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Five Key Terms from the American Revolution for this Independence Day

Since the period of the American Revolution was all about military forces and force, we have chosen five key terms or figures that fit the theme of force, which can result in influential change for communities and individuals.

  1. boycott

  2. Deborah Sampson

  3. engraving

  4. native peoples

  5. enslaved African-American women

The term boycott is an important concept since the existence of boycotts forced politics into the everyday lives of people who did shopping or made shopping decisions. This made revolutionary politics relevant to women, or at least showed women that their actions were not independent of the issues being debated during the period. A person running a household or shopping for their own family would be able to make a political statement with the mere decision to purchase one item or another.

One woman who certainly made a political statement was Deborah Sampson who passed as a man in order to fight in several revolutionary battles because her actions forced others such as her commanding officer and fellow soldiers to question their perspectives about women’s roles. Sampson came from a prominent family line. (We just had to check when we saw that her mother was a Bradford. Sure enough, Sampson was the great granddaughter of Governor William Bradford!)

Sampson led attacks and dug trenches, and the next term, engraving, is an art form in which you dig lines into a metal plate. I chose engraving because it forces a single interpretation to be set literally in, well, metal and not stone, but they are both hard materials. Engravings such as the famous one by Paul Revere is an image many of us have always associated with the Revolution. In another 1774 engraving, Bostonians forced tea down the tax collector’s throat.

After the hostilities were over, many indigenous communities were forced to acquiesce to American rule and a way of life that disrupted their traditions, so I chose native peoples as the next key term. Many of us associate the 19th century practice of forcing the children of indigenous tribes to attend Anglo schools in order to cause the same cultural disruption, but this deeply hurtful policy in a general sense was started much earlier.

Indigenous peoples were not the only minoritized groups that were the recipients of discrimination as part of the legacy of the revolutionary period; I chose the phrase enslaved African American women for the final key term because one of the results of the 1804 end to trading in enslaved people was that people who enslaved others would force themselves on women in sexual violence in order to increase the number of babies born enslaved. There was a powerful, lyrical essay by Caroline Randall Williams printed in the New York Times that began “I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South” (June 26, 2020)—another testament to the forces of the last couple centuries since the period surrounding the American Revolution.

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