Friday, June 25, 2010

Penelope Pagget Barker – Tea Party Planner

At age 27 Penelope Pagget Craven became the richest woman in North Carolina with the death of her second husband, James Craven. She later married Thomas Barker, who often traveled to England, leaving her in charge of her inherited property as well as his own. So it was only natural that she would take an avid interest in the public affairs of the colony, a position that led to her being called "one of the most courageous women in U.S. history.

Her interest in colonial affairs led her to express her displeasure at the Crown's tax on many goods without giving colonists a say in that taxation. In October 1774, she composed a public statement to this effect and hosted a "tea party," now known as the Edenton Tea Party, at the home of Elizabeth King. In addition to herself, 50 women attended and affixed their names to her statement. She was quoted as saying, "We are signing our names to a document, not hiding ourselves behind costumes like the men of Boston did at their tea party."

She made sure the proclamation was sent to a London newspaper, where journalists and cartoonists depicted the women as "bad mothers and loose women." However, in the colonies, other women took note and began a major boycott of British goods, quickly getting the attention of British authorities. An enlarged version of one of the cartoons hangs today in the entry hall of the Barker home, now headquarters of the Edenton Historical Commission.

When the American Revolution began in earnest, Penelope continued to take a courageous stand. When informed that British officers were raiding her stable of its carriage horses, she snatched up her husband's sword and dashed to the stable. With a mighty slash of the sword, she severed the horses' reins and drove them back into the stable, informing the British officers that they could not molest her property without peril. The commanding officer apologized, assuring her that neither she nor her property would again be molested.

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