Mercy Otis Warren: Selected Letters

Mercy Otis Warren: Selected Letters

Mercy Otis Warren: Selected Letters

Mercy Otis Warren: Selected Letters


This volume gathers more than one hundred letters-most of them previously unpublished-written by Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814). Warren, whose works include a three-volume history of the American Revolution as well as plays and poems, was a major literary figure of her era and one of the most important American women writers of the eighteenth century. Her correspondents included Martha and George Washington, Abigail and John Adams, and Catharine Macaulay.

Until now, Warren's letters have been published sporadically, in small numbers, and mainly to help complete the collected correspondence of some of the famous men to whom she wrote. This volume addresses that imbalance by focusing on Warren's letters to her family members and other women. As they flesh out our view of Warren and correct some misconceptions about her, the letters offer a wealth of insights into eighteenth-century American culture, including social customs, women's concerns, political and economic conditions, medical issues, and attitudes on child rearing.

Letters Warren sent to other women who had lost family members (Warren herself lost three children) reveal her sympathies; letters to a favorite son, Winslow, show her sharing her ambitions with a child who resisted her advice. What readers of other Warren letters may have only sensed about her is now revealed more fully: she was a woman of considerable intellect, religious faith, compassion, literary intelligence, and acute sensitivity to the historical moment of even everyday events in the new American republic.


When the committed American Revolutionary, pathbreaking author, and resolute Republican Mercy Otis Warren penned a letter, she rarely wrote just a note. Instead, she seemed to imagine history looking over her shoulder, urging her to speak both to her correspondent and to posterity. Over a period of forty-five years, until her death in 1814, the Massachusetts native extolled, educated, preached, prayed, raged, and wept in her letters. She also kept copies of many of them for herself, manuscripts that she later had transcribed in finer penmanship, with points and spelling corrected, to leave for future generations. The rising youth of the nation, she imagined, would know precisely why she preached and why she taught, even if her contemporaries did not always grasp the opportunities before them. But to both younger and older recipients, Warren rarely failed to offer some lesson that life had laid before her. Indeed, as a correspondent, Warren was never content to comment idly on her own activities. Smart, politically committed, and driven, she discovered she had things to say and, while usually decorous in doing so, did not fear to say them. For Warren, a letter was a document—private to be sure, but also meant for a public—a record of evolving citizenship in the suddenly emergent United States. One might say that, through her course of letters, she deliberately and self-consciously engaged in defining what an American should and could be.

Identifying Mercy Warren, however, may not be as easy as identifying the new America she sought to shape and correct. Recognized now . . .

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