08 August 2022
The Eccles Centre recently hosted a one-day symposium on Black Women’s Activism in the Americas, in collaboration with the Society for the History of Women in the Americas (SHAW). The day included a Show and Tell for the delegates, inspired by some of the topics under discussion. Here are some highlights from the display.
A few years ago the Library acquired a number of issues of Spotlight magazine. Produced by American Youth for Democracy during World War Two (formerly the Young Communist League), it was edited by Claudia Jones, the Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist who emigrated to the US as a child.
Following the persecution of Communists by the US Government, Jones was deported to Britain in 1955. She continued her Communist activism in the UK and went on to found Britain’s first major black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in 1958, and played a major role in founding the Notting Hill Carnival. You can read more about Jones’ life and work in the British Library’s Windrush Stories online exhibition here. As with many histories of activism by women of colour, Jones’ legacy was maintained for many years by community activists and historians, through works such as Claudia Jones, 1915-1964: A Woman of Our Times [researched and compiled by Jennifer Tyson], published by Camden Black Sisters Publications in c1988.
Later US Communist activist and scholar Angela Davis was also represented with the Show and Tell including a number of works produced around her imprisonment in 1971 on murder and kidnapping charges. The case generated interest around the world and the display included items published in the UK and Germany demonstrating solidarity with her case, as well as a booklet produced by the United States Information Service and distributed by the US Embassy in London which endeavoured to present the ‘legal background’ to the case.
Alongside Official Government Publications, such as the USIS booklet shown above, another type of collection item which may be less familiar to British Library researchers are examples of political ephemera. The Library continues to acquire a range of this type of material including this striking broadside “I Am A Black Woman Communist”, featuring a portrait of Angela Davis, which was produced for the 20th Convention of the Communist Party USA in New York in February 1972. The following quote is printed beneath her portrait: "I am a black woman Communist / the corrupt government of this country could not accept such a combination / this is why they launch an effort to murder me." The artist's signature, identified only as ‘Sherman,’ is printed at upper right corner.
The political ephemera continued with election pamphlets produced by the Worker’s Party (PT, Partido dos Trabalhadores) during Brazilian federal elections in 1982. Included amongst those standing for office was Lélia Gonzalez, the leading Afro-Brazilian feminist, intellectual, politician, professor, anthropologist and Black and women’s rights activist. Her influential concept of Amefricanidade or ‘Amefricanity’ references both the black diaspora and indigenous populations of the Americas, signalling their histories of resistance as colonised peoples. Among a long career in activism and education, she ran as a federal candidate for the Worker’s Party in 1982. The broader context of the PT slate of candidates (included at the same shelfmark) provide fascinating insights in to the range of social justice concerns active in Brazilian politics in the early 1980s, including gay rights.
An underused part of the Library’s holdings, the Philatelic Collections offer a fascinating way into many different aspects of social and political histories. The Show and Tell was enriched by items from our Philatelic colleagues which illustrated the way black women’s activism has been commemorated on stamps, in turn helping to construct national and international conversations about women’s history and achievements. To find out more about Philately at the British Library, visit their subject page or their social media channels.
By Cara Rodway, Eccles Centre, August 2022 (with thanks to my Eccles and Americas colleagues for their help developing and mounting the Show and Tell)
19 July 2018
Seals, coins, stamps and paper money share a much closer relationship than first meets the eye. This can be illustrated by the first ever colonial deputed seal made for Barbados.
It was engraved in June 1663 by the famous medallist, coin and seal engraver Thomas Simon.
The obverse face depicting: ‘His Majesty’s Royal Effigies, representing Neptune in a Chariot drawn by two sea horses, and robed with his royal robes and crowned with a trident in his left hand’ with the inscribed motto ‘ET PENITUS TOTO REGNANTES ORBE BRITANNOS.’
As demonstrated by William and Mary’s later seal for Barbados engraved c.1690, although depictions of the Monarch changed from reign to reign, the basic design remained unaltered until the island gained independence in 1966.
Being the legal instrument of Barbados colonial governance and authority, the seal would have been used to authenticate a wide range of official documentation. Its imagery was also adopted across various formats as is demonstrated by George III’s Seal for Barbados engraved c.1760.
The design of this particular seal formed the basis of the Reverse Face designs for Barbados’ 1792 Copper Half Penny and Penny coinage.
Likewise Victoria’s Barbados Seal engraved by Benjamin Wyon in 1837 was used on the island’s most iconic postage and revenue stamps all typo or recess printed by Thomas De La Rue & Company in London.
This design first appears without the inscription upon Barbados’ 1892-1903 Colonial Badge Definitive Issue.
It was also used on the Barbados 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria Issue.
In fact representations of Victoria’s seal appear upon the definitive stamps of Barbados throughout the reign of Edward VII and the 23 July 1912 definitive stamps of George V.
For the Barbados 16 June 1916 Definitive Issue, Victoria’s Seal was replaced by that of George V’s and the seal’s motto appears upon the stamp for the first time.
The motto then disappears on the Barbados 1921-1924 Definitive Issue stamps,
before reappearing on the Barbados 1925-1935 Definitive Issue stamps.
The Barbados 3 January 1938 Definitive Issue then adopts the seal of King George VI with the motto.
Once the security printing firm Bradbury Wilkinson and Company Limited take over the printed contracts for the island’s stamps, this longstanding design tradition is abandoned. Their recess printed Barbados 1 May 1950 Definitive Issue $2.40 stamp is the only one depicting a seal, Simon’s original seal for Charles II.
This design is repeated again on the $2.40 stamp of Elizabeth II’s Barbados 13 April 1953 Definitive Issue. After this the seal theme disappears from the stamp design altogether.
In addition to stamps, a number of the colonial seals have also been depicted on the successive paper money issues circulating on the Island during the first half of the twentieth century. George VI’s seal first appears on the obverse face of the Government of Barbados 1938-1949 Currency Note Issues printed by Bradbury Wilkinson.
Later it appears on the reverse face of the British Caribbean Territories 1950-1951 Currency Note Issue
printed by the same company before eventually being replaced by Elizabeth II’s on the reverse face of the 1953-1964 Issue.
Likewise, the seal design was also reproduced upon Police Uniform Cap Badges, during the reign of Elizabeth II.
Colonial Flags and even buildings such as the Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Building on Broad Street in Bridgetown constructed c. 1895 also carried imagery based upon the seal design.
In 1966, during the build up to Independence, the Government of Barbados arranged an open competition to design a new national flag. Grantley W. Prescod’s globally recognised winning design comprises a vertical triband of ultramarine and gold with a black trident-head centred upon the gold band.
The blue represents the sea and sky of Barbados, whilst the gold represents the sand of the Island’s beaches. The Trident represents the mythical sea god, Neptune who was depicted by successive monarch on all of the colonial seals. In effect Prescod reclaimed the old colonial imagery, before reshaping and transformed it into a new postcolonial National Symbol. Following independence in 1966, this trident-design has in turn been mass reproduced by the Government of Barbados across a wide range of mediums. Notable examples include, the Barbados 17 August 2016 $2.20 stamp printed by BDT International depicting the national flag.
Likewise the reverse face of the Barbados 1997 1 cent coin depicts a Trident.
The Central Bank of Barbados 2013 Issue banknotes also depict the Tridents within their designs,
and finally the Trident can be found on monuments including the Independence Arch on Chamberlain Bridge and Independence Square both located in Bridgetown.
It is important to remember that these colonial and postcolonial representations first introduced by Thomas Simon’s Barbados Seal in 1663 have been reproduced millions of times across different formats. This mechanical mass reproduction has enabled them to be encountered by Barbadians on a daily basis within a wide range of social, economic and political situations for almost four hundred years.
Sociologists like Michael Billig’s contend that an underlying, non-extremist and endemic form of ‘banal nationalism’ is brought into existence by such everyday encounters with representations of authority upon official and consumable objects including coins, stamps, paper money and flags. From a colonial perspective this would have helped to shape the development of a colonial identity for Barbados, at the same time helping to facilitate a proto-national identity from which drives for independence partially formed. Nevertheless as Barthes and others readily point, out such visual representations are inherrently polysemous and unstable. This allowed the new postcolonial Barbadian ruling elite to reclaim and reappropriate an old colonial symbol. Having done this they could then use the symbol in new and different ways to signify a break from the colonial past whilst developing a new national symbol at the same time.
- Richard Scott Morel, curator, philatelic collections
27 June 2018
The central role of Migration in the development of the United States ensures it is a theme well represented upon the nation’s postage stamps. The first to tackle the subject was the United States 1869 Issue 15 cent stamp containing James Smillie’s vignette engraving depicting the landing of Columbus in the Americas on 12th October 1492. Based upon John Vanderlyn’s famous painting now displayed inside the Capitol’s Rotunda in Washington, this event is widely recognised to be a turning point in the history of migration to the Americas. Furthermore this stamp and succeeding issues all provide clear allusions to the economic, military and religious incentives behind the waves of migration to the American Continent since the closing years of the fifteenth century to the present day.
The main objective of Columbus’ voyages was to establish maritime trading routes to the East Indies; instead he discovered the New World. The wealth accrued by consequent Spanish colonial, military and economic in the Americas in turn encouraged mercantile classes from rival European nation states to try and emulate such economic success. The French, English, Swedish, Dutch and others all established colonial settlements within North America from the sixteenth century onwards. The United States 13 July 1984 20 cent stamp commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the First Raleigh Expedition to Roanoke Island depicts the Elizabeth Galleon, one of the vessels involved in establishing the famous Roanoke Colony which vanished under mysterious circumstances.
More successful was the establishment of England’s first successful permanent Colony established at Jamestown, Virginia by the Virginia Company in 1607, an event commemorated on the United States 1907 Jamestown Exposition Issue 2 cent stamp.
The United States 27 June 1938 Issue 3 cent stamp commemorating the tercentenary of Scandinavian Settlement in America depicts the establishment of a colonial settlement by Swedes and Finns on the lower reaches of the Delaware River in present day Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1638.
Religious and political persecution in Europe during the early seventeenth century also led to migrants settling in various parts of America. The United States 18 December 1920 Issue 2 cents stamp commemorates the tercentenary of the migration of a group of religious dissenters known as the Pilgrim Fathers who established Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts in 1620.
In 1624 Huguenot-Walloon migrants also migrated to the United States to escape religious persecution forming the first permanent Dutch Settlement known as Fort Orange or New Netherland in present day Albany an event celebrated on the United States 1 May 1924 Issue 2 cent stamp.
Missionary activity also resulted in migrants settling within America, individuals like a major the French Jesuit Missionary Father Jacques Marquette (1637-1675) established settlements at Michigan and was one of the first Europeans to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River. His exploits commemorated on both the United States 10 June 1898 issue 1 cent and 20 September 1968 Issue 6 cent stamps.
After the War of Independence, the territorial extent of the fledgling United States was largely confined to the eastern seaboard of America. As an independent nation the government initiated a continued policy of westward expansion into the hinterland of North America. This expansion extended the Nation’s boundaries to the Pacific coastline. One of the earliest of such migrations into the North-West Territories now known as Ohio, Indiana and Illinois conducted by veterans of the War of Independence and the Ohio Company has been commemorated on the United States 15 July 1938 Issue 3 cent stamp.
Further South, Daniel Boone’s famous explorations in Virginia resulting in the establishment of the Kentucky Settlement in 1792 has also been depicted on the United States 1 June 1942 Issue 3 cent stamp to commemorate Kentucky’s 150th Anniversary.
The United States Government also acquired territory for settlement via diplomacy and financial transactions with foreign colonial powers. A good example is the acquisition of lands acquired from the Spanish and French which formed parts of the Mississippi Territory, a precursor to the State of Mississippi established in 1798. The various stages of this expansion are depicted on the United States 8th April 1948 Issue 3 cent stamp commemorating the Territory’s 150th Anniversary.
Pioneers and settlers involved in such migration and settlement faced significant dangers and hardships in the form of starvation, disease and violence. Such conditions are alluded to in the United States 10 June 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha Issue, 8 cent stamp depicting troops guarding a pioneer train from attacks whilst the 10 cent depicts a dead horse on a pioneer wagon.
With such privation in mind, the Government introduced financial incentives for westward migration in the form of various Government Acts offering land parcels at favourable prices or for free. The United States 20 May 1962 Issue 4 cent stamp commemorates the 1852 Homestead Act passed by Abraham Lincoln offering public land in the west to any US citizen, including free slaves, who was willing to settle, farm and improve the land over a period of five years.
The forced migration of African slaves to America is unrepresented on the library’s United States philatelic holdings. Nevertheless one particular issue which demonstrates its importance in shaping America is the United States 20 February 1987 Black Heritage Issue 22 cent stamp depicting an idealised portrait of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable and some of his property and lands during the late eighteenth century which helped found modern day Chicago.
Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections
Images from the British Library, Philatelic Collections: The Tapling Collection and UPU Collection material for the United States of America.
30 June 2017
With the 4 July holiday fast approaching, it is timely to review some of the British Library’s Philatelic Collections relating to the Declaration of Independence and its commemoration.
Revenue stamps played a fundamental role in the conditions enabling such an extraordinary historical document to be created and signed. Defending the American Colonies during the Seven Years War (1757-1760) as well as the costs incurred by maintaining a subsequent military presence throughout the region was an expensive undertaking for Britain. Consequently Parliament felt the colonies should contribute towards the cost. In 1765 the Grenville Ministry passed a Stamp Act taxing a wide range of legal documents, playing cards, newspapers and other printed material. Proof of payment of these taxes was demonstrated by the presence of an embossed stamp applied upon the paper prior to use. Opponents to the tax in both Britain and the American Colonies argued that it violated the colonist’s rights as Englishmen to be taxed without their consent. Using the slogan “No taxation without representation” significant political pressure was placed upon Parliament, resulting in the Act being repealed on 18 March 1766. Despite this U-turn in government policy, the relationship between Britain and her American Colonies was permanently damaged and the episode was one of the major grievances outlined in the Indictment of George III within the Declaration of Independence.
All of the embossed revenue stamp dies for the 1765 Stamp Act can be found within the Board of Inland Revenue Stamping Department Archives of the British Library’s Philatelic Collections. They were all engraved in the summer of that year by Thomas Major (1720-1799) employed at the Stamp Office between 1757 and 1799. The IIII PENCE stamp, die letter A (Image 1) attempted to raise revenue from colonial trade by being applied to bills of lading for any goods for exportation, or any cockett or clearance granted within the Colonies and Plantations of America.
The III PENCE stamp, die letter C (Image 2) aimed to raise revenues from a wide range of legal transactions within the Colonies by being applied to legal documents including declarations, pleas, petitions, bills, claims, grants and deeds.
Finally the TEN POUNDS stamp (Image 3) was to be embossed upon licenses, appointments or admissions of counsellors, solicitors or attorneys.
While postage stamps were not invented for another sixty four years, the Declaration of Independence has been widely commemorated upon postage stamps world-wide. The Tapling Collection within the British Library’s Philatelic Collections possesses the world’s first stamp commemorating the Declaration of Independence. The vignette engraved by James Smillie (1807-1843) on the United States of America 1869 Issue, 24 cent stamp is based upon the famous painting by John Trumball (1756-1843). The painting depicts the signing of the declaration of independence and is displayed within the Senate’s Rotunda in Washington DC.
The Crown Agent’s Philatelic and Security Printing Archive housed within the British Library’s Philatelic Collections also contain a range of material commemorating the Declaration of Independence. The original artwork for the St Kitts-Nevis 26 July 1976 Issue designed by John Waddington Security Printers, yet printed by Questa Colour Security Printers, commemorates the bicentenary of the American Revolution. The design for what became the 20 cent stamp (Image 5) displays a portrait of the African American Crispus Attucks (c. 1723-1770) next to a detail depicting the Boston Massacre.
This was another major event contributing towards the eventual creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence. In 1768 British Soldiers were dispatched to Boston following a spate of attacks upon colonial officials. Instead of quelling discontent, the military’s presence at Boston exacerbated the situation. On the evening of 5 March 1770 a crowd of colonists confronted a sentry who had chastised a boy for complaining that an officer had failed to pay his barber’s bill. Snowballs and debris were hurled by the crowd at the troops. Meanwhile Attucks with some men armed with clubs approached the Old State House, where someone accompanying Attucks struck a soldier with a piece of wood resulting in the troops firing their muskets. The future second President of the United States, John Adams (1735-1826) successfully defended the British Soldiers during their trial, an event memorably acted out by Paul Giamatti for the first episode of the award winning 2008 HBO mini-series John Adams. Nevertheless, as the first of five colonists killed on that night, Crispus Attucks was immortalised as the first martyr for American Independence being commemorated in songs and popular culture ever since.
The original artwork for what became the 45 cent stamp (Image 6) includes a portrait of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) the author of the Declaration of Independence. To his left is another rendering of John Trumbull’s painting whilst the background also displays some of the original signatures from the Declaration manuscript.
The Barbados 17 August 1976 Issue designed by George Vasarhelyi and printed by Walsall Security Printers also commemorates the bicentenary of the American Revolution. However it focuses upon the links between Barbados and the United States of America. The original artwork for the 15 cent stamp displays a map and colonial flag for the British Colony of South Carolina with the statement that it was founded by Barbadians.
The 25 cent stamp (Image 8) commemorates George Washington’s (1732-1799) visit to Bridgetown, Barbados as a young man in 1751, depicting a portrait of Washington pointing towards a map of St Michael’s Parish.
The 50 cent stamp (Image 9) contains an artistic rendering of the Declaration of Independence manuscript, thereby recognising its centrality in the American Revolution and struggle for independence.
Finally the Seychelles Islands were granted independence on 29 June 1976, the same year as the bicentenary of the American Revolution. The two events were commemorated together upon the Seychelles 12 July 1976 issue designed and printed by John Waddington Security Print Ltd.
The 1 rupee stamp (Image 10) depicts the flags of the Seychelles and United States of America besides one another.
The 10 rupee stamp (Image 11) juxtaposes images of the Seychelles State House alongside the State House, Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence was originally signed on 4 July 1776.
By Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections
The British Library, Philatelic Collections: Board of Inland Revenue Stamping Department Archive.
The British Library, Philatelic Collections: The Tapling Collection, United States of America.
The British Library, Philatelic Collections: The Crown Agents Philatelic and Security Printing Archive.
12 April 2017
The currency of the United States is used globally in addition to being a national icon and international cultural symbol. Before the War of Independence (1775-1783) each of the thirteen colonies that eventually established the United States were under British colonial rule and all faced significant challenges regarding their monetary supply. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries various types of currency were used as a medium of exchange. The official coinage was denominated in pounds, shillings and pence, however as few British coins were available in America the colonies were compelled to rely upon foreign specie such as the Spanish Dollar that was much more freely available and explains why the United States eventually adopted the dollar. On occasion there was even a shortage of dollars, forcing colonies to occasionally use commodities like tobacco, beaver pelts and wampum beads as a medium of exchange. Finally, to tackle the shortage of currency the colonies also issued paper money.
Since each colony was a self-governing settlement whose administrators were answerable to the British Crown they each printed their own paper money. The first was the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1690, four years prior to the establishment of the Bank of England, making it the first authorised paper money issued by any government in the western world. The remaining colonies soon followed suit and by the mid-eighteenth century each had developed a sophisticated paper monetary system. Known as bills of credit they were essentially fiat currency rather than notes which could be exchanged for gold and silver. Depreciation of such notes could and did occur which was harmful to British creditors, consequently the British Parliament passed a number of Currency Acts to restrict paper money issues to circumvent the problem. These Acts like the 1765 Stamp Act soured colonial relations with Britain laying the foundations for the War of Independence. The British Library possesses five original notes, the earliest being a thirty shillings bill issued by the Colony of New Jersey on 16 April 1764 printed by James Parker depicted in images one and two.
The obverse face of the note is bi-coloured being printed in red and black inks. It has a complex engraving of the Royal Coat of Arms whilst the lettering is in a variety of typefaces. Theoretically the registration of the two ink colours, varied scripts and complexity of the armorial engraving would require considerable skill, time and money making the notes unprofitable to counterfeit. Being a denomination insignia, the engraved half-sun on the note is another security feature.
The design on the reverse face of the note is based upon a security feature invented by Benjamin Franklin for the 1737 New Jersey paper money issue. Franklin developed a method of printing from leaf casts via a copper plate press for transferring a sage leaf image onto the back of paper money bills. Since a leaf is a unique object it theoretically provided complex fingerprint for each bill which would be impossible to counterfeit accurately.
The second note depicted in the collection is a ten pound bill issued by the Colony of New York on 16 February 1771 with manuscript signatures of Theophylact Bache, Walter Franklin and A. Lott in addition to a unique serial number. Printed in black ink on thin laid paper by Hugh Gaine, the ornamental upper border and arms of New York depicted on the obverse face were actually engraved by Elisha Gallaudet. Like other notes in the collection there is a verbal warning “Tis death to counterfeit.” Curiously, following a spate of forgeries in 1773 the Colonial Authorities authorised that images of the counterfeiters hanging from the gallows could be pasted onto the reverse face of the notes to discourage forgers but this was never carried out.
The third note is a four dollar bill issued by the colony of Maryland on 10 April 1764 with manuscript signatures of John Clapham and William Eddis with a unique serial number. Information on designers, engravers and printing of paper money is sporadic at the best of times. However since this note is known to have been printed by Anne Catherine Green and Frederick Green it offer a rare glimpse of the role women played in the Security Printing Industry. Finally as an alternative to watermarked paper this bill was printed on thin paper containing mica flakes to help prevent forgery.
This two shillings six pence bill issued by the colony of Pennsylvania on 3 April 1772 possesses the manuscript signatures of Adam Hubley, Joel Evans and John Mifflin in addition to a unique serial number. It was once again printed by Hall and Sellers in black ink bearing the arms of the Penn Family on special security paper which contains blue thread and mica flakes. Some of these bills bearing this date can contain the signature of John Morton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The final bill is a twenty shillings note issued in Delaware on 1st January 1776 signed in manuscript by John McKinly and Boaz Manlove with a unique serial number. The note was printed in black ink by James Adams who had once worked alongside Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia
Comparison of these notes to contemporary ones issued by Bank of England in Britain shows they are arguably more accomplished in terms of their complex engraving, letterings, use of coloured inks and range of security features. Although less iconic than the modern currency they do display the technical brilliance which helped develop the United States into the world’s leading economic power and banknote printers.
By Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections
Further Reading Eric P. Newman: The early paper money of America, (5th Ed, Krause Publications, 2008)
Farley Grubb: Benjamin Franklin and the birth of a paper money economy (Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, 2006)
Images are taken a volume containing a collection of paper money (The British Library, c. 143.d.5)
27 January 2017
Founding Mothers (I): Postage Stamps depicting women’s contributions towards the formation of the United States of America
As state sponsored government art, stamps offer an incredibly rich visual resource for gender studies, a fact most apparent when looking at how women have been commemorated on postage stamps issued by the United States of America. This first article will illustrate some of the stamps depicting women from the earliest British colonial settlements up until the American Revolutionary War. What immediately becomes apparent is that during the course of the twentieth century, the American Postal Authority recognised and honoured the central role women played in the nation’s formative history.
From the very first waves of British migration to the New World during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women accompanied their husbands and families to form settlements. Some settlements were successful, others less so. The first English child born in the United States was a girl named Virginia Dare, born in August 1587 at the ill-fated “lost” colony of Roanoke in modern Dare County, North Carolina. Since the colony mysteriously vanished soon after her birth, Virginia’s fate is unknown. However, she subsequently became an icon in American folklore and politics being referred to in poems, books, comics and films. Although little is known about Virginia besides her historic birth, she has become famous enough to warrant her own commemorative postage stamp, depicted in Image 1. The stamp portrays Virginia as a baby being cradled by her mother Eleanor with her father Ananias standing close by.
Image 1: United States of America, 18 August 1937 Anniversary of Birth of Virginia Dare, 5c stamp
Women also played a key role in the debates and military campaigns surrounding the American Revolutionary Wars (1775-1783) which resulted in the independence of Britain’s thirteen American settlements from colonial rule and the birth of the United States of America. The founding mother of the United States, Abigail Adams (1744-1818) depicted on the United States Postage stamp in Image 2 was the wife and closest advisor of John Adams (1735-1826), a founding father and Second President of the United States. Her son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) became the Sixth President of the United States. A member of one of America’s first political dynasties, Abigail was also politically active corresponding on a variety of issues including women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.
Image 2: United States of America, 14 June 1985 Abigail Adams Commemorative, 22c stamp
The first American flag, one of the most iconic symbols of America’s independence and national identity, is also credited to having been made by a woman named Elizabeth Griscom “Betsy” Ross (1752-1836), who presented it to General George Washington in 1776. The presentation of Betsy’s flag to George Washington has been depicted on the United States Postage Stamp issued for the bicentenary of her birth depicted in Image 3
Image 3: United States of America, 2 January 1952, Birth Bicentenary of Betsy Ross (maker of the first American flag), and 3c stamp
Women’s contribution to the supply and production of essential military equipment during the American Revolutionary Wars has also been commemorated on the United States Postage stamp. Image 4 depicts a female seamstress producing military uniforms for Washington’s Continental Army.
Image 4: United States of America, 4 July 1977 American Revolution Bicentennial “Skilled Hands for Independence” issue, 13c stamp
Finally the United States Postage Stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER” depicted in Image 5 was issued in 1928 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. The overprint “Molly Pitcher” refers to a nickname given to Mary Ludwig Hays (1754-1832), she was purported to have provided much needed supplies of water to help keep American cannon from overheating, in addition to loading cannon herself during the battle’s height under heavy enemy fire. Now regarded more as folklore than history, the nom-de-guerre is widely regarded as a symbol representing the brave and selfless acts of heroism and patriotism conducted by countless women during the American Revolutionary War.
Image 5: United States of America, 20 October 1928 2c., carmine stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER.”
Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections
Source: Images from the British Library, Philatelic Collections UPU Collection
Americas and Oceania Collections blog recent posts
- Black Women’s Activism in the Americas
- From Neptune to Trident: How the Colonial Deputed Seal for Barbados evolved into a national symbol
- Founding Greatness: Migration on United States Postages Stamps, 1869-1987
- Stamp for Independence: A brief philatelic tour of the Declaration of Independence
- The buck starts here: Early paper money from British Colonial America in the British Library
- Founding Mothers (I): Postage Stamps depicting women’s contributions towards the formation of the United States of America