Professor Kierner Publishes Book on Revolutionary Woman
A patriotic woman of the American Revolution comes to life in a new book by Professor Cynthia A. Kierner, The Tory's Wife: Jane Spurgin and her Family in Revolutionary America. Kierner’s book, published with the University of Virginia Press, tells the story of Jane Welborn Spurgin, a North Carolina woman who aided Continental forces and welcomed General Nathanael Greene into her home, even as her husband—a British loyalist—fought for King George III in the Tory militia.
The Tory’s Wife challenges assumptions about gender in the violent conflict that birthed the United States. Professor Kierner shows how the American Revolution spilled into the fabric of everyday life. It pitted neighbors against one another, and it tore families apart. In the case of the Spurgins, the war sowed division between husband and wife. The legacies of this strife persisted into the early years of the young republic. After the war, Jane authored a dramatic series of petitions to the North Carolina state legislature, seeking to recover family property that had been confiscated due to her husband’s loyalism.
Kierner’s book takes readers beyond well-known battles and high-profile leaders. It engrosses with a tapestry of military encounters, horse-stealing, bigamy, and exile. The Tory’s Wife is “mesmerizing,” according to Woody Holton, Professor of History at the University of South Carolina. At the center of this history is “an abandoned wife in the Carolina backcountry who could have appealed for sympathy but instead defied centuries of patriarchal precedent by demanding the ‘common rights of other citizens.’”
The Tory’s Wife offers novel understanding of the American Revolution, deepening our knowledge of this landmark time through the story of a remarkable North Carolina woman. “Thoroughly researched and well written,” in the praise of Mary Beth Noron, Professor Emeritus of Cornell University, “this engaging narrative brings to life the Spurgins’ experiences amid the chaos of backcountry warfare—and reveals the untiring efforts of the indomitable Jane to claim her rights as a citizen of the new republic.”
Professor Kierner is the author and editor of numerous previous books, including Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson’s America, also published with the University of Viriginia Press. She is currently working on two more women’s history projects. One, a twentieth-century biography, is tentatively titled “Mother of the Mets: The Life and Times of Joan Whitney Payson.” The other examines a group of women who staged a procession to welcome George Washington as he traveled through Trenton, New Jersey, in 1789, on his way to assume the U.S. presidency.
The Tory’s Wife draws on decades of research and scholarship. Kierner learned about Jane Spurgin in the 1990s, when she discovered a series of documents by this revolutionary woman in the North Carolina state archive. In an interview (link), Kierner said that she “wanted to figure out the rest of [Spurgin’s] story ever since.” Jane Spurgin “was one of very few women who were outspoken, publicly, about claiming what she called a citizen's ‘common rights.’”
You can read more about The Tory’s Wife here (link).
October 19, 2023