Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

Uncommon Sense—the blog

Daily Life and Wartime Disruption

· November 29th, 2018 · No Comments

Today’s post is by October 2018 WMQ author Lauren Duval.

by Lauren Duval

The American Revolution, Mary Beth Norton asserted in her classic study, Liberty’s Daughters, had “profound consequences for the entire population” and unsettled “normal patterns of life.”[1] I found this notion particularly intriguing and I was eager to explore it further as I delved into my dissertation research. Occupation seemed a perfect lens to consider the disruptive impact of the war on families and households: British military rule and the presence of thousands of soldiers fundamentally disrupted the routines and patterns of urban life. Civilians resided alongside occupying forces for extended periods of time. These people had little choice about “belonging to the army” as they encountered British troops not on the battlefield, but in their own homes.[2]

I am fascinated by these household dynamics under military rule and the ramifications of this disruptive and incredibly personal experience of war. My larger project centers the urban household as a lens for examining British military occupation during the American Revolution. For civilians residing in British-occupied cities, chaos and uncertainty, wartime necessity, and military strategy disordered racial and gender hierarchies embedded within society and chiefly located within the household. For inhabitants of occupied cities, the consequences of war reached far beyond the battlefield.

My William and Mary Quarterly article allowed me to consider these dynamics in a single case study, rather than the comparative approach that I used in my dissertation (and now book project). I chose to examine Charleston because I wanted to further explore the daily dynamics of occupation in a slave society—to better understand how war disrupted household order in a society predicated on strict gender and racial hierarchies. To be sure, these hierarchies existed throughout the colonies, but due to a combination of British policies, civilian demographics, and the nature of Charleston society, I felt that the experience there offered an exciting opportunity to illuminate these dynamics and consider how they functioned under British military rule.

One of the challenges I faced, however, was that there are simply fewer sources written by civilians in Charleston than in other cities, such as Philadelphia. Yet, this difficulty also forced me to be creative as I sought to uncover the civilian experience and to understand how Charlestonians both black and white, free and enslaved, and male and female, experienced British occupation. And over and over again, as I sifted through my sources, the subject of property (in all of its various forms)—in British policy, in civilian letters, in complaints and petitions—kept popping out at me. As I pieced together my evidence, I realized that the answer was staring me in the face: property was integral to both British strategies of control and the civilian experience of occupation. Examining these contests over property, both between civilians and between civilians and soldiers, offered an excellent entry point for analyzing the power dynamics of occupation and how they were tethered to the household.

I knew from the outset that the WMQ has a rigorous peer-review process and was eager for the feedback that it would provide. The social and cultural significance of property, including its gendered and racial connotations, remained central to my article throughout the revision process. But the perceptive and insightful comments I received from Josh Piker and my six reviewers pushed me to more fully consider the legal contexts around property. Armed with these new insights, as I ventured back into the archives and reworked my manuscript, Josh, my reviewers, Meg Musselwhite, and the rest of the WMQ’s editorial team offered guidance, support, and incisive critiques that encouraged me to think about my article in new ways and to refine my ideas for the broader scholarly community that comprises #VastEarlyAmerica. Ultimately, their shrewd feedback aided me in reframing my argument through the lens of mastery—a reframing that helped me to more clearly articulate why British sequestration policies were so disruptive in revolutionary Charleston.

After participating in this process, I have a new appreciation for the immense effort and meticulous labor that goes into crafting articles—on both sides of the publication process. And throughout the process, I was constantly reminded that for as solitary an endeavor as research and writing can sometimes be, scholarship remains very much a conversation that benefits from the insights and perspectives of others. And for this reason, I thoroughly enjoyed publishing at the WMQ. The exchanges that I had with my reviewers, Josh, and the editorial staff pushed me in new directions and encouraged me to work through my ideas in the broadest possible sense—and my article is certainly improved for these conversations.

[1] Mary Beth Norton, Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980), 195.

[2] Holly A. Mayer, Belonging to the Army: Camp Followers and Community during the American Revolution (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1996).

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