Reflections from the Home Front2021-05-28T15:40:17-04:00

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Reflections from the Home Front

In this poem, a middle-class Massachusetts woman reflects on the hardships of life on the home front.

A new touch on the times: Well adapted to the distressing situation of every sea-port town

Molly Gutridge, A new touch on the times: Well adapted to the distressing situation of every sea-port town. (Danvers, MA: Ezekiel Russell, 1779). New-York Historical Society Library.

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Our best beloved they are gone,
We cannot tell they’ll ever return
For they are gone the ocean wide,
Which for us now they must provide.
         For they go on the roaring seas,
For which we can’t get any ease,
For they are gone to work for [?]*
And that it is to fill our purse.
         We must do as well as we can,
What could women do without man,
They could not do by night or day,
Go round the world and that they’ll say.
         They could not do by day or night,
I think that man’s a woman’s delight,
It’s hard and cruel times to live,
Takes thirty dollars to buy a sieve.
         To buy sieves and other things too,
To go through the world how can we do,
For times they sure grow worse and worse,
I’m sure it sinks our scanty purse.
         Had we a purse to reach the sky,
It would be all just vanity,
If we had that and ten times more,
’Twould be like sand upon the shore.
         For money is not worth a pin,
Had we but felt we’ve any thing,
For salt is all the Farmer’s cry,
If we’ve no salt we sure must die.
         We can’t get fire nor yet food,
Takes 20 weight of sugar for two foot of wood,
We cannot get bread nor yet meat,
We see the world is naught but cheat.
          We cannot now get meat nor bread
By means of which we [?]
All we can get it is but [?]
And that is of a wretched [?]
          And as we go up and down,
We see the doings of this town.
Some say they an’t victuals nor drink,
Others say they are ready to sink.
          Our lives they all are tired here,
We see all things so cruel dear,
Nothing now a-days to be got,
To put in kettle nor in pot.
          These times will learn us to be wise,
We now do eat what we despised:
I now having something more to say,
We must go up and down the Bay.
         To get a fish a-days to fry,
We can’t get fat were we to die,
Were we to try all through the town,
The world is now turned upside down.
         But there’s a gracious GOD above,
That deals with us in tender love,
If we be kind and just and true,
He’ll set and turn the world anew.
         If we’ll repent of all our crimes,
He’ll set us now new heavenly times,
Times that will make us all to ring,
If we forsake our heinous sins.
          For sin is all the cause of this,
We must not take it then amiss,
Wasn’t it for our polluted tongues
This cruel war would never begun.
          We should hear no fife nor drum,
Nor training bands would never come:
Should we go on our sinful course,
Times will grow on us worse and worse.
          Then gracious GOD now cause to cease,
This bloody war and give us peace!
And down our streets send plenty then
With hearts as one we’ll say Amen!
          If we expect to be forgiven,
Let’s tread the road that leads to Heaven,
In these times we can’t rub along.
I now have ended this my song.
*Illegible parts of the poem have been marked with this symbol.

Molly Gutridge, A new touch on the times: Well adapted to the distressing situation of every sea-port town. (Danvers, MA: Ezekiel Russell, 1779). New-York Historical Society Library.

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Background

By 1779, the Revolutionary War had been dragging on for four years. The disruption to trade, agriculture, and daily life left communities struggling to survive. For example, a quarter of the city of New York was destroyed in the great fire after the American troops retreated in 1776. But the British could not spend money or effort to rebuild while battles were happening elsewhere, so the destroyed parts of the city became a semi-permanent tent city, home to the most desperate Loyalist refugees from all over the thirteen colonies.

About the Document

This document is a broadside, a cheaply printed sheet of paper that was made to be distributed fast and far. Very little is known about Molly Gutridge, the author, except that she lived in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Given her home town, she was very likely a middle- or lower-class woman connected to the fishing and whaling trade in some way.

Beyond giving us a fascinating glimpse into the hardships faced by civilians during the war, this poem is also striking because it does not take a side. According to Molly, everyone, Patriot or Loyalist, is responsible for the current crisis, and everyone suffers alike. Her only hope for relief is that everyone will realize their mistake, and God will forgive them.

Vocabulary

  • amiss: Wrong.
  • an’t: Have no.
  • bay: Shore.
  • broadside: A printed piece of paper; often used as a flyer or poster.
  • despised: Hated.
  • ease: Help.
  • fat: Animal fat, used for cooking and making candles.
  • fife: A small flute with six to eight finger holes and no keys.
  • forsake: Reject.
  • heinous: Terrible.
  • naught: Nothing.
  • repent: Apologize.
  • scanty: Nearly empty.
  • sieve: Kitchen tool used to sift flour or strain liquids.
  • ’twould: It would.
  • vanity: Useless.
  • weight: Portions.
  • wretched: Miserable.

Discussion Questions

  • What hardships does this author highlight?
  • According to the author, what is the cause of the current troubles?
  • How does this document compare with other Revolutionary era writings?
  • Why did the printer include these two images to illustrate the poem?
  • What does this document reveal about the experiences of those living on the home front during the American Revolution?
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Suggested Activities

Themes

POWER AND POLITICS

New-York Historical Society Curriculum Library Connections

Source Notes
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