had to pay on imported goods bought in the colonies. These goods included paper, paint, fabric, and, most famously, tea. Many American colonists opposed this increased taxation on these goods. They boycotted, or stopped buying goods as a form of political protest. This poem was written to encourage female boycotters. According to the poem, how should free women contribute to this political protest? Do you think this was effective? Why would women want to rebel against Britain in this way?

This text is part of a monograph highlighting the role of women in the American Revolution. Students may need guidance in reading the structure of the text, with the first paragraph being a secondary source — the narrative from Berkin — while the last four lines are a primary source she uses to illustrate her point that free women were encouraged to act politically through boycotts and other domestic forms of protest. This poem refers to women wearing homespun cloth, rather than imported textiles produced in Britain. As both this excerpt and the teapot in Source 3 suggest, women’s acts of consumption and production had newfound political importance. This source can help students understand how ordinary people participated in protests and began to collectively rebel against the British, especially as many of these new taxes related to items of household consumption.

Anonymous verses continued to appear in colonial newspapers, many of them urging women to politicize their daily domestic life. What a woman bought when she went to a shop, what she ate, what she drank, and the clothing she chose to wear could all signal a political commitment as well as a personal choice. A popular verse advised women to:


First, then, throw aside your topknots of pride,

Wear none but your own country linen;

Of economy boast, let your pride be the most

To show clothes of your own make and spinning