Q&A – Revolutionary Women
Students submitted numerous questions that we were not able to address during the live program “Meet Two Revolutionary Women.” Special thanks to historical interpreter Darci Tucker for providing resources and answering additional questions about loyalist Elizabeth Thompson and soldier Deborah Samson.
Very little is known about the Thompsons. There are only a few primary sources to tell their story, and nobody has done extensive research to find more information. Here are the sources I have seen:
- A Loyalist Claim: After the war, many loyalists made “Loyalist Claims,” in which they told about how they had been mistreated, and about any of their property that had been taken from them because they were loyalists. Many were given compensation (money to replace their lost property). The Thompsons made a claim. They stated that:
- Thompson had been tarred, feathered and banished from South Carolina for refusing to sign a non-importation agreement;
- British officers captured at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island were imprisoned in the Thompsons’ house, and Mrs. Thompson spied for them;
- eventually the Patriots confiscated (took) the Thompsons’ house, all of the goods remaining in their shop, and their five enslaved people.
- A letter from one of the officers imprisoned in their home. He said that he had disguised himself in Mrs. Thompson’s clothes, and that she took him out in her carriage so that he could see the American forces and learn what he could about them. This corroborates Mrs. Thompson’s claim of spying: he would have needed someone else to carry the information he learned, since he was not allowed to leave the house.
- An announcement in the Charleston newspaper that John Thompson was taking donations for a road construction project “at his shop in Church Street.”
- An obituary (death announcement) in the early 1800s (long after the war ended) in a Charleston newspaper that “John Thompson, formerly of this city, has died in Glasgow.” This may or may not be the same John Thompson.
Q: Did you ever return to Great Britain? Did you ever reunite with your husband? Did you have children?
A: The Thompsons appear to have been reunited, because their Loyalist Claim doesn’t indicate that either of them had died. So far, nobody has found information about whether the Thompsons had children.
Q: How did you identify other spies/who was safe to talk to? Did you ever learn information so exciting that you almost gave away your cover?
A: Some spies look for information, and others simply carry information. Because of the officer’s letter (see above), and because she had no military training, I assume she simply carried information. To prevent being discovered,
- The messages would have been hidden, possibly in codes or invisible ink;
- She would have been given information to identify the person she was to pass the information to (name, rank, physical description)
- She would have used a password: a specific word or phrase that the other person would know about. And he would have to reply with a specific word or phrase to tell her that he was the right person.
Q: Were you afraid of getting caught? What would happen if you did?
A: Mrs. Thompson was almost certainly afraid of getting caught, because spies who got caught were executed. The fact that she was willing to take that risk shows how committed she was to her King and country. And the fact that she lived to tell about it shows that she never got caught!
ABOUT THE WAR:
Q: How did you feel about housing prisoners? How long did you house prisoners?
A: They were prisoners of war, not criminals. They just happened to be on the side that lost that day’s battle. At the end of battles, the winners usually rounded up the losers, and held onto them for a while before releasing them.
I think she was probably delighted to house the officers. Officers were usually from the gentry or upper middling parts of society, so they were probably very polite to her. And remember that they were on the same side as she was. When it had become dangerous to admit to your neighbors that you were a loyalist, it was probably a relief to know that she could openly express her political thoughts with them.
Q: Did any of your family fight in the war? On the opposite side of you?
A: Many families were divided: brother against brother, father against son. But I don’t know if the Thompsons had any family fighting in the war on either side.
ABOUT GREAT BRITAIN:
Q: How much were taxes there compared to in the American Colonies?
A: The taxes in the colonies were actually very low. In England people paid about three times as much in taxes. The colonists were not angry because their taxes were too high – that is a myth. They were angry because they believed that only their elected representatives here in America had the right to tax them. The British Parliament were not their representatives, therefore had no right to tax them.
Q: Were the protests against the Parliament violent or peaceful?
A: There were both peaceful and violent protests.
- Peaceful protests included letters, petitions, boycotts of certain imported goods, books and pamphlets written, political cartoons, messages on products (a famous teapot says “No Stamp Act”), peaceful marches, and more.
- Violent protests included
- Destruction of private property at “tea parties” in Boston, Yorktown and other ports;
- Attacks on loyalists – tarring and feathering, destroying their homes and businesses
- Attacks on the Royal Governors’ homes
- Attacks on British troops before the war had actually started (Boston Massacre, Lexington and Concord)