Homespun Cloth Played Important Role in American Revolution

During the “Taxation Without Representation” years preceding the American Revolution, among the ways the king would try to tax his colonies was by attaching a tax to imports. American patriots responded by pledging to avoid the use of imported products and to rely instead on goods manufactured in the colonies: a tactic Gandhi would later call swadeshi.

And as in the Indian independence movement over a century later, the wearing of homespun cloth became a symbol of allegiance to the cause of independence. The Massachusetts Gazette reported:

Williamsburg, Va., . On evening the honorable speaker and gentlemen of the House of Burgesses gave a ball at the capitol, for the entertainment of His Excellency, Lord Botetourt; and it is with the greatest pleasure we inform our readers that the same patriotic spirit which gave rise to the association of gentlemen on a late event was most agreeably manifested in the dress of the ladies on that occasion, who, to the number of near one hundred, appeared in homespun gowns; a lively and striking instance of their acquiescence and concurrence in whatever may be the true and essential interest of their country. It were to be wished that all assemblies of American ladies would exhibit a like example of public virtue and private economy, so amiably united.

The production of homespun cloth and eschewing of British tea were ways of fighting for independence — and of organizing the resistance — years before the first shots were fired at Lexington & Concord and the war became a hot one. B.F. Morris writes, in Christian Life and Character of the Civic Institutions of the United States:

Three hundred heads of families in Boston, in a written covenant, resolved that they “would totally abstain from the use of tea till the revenue acts were repealed.” The young ladies of Boston followed the example of their mothers, as the following pledge indicates:—

Boston, .

We, the daughters of those patriots who have and do now appear for the public interest, — and in that principally regard their posterity, — as such do with pleasure engage with them in denying ourselves the drinking of foreign tea, in hopes to frustrate a plan which tends to deprive a whole community of all that is valuable in life.

This pledge was signed by women throughout New England.

In an afternoon’s visit of ladies in Newport, Rhode Island, it was resolved that those who could spin should be employed in that way, and those who could not should sew. When the time arrived for drinking tea, bohea and hyperion were provided; and every one of the ladies patriotically rejected the bohea, and unanimously, to their great honor, preferred the balsamic hyperion, — the dried leaves of raspberry-plants.

In Boston, some fifty young ladies, enrolled as “The Daughters of Liberty,” met at a minister’s house (Rev. Mr. Morehead) and in a single day spun “two hundred and thirty-two skeins of yarn. Numerous spectators came to admire them, and the whole was concluded with many stirring tunes, anthems, and liberty songs, which were animated in their several parts by a number of the Sons of Liberty.”

One example of such patriotic verse was “To Our Ladies”—

Young ladies in town, and those that live round,
  Let a friend at this season advise you;
Since money’s so scarce, and times growing worse,
  Strange things may soon hap and surprise you.

First, then, throw aside your topknots of pride;
  Wear none but your own country linen;
Of economy boast, let your pride be the most
  To show clothes of your own make and spinning.

What if homespun they say is not quite so gay
  As brocades, yet be not in a passion,
For when once it is known this is much worn in town,
  One and all will cry out— ’Tis the fashion!

And, as one, all agree, that you’ll not married be
  To such as will wear London factory,
But at first sight refuse, tell ’em such you will choose
  As encourage our own manufactory.

No more ribbons wear, nor in rich silks appear;
  Love your country much better than fine things;
Begin without passion, ’twill soon be the fashion
  To grace your smooth locks with a twine string.

Throw aside your Bohea, and your Green Hyson tea,
  And all things with a new-fashion duty;
Procure a good store of the choice Labrador,
  For there’ll soon be enough here to suit you.

These do without fear, and to all you’ll appear,
  Fair, charming, true, lovely and clever;
Though the times remain darkish, young men may be sparkish,
  And love you much stronger than ever.

Then make yourselves easy, for no one will teaze ye,
  Nor tax you, if chancing to sneer
At the sense-ridden tools, who think us all fools;
  But they’ll find the reverse far and near.

In , Massachusetts patriots were circulating the following petition, which specified the imports to boycott and also pledged a social boycott of people who continued to buy and sell these imports:

Whereas the Hon. House of Representatives of this province, on , did declare, that the happiness and well-being of civil communities depend upon industry, economy, and good morals, and taking into serious consideration the great decay of trade, the scarcity of money, the heavy debt contracted in the late war, which still remains on the people, and the great difficulties to which they are by these means reduced, did resolve, to use their utmost endeavors, and enforce their endeavors by example, in suppressing extravagance, idleness, and vice, and promoting industry, economy, and good morals: and in order to prevent the unnecessary exportation of money, of which the province hath, of late, been drained, did further resolve, that they would, by all prudent means, endeavor to discountenance the use of foreign superfluities, and encourage the manufactures of this province; and whereas, the Parliament of Great Brittan has passed an act imposing duties on sundry articles for the purpose of raising a revenue on America, which is unconstitutional, and an infringement of our just rights and privileges; and the merchants of this province have generally come into an agreement not to import goods from Great Britain, a few articles excepted, till that act is repealed; which in our opinion is a lawful and prudent measure: therefore, we the subscribers, do solemnly promise and engage, each with the other, to to give all possible encouragement to our own manufactures: to avoid paying the tax imposed by said act, by not buying any European commodity but what is absolutely necessary; that we will not, at funerals, use any gloves except those made here, or purchase any article of mourning on such occasion, but what shall be absolutely necessary; and we consent to abandon the use, so far as may be, not only of all the articles mentioned in the Boston resolves, but of all foreign teas, which are clearly superfluous, our own fields abounding in herbs more healthful, and which we doubt not, may, by use, be found agreeable: we further promise and engage, that we will not purchase any goods of any persons who, preferring their own interest to that of the public, shall import merchandize from Great Britain, until a general importation takes place; or of any trader who purchases his goods of such importer: and that we will hold no intercourse, or connection, or correspondence, with any person who shall purchase goods of such importer, or retailer; and we will hold him dishonored, an enemy to the liberties of his country, and infamous, who shall break this agreement.