Forgotten Voices of the Revolution

Everyone is fighting their own battles, so much so that throughout history, we are so caught up in the main event, just one part of the tale, that we forget about the many other voices of the narrative. This is shown explicitly during the time of the American Revolution through the Evangelicals, women, and slaves. These forgotten voices of the time experienced their own spiritual revolutions, fought for their rights, and gave the colonists the ideas of the revolution but are lost in history due to being a small, but powerful, part of the story.

While the American Revolution was happening, there was a spiritual revolution going on at the same time, called the First Great Awakening. The Evangelical revolt became more popular with lower classes due to the gentry class being mostly Anglican. The gentry class ruled the Anglican church; it was a display of power, for the elite would often invite others to their home after church (Christchurch tour). Furthering the show of social rank, lower classes were forced to sit in the back of the church and were not invited to the elite’s homes for supper (Isaac, 247). Only once a year, on Easter, did the parish of the Anglican churches meet together, dividing the social classes even further. The non-gentry felt separated and limited due to the gentry’s rule in society; they brought social hierarchy into the church, the one great equalizer diminishing. Due to this, the Baptist religion appealed to many non-gentry. Being called “Brother” and “Sister” made the lower classes feel welcomed. “The warm supportive relationship that fellowship in faith and experience could engender appears to have played an important part in the spread of the movement,” (Isaac, 249). Baptists used the church as an equalizer, which drew the lesser peoples to it; however, few from the gentry class converted but many slaves did, along with the poor (Isaac, 250). The Anglican gentry was livid at the numbers of converts to the Baptist faith, calling it a “revolt against the traditional system,” (Isaac, 251). The Baptists were trying to create some sort of order, in the disorder and chaos that was 1760s Virginia, through this revolution.

Tensions were so high that Lord Dunmore fled the Governor's Palace after threatening to burn Williamsburg. (Photo by Elsa Larsen)

Tensions were so high that Lord Dunmore fled the Governor’s Palace after threatening to burn Williamsburg. (Photo by Elsa Larsen)

“… In seeking their own freedom, black Virginians indirectly helped motivate white Virginians to declare independence from Britain,” (Holton, 271). There were numbers of slaves during this time that had escaped from Virginia, which caused their masters to be upset. The slaves’ attitude had caused a sort of revolutionary bug to start. Lord Dunmore had threatened to ally with the slaves, causing even more tension between whites, blacks, and the government (Revolutionary City). Along with the tension, the whites feared Virginia’s enslaved; the slaves fought back against masters, killing them, and there were lots of opportunities to rebel during the time of the American Revolution (Holton, 273). Tensions were running high during this time between the enslaved and the whites; the slaves seemed to be on the side of the British in political and economical views. This was shown in Revolutionary City’s portrayal of the events leading to the American Revolution. During the scenes, the black interpreters, representing the enslaved, made comments about Lord Dunmore which were not paid attention to for the most part. Their comments tended to sound more for the side of the British, especially when the townspeople were upset that the Governor had taken the gunpowder out of the magazine. The slaves of this time had revolutionary ideas but were oppressed due to who they were. The American Revolution may not have happened without the slaves.

Women were speaking up in the streets during the time of the Revolution. (Photo by Elsa Larsen)

Women were speaking up in the streets during the time of the Revolution. (Photo by Elsa Larsen)

Another forgotten voice of the American Revolution are the women of the time. Social relationships are changing; women are taking more control over their lives, they are being educated and hearing about politics and the revolutionary ideas. Some women are working now, as coopers or gunsmiths, they are gaining more independence (Williamsburg shopping spree). However, they were still objectified and treated as second-class citizens. During Revolutionary City, women are speaking up and taking a part in the politics of the time while on the street. Women still have no right to vote or hold public office but are figuring out how to help the colony. They voiced the streets during the events leading to the revolution and prepared for the British retaliation. After the Revolutionary War, women participated in commemorating the war for veteran soldiers (Purcell, 334). Women became very public and were in the center of politics; they were even thanked for their part in demonstrating the gratitude of the nation to the veterans (Purcell, 334). Women were also becoming more educated. There was a change in literature during this time; women of the century were turning to short stories, serials, and novels for advice, instead of the traditional genre that told a lady how to be a woman and please her husband (Kerrison, 287). Women were taking more control in their marriages and began to fend for themselves. The wealthy girls of the time attended social functions with soldiers, so they were hearing the ideals of the revolution from their fathers and other soldiers, as shown in Kerrison’s story of Betsey Ambler. Women played critical roles during the revolution but were not portrayed all that much in the commemoration. They gained a lot from the war: they were mature and experienced and able to fend for themselves.

“By including human equality among the ‘great principles’ that the Declaration stated and describing it as ‘the founding of all political, of all human institutions,’” (Maier, 307). All of the Founding Fathers of the Declaration of Independence fought tooth and nail against the British for the rights of all men, saying that all men were created equal. Yet, all of the founding fathers owned slaves. The irony of the situation, that the revolution may not have happened if not for the slaves’ rebellions triggering ideas of revolution in their masters’ minds, is incredible. These men went against everything they had ever learned so that they could be independent from Britain, yet they owned slaves, calling them property and treating them as such.

The American Revolution effected the slaves, women, and Evangelicals in radical ways. The women fought for their rights and through it, gained more freedom from their husbands, and had more of a voice in the streets. Slave rebellions produced the ideas of the revolution; the founding fathers of the Declaration were fighting for their independence from Britain, declaring “all men are created equal” while owning slaves, who were fighting for their own independence. The Evangelicals were having a divine revolution of their own, turning the social relationships of the time upside down. There isn’t just one voice in a narrative and if we leave out one part of the story, we never see the whole picture.

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