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 Margaret Morris’s Revolutionary War Experience, 1776-1777

Courtesy, New Jersey Historical Society

John H. Jackson, Margaret Morris: Her Journal with Biographical Sketch and Notes (Philadelphia: George W. McManus Co., 1949), pp. 39, 40, 47, 57, 61, 62.

Margaret Hill Morris (1737-1816) was a Quaker widow and local medical practitioner living in Burlington when the Revolutionary War began. Her four children were between 10 and 17 years old at the time and her sisters and father were living in Philadelphia. Her diary, written between December 6, 1776 and June 14, 1777 and excerpted here, is an important record of the early phase of the Revolution. It has been valued by historians for its information about the war and Washington’s surprise Christmas Eve attack on the Hessian camp at Trenton. It is equally important for its insights into the experience of women during the war, seen through the private feelings and values of one devout Quaker woman.

Morris abhorred warfare and resolved to stay in her Burlington home whatever might come. She witnessed the pillaging of local homes by both Hessian soldiers and American soldiers. She saw the vicious work of Tory hunters in her neighborhood, and the destruction visited on local residents by Gondola Men, who were patrolling the riverside. Resolved to remain serene, she aided those in need, regardless of the side they took during the conflict.


December 6th 1776 — Being on avisit to my frd. M.S. at Haddonfield. I was preparing to return to my Family, when a Person from Philad told us the people there were in great Commotion, that the English fleet was in the River & hourly expected to sail up to the City; that the inhabitants were removing into the Country, & that several persons of considerable repute had been discoverd to have formd adesign of setting fire to the City, & were Summoned before the Congress and strictly injoind to drop the horrid purpose --- when I heard the above report my heart almost died within me, & I cried surely the Lord will not punish the innocent with the guilty, & I wishd there might be found some interceeding Lotts & Abrahams amongst our People. On my Journey home I was told the inhabitants of our little Town were going in Haste into the Country, & that my nearest neighbors were already removed --- when I heard this, I felt myself quite Sick I was ready to faint --- I thought of my S D. the beloved Companion of my Widowd State --- her Husband at the distance of some hundred miles from her --- I thought of my own lonely situation, no Husband to cheer, with the voice of love, my Sinking spirits. My little flock too, without a Father to direct them how to Steer, --- all these things crouded into my mind at once, & I felt like one forsaken — aflood of friendly tears came to my relief — & I felt an humble Confidence, that he, who had been with me in six troubles would not forsake me now — While I cherished this hope my tranquility was restord, & I felt no Sensations but of humble Acquiescense to the Divine Will --- & was favord to find my Family in health, on my Arrival, & my Dear Companion not greatly discomposd, for which favor I desire to be made truly thankful —

8th — every day begins & ends with the same accounts, & we hear today the Regulars are at Trenton — some of our Neighbors gone, & others going, makes our little Bank look lonesome; but our trust in Providence still firm, & we dare not even talk of removing our Family —

13th ...the spirit of the Divil still continued to rove thro the Town in the shape of Tory Hunters...some of the Gentlemen who entertaind the foreigners were pointed out to the Gondola Men — 2 Worthy inhabtants were seizd upon & dragd on board ... Parties of Armd Men rudely enterd the Houses in Town, & diligent search made for Tories, the 2 last taken releasd & sent on Shore --- some of the Gondola Gentry broke into & pillagd R Smiths House on the bank....

24th.... Several Hessians in Town to day — They went to Dan Smiths and enquired for several articles in the Shop, which they offerd to pay for — 2 were observed to be in liquor in the Street, they went to the Tavern, & calling for Rum orderd the Man to Charge it to the King— we hear that 2 houses in the Skirts of the Town were broke open & pillaged by the Hessions...

3rd [January 1777]...About bed time I went in the next house to see if the fires were safe, & my heart was melted with Compassion to see such anumber of my fellow Creatures lying like Swine on the floor fast aSleep, & many of them without even aBlanket to cover them it seems very strange to me that such aNumber shoud be allowed to come from the Camp at the very time of the engagement, & I shrewdly Suspect they have run away for they can give no account why they came, no where they are to March next.---

4th...The prisoners taken by our Troops are sent to Lancaster Jail --- a Number of Sick & wounded brought into Town, calls upon us to extend ahand of Charity towards them— Several of my Soldiers left the next house, & returned to the place from whence they came, upon my questioning them pritty close, I brought several to confess they had ran away, being scared at the heavy fireing on the 3rd — There were several pritty innocent looking lads among them, & I simpathized with thier Mothers when I saw them preparing to return to the Army

14th [June, 1777]...Some of the Gondola Men & thier Wives being Sick, & no Doctor in Town to apply to, they were told the Mrs M — was a Skillful Woman — & kept Medicines to give to the poor — & not withstanding thier late attempt to Shoot my poor boy — they ventured to come to me — & in a very humble manner begd me to come and do something for them...there was several both men and Women very ill with afever, some said the Camp or putrid fever — They were broke out in blotches, & on close examination, it appeard to be the itch fever — I treated them according to art, & they all got well....


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