We have heard of the exploits of the Sons of Liberty, but did you know the women organized into the “Daughters of Liberty?” Well before the Revolution ladies gathered in protest to the Stamp Act (1765) and the Townshend Acts (1767).

The colonies had their own taxes, but they had rarely been taxed by Britain. The Stamp Tax required Americans to pay tax on everyday items like newspapers, marriage licenses, business papers and even playing cards. The act was named for the official “Stamp” on the paper that proved the tax had been payed. The money from the taxes were to pay for the presence of British troops in America. Some of the colonists saw this as “taxation without representation” because they had no representatives in the British Parliament.

In Newport this tax was met with some violence, but the women took more peaceful strategies. Colonists still imported a great deal of goods from Britain. The women hoped that if Americans boycotted English goods that British merchants would pressure Parliament to repeal the Act. Colonial women had the responsibility of purchasing and making goods their families needed. They were willing to make the sacrifices needed to make a political statement. It gave women a voice at a time when they couldn’t hold public office. Benjamin Franklin appeared before the British House of Commons to argue against the Stamp Act. He noted that while Americans used to take pride in wearing fine imported garments, it was now their pride “to wear their old clothes over again, til they can make new ones.”

As a protest, women gathered to spin their own cloth instead of buying yarn from Great Britain. Reports of these spinning bees were mentioned in newspapers and the bees were located throughout Rhode Island. Ninety-two women gathered in Newport. The elite class of women were not used to spinning and there was a report of a seventy year old women learning to spin for the protest. The women spent the day spinning and produced 170 skeins of yarn. The group would also gather at the home of Mary Easton Lawton at Spring and Touro streets. Other prominent Newport women have been mentioned as part of the Daughters of Liberty movement – Polly Wanton, Lucy Ellery, Patience Easton, Mary Champlin and Anne Vernon Olyphant. I will be looking for confirmation of those names in further research.

In April of 1766 women gathered in Providence at the invitation of Dr. Ephraim Brown for a spinning bee and vowed they would no longer purchase English goods. Freelove Fenner was said to have organized the chapter there. In spring of 1766 twenty women gathered in Bristol, Rhode Island to spend the day spinning. Women also gathered at Daniel Weeden’s house in Jamestown, Rhode Island. These ladies were reportedly “of good Fashion and unexceptionable Reputation.” Eleanor Frye founded a unit of the Daughters at East Greenwich.

There is debate about whether there was a formal organization with chapters. Some scholars think of it as more of a movement where women saw the example of others and did the same in their towns. Newspapers were likely to label these groups as “Daughters of Liberty” if they spun and wove to boycott British goods. In 1766 the British Parliament agreed to repeal the Stamp Act, however, Parliament then passed the Declaratory Act which affirmed its right to tax the colonies in the future. They imposed the Townsend Acts in 1767 taxing imports on British gas, paints, paper and tea.

The spinners of the Daughters of Liberty considered themselves loyal British subjects, but their peaceful protest was a common experience in the colonies. The women organized boycotts of British goods and they manufactured replacement products. They pressured the men to address the taxation issue. Samuel Adams would say later: “With ladies on our side, we can make every Tory tremble.” This issue of taxation continued as a grievance. One of the grievances against the British listed in the Declaration of Independence was “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.”


Photo of Woman with Spinning Wheel (Library of Congress)

From EnCompass (online) Women’s Response to the Stamp Act by Rebecca Marisseau

How the Daughters of Liberty Fought for Independence: https://newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/daughters-liberty-fought-independence/

Age of Homespun. Museum of the American Revolution: https://www.amrevmuseum.org/read-the-revolution/age-of-homespun