By Terry Pettee
The women of Colonial America did not fully qualify as citizens of the soon to be established United States of American. In reality the rights and privilege of full citizenship awaited women 150 years in the future. Women could not vote nor hold elected office. They had little opportunity to receive an advanced education and were ostracized from virtually all professions.
Without question, women were banned from military service. Although men imposed that prohibition, many brave women chose to ignore masculine prejudice in favor of patriotism.
One such woman was Prudence Cumming Wright, resident of Pepperell, Massachusetts. In 1775 the Minutemen of Pepperell, including her husband, left families and homes to fight the British at Lexington and Concord. This male absence left the little town Pepperell undefended. Undefended that is until the women of Pepperell, lead by Prudence Cummings Wright formed the Minutewoman Militia. This militia of 30 to 40 women selected “Prue” as their commanding officer.
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Prue did not come to her patriotic views without difficulty. The Cummings family was largely loyal to England throughout the Revolution, particularly her vocal father and two brothers.
In 1775, Pepperell was a small farming community on the border with New Hampshire. Pepperell’s location between Boston and Montreal, Canada made it one of several ideal British communication routes. The Minutewomen, by some clandestine means, learned royalist Captain Leonard Whiting of Hollis, New Hampshire and another spy would pass through Pepperell to Boston to pass along important military communications.
The Minutewomen, dressed in men’s uniforms, armed with muskets and pitchforks met Captain Whiting and an accompanying spy at the quaintly covered Jewett’s Bridge near Pepperell. Captain Whiting was quickly taken prisoner but the rider with him, recognizing Prue Wright, turned his mount around and escaped. When Whiting was searched, treasonous correspondence was found in his boot.
That escaping spy was Samuel Cummings, Prue’s brother. Making good on his escape, Samuel Cummings was never again seen in Pepperell.
This incident involving Prue Wright was immortalized in the following poem.
‘Not one further step I ride!
One who rode with Whiting cried
‘Tis my sister Prue! Alas,
She would never let me pass
Save when her dead body fell!
I turn back from Pepperell.’
Poem by Annie V. Cuthbertson, published in “Turner’s Public Spirit” of January 15, 1898, Ayer, Mass.
In recognition of the patriotic efforts of the Pepperell Minutewomen, the town council took the unorthodox action of compensating these brave women as it would a male militia. In order for the compensation to conform to law, the Minutewomen Militia was identified in the minutes of the town council as the Leonard Whiting Guard refraining from any reference to the Minutewomen’s gender. Their compensation amounted to 7 pounds and 17 shillings, enough in 1775 to purchase four bed sheets and little more than a nearly forgotten footnote in history.
But nevertheless, we remember and honor these heroines of freedom.
Terry Pettee is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University where his undergraduate study prepared him for a career in secondary education. Prior to attending EMU, he was Editor-In-Chief of the Erie Square Gazette while a student at the St. Clair County Community College. Between his community college and university years he was Marysville Editor of the St. Clair County Independent Press where he was a newspaper reporter and columnist. After a brief teaching stint his life’s journey led him into human resource and industrial relations management; a career spanning four decades. Now retired, Terry writes both Christian value based fiction and non-fiction for his own amusement, which is babble-speak for saying he has only a single published book to his credit.
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