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This Day in History: Mary Draper, unsung heroine

On this day in 1719, an American heroine is born. No books would ever be written about this woman. She would never receive any awards or a pension for her service. She simply did what she could: Mary Draper cooked for the men who were rushing towards Boston in the wake of the “shot heard round the world” at Lexington and Concord.

Actually, one report says that she packed her youngest son and sent him to war. Then she started cooking.

In April 1775, Mary was a widow living in Dedham, Massachusetts. It was a “terrible and distressing time,” as local minister Reverend William Clark wrote in his diary. The first shots of the American Revolution had been fired mere days earlier. Militia from all over the countryside were traveling to Boston, rushing to help.

Companies of men passed through the area for days and days.

Mary was then a new widow, presumably still reeling from that loss. How did she find it within herself to pack up her 16-year-old son and send him off? But she did. Then she turned to her daughter and announced what would come next.

“You and I, Kate, have also service to do. Food must be prepared for the hungry; for before to-morrow night, hundreds, I hope thousands, will be on their way to join the continental forces. Some who have travelled far will need refreshment, and you and I, with Molly, must feed as many as we can.”

At least reportedly, the Draper’s farm was a large one, with a well-stocked granary and an abundance of dairy. The women were soon turning out large quantities of brown bread. They set up tables along the side of the road and stacked them with bread and cheese. Two boys volunteered to ladle cider. Neighbors jumped in to restock the tables when Mary’s supplies ran low.

The companies of men just kept coming. None of them could stay, but they did grab food before continuing their journey. The British were under siege in Boston, and they were needed.

Mary responded to appeals for help repeatedly during the war.

After the Battle of Bunker Hill, she answered a call for more ammunition, sacrificing her pewter dishes so they might be converted into balls (bullets) for the Army. At other points in the war, she helped make coats and shirts for the soldiers.

The tasks she performed were simple, in many ways. But Mary’s efforts joined with those of others, and they all added up to something magnificent: A miraculous victory against the large and powerful British army.

Every person, every effort, always makes a difference—especially when you are fighting for liberty.

Primary Sources:

  • Elizabeth F. Ellet, The Women of the American Revolution (1850)

  • Emma Frances Allen, Mary Draper, 20 Am. Monthly Mag. 212, 212-14 (1902)

  • Erastus Worthington, Widow Mary Draper, 7 Dedham Hist. Reg. 1 (1896)

  • Thomas Waln-Morgan Draper, The Drapers in America, Being a History and Genealogy of Those of That Name and Connection 181 (New York, J. Polhemus Printing Co. 1892).



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