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The Opposition in Revolutionary Philadelphia

A Quaker Womens Trial and Tribulations
By: Julia Brown 5/9/2012

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The families of Elizabeth Drinker and Sarah Fisher become uprooted during the Revolution. There pacifism, as Quakers, during the war makes them vulnerable to persecution. The women make it through the war with the help of family ties and their perseverance. These women held their families together during their husbands exile to Virginia. To understand the difficult post-revolutionary years of the Quaker wives and their families there needs to be an examination of their writings and everyday musings. In the writings of these women there begins to form a better understanding of the silent voice that each of these women have throughout the occupation of Philadelphia. Despite the outcry for liberty and freedom during the revolution, these womens freedoms and liberty began to be limited due to their beliefs. In the womens diaries there is a better understanding of the injustice they felt at the hands of both armies. Sarah Fisher and Elizabeth Drinker were from prominent Quaker families during the revolution. Elizabeth Drinker and Sarah fisher were both married to prominent Quaker Merchants. They were the part of the elite in Philadelphia prior to the outbreak of the revolution and the rise of the radical Philadelphia government. As it states in the Bible, Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 1 Due to their religious

Romans 13:1-3

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believes they refused to contribute towards the war effort, this made them a target. Their pacifism angered the new government, who became increasingly frustrated with the Quakers. Paying taxes and using the continental currency were considered Their religion was not the only reason for their opposition, they still considered themselves loyal subjects to the king of England. They considered the radicals to have been of lower class and dirty. They themselves supported the British army because they believed that they would prevail in the war. These women, in their own right, wanted to keep the wealth that they had grown up with under the rule of king. Sarah Fishers diary consist of everyday events and occurrences, as the revolution begins to unfold at her door steps her writing are more frequent and longer than her previous entries, which primarily consisted of mundane everyday occurrences. During the Revolution she comes across obstacles and difficulties that she has never dealt with before. As Van Buskirk goes on to state Mrs. Fisher wanted to return to the thriving community of her upbringing whose growth, prosperity and peace had bloomed under British role. She had no confidence in those who proposed to overturn that rule and her family did not hide their opinion. The revolution, in her mind was something she associated the lower class with. She did not believe that Washingtons army would go on to defeat the British. Her support of the King makes sense, England is what she identifies herself with and the colonists were trying to take that away from her.

Judith Van Buskirk, They Didnt Join the Band: Disaffected Women in Revolutionary Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

History 62 (Summer 1995): 312.

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Among refusing to pay taxes the Quakers also refused to use the continental currency. They believed that the use of the currency would lead to inflation, also, they believed that using the currency would be a political statement and been seen as endorsing the war effort. The currency was being printed to benefit the continental army in the war. Ultimately economic and religious beliefs prevented them from using the currency that the council had established. The Philadelphian government reacted as was expected, with negativity. The refusal to use the established currency, in their eyes, was another act of subversion. One of the more trying times in Sarah Fishers life, is on September 2, 1777 when her husband is taken into custody by the council About 11 oclock our new-made council sent some of their deputies to many of the inhabitants whom they suspected of toryism and without any regular warrant or written paper mentioning their crime or telling them of it in any way committed them to confinement and among their number was my dear husband. 3 Along with Sarah Fisher, Elizabeth Drinkers husband was also arrested. The Supreme Executive council considered them a threat and ruled that the men would be shipped off to Virginia. The council gave the men another option, if they would take an oath swearing to the loyalty they would be released. However the council knew that the Quakers were forbidden from taking oaths and affirmations due to their religious beliefs. There were no official charges ever brought against the men, however, the council felt it was in the revolutions best interest to banish the men to Virginia. The expulsion of these powerful Quakers allowed for the radical government to grow

Sarah fisher diary

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more powerful, with the absence of these men the radicals believed that the stifled the Quaker community. The men were forced to go to Virginia, leaving the burden of their businesses and families in the hands of their wives. After the banishment of their husbands, to Virginia, Elizabeth Drinker and Sarah Fishers lives became increasingly more difficult. Their sentiment and attitudes toward the radicals becomes even more negative. They had previously described the men as lower class and dirty, but after their husbands exile they began comparing the men to animals. As Van Buskirk states In a short three months, the women had dehumanized their oppressors from ragged and barefoot men to threatening animals. What previous injustices they felt before were only magnified in their situation. Sarah Fisher was pregnant at the time of her husbands exile, while Drinker had a very sick child at home. Elizabeth Drinker and Sarah Fisher were loyalists in the definition of the word. They were loyal to their King and country, they did not trust the radicals. Both women experienced the strong hand of the Whigs. As Castro goes on to state As Whigs increased pressure on Quakers, harassing, arresting, exiling, seizing property, they pushed some Quakers dangerously close to becoming Loyalists.5

Judith Van Buskirk, They Didnt Join the Band: Disaffected Women in Revolutionary Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Wendy Lucas Castro, Being Seperated From My Dearest HusbandIn This Crule Manner. Quaker History 100.1

History 62 (Summer 1995): 312.


(2011): 56.

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The British occupation of Philadelphia put even more stress on the Drinker and Fisher families. You could say that the women suffered more than the men in some ways. Dealing with the stress of having her husband held in prison and the extra stress of the British in Philadelphia. The women both noted that the British were doing little in an attempt to win the war. They found it hard to believe that the pristine British army could not overtake Washingtons army, Here was a clean, glistening, well-accoutered force. The women had made so many sacrifices as loyal subjects and she was a do-nothing army engaging in theatricals and fancy balls. During the occupation the women had to face all new trials and tribulations, they had to safely navigate the British army and its thousands of young soldiers. Like the radical army, the women had to again take in soldiers during the winter. During their husbands exile the women looked to one another for support, along with friends and family. For her part, Elizabeth did not express joy at taking on this additional responsibility within the home, but drew on her domestic skills; her network of support, seeking guidance from her sister, other exiles' wives, and the men her husband trusted; and her faith to navigate her family through this difficult period7 Henry chose not to assert patriarchal control during his exile, he left the finances and the running of the family up to his wife. Even his advice urged the children to look to their mother and aunt for guidance and urged Elizabeth to look to God for support. Henry reminded Elizabeth that she was now the children's mother and father, a joint role she had already assumed in her decision-making such as how to spend the family's

Judith Van Buskirk, They Didnt Join the Band: Disaffected Women in Revolutionary Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Wendy Lucas Castro, Being Seperated From My Dearest HusbandIn This Crule Manner. Quaker History 100.1

History 62 (Summer 1995): 312.


(2011): 52.

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money and when to send the children off to school for the first time.8 Elizabeth went on with her every day duties with the help of her support system. Some of Elizabeth difficulties dealt with higher food prices and shortages. The most taxing strain on her was the emotional one, she was separated from her husband, who she clearly loved and missed a great deal. On top of having her husband in Virginia she was forced to lodge soldiers in her home, this added a whole new stress, she now had to fear for her and her families safety. She dealt with everything from shortages to thievery, but by far the most dangerous aspect of the occupation were the British men. Her husbands absence made her vulnerable, on one occasion she had a drunken British officer enter her home and refuse to leave, and he became belligerent and was eventually persuaded by Elizabeths male friends to leave. He eventually came back and fled with the servant girl over the fence, The officer did not return to do violence; instead Ann returned twice later (several days and then weeks) to inquire how much it would cost to buy out her indenture.9 These are the only some of the changes in Elizabeth routine. There is another aspect of their situation that need to be looked at, it is the relationship in a Quaker household of a man and women during the revolutionary period. The husband in the wife had dual role in the family they shared responsibilities and held equal power within the

Castro, Wendy Lucas. "Being Separated From My Dearest Husband, In This Cruel Manner:" Elizabeth Drinker And

The Seven-Month Exile Of Philadelphia Quakers." Quaker History 100.1 (2011): 40-63. America: History & Life. Web. 7 May 2012. 9 Drinker diary 258

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household. You can see this especially with Elizabeth Drinker, and her husband. They have a relationship that is well balanced within the family. This benefited them when he was in exile. They were adamant about their husbands innocence and believed that they were suffering a great injustice and both women questioned the authority. They petition for their husbands release. The Women go as far as traveling to Lancaster, where Washington and his army were stationed, to plea for their release. The men are final released due to poor health and during the prolonged incarcerations two of the men succumb to death. The Quakers previous domination of the political world led to resentment among radicals. The revolution gave them an excuse to enact a sort of revenge over the upper class Quakers. The artisans and lower class people who came to power during the revolution took it upon themselves to exclude the Quakers from the general population. They suffered at the hands of both armies. The pacifist role they chose made them a target, they were not trusted by either side. The end of the war is anti-climactic as the women note in their writings. There is a somewhat peaceful evacuation in Philadelphia and the city returns to a somewhat normal pace. The women continue to write in the diaries until their deaths. Sarah Fisher and Elizabeth Drinker come to terms with the new republic, however, it is noted in their writings that they still hold resentment against the new republic. Sarah Fisher and Elizabeths Drinkers slight resentment can be heard in their writings on several occasions, the women do not record the Fourth of July event every year, and most years they do not mention it at all but when they do it is with a slight jib.

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On the 19th anniversary of independence Elizabeth Drinker writes in her diary Anniversary of Independence, Generals order in News-papers this forenoon, for a fuss and to do, I think, orders for peace and quietness, would be more commendable and consistent, in a well regulated Government or State10 Both women have a certain distain for both armies. They are exhausted by the end of the war, like all of Philadelphia, and see it as a blessing that they can return to their old routines. These women experienced some of the worst trials and tribulations of their lives during the revolutionary war, they came out of the experience bitter, as Van Buskirk goes on to state in her article, they expressed their disapproval of America after the Revolution but this unhappiness did not incite their families to move to Canada or Britain. If anything, the Revolution made them political cynics.11 The war seemed to be the most devastating to the common people, those who were stuck in the crossfires. Both women through their writings were loyal to their king and therefore they were considered loyalist. However the burden put upon them only increase their resentment for the war. In the end they seemed to tire of both armies and are content with the peace that comes with the end of the war.

10 11

Elaine Foreman Crane, edit., The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker (Northeaster University press Boston, 1991), 699. Judith Van Biskirk. They Didnt Join the Band: Dissaffected Women in the Revolutionary Philedalphia .

Pennsylvania History 62.3 (1995): 324.