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In Their Own Words: North Carolina's Widows of the American Revolution

Nearly 250 years after the American Revolution, North Carolina women's contributions to the Patriot war effort remain little understood. Using pension applications, we can understand women's experiences during the War for Independence through their own words. The pensions in this exhibit are especially unusual, as they contain women's recollections not only about their husbands' wartime service, but also the widow's own actions during the war, whether it was in the role of farmer, nurse, refugee, or as a family guardian.

Today, these pension applications are a remarkable resource for researchers. Although these women were largely illiterate and do not often otherwise appear on the historical record, pension applications afforded them an opportunity to chronicle not only their wartime experiences, but the full breadth of their lives. Moreover, the complicated process of applying for a pension demonstrates the obstacles that women, and especially women of color, faced in obtaining due credit for their wartime contributions.

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North Carolina Widows of the American Revolution Exhibit Icon

North Carolina's Women of the Revolution by the Numbers





Pension Applications



James L. Edwards

Most Common Person Mentioned


Many North Carolinian women managed family farms during the war, feeding not only their families, but also the Patriot army.


North Carolinian women dragged wounded men from the battlefield and helped others recover from illnesses and injuries.

Free Women of Color

White and African American soldiers served alongside each other in the North Carolina Militia. Free women of color also supported the war effort, maintaining their households while their husbands were away.


When the war came to women's doorsteps, some women had no other choice but to flee from their homes, walking hundreds of miles with their children in search of safety.

Family Guardians

Women took on the full responsibility of maintaining and protecting their household during the war, often with little outside support.

Pension History

How do you read a pension? What sorts of information do revolutionary pensions contain, and what did women need to prove when applying for one?

Faces of the Revolution

Explore North Carolina Women's Original Pension Files


Explore the Pension Papers

The illustrations of women used in this exhibit are from the Alexander Anderson Scrapbooks, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections. (Accessed 12 December 2023)

The daguerreotypes and other early photographs of women used in the banner and icon for this exhibit are from public collections at the Library of Congress and the State Archives of North Carolina.