- Stripped and Script: Loyalist Women of the American Revolution by Kacy Dowd Tillman
Those who have read Women’s Narratives of the Early Americas and the Formation of Empire (2016), edited by Mary McAleer Balkun and Susan C. Imbarrato, may remember a chapter by Kacy Dowd Tillman on Grace Galloway, the wife of the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, Joseph Galloway. In that essay she shifts the focus away from Joseph, who fled to England after his motion to remain part of Britain failed, to the diary/letter that belonged to Galloway’s wife. In it, Grace Galloway records her experience trying to hold on to her family’s substantial estate outside of Philadelphia during the American Revolution. Now Tillman offers Stripped and Script, a full-length study of the wives of loyalists that readily joins titles on the political and literary implications of loyalism, like Maya Jasanoff ’s Liberty’s Exile and Leonard Tennenhouse’s The Importance of Feeling English as well as Russ Castronovo’s book on circuits of propaganda. Over the course of six chapters and an afterword, Tillman examines the genre of the letter-journal and the recurring metaphors in these women’s writings. Most readers of Stripped and Script will come away impressed with its large archival footprint. More impressive, though, is how Tillman’s monograph presents the unfolding of the American “Crisis” before it had been codified into the episteme of the “American Revolution.” In particular, she raises two important questions: What happened to the wives of loyalists after their husbands fled or were incarcerated, and what language of political belonging shaped those experiences?
The answers to those questions lie in an array of manuscripts that offer firsthand accounts from women living in the colonies. From the introduction, Tillman makes clear that her subject is in capable hands as she provides a compelling argument while sifting through the archives: “These letters bridged a gap or created an epistolary space for intimacy, despite the fact that [End Page 321] the revolution was a period when such intimate spaces could be violated by interception, publication, and censorship” (1). The book, on the whole, is logically organized with succinct chapters as it surveys different experiences and forms of publication. Some of these women were not political loyalists but rather pacifists or, in some cases, politically indifferent. Perhaps the most interesting figure in the book is Elizabeth Graeme Ferguson, who uses print publication, petitions, and even poetry to shift public opinion in her favor to keep her property after passing secrets to British officers. Tillman’s great strength lies in clearly explaining complex historical developments without losing precision. She reminds readers how “public sphere theory fails to account for the people who never wanted a democracy in the first place” (21).
In an unusual departure from most scholarly studies, each chapter begins with an anecdote about Tillman’s sidetracks through cities where she conducted archival research and visited the homes of the women she studies. These openings make explicit the costs—in terms of time, energy, and money—that scholarship in early American literature demands. Yet the emphasis on the properties underscores a few omissions in the book as it focuses on the original ownership of these homes or estates. A question emerges about whose stories are excluded as we analyze the writing of a wealthy woman “standing her ground” on conquered American Indian land bequeathed by English aristocrats to men who accrued wealth through mining, mills, and exploitation of workers. In the introduction she admits that her book does not offer evidence from African American or Native American women, because she did not find any manuscripts by them that fall into her specific category of loyalism. But readers need a broader context to qualify her assessments of women loyalists. For example, the study never mentions who built these houses for the “prominent” or whether they were compensated for it (26). Nothing in the letters or journals conveys attachment...