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“The British were indeed very far superior to the Americans in every respect necessary to military operations, except the revivified courage and resolution, the result of sudden success after despair.” – Mercy Otis Warren

As we mark the Fourth of July and the independence brought about after the Revolutionary War, it’s impossible not to remember the historical men and women who played key roles in the creation of our nation. Men like George WashingtonBenjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson are easily remembered, but what about the women – the ladies of liberty – who also deserve our remembrance and respect? Today, let’s talk about Mercy Otis Warren and how she influenced the American Revolution with her mightiest weapon – a pen!

Biography

Early years

Born in Barnstable, Massachusetts, on September 14, 1728, Mercy Otis Warren was the third of James and Mary Allyne Otis’s thirteen children. Like many women at the time, Mercy didn’t receive a formal education, but she learned much about history and politics from her father, her uncle, and her older brother, James Otis Jr., who helped her build her passion for writing.

In 1754, Mercy married James Warren, a friend of her brother and a politically active patriot, and the two had five children together. Thanks to her husband’s position and commitment to the colonies’ cause, their house became the center for much of the political action at the time, and the two often hosted groups of Patriots in their home. In fact, she and her husband were friends with John and Abigail Adams, who supported and encouraged their efforts to aid the Revolution, and the two couples often exchanged letters.

Early Influence on the Revolution

As unrest began to build in the colonies, Mercy was determined to build support for the Patriot cause. While she could not become involved in politics as a woman, she did have one powerful skill she could use to influence others: writing. Starting in 1772, Mercy wrote and anonymously published multiple satirical plays and dramas that criticized Britain’s policies and their Loyalist support.

After the Boston Tea Party in December of 1773, John Adams wrote a letter to James, Mercy’s husband, that asked for Mercy to write about the event. Mercy did, writing a poem titled “The Squabble of the Sea Nymphs; or the Sacrifice of the Tuscararoes,” which the Boston Gazette published on their front page. Her works helped fuel support for the Patriots’ cause and brought the nation closer to the fight for independence.

Photo of the US Constitution

Writing the History of a New Nation

While Mercy’s early writings shaped the course of the Revolution, the works she wrote after the Revolution made an even bigger impact. Mercy was unafraid to stand by her political beliefs and examine the actions of even the most powerful politicians despite some of the backlash she received. After the drafting of the Constitution in 1787, Mercy wrote a pamphlet denouncing the Constitution, pointing out that it moved power away from the people without protecting their rights – an argument that encouraged Congress to add the Bill of Rights in 1789.

Additionally, her most famous work is History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, a detailed historical account of the Revolution she lived through. Within its pages, Mercy provides a detailed picture of the events of the Revolution, along with her own commentary. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she argued against slavery, stating that the practice was contrary to American principles. While the collection was not popular when published in 1805, Mercy’s account is valued by historians as one of the earliest accounts of the Revolution, with many significant insights about the historical figures of the time.

Mercy continued writing for many years until her death in 1814. She was buried next to her husband at Burial Hill Cemetery in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Key Contributions

At a time when women were discouraged from formal education and politics, Mercy became a powerful force in both realms. Her writings paved the way for the Revolution and created a space for women’s voices and opinions. In addition, she passionately supported many causes, including the rights of the people, education for women, and the abolition of slavery.

From her plays to her historical accounts, Mercy left her mark on the Revolution and shared her unique perspective on the events she experienced firsthand.

Quill pen and ink bottle next to a stack of handwritten letters

Interesting Facts

  • Hosted political meetings at her home
  • A close friend of many Patriot leaders, including John and Abigail Adams
  • Wrote three satirical plays criticizing British policies: The Adulator (1772), Defeat (1773), and The Group (1775)
  • Wrote History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (1805), one of the first accounts of the Revolution
  • The first female historian in the United States
  • A statue of Mercy stands outside of the Barnstable County Courthouse in Massachusetts

The Importance of Legacy and Remembrance

As you can see, Mercy Otis Warren lived an extraordinary life and used her words to help shape our nation during a difficult time. She was a patriot. An intellectual. A wife and mother. A brilliant writer. A feminist. A historian. She left a clear legacy, both to her children and to the fledgling nation she helped found.

As we remember Mercy Otis Warren and the events that made her life both ordinary and extraordinary, take a moment to think about your own life. Are you leaving a legacy that you and your family can be proud of? Have you shared what’s most important with those you care about?

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. What we do matters. While most of us will never be famous or well-known, that’s not the point of a legacy. Instead, think of legacy as your opportunity to take your family and the next generation to a level you can only imagine. Just like Mercy did!

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