We have all taken an unfamiliar journey into the history books to discover a new chapter of the history books and a new understanding for the past has begun to flourish within us. We have grown up with the idea of the Founding Fathers, but only brushed their wives off as just that: domestic support. In this gender revolution we face today, we now know of the equality that each of these women deserve and appreciate to a fuller extent. Mercy Otis Warren was a revolutionary hero even more so than her husband or her brother. Thanks to her father’s recognition of her brilliance, Mercy delivered many tremendous works that helped shape America during a time of turmoil and at one time a period of exhaustion among the colonist. We understand that her views of a country void of Britain tyranny came from her father, her drive to voice the colonists’ displeasure from her brother, and how she moved a colony to remove Thomas Hutchinson from his political position that he had tried so hard to gain. Hopefully, we will be able to shed more light on many other women in different parts of the world throughout history and will not simply brush them aside as the wife. Instead we may see that they were persuaders just like Mercy Otis Warren.
“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
Many know Mercy Otis Warren as the wife of James Warren. James can certainly be considered the other half to Mercy because of how wildly in love with his wife he was. Many letters between the two show his affection for Mercy with the use of little pet names such as titling her a “saint” or his “little angel”. The following is a passage from a letter sent to Mercy from James while she makes a trip to Boston.
…I need not tell you that I am uneasy without you,
that I wish for the time I am to return. In short I feel
so little satisfaction in my own mind the days are so
tedious and everything appears so different without
you. –James Warren May 1763
The two were married on November 14, 1754 and gave birth to 5 sons. James Warren was a very successful politically by being elected to the Massachusetts House of Representative, among other positions. The two had a mutual respect for the others political opinions as well as their intelligence much as her brother and father had for her.
How do we judge someone’s historical significance? Does it depend on how largely they effected the world around them at the time, or do we measure their footsteps based on their changes that transcend to any time?
Mercy can first be accredited for the effects she made on the world around her at the time. Without her persuasive plays there could have been much less demand for revolution by the colonists. Mercy was a little fire starter who fanned the flames of an inferno. She made a change to not only her immediate surroundings, but also helped created the country that we are in now.
As mentioned in a past blog, not only is Mercy’s literary works what makes her momentous, but the fact that we now know more about her story also is noteworthy. A majority of the history books will highlight mostly the tales of heroic men that sculpted nations or defended borders or rose above tyranny. A gender neutral revolution has now begun and historians have revisited the past to reassess who all of the heroes and heiresses where through the years. Mercy is now not only helping women in her own era, but women well before her as well. This makes her historical significance even more transcendent.
Many can argue that one is not born into such a fierce political battle. However, Mercy Otis Warren was born into a family that had a strong political background that I believe did ultimately shape the woman we research now.
Born on September 14, 1728, Mercy was the 3rd, but first girl, of 13 children that James Otis Sr. and Mary Allyne Otis had. James Sr. had been an attorney as well as a farmer while Mary was from one of the original families that traveled across the pond on the Mayflower. Mercy had not been formally educated, but similarly to most of the women we discuss in class she had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Being one of the oldest and having her two older brothers going to college, she was able to accompany them to lessons with Reverend Johnathan Russell. James Sr. was very supportive of his daughter’s educational endeavors which were rare during the time. We see that from an early age Mercy is treated as an intellectual equal to her brothers even though she does not attend a college. Later you can see that the respect rolls over into her marriage and toward her male and female companions that fight against the British.
The Otis family has now had numerous run ins with Thomas Hutchinson. He was appointed to Chief Justice instead of James Otis Sr., Mercy and James Jr.’s father, and later caused large legal battles with James Jr. due to whit of assistances that he issued. Most of Mercy’s writings were aimed at Thomas Hutchinson and portrayed him as the villain and her brother the hero as I mentioned in my last blog that revolved around The Adulateur.
This family hatred of Thomas Hutchinson first began when the current Governor at the time, Francis Bernard, passed up James Sr. for the very prominent position of Chief Justice. The backlash was immense due to the fact that Thomas had no prior legal experience and was strictly a successful businessman and political figure with the loyalists. Not only did this anger the Otis family, but men like James Adams was also angered by the decision.
This animosity was only furthered when the Governor Bernard left for England which left Hutchinson as acting Governor. During this time of power, the Otis family continued to exploit any short comings Thomas showed. However, now Governor Hutchinson, underestimated the political attacks that were aimed toward him. It was not until the Boston Massacre that he finally felt the pressure of the disdain many had toward him. Trying to save face with the people he placed the British soldiers under arrest that were involved with the accident. Ultimately two were charged with manslaughter with reduced sentences, but that was still not enough. Thomas tried to resign as Governor, but was denied because only shortly before had he lobbied to be appointed the full title of Governor and not the acting one.
This act of political favoritism by Governor Bernard sparked a family hatred for one man. It only seems fitting to see Thomas Hutchinson play the part of Rapatio in Mercy’s plays now. After highlighting James Otis Jr.’s pro bono legal work, we see where Mercy is influenced to give a voice to the ones that are unheard. Now that we have highlighted Thomas Hutchinson, we see where The Adulateur gets its villain. Continue reading “The Villain: Thomas Hutchinson”
Many people may try to sum Mercy Otis Warren up by saying she was her husband’s wife. Women through history have had the title of someone’s wife as if it were why we know their names and not because of their accomplishments. Mercy may have this title as well, but she is also an infamous writer and poet. One of her largest donations to the American Revolution was that of her three plays: The Adulateur, The Defeat, and The Group. Each has its own significance that helped with the colonists’ cause. In this blog I will highlight the first of the three plays and its significance during the time of its publishing.
The Adulateur, in a summary, is about two main characters that reflect Thomas Hutchinson and Mercy’s brother. Rapatio is the antagonist that represents Hutchinson and Brutus the protagonist that mirrors her brother. This work creates a clash of the two sides which are symbolism of actual events. Mercy’s ability to forge a fictional conflict that is so relatable to her audience that it brings a new enthusiasm to a group of colonists that had been drained from the protests of the pre-revolution.
Historians have duly noted Otis’s brilliance from this play, but acredit her even more literary praise with her following dramas. Her words were a reflection of the supporting group of women that have now became known as the “Founding Mothers” of America. This aclaim has shown proof that historians are steadily recognizing women thoughout history. The “Ole Boys Club” from the history books is beginning to sway from a majority of facts about a battlefield to historians asking the questions about why things happened and what was happening outside of the bloodshed moments. This is where we find and come to appreciate Mrs.Mercy Otis Warren.
All infamous figures in history have had relatives, enemies, or friends that have effected their future actions. My next few blogs will focus on Mercy’s iconic play, The Adulateur, and the two men that Mercy Otis Warren highlights in her historical plays: James Otis Jr., her brother, and Thomas Hutchinson. The two main protagonist and antagonist of Brutus and Rapatio are modelled after these two.
James Otis Jr. was a man of law that graduated from Harvard in 1743 and he used his knowledge of the law to help represent, pro bono, many merchants that were being harassed by a writ of assistance. At this time many merchants were beginning to smuggle goods and from this governors granted writs to sheriffs to be able to search anyone’s property without a legitimate reason. Also one single writ could be transferred to another official to search many more colonists.
In 1760, James was awarded the title of Advocate General of the Admiralty Court. He later resigns his title however due to his and Mercy’s father not being appointed to Chief Justice. Instead Thomas Hutchinson was given the position and then later gained the Governorship of Massachusetts. Shorly after his resignation of Advocate General, James did the aforementioned pro bono legal representation of 63 Boston merchants.
Similarly to James Otis Jr., Mercy felt she could be the voice of the people when they were being oppressed by the British. James had a fiery passion for the law, and Mercy had a poetic way with words to convey her opinion. James’ willingness to stand up for what he believed in I feel really effected Mercy’s life and gave her the courage she needed to speak out.
“No taxation without representation!”
-James Otis Jr.