Born Penelope Pagett in North Carolina in 1728, Penelope Barker may well have been one of the most courageous women in US history. At a time when women simply did not publicly engage in politics, she held a tea party. But it was not really a tea party; it turned into the first woman’s political activity in colonial American history — in fact, in western history. At the time of Barker’s tea party, October 25, 1774, women in Europe did NOT engage in political discourse either. For many reasons, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Sarah Palin, Margaret Thatcher and every woman who has ever expressed an opinion at a school board or town hall meeting or in the halls of the Congress owes gratitude to Penelope Barker for what she did in Edenton, NC, to advance the rights of women to engage in politics.
The better know Boston Tea Party was conducted by men, wearing costumes to protect their identity. Barker rejected the notion of hiding and instead publicly affixed signatures to the proclamation, which was signed by 51 women at Edenton in support of the declarations of the male leaders of the colony.
At the time, according to Diane Silcox-Jarrett’s “Penelope Barker, Leader of the Edenton Tea Party,” in Heroines of the American Revolution, America’s Founding Mothers (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Green Angle Press, 1998), 17, Barker said: “Maybe it has only been men who have protested the king up to now. That only means we women have taken too long to let our voices be heard. We are signing our names to a document, not hiding ourselves behind costumes like tdata:text/mce-internal,he men in Boston did at their tea party. The British will know who we are.” Her proclamation read:
“As we cannot be indifferent on any occasion that appears nearly to affect the peace and happiness of our country, and as it has been thought necessary, for the public good, to enter into several particular resolves by a meeting of Members deputed from the whole Province, it is a duty which we owe, not only to our near and dear connections who have concurred in them, but to ourselves who are essentially interested in their welfare, to do every thing as far as lies in our power to testify our sincere adherence to the same; and we do therefore accordingly subscribe this paper, as a witness of our fixed intention and solemn determination to do so.”
Expected to cause a stir, Mrs. Barker’s proclamation was published in London newspapers where the actions of the 51 ladies in Edenton were reported in a very negative fashion, even alleging the women were bad mothers and/or loose women. Other women in the Colonies thought otherwise and emulated Barker and the women of Edenton by boycotting British goods, which soon got the attention of the Crown. Because women’s views on matters politic were not considered worthy of consideration, the British laughed and their cartoonist’s had a fun day. An enlarged copy of one famous cartoon hangs today in the Barker House in Edenton.
Penelope Barker’s former home now serves as the home of the Edenton Historical Commission, 505 South Broad St.
If you have an ancestor among the signers of Penelope Barker’s proclamation, thank them for advancing the cause of women’s right to engage in politics, not to mention that matter of Independence for the United State.
The 51 signers included several relatives with comparable or similar names (as published in the Virginia Gazette, the London Packet, and the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser):
Elizabeth P. Ormond
This video (click on picture below) was created to inspire elementary students. Enjoy!