Wall Street Journal

“The Tory’s Wife” Review: Divided Loyalties

With her husband deemed a traitor, she tried to claim the few rights that she, and other women, possessed. Did the Revolution change anything?

Unidentified Female Silhouette, 1797. (Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin/Heritage Art via Getty Images)

The Revolutionary War liberated Americans from the oppressive colonial rule of the British, but as the postwar era began, it wasn’t clear how much women benefited from the hard-won freedoms accorded to men. Wives were still subject to the English common law of coverture, which gave husbands control of their property; women had next-to-no political rights. Had the Revolution changed anything?

Cynthia Kierner, a professor of history at George Mason University, examines this question in “The Tory’s Wife.” Her short, readable volume recounts the story of Jane Welborn Spurgin, a farm wife and mother of 13, in the backwoods of North Carolina. Other than the fact that she was literate, there was nothing particularly notable about Jane. She didn’t move in elite circles, and she certainly wasn’t famous. Yet she publicly claimed her rights as a citizen of the new American republic in a series of petitions to the state legislature. Ms. Kierner’s focus on Jane stems from her scholarly interest in how the war drew ordinary women into the political sphere.

Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal.