“Our properties within our own territories [should not] be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1774
I am sad to admit that somehow I have gone 57 years without making the acquaintance of Penelope Barker. You think Sarah Palin and Marjorie Taylor Green have big mouths? Oh, honey, then let me tell you about American patriot and Revolutionary War firebrand Penelope.
A well-to-do socialite of the Edenton, NC community, she was not blind to the abuses of the crown. In fact, having been widowed twice in her life, she was acutely aware of the cost of doing business with his Royal Highness King George. The richest woman in North Carolina, Penelope was adept at managing her household affairs and the business affairs of her third husband who traveled extensively. Frustrated by the endless and ever-increasing flow of tax money to England, Penelope was happy to share her opinion of the way his “subjects” were being treated in America. “Taxation without representation” didn’t sit well with her and the more the whispers of “independence” swirled, the more she saw the virtues of the idea.
Not one to keep her opinions to herself, Penelope decided that, while Sam Adams and his crew had done an admirable job with their little Boston tea party, it was time to show the men in this country how to throw a real soiree. Literally, Penelope knocked on the doors of all her female friends and invited them to a party. On October 25, 1774, fifty-one women gathered at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth King, brewed tea from mulberry leaves, and boldly added their signatures to a declaration in support of the Colonies’ boycott of English tea and other English goods.
Now, if all this sounds pretty tame, let me enlighten you on a few things. First, this was the FIRST political event ever organized by women in the history of the United States. Everyone from Susan B. Anthony to Hillary Clinton owes these women a debt of gratitude, especially considering a few of them probably took a beating from their loving husbands for this activity.
Second, this was a big deal because women just didn’t do this sort of thing. It was, quite literally, unheard of and without precedent. Gasp!
Third, Penelope knew how to grandstand. She sent a copy of the resolution to the English newspapers who printed it with mocking glee. In the letter itself, Penelope wrote, “Maybe it has been only men who have protested the king up to now. That only means we women have taken too long to let our voices be heard. We are signing our names to a document, not hiding behind costumes like the men in Boston did at their tea party. The British will know who we are.”
Penelope just wanted her sisters across the pond to know that American girls valued liberty just as much as the men. Ironically, the only surviving accounts of the declaration are in English hands. Printed in two newspapers, it explained that the ladies were “determined to give memorable proof of their patriotism” and could not be “indifferent on any occasion that appears nearly to affect the peace and happiness of our country . . . it is a duty that we owe, not only to our near and dear connections... but to ourselves.”
Well, the mainstream media in England had a rather odd reaction to all this: they mocked and derided the women for straying into politics, suggesting they were bad mothers or loose women. Gee, where have I heard that before? They drew unflattering cartoons of the women and wondered why the men in America couldn’t control their wives.
America, however, had a different reaction and made heroes of the women. Ladies up and down the colonies felt free to give voice to their dissatisfaction with the Crown. More tea parties popped up. In Wilmington, ladies actually set their tea on fire!
The next time you think about holding your tongue when it comes to the “long train of abuses and usurpations” being foisted upon us right now by a power-grabbing, elitist government, remember Penelope. Straighten your shoulders and speak up.