The 2019 Tacha Freedom Award Winner will compete in the National Contest for National History Day, June 9-13 at the University of Maryland in College Park. Riley Sutherland placed first in the Senior Individual Performance at the Missouri State Contest for National History Day in Columbia on April 27, 2019. In addition to her first place, she won the American Association of University Women Women’s History Prize.
Riley’s project, entitled “Divided by Politics, United by Purpose: Anna Marie Lane and Elizabeth Murray,” traces the involvement of the two women’s involvement in the Revolutionary War. Riley talked with us about her passion for history and her National History Day project.
Riley received the Tacha Freedom Award at the Freedom’s Frontier Awards Luncheon on January 30, 2019, thanks to her efforts at the Clay County Historical Museum. During her years as a volunteer at the museum, Riley has created themed “History Boxes” for educators to use in their classrooms, created two permanent exhibits and coordinated other museum events.
Riley said of her Tacha Freedom Award, “The Freedom’s Frontier’s work in promoting local, public history is reassurance that historical study remains alive and critical to education, and will continue to be shared with our communities.”
FF: What is your favorite thing about learning history?
RS: I have always hated problems with a single answer, because of the empty feeling that comes when an answer is finally found. What happens after you have an answer? The wonderful thing about history is that no matter how many hours or years research extends, there is never a single answer. Rather, any minute topic can be examined from social, economic, political, and religious lenses. After synthesizing these, multiple perspectives within each topic can be compared, as can relationships between time periods. Every answer I receive in history is accompanied by at least five more questions, which is exhilarating as a researcher.
I also love history because it is always changing. Though it is true, history is a collection of facts, interpretation of these facts and their results upon our world is always changing with historiographical trends and new research. Consequently, anyone determined to share a story is able to contribute to the historical narrative we collectively share. In this sense, I’ve always seen history as a place in which a single individual can inspire learning within a much broader community. This is especially true in public history, which I first learned when creating an exhibit on Alexander Doniphan’s opposition to local Mormon persecution. After speaking about Mormon persecution, local individuals of the faith thanked me. I didn’t understand, and asked ‘why’? They explained sharing the stories of their ancestors has kept them alive.
As public historians create exhibits, transcribe and digitize documents, and create outreach programs, their service is not only sharing knowledge. In sharing learning, we also preserve the stories of those no longer living to do so themselves, fostering civic pride. Whether from similar religious, regional, or racial backgrounds, preserving historical identities allows enduring lessons to transcend generational boundaries.
FF: Who were Anna Maria Lane and Elizabeth Murray and why did you choose them for your Missouri History Day project?
RS: I first discovered Anna Maria Lane while reading about women in the Revolutionary War. The names of other women in the Revolution were accompanied by text, Lane’s was bare. After inquiring to historians and archivists, I was told the lack of knowledge surrounding Lane’s life is because she was illiterate. What was known is that Lane served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and was shot in the leg in 1777. Approximately thirty years later, she received an injured pension more than twice male pensions, and was the first woman in Virginia to receive an injured pension. After reading this information, I felt responsible for telling her story, since the only reason Lane could not herself is because she lacked opportunities to read and write.
I’ve had the opportunity to research alongside my teachers, with help from the James Monroe Papers, Colonial Williamsburg, St. John’s Church, Shockoe Church, and Valley Forge. We learned that Anna Maria Lane and her husband, John Lane, were incredibly poor New Hampshire citizens when the Revolutionary War began. John enlisted to fight for New Hampshire in 1776. Anna Maria could not financially support herself in the absence of John. Instead, she accompanied him as a camp follower, or female follower of Washington’s army responsible for acting as a laundress and nurse. The Lanes were present at the iconic Battle of Trenton, as well as the Battle of Princeton. Yet, Washington struggled to supply both his soldiers and the camp followers, who often survived on soldier’s rations in exchange for their services. The followers also had a poor reputation, as some were prostitutes; Washington wrote they slowed his army on marches, calling them a “clog” to his progress. In 1777, Washington ordered his officers to begin restricting the numbers of female camp followers. Within a month, Anna Maria Lane ran into battle alongside her husband at the Battle of Germantown, where she was shot and severely wounded. Though I am working on filling her whereabouts for the years from 1777-1790, my research has led me to believe she continued to follow John following the battle, to Virginia, where John reenlisted after being captured as a prisoner and exchanged. John served the state guard in Richmond, where older men and prior soldiers were employed in tasks, such as repairing arms. Anna Maria served the guard as a nurse, for Dr. John H. Foushee and James Greenhow.
[T]he Revolution had given Lane a definite voice and public involvement. She exercised this by refusing to continue nursing unless she was paid for her services. Both doctors wrote to James Monroe, asking for her to be paid. Monroe himself consented. After the injury caused Lane to go lame, Governor William Cabbell recommended she receive a pension for her “extraordinary military services”, “in the garb, and with the courage, of a soldier”.
I wanted to juxtapose Lane’s valiance with that of a Loyalist woman; Elizabeth Murray’s strong willed, independent nature seemed akin to that demonstrated by Lane. Murray was born in Scotland, and came to the colonies after being orphaned to join her brother, James, a trader in North Carolina. Elizabeth, while travelling through Boston, noticed that women were able to own businesses in the city. She decided to profit by doing the same, and established a millinery (or seller of female dress items, such as fabric and lace) with the help of her brother. After marrying, under colonial marriage laws (known as coverture), Murray could not own her own business. When her husband shortly died, she regained control of the millinery—with a new knowledge of maintaining property. She made prenuptial agreements with her next two husbands, requiring they allow her complete control of her property and business, even as a married women. The death of her first and second husbands left Murray with considerable wealth, which she used to support women in creating their own businesses. She helped local immigrants (including a friend, Janette Day, who arrived in the colonies after having a child out of wedlock) and orphans establish businesses. Murray also determinedly educated her niece in bookkeeping as a necessary skill for women.
Before Lexington and Concord, Murray joined her third husband, Ralph Inman, to manage his estate in Cambridge. But Ralph fled to Boston post-Lexington and Concord, seeking the protection of British troops as a Loyalist. Murray refused to join him, and, instead, defended the land as a sort of “female general,” as she described herself. Murray’s land was confiscated, and she was briefly held under house arrest. After escaping, Murray helped her first husband’s relative, Lieutenant Archibald Campbell, who fought for the British. Murray sold him food and literature, but was publically labeled a prostitute and spy for helping the prisoner. Murray made plans to return to Britain in the later years of her life, but took ill and died in the colonies. Archibald Campbell was released and went on to capture Savannah shortly afterwards.
I recently learned John Lane, husband of Anna Maria, was attempting to recapture the city when he was taken as a prisoner of war. In this sense, the tragedies endured by both Anna Maria Lane and Elizabeth Murray were connected by a common figure. Although they completely opposed each other ideologically, women like Lane and Murray endured strikingly parallel struggles in the Revolution, from similar encounters with opposing soldiers and economic challenges supplying the home amid taxation and boycotts, to enduring parallel scrutiny by the press for taking on new, public roles. After the Revolution, founders such as Benjamin Rush started identifying the need for women to be educated, which initiated changes in women’s social roles and educational opportunities. Really, women were only able to act in expanded roles to reap these opportunities because they were opposing each other’s voices. In this sense, their opposition to each other is what facilitated expanded female roles. This is incredibly interesting to me
FF: How did you research these two people for your project?
RS: I started research by travelling to the Battle of Germantown site, where Lane was injured, to learn about the battle. My teachers and I have spent hours poring over pension records, as well as male accounts of the Battle of Germantown to understand how she was involved. I’ve also gotten to learn about Lane through the letters of doctors she served, with the help of the James Monroe Papers project members. I’ve also gotten to travel to Yorktown and the National Museum of the American Revolution, to learn about the roles camp followers played in war. Although the Lanes were illiterate, pension records and accounts of men she fought alongside can be synthesized with what we already know about camp followers to help us piece her life together. I am currently working on trying to locate Anna Maria Lane’s gravesite, which was unmarked and is currently unknown of.
Elizabeth Murray is different, because historians—particularly Patricia Cleary—have already studied her life, and she left an extensive paper trail. California State University at Long Beach has digitized several of her letters and legal agreements, as well as newspaper articles from her life. I’ve paired this information with accounts of other Loyalist women in Boston during the Revolution to understand the overall female experience for New England Loyalists. They faced abuse by Patriot soldiers and the confiscation of their property, yet many overlook the struggles faced by those loyal to the crown.
FF: What do you like about the performance category?
RS: Reading through the letters and diaries of historical figures, from former presidents to lower class women of the American Revolution, has helped humanize larger-than-life and seemingly distant characters to me in a way. To understand these figures’ inner thoughts and emotions has brought me close to the past; to me, performing is an opportunity to present this history to other people in a way they may not have seen it—not as a list of dates, but as a series of reactions endured by real people.
FF: Have you been to National History Day before? What are you looking forward to?
RS: This is my sixth year competing in National History Day, and will be my third competing at the national level in Washington DC in June. To me, NHD is less of a competition than an opportunity to share the lives of meaningful figures. My goal is to share the lives of overlooked figures, such as illiterate Anna Maria Lane, with as many people as possible, to display lesser known historical contributions. I am excited to get to share her life with students from all over the world in June, as well as to learn about other student’s research. Every student at the competition has poured their heart into a specific topic and is eager to share. It is nearly impossible to so much as get on an elevator during NHD without ending up next to a bright-eyed student just as excited about history as I am, which makes NHD my favorite event of the year.
FF: Why did you decide to get involved at the Clay County Museum?
RS: I began to realize that I wanted to pursue a career in history when I was twelve, and hoped for a way to understand opportunities in this field. At the same time, I am a Girl Scout, and was preparing to work towards my Gold and Silver Awards through community projects. The Clay County Museum offered the perfect combination of academic research and community connections, so I reached out to begin involvement. I started by creating “history boxes” for the museum, containing materials about the Civil War on the Missouri/Kansas Border, Missouri Compromise, and local Native Americans for use by youth groups and fourth graders. Since this project, I have had the privilege of creating two museum exhibits, transcribing letters, acting as a docent, and coordinating public outreach events. After five years with the museum, every day has been like Christmas, as we open inventory boxes and discover artifacts buried in our basement for years, before sharing them with the public.
FF: What did it mean to you to receive the Tacha Freedom Award from Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area?
RS: The Tacha Freedom Frontier Award was incredibly meaningful to me, as a symbol of the importance of sharing historical narratives. I am so lucky to have the privilege of working alongside supportive museum members and teachers through both exhibit curation and research while pursuing this path. I have had so many people tell me that pursuing history is a mistake, because it is not applicable. They could not be more wrong. Yet, after having people remind me “it’s never too late to change your college major,” or “you will never survive on a historian’s salary,” it can be easy to wonder whether people appreciate history. The Freedom’s Frontier’s work in promoting local, public history is reassurance that historical study remains alive and critical to education, and will continue to be shared with our communities.