Beware The Waspish Sting of a Patriot Woman’s Pen
By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
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“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.”
― William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew
If I asked you to name American writers who stirred hearts and passions during the American Revolution, most likely you’d mention Thomas Pain or Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson. Surely, each man made his invaluable contribution to the fight for independence.
Lesser known, though, is the crisp, satirical wit of Mercy Otis Warren. Her plays pricked the pride of pompous Tories and entertained the likes of John and Abigail Adams.
Mercy was a determined woman and I believe she exemplified the kind who struck fear in Cornwallis’ heart. Born to a somewhat wealthy family in England, her father didn’t care to educate her. To most, this would have been a high barrier. To Mercy, it was merely an inconvenience. Focused and self-disciplined, she learned to read by sitting in on her brother’s lessons when she could, and going through his text books on her own. Her perseverance prompted more familial support and an education was provided.
Mercy was quite intelligent, clearly, and a mind like hers was always inquiring. Her family moved to Massachusetts in 1754 and when she married James Warren, found herself surrounded by pro-American voices. Her husband and her brother both were passionately in support of the colonies throwing off the yolk of a tyrant king. Her home was a popular meeting spot for the local revolutionaries and Mercy became lifetime friends with several of our Founding Fathers and their wives.
But standing around serving tea wasn’t all she wanted to do. Mercy knew there was a reason for her quick wit and sharp tongue. So did her husband. She married a remarkably open-minded man who appreciated that she was a gifted writer. James often sent her works to friends, and even submitted some for publication. Mercy’s first play, The Adulateur, was published anonymously in 1772. It unabashedly criticized the lieutenant governors attacks on personal freedoms in Boston. This was the first of several plays that had the indignant Tories throwing their tea cups across the room.
After the war, Mercy wrote a comprehensive history of the Revolution, a book of valuable insights even today. In it, however, she slighted John Adams, or so that is how he took it. His response? He chastised by Mercy by telling her, “History is not the Providence of Ladies.”
It was for this Lady in Defiance.