"The proportion of Women which ought to be allowed..."
An Overview of Continental Army Female Camp Followers

John U. Rees
©1995, 2002

Published in The Continental Soldier (Journal of the Continental Line),
vol. VIII, no. 3 (Spring 1995), 51-58.

Like all the armies that preceded it the Continental Army was not just a community of men. Numbers of women and their accompanying children followed the troops throughout the war, performing tasks that contributed to the soldiers’ welfare.

From the war’s beginning women’s numbers fluctuated greatly between regiments, and from company to company within each regiment. In December 1777 a return for the main army at Valley Forge showed a total of 400 women present, or one woman for each forty-four enlisted men (though it is possible there were more women with the army during the previous summer). In January 1783, a return for the army at New Windsor gave an average of one woman for every twenty-six enlisted men. During the intervening years the average ratio may have been within the range of one-to-thirty and one-to-thirty-five, or approximately three percent of the total number of troops. From available information, it seems that early in the war it was not at all remarkable for an individual company to contain no women. This situation had changed by 1783 when the average was two women for each company in the main army. And, as a rule, some organizations, such as Washington’s Life Guard, the Corps of Sappers and Miners, artillery units, and regiments or companies from occupied areas of New York, had greater than average proportions of women.1

Variation in follower numbers among different organizations is illustrated by a series of five "Weekly return[s] of provisions and Stores Issued to the Grand Army under the Immediate Command of ... General Washington Including the Park of Artillery at Pluckemin." These documents cover the period 21 April to 28 May 1779 and are unique in showing numbers of women with eight brigades of the main army under Washington at the end of the Middlebrook, New Jersey winter camp, and just prior to the summer campaign. Middlebrook unit proportions are as follows:2

1779 Middlebrook Return: Average Number of Women Per Company
(Nine companies per regiment, unless otherwise noted)

1st Pennsylvania Brigade

Four regiments 28 women per regiment 3 women per company

2nd Pennsylvania Brigade

Four regiments 27 women per regiment 3 women per company

1st Maryland Brigade

Four regiments 21 women per regiment 2 women per company

2nd Maryland Brigade

Four regiments 22 women per regiment 2 women per company

Muhlenberg's Virginia Brigade

21-28 April
Four regiments 11 women per regiment (eight companies) 1 women per company
22-28 May
Five regiments 15 women per regiment 1 women per company

Woodford's Virginia Brigade

21-28 April
Five regiments 10 women per regiment (eight companies) 1 women per company
22-28 May
Four regiments 26 women per regiment 3 women per company

Scott's Virginia Brigade

21-28 April
Five regiments 17 women per regiment (eight companies) 1 women per company

Knox's Artillery

Twenty-two companies 3 women per company

Information we have concerning American female followers is particularly interesting when compared to numbers accompanying Crown forces’ regiments. In February 1783, Robert Morris referred to "the british Prisoners of War who have Herds of Women with them." This comment is borne out by returns of British camp followers throughout the war. In May 1777 the ratio of women with British forces in New York was about one for every eight men, while German units contained approximately one woman for every thirty men. In August 1781 the troops in New York and its outposts were shown to have a ratio of one woman to every four and one-half British troops, and one to fifteen for the Germans.3

Camp follower in marching order.
Illustration by John R. Wright, courtesy of the artist.

Regardless of numbers, the women who followed the Continental Army were important in various ways. Unlike some of their British counterparts, most could not support themselves unless the army sustained them. In their own words they "could earn their Rations, but the Soldier, nay the Officer, for whom they Wash has naught to pay them." They did, however, perform duties such as washing, and sometimes cooking, for those men to whom they were related or otherwise associated with. As the war progressed these dual duties (most particularly laundering) were increasingly required of them in return for their continued presence with the army. Importantly, besides performing practical tasks, they provided some semblance of home life for the men. This seemingly minor service was extremely important considering that the War for Independence continued for eight years and soldiers fought tedium more often than they did the enemy.4

"Rations... Without Whiskey":
Women’s Food Allowance

In May 1776 British General William Howe’s forces in Halifax, Nova Scotia, boarded ship en route to New York. He stipulated on 2 May, “Six Women p[e]r Comp[an]y will be allowed to embark with each Reg[imen]t … Provisions will be allowed at the rate of half a Ration for each Woman, & a Quarter for each Child that is left behind.” Based solely on Howe’s orders it has often been assumed that Continental Army followers were given a reduced ration. Admitting that the fledgling American army mirrored prewar British usage, research shows that actual British army practice in both conflicts was a full portion to women on campaign or performing other army-approved services. Documentary evidence supports that quantity for Continental Army women. A series of "Returns of the daily Issues of Provisions to the Troops at the Post of Wyoming, from May 9th. to the [27th]" 1779, shows that women were allowed the same ration as common soldiers (i.e., one full ration per day) and that food issued during this period was typical for the war. From the 10th to the 20th of May rations consisted of one pound of flour, and either one pound of pork or one and one quarter pounds of fish. Beginning on 21 May, pork disappeared from the ration and the issue of fish decreased, eventually to be replaced entirely by one and one quarter pounds of beef. In 1781 returns for Colonel Joseph Vose's Light Battalion indicate two rations for each officer and one ration for each common soldier and woman. And a "Return of the number of Women and Children... that drew Rations under the late Regulations" lists the specific number of rations allowed prior to January 1783. Under the "late Regulations," each woman was given one full ration and each child a half-ration, similar to the British dependent allowance in the French and Indian War, which consisted of either a full or two-thirds of a ration of food.5

The food ration issued to Continental troops and their followers was based on a standard originally set in 1776: "One pound of beef, or 3/4 of a pound of pork or one pound of fish, per day. One pound of bread or flour per day. Three pints of peas or beans per week, or vegetables equivalent, at one dollar per bushel for peas or beans. One pint of milk per man per day. One half-pint of rice, or one pint of Indian meal per man per week. One quart of spruce beer, or cider, per man per day, or nine gallons of mollasses per company of one hundred men per week. Three pounds of candles to one hundred men per week, for guards. Twenty pounds of soft, or eight pounds of hard, soap for one hundred men per week." Eventually, a small amount of rum or other alcohol was also included. In 1782, returns of women and children in Colonel Henry Jackson's Regiment stipulated they be given "Rations... Without Whiskey."6

Necessity and nutrition required that some method be found by which this basic ration could be supplemented. This was especially important since items such as milk, cider, vegetables and soap proved to be difficult, and often impossible, to obtain. In July 1777, it was stipulated that "As nothing can be more comfortable and wholesome to the army than vegetables, every encouragement is to be given to the Country people, to bring them in [to market] … The General recommends temporary ovens to each brigade, which, by men who understand it, can be erected in a few hours. Bread baked in these, will be much wholesomer than the sodden cakes [firecakes] which are but too commonly used." Besides the occasional issue of extraordinary edibles by the army, additional foodstuff was bought, bartered for, or stolen by soldiers and their followers throughout the war.7

To add to the problem of feeding the army, the system of supplying the troops sometimes failed due to bad weather, crop failure, economic conditions or ineptitude in the quartermaster or commissary department. At Valley Forge in the winter of 1778, it was necessary to temporarily adjust the daily ration. General orders of February 8th noted, "that instead of the ration heretofore Issued there should be Issued a pound and a half of flouer, one lb of Beef or 3/4 Salt pork and a certain Quantity of Spirits..." It had been previously ordered on 29 January that "The Commissaries in future to Issue [a] quart of Salt to every 100 lb fresh Beef." This was to prove more or less the common ration during winter cantonments.8

"Some men washed their own clothing."
Women's Duties and Shelter

In August 1777, General George Washington wrote, "the multitude of women in particular, especially those who are pregnant, or have children, are a clog upon every movement. The Commander in Chief therefore earnestly recommends it to the officers commanding brigades and corps, to use every reasonable method in their power to get rid of all such as are not absolutely necessary..." He was, however, to find it impossible to rid the army entirely of these persistent females who performed any number of "necessary" tasks. As Washington admitted later in the war, he "was obliged to give Provisions to the extra Women in these Regiments, or loose by Desertion, perhaps to the Enemy, some of the oldest and best Soldiers In the Service."9

Any females who chose to follow the army were allotted provisions; in return they were expected to perform some sort of service to benefit the troops. Their primary role was that of "Wash Women," a task various documents describe followers performing from 1776 through 1783. During the 1776 campaign in New York’s Mohawk Valley, one company of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment contained seventy-one enlisted men and three "Washer-Women," giving a ratio of one woman to twenty-four soldiers. In sharp contrast to these numbers was the proportion found in Colonel John Lamb's artillery regiment in September of 1780: "one Woman to Wash for ten." The number of "Wash Women" in the 9th Massachusetts Regiment over a period of three and a half months during the summer of 1782 is also documented. The approximate average for those months was one laundress for every thirty-five enlisted men. Due to the small number of women with the army, especially early in the war, many men would have done their own washing. 10

It is evident that while some women washed primarily for enlisted men, others performed the same service solely for officers. During the Yorktown Siege, follower Sarah Osborn "took her stand just back of the American tents, about a mile from the town, and busied herself washing, mending, and cooking for the soldiers, in which she was assisted by the other females; some men washed their own clothing [emphasis added]." First New York Regiment fifer’s wife Maria Cronkite stated that she "accompanyed her husband... in the service... and continued in said service in the capacity of washerwoman for the officers untill the close of the war where her husband was duly discharged. That she had while in said service several children..." 11

Cooking was usually performed by the soldiers in messes of six, the same number of men usually assigned to a tent. There were occasions when the soldiers’ duties made it necessary to have followers prepare meals. At Yorktown in 1781, Sarah Osborn mentioned that she "cooked and carried in beef, and bread, and coffee (In a gallon pot) to the soldiers in the entrenchment." As to the day of Cornwallis's surrender, she stated that "having provisions ready, [she] carried the same down to the entrenchments that morning, and four of the soldiers whom she was in the habit of cooking for ate their breakfasts." At the Battle of Brandywine, Jacob Nagle served with Proctor's artillery. He described the situation at the action’s onset:12

The provision waggons being sent a way, we ware three day without provisions excepting what the farmers brought in to sell in their waggons and what the soldiers could plunder from the farmers. I went to my father [lieutenant colonel, 9th Pennsylvania], his rigment being on our right, and received a neats tounge from him … Mr. Hosner bought some potatoes and butter the evening before the Brittish arrived, and we concluded to have a glorious mess for breakfast. Mr. Hosner gave it to one of the soldiers wives that remained with the army to cook for us in the morning. Early in the morning, she had the camp kittle on a small fier about 100 yards in the rear of the Grand Artilery, with all our delicious meal, which we expected to enjoy. The Brittish at this time hoisted the red flag on the top of the farm house on the rige of the hill a breast of us, and their artilery advancing towards us down the ploughed field, we then begin a cannonading... Unfortunately one of the enemies shot dismounted the poor camp kettle with the fier and all its contents away with it. The woman informed Mr. Folkner. He replied, ‘Never mind, we have no time to eat now.’ Therefore we made another fast day.

In many respects regimental women were accorded the same treatment as common soldiers. As previously noted they were given the same food ration as enlisted men (excepting alcohol). It seems this parity was also extended when it came to shelter. General John Sullivan's 17 August 1777 division orders stipulated that six enlisted men occupy a tent, and also allotted one tent for every six "Waggoners [or] weomen." A roster of Captain Ross's Company, 3rd New Jersey Regiment, in June 1777 emphasizes the inclusion of women in mess groups. In this listing of eight messes, seven had five or six people, the same number assigned to a tent. Two of the mess squads included women, one of whom was Margaret Johnson, wife of Sergeant Samuel Johnson, the other being Elizabeth Evans, Private Emanuel Evans’ wife. It is probable that, due to the exigencies of army life, the women in these two mess squads shared tents with the men.13

"Coming into the line of fire."
Women on the March or on Campaign

Army followers occasionally were exposed to battlefield dangers, though such was the exception rather than the rule. Stated practice in the Continental Army through most of the war was for women to travel with the army’s baggage when on campaign. There were occasions when women and children were purposely left behind when troops were sent with a short-term detachment or on a special mission. During Major General John Sullivan's 1779 expedition against the Indians of Pennsylvania and New York, women and children accompanied the troops only as far as Tioga in northern Pennsylvania. In late August the commanding general decided that for the advance into New York, “the Troops should Move as light as possible, the Officers are requested to leave at the Garrison all the Baggage they can possibly spare. All the Women & Children to be left at this place ...” Consequently, orders were issued on the 24th that only those women "as may be applied to the use of the Hospital, or may be deem'd necessary to keep the Soldier's clean at their Return" were to remain at the new post, called Fort Sullivan. The rest were sent back to Wyoming, Pennsylvania, where orders were given "to the Commissary... to Issue Rations to those [returned] Women & Children."14

Similarly, on 1 August 1780, as Washington's army was preparing to move into New Jersey to provision the army, the commander in chief ordered division and brigade commanders "to exert themselves to get in readiness as fast as possible... Convalescents and such men as are otherwise absolutely unfit to march yet capable of doing duty in a fixed post are to be left at Verplanks and Stoney points... All the Women and Children of the Army are also to be left at these Posts for a few days where the commanding officers will see that they are furnished with rations as usual." And when a detachment of troops under the Marquis de Lafayette was sent south in February 1781, the soldiers’ wives were left behind, it being thought that the "service will be but a temporary one." It was later discovered by both the soldiers and their women that Lafayette’s force would be absent longer than had been expected. As a result, between May and July, four women made their way south to join Vose's Massachusetts Light Battalion. Presumably, other females also were able to rejoin the men of Lafayette's contingent in Virginia.15

Later in 1781, when a portion of the army was readying itself for the southward march to Yorktown, General Washington directed that "as the Detachment under... Major General Lincoln are to consider themselves as Light-troops who are always supposed to be fit for action and free from every incumbrance [the commander in chief] cannot help advising them to take the present opportunity of depositing at West Point such of their Women as are not able to undergo the fatigue of frequent marches and also every article of Baggage which they can in any wise dispence with..." While numbers of women did accompany Washington’s troops to Yorktown, exactly how many is not known. Based on a conservative and historically based estimate placing female followers at 3 percent of unit rank and file strength, and allowing for campaign limitations, roughly fifty women marched south with Washington’s 2,525 enlisted men.16

As previously stated, female followers and their dependents were under orders to march with the baggage wagons. The first such order was issued in July 1777, and similar directives appeared at least once each subsequent year until 1781. In 1780, one order stipulated that the officer commanding the baggage escort "is to allow no women to ride in the waggons unless their peculiar circumstances require it." Sarah Osborn, the wife of a commissary sergeant, in the company of three other females, traveled with the baggage of Washington's army during the march to Yorktown in the late summer of 1781. She was one of the lucky ones, being allowed the use of a horse for at least part of the trip southward, though at other times she walked or rode in a wagon. It is doubtful that many other female camp followers were likewise afforded use of a horse. If army women elected (and were permitted) to stay with the soldiers, they would have had to rely primarily on their own two feet.17

An example of followers’ occasional disregard for standing orders is found in the cases of several women present at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777. One account, previously cited, describes a woman from an unknown regiment trying to cook while under fire (see Jacob Nagle’s account above). Another narrative records women of the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment who took "the empty canteens of their husbands and friends and returned with them filled with water... during the hottest part of the engagement [on Birmingham Hill], although frequently cautioned as to the danger of coming into the line of fire." The day before the action, a directive had been given that "No baggage is to be kept [with the army]... that can be dispensed with..." The inclusion of women in this command is implied by the 10 July 1777 general order that all "Women [are]... to march with the baggage." Additionally, army orders for 13 September attempted to rein in any recalcitrant camp followers by ordering that "No woman under any pretence whatsoever to go with the army, but to follow the baggage." This last order indicates that female followers’ disobedience was an ongoing problem. Other women known to have marched among the troops or to have been present on the field of battle include Mrs. Grier and Mrs. Warner marching with Benedict Arnold's troops to Quebec in 1775, Margaret Corbin, severely wounded at Fort Washington in 1776, Anna Maria Lane, badly wounded at the Battle of Germantown, and Mary Hays, present at the 1778 Monmouth battle.18

Continental Army general orders, 13 September 1777, reiterated the directive that "No woman under any pretence whatsoever to go with the army, but to follow the baggage." Female followers and their dependants were not allowed to ride in wagons, having to march alongside or behind them. Numbers of women disregarded this order throughout the war and by June 1781 the commander in chief admitted that some women would have to be permitted "to ride in waggons [or] walk in the ranks" with the troops while on the march. "Following the Army" by Pamela Patrick. Used with permission. ©2000 Pamela Patrick, this is NOT free artwork. Visit Pam's website.

Two accounts tell of anonymous American camp followers killed in the fighting near Saratoga, New York during autumn 1777. Ensign Thomas Anburey, 24th Regiment of Foot, wrote in a 10 November 1777 letter, “I was convinced how much the Americans were pushed in our late action, on the 19th of September [first battle of Saratoga, known as Freeman’s Farm], for I met with several dead bodies belonging to the enemy, and amongst them were laying close to each other, two men and a woman, the latter of whom had her arms extended, and her hands grasping cartridges.” In recalling the campaign many years later, Ambrose Collins, of Colonel Thaddeus Cook’s Connecticut militia regiment, told an interviewer, “the American women followed close after the American soldiers, as they were advancing [during the second Saratoga battle, 7 October 1777], and even exposed themselves where the shot were flying, to strip the dead. These were doubtless the basest of their sex …I saw one woman while thus employed, struck by a cannon ball and literally dashed to pieces. I also saw the women attempting to strip a wounded Hessian officer. One woman was attempting to get his watch. He was able to speak and although they could not understand what he said he made so much resistance that they left him …”19

Thomas Anburey also related the story of a woman attached to General John Burgoyne’s army giving birth on the march to Cambridge, Massachusetts after the surrender at Saratoga:

We were two days in crossing the Green Mountains … the roads … were almost impassable, and to add to the difficulty when we had got half over, there came on a heavy fall of snow … in the midst of the heavy snow-storm, upon a baggage cart, and nothing to shelter her from the inclemency of the weather but a bit of an old oil-cloth, a [British] soldier’s wife was delivered of a child, she and the infant are both well … It may be said, that women who follow a camp are of such a masculine nature, they are able to bear all hardships; this woman was quite the reverse, being small, and of a very delicate constitution.20

Compelling testimony to the indomitable spirit and hardiness of women with both armies.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My thanks to Eric Schnitzer, Park Ranger, Saratoga National
Historical Park, Robert A. Selig, and Thaddeus Weaver for their contributions to this monograph.

General Bibliography

John U. Rees, "'The multitude of women': An Examination of the Numbers of Female Camp Followers with the Continental Army," The Brigade Dispatch, three parts: vol. XXIII, no. 4 (Autumn 1992), 5-17; vol. XXIV, no. 1 (Winter 1993), 6-16; vol. XXIV, no. 2 (Spring 1993), 2-6. (Reprinted in Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, vol. XIV, no. 2 (Summer 1996)). Available online.

John U. Rees, "'The number of rations issued to the women in camp.': New Material Concerning Female Followers With Continental Regiments," The Brigade Dispatch, vol. XXVIII, no. 1 (Spring 1998), 2-10; vol. XXVIII, no. 2 (Summer 1998), 2-12, 13. Available online.


1. "Account of Rations drawn by the Infantry of ye Standing Army" December 1777, The Papers of the Continental Congress 1774‑1789, National Archives Microfilm Publications M247, (Washington, D.C., 1958), reel 38, 459 (hereafter cited as PCC, Natl. Archives). Though undated the numbers of the "Privates fit for Duty" in this account agree with "A General Return of the Army under the command of his Excellency General Washington ... December 3, 1777," Charles H. Lesser, Ed., The Sinews of Independence: Monthly Strength Reports of the Continental Army (Chicago, Il., 1976), 53 (hereafter cited as Lesser, Sinews of Independence).

2. "Weekly return of provisions and Stores Issued to the Grand Army under the Immediate Command of ... General Washington Including the Park of Artillery at Pluckemin ...", five returns for the period 21 April to 28 May 1779, Miscellaneous Numbered Records (The Manuscript File) in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, 1775-1790's, Record Group 93, National Archives Microfilm Publication M859, reel 76, item nos. 22185, 22186, 22187, 22188 and 22189 (hereafter cited as Misc. Numbered Records, Natl. Archives). For brigade composition see, Lesser, Sinews of Independence, 112-115.

3. Washington to a Board of Officers, 12 June 1781, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745‑1799, vol. 22 (Washington, DC, 1937), 203 (hereafter cited as Fitzpatrick, WGW). "Return of the number of Women and Children in the several regiments and Corps stationed at, and in the vicinity of West Point and New Windsor, that drew Rations under the late Regulation, shewing also the Number of Rations allowed for Women and Children by the present system," 24 January 1783, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, National Archives Microfilm Publication M246, Record Group 93, reel 136, 259-260 (hereafter cited as Revolutionary War Rolls, Natl. Archives).

4. Robert Morris to Washington, 5 February 1783, George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers Microfilm (Washington, D.C., 1961), series 4, reel 90 (hereafter cited as GW Papers). Walter Hart Blumenthal, Women Camp Followers of the American Revolution (New York, 1974), 15‑21, 19, 24‑26, 28‑29, 32, 33‑34, 38‑39 (hereafter cited as Blumenthal, Women Camp Followers). Paul E. Kopperman, "The British High Command and Soldiers' Wives In America, 1755-1783," Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, no. 60 (1982), 19‑20, 26‑28 (hereafter cited as Kopperman, “British High Command and Soldiers' Wives”). Washington to the Superintendent of Finance, 29 January 1783, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol. 26 (1938), 78‑79.

5. Benjamin Franklin Stevens, General Sir William Howe’s Orderly Book at Charlestown, Boston and Halifax, June 17 1775 to 1776 26 May (originally published 1890; reprinted Port Washington, N.Y. and London; Kennikat Press, 1970), 262. The practice of reduced rations for women in winter or garrison quarters was reiterated by Captain John Knox, 43rd Regiment, at Quebec in November 1759: “The officers have hitherto received rum from the stores, in proportion to their rank; as have likewise the women who were on the victualling roll, but, by an order of early November, they are all struck off; the women are, for the future, to be victualled at two thirds' allowance only; for this purpose they are to be mustered to-morrow by the town-major: such as from sickness cannot appear are to be certified for by their commanding officers. Provisions are issued to the women upon a presumption that they are to be useful to the soldiers, either by attending hospitals or by washing for them and the officers; but hereafter those who suttle are not to be enrolled, nor will any be issued to those who do not reside in the men's quarters.” John Knox, The Siege of Quebec and the Campaigns in North America, 1757-1760, Brian Connell, ed., (Edinburgh, 1976), 228. "Returns of the daily Issues of Provisions to the Troops at the Post of Wyoming, from May 9th. to the [27th]" 1779, Misc. Numbered Records, Natl. Archives, reel 75, item no. 22023 (Document courtesy of Thaddeus Weaver). The contention that the women on the Wyoming return are allowed a full ration is based on the supposition that officer's rations are not included, officers usually being issued more than one ration. The fact that for each entry the rations issued exactly equals the number of days multiplied by the number of men and women seems to support the idea that each person listed was allotted one ration. "Nathaniel Nason's Book" (Continental Army 1781‑1782 / Massachusetts Line, First Regiment / Returns of Clothing Camp Equipage and Provisions ... kept by Nathaniel Nason, Lieutenant and Quartermaster / Col. Joseph Vose's Regiment) (Manuscript), donated in 1930 to the Sons of the American Revolution, Washington, D.C., present location of document unknown (hereafter cited as "Nathaniel Nason's Book," Henry Cooke/SAR). Photocopy courtesy of Henry M. Cooke IV of Randolph, Massachusetts. Forty‑three provision returns for "Col. Voses Regiment L[igh]t Infantry" cover the period from February 22, 1781 to July 3, 1781 (women are listed on eighteen of the returns). During this period Vose's Light Infantry Regiment consisted of eight companies and went from a high of 433 enlisted men to a low, at one point, of 314. ”Return of the number of Women and Children in the several regiments and Corps stationed at, and in the vicinity of West Point and New Windsor, that drew Rations under the late Regulation, shewing also the Number of Rations allowed for Women and Children by the present system," 24 January 1783, Revolutionary War Rolls, Natl. Archives, reel 136, 259-260. Blumenthal, Women Camp Followers, 41, 51. Kopperman, "British High Command and Soldiers' Wives," 22‑23

6. "In Convention for the State of Pennsylvania Friday August 9, 1776 The Ration for each man, as copied from the Minutes of the Honourable the Continental Congress ...," Peter Force, American Archives, series 5, vol. I (Washington, D.C., 1837-1853), 865. Provision and regimental strength returns of Jackson's 9th Massachusetts Regiment, Henry Jackson Papers, 1772‑1782, Library of Congress, microfilm edition, no. 17,359, vol. 4, 379‑443 (hereafter cited as Henry Jackson Papers, LOC).

7. General orders, 5 July 1777, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol. 8 (1933), 350‑351.

8. General orders, 8 February 1778, 29 January 1778, George Weedon, Valley Forge Orderly Book of General George Weedon of the Continental Army under Command of Genl. George Washington, in the Campaign of 1777‑8 (New York, N.Y., 1971), 224‑225, 216-217. For a detailed examination of provisions in the Continental Army see, John U. Rees, "'It was my turn to cook for the mess': Provisions of the Common Soldier in the Continental Army, 1775-1783", feature column in Food History News beginning with vol. VII, no. 1 (Fall 1995). Columns include, "’Sometimes we drew two days rations at a time.’: The Soldiers' Daily Issue,” (FHN, vol. VII, no. 3, Winter 1995); "’Drew 2 pound of Shugar and 1 pound of Coffee’: Extraordinary Foodstuffs Issued the Troops,” (FHN, vol. VIII, no. 1, Summer 1996); "’Complaint has been made by many of the Inhabitants’: Soldiers' Efforts to Supplement the Ration Issue” (FHN, vol. VIII, no. 2, Fall 1996); "’Our pie-loving ... stomachs ... ache to even look.’: Durable Foods for Armies, 1775-1865” (FHN, vol. IX, no. 4, Spring 1998); "’Tell them never to throw away their ... haversacks or canteens’: Finding Water and Carrying Food During the War for Independence and the American Civil War” (FHN, vol. X, no. 1 (37)); "’The victuals became putrid by sweat & heat’: Equipment Shortages, the Burden of Rations and Spoilage During the War for Independence and the War Between the States” (FHN, vol. X, no. 2 (38)). For information and back issues contact Food History News at 1061 Main Rd., Islesboro, ME 04848 or email at www.foodhistorynews.com.

9. General orders, 4 June 1777, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol. 8 (1933), 181. Washington to the Superintendent of Finance, 29 January 1783, ibid., vol. 26 (1938), 78‑79.

10. Mark E. Lender and James Kirby Martin, eds., Citizen‑Soldier; The Revolutionary War Journal of Joseph Bloomfield (Newark, N.J. 1982) 87 (hereafter cited as Kirby and Martin, Citizen Soldier). H.A. Mayer, Belonging to the Army: Camp followers and the Military Community during the American Revolution, PH.D. dissertation, College of William and Mary, 1990, 193‑194 (hereafter cited as Mayer, Belonging to the Army). Provision and regimental strength returns of Jackson's 9th Massachusetts Regiment, Henry Jackson Papers, no. 17,359, vol. 4, 379‑443.

11. John C. Dann, The Revolution Remembered ‑ Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence (Chicago, Il., 1980), 243‑246 (hereafter cited as Dann, The Revolution Remembered). Pension papers of Patrick Cronkite, fifer, 1st New York Regiment, 1777-1783, supplementary depositions of Maria Cronkite (nee Humphrey) and Hendrick Plimley, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty - Land - Warrant Application Files, National Archives Microfilm Publication M804, reel 695, W16932.

12. Dann, The Revolution Remembered, 243-246. John C. Dann, ed., The Nagle Journal ‑ A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841 (New York, 1988), 6‑7 (hereafter cited as Dann, The Nagle Journal).

13. "A Mess Roll of Captn. Ross's Compy," 1777, Revolutionary War Rolls, Natl. Archives, reel 62, section 44‑2. Muster rolls for Captain John Ross's company, 3rd New Jersey Regiment, May and October 1777, ibid., section 44‑1. A comparison of these two rolls indicates that the date of the mess squad listing is June of 1777. During this month the 3rd New Jersey was attached to the main army and posted near the Short Hills in northern New Jersey. Muster rolls of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment, ibid., reels 62, 63 and 63. One instance of the varying numbers of men per company within an individual regiment comes from the 3rd New Jersey for June of 1777. The numbers are as follows: Ross's Company, 49 enlisted men; Dickerson's Co., 65; Flanigan's Co., 42; Gifford's Co., 32; Hagan's Co., 20; and Patterson's Co., 33. The full strength of a company of foot in 1777 was eighty‑six enlisted men. Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington, D.C., 1984), 47. Charles Knowles Bolton, The Private Soldier Under Washington (Williamstown, Ma., 1976), discussion of rations and mess squads, 77‑78. Harold L. Peterson, The Book of the Continental Soldier (Harrisburg, Pa., 1968), number of men in mess squads, 147. Joseph Plumb Martin, Private Yankee Doodle: A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier (New York, N.Y., 1962), 51. After the Battle of White Plains in the autumn of 1776 Martin gave the number of men in his mess squad as only three. Lender and Martin, Citizen‑Soldier, 87. At the time of the return Bloomfield's company was stationed at German Flats in the Mohawk Valley of New York state. Division orders, 17 August 1777, Joseph Brown Turner, ed., The Journal and Order Book of Captain Robert Kirkwood of the Delaware Regiment of the Continental Line (New York, 1970), 147. The number of men assigned to a tent was usually set at six though at times there were exceptions to this rule. "The Brigadier Genls. are requested to get a Return of the actual Strength of each Regt. in their Respective Brigades & also the Number of Tents drawn for the use of the Regts. ... The Quarter Master Genl. is to proportion the Tents to the Strength of Regts. One Tent to each five Privates ...," General orders, 24 May 1777, Order book of Col. Daniel Morgan's 11th Virginia Regiment, New Jersey, May 15 - June 9, 1777, Early American Orderly Books, 1748-1817, Collections of the New-York Historical Society, microfilm edition, (Woodbridge, N.J., 1977), reel 4, item 45 (hereafter cited as Early American Orderly Books, NYHS). In order to lessen the baggage of the army in the autumn of 1777 one tent was alloted to every eight non‑commissioned officers, musicians or privates, General orders, 13 September 1777, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol. 9 (1933), 213. The proportion of tents was standardized for the army in 1779 allowing one tent for every six non‑commissioned officers, musicians or privates, General orders, 27 May 1779, ibid., vol. 15 (1936), 162‑163.

14. General orders, 23 August 1779, Orderly book of Col. Oliver Spencer's Regt., 27 July 1779 - 28 September 1779, Early American Orderly Books, NYHS, reel 9, item 93, 86-87. John Sullivan to Israel Shreve, 24 August 1779, Otis G. Hammond, ed., Letters and Papers of Major‑General John Sullivan Continental Army, vol. III (Concord, N.H., 1939), 101-103. See also, "A Return of the Women & Children Left in Charge of Baggage, Necessary to wash for Genl Clintons Brigade", probably August 1779, Israel Shreve Papers, Rutgers University, Alexander Library, manuscript no. 287.

15. Washington to William Livingston, 1 August 1780, and General orders, 1 August 1780, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol. 19 (1937), 292, 300. Washington to Elias Dayton, 16 February 1781, ibid., vol 21 (1937), 233. Lafayette to the Chevalier de La Luzerne, 19 February 1781, Stanley J. Idzerda, ed., Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution ‑ Selected Letters and Papers, 1776‑1790, vol. III (Ithaca, N.Y., 1980), 330‑333 (hereafter cited as Idzerda, Lafayette). Benjamin Gilbert to his father, 15 March 1781, from Annapolis, Maryland, John Shy, ed., Winding Down ‑ The Revolutionary War Letters of Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert of Massachusetts, 1780‑1783 (Ann Arbor, Mi., 1989), 39‑40. Lafayette to Nathanael Greene, 17 April 1781, Idzerda, Lafayette, vol. IV (1981), leaving behind soldiers’ wives, 37-40. Washington to William Livingston, 1 August 1780, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol. 19 (1937), 292. General orders, 1 August 1780, ibid., 300. Forty‑three provision returns for "Col. Voses Regiment L[igh]t Infantry" serving with Lafayette in Virginia. The returns cover the period from 22 February 1781 to 3 July 1781 (women are listed on eighteen of the returns), "Nathaniel Nason's Book," Henry Cooke/SAR.

16. General orders, 22 August 1781, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol. 23 (1937), 37‑38. Of course, the 3 percent (or more) proportion is valid only for troops in settled situations or normal campaign conditions. Some marching forces were ordered to travel light, divesting themselves of unnecessary equipage, and female followers strongly discouraged from attending them; thus a proportion of 1 to 1.5% would not be unreasonable. Some units are exceptions to the basic 3% average, as follows (Note: The following material on Continental Army female followers in the 1781 Yorktown Campaign is included in, Robert A. Selig, “Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail: Feasibility Study Executive Summary Draft, August 2002” (copy, author’s collection)):

Bases for Estimating American Followers on the Yorktown March.

A. The New Jersey regiments did have women with them, but one account states that most of the women, children, and invalid soldiers had been sent to garrison Wyoming, Pennsylvania in January 1781. How may actually went is not known, but this may have been another factor in reducing numbers of Jersey followers on the march to Yorktown.

Too, some Jersey female followers may already have been in Virginia with the Jersey light troops under Lafayette. Supporting this contention is the fact that while women did not originally accompany Lafayette’s detachment (it was originally thought only to be a brief expedition), several women attached to the soldiers of Vose’s Light battalion (left behind when their men marched south in February), did in fact make their way to Virginia in May and June of 1781. Further evidence of how determined (and recalcitrant) camp women could be.

B. Hazen’s Canadian (Congress’s Own) Regiment may have had a larger proportion of women and children because of their refugee status. General Washington stated that New York companies raised on Long and Manhattan Islands had more followers because they, too, were cut off from their homes.

C. Artillery units generally seem to have had a larger proportion of women and children than infantry regiments. I have actually taken the percentage of women to men seen in the 1783 return (7.9%) rather than the larger 8.9 percent in 1781 New Windsor return.

D. Scammell’s light troops would have had fewer women than line battalions, due to the nature of their role. Still, some women must have accompanied that organization.

E. The single return available for Washington’s Life Guard shows a proportion of women higher than 3 percent. The same seems to hold true for the Corps of Sappers and Miners.

F. While no strength could be found for the detachment of Artificers, they, too, likely had a higher proportion of women. Like Washington’s Guard, the artillery, and the Sappers and Miners, the artificers’ normal circumstances were more or less stationary and more conducive to the presence of wives and children. Of course, it could be argued that as artificers were not combat soldiers, and often civilian employees, it is doubtful their wives could have been induced to go campaigning. I still allowed them 2 women, if only as cooks.

Based on these proportions and variables, estimates are as follows:

Continental Army units, New Jersey to Yorktown March,
August to October 1781

Regiments: Rank & File Est. of Women
1st New Jersey ---------]
]--------- --- combined into one regiment
2nd New Jersey --------] 600 (3%; 18 women)
1st New York 325 (3%; 10 women)
2nd New York 350 (3%; 10 women)
1st Rhode Island 450 (3%; 13 women)
Hazen’s Canadian 200 (3%; 6 women)
Lamb’s Artillery 225 (7.9%; 18 women)
Composite Organization:
Scammell’s Light Infantry 256 (3%, 8 women)
(2 NH companies, 3 Mass. Companies, 3 Ct. companies. 26 Sept. 1781,
Lesser, Sinews of Independence, 208.)
Commander in Chief’s Guard   69 (June 1781 return; 5 women)
Corps of Sappers and Miners   50 (June 1781 return; 2 women)
Artificers (strength unknown; estimate 2 women)
Delaware Recruits   60 no women calculated
(Joined at Christina Bridge) (“10 old soldiers and 75 recruits”; numbers courtesy of Robert Selig)
TOTAL: 2525   (not including artificers and
Delaware recruits)

Calculated female followers on Yorktown march:

Regiment No.
Per cent
Combined New Jersey 6 (1% of strength)
1st New York 5 (1.5%)
2nd New York 5 (1.5%)
Rhode Island 7 (1.5%)
Hazen’s Regiment 4 (2%)
Lamb’s Artillery 9 (4%)
Scammell’s Light Battalion 4 (1.5%)
Washington’s Life Guard 3 (based on June 1781 return)
Corps of Sappers and Miners 1 (based on June 1781 return)
Artificers 2 estimate

In optimal (garrison) conditions, female followers @ 3% of rank and file strength*, 92 female followers.
Campaign conditions, female followers @ 1.5 % of rank and file strength*, 46 women
Campaign conditions, female followers @ 1 % of rank and file strength*, 31 women
(* Note: As discussed above, several units have a still higher proportion of women allowed them.)


A high of 46 women marching with Washington’s troops would not be an unreasonable figure. A low-end number of 30 to 35 female followers would also be possible. Given the lack of data, I would conservatively place numbers as likely between 35 to 45 females.

17. General orders, 27 August 1777, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol. 9 (1933), 139. General orders, 19 September 1780, ibid., vol. 20 (1937), 73. Dann, The Revolution Remembered, 243‑246.

18. Revolutionary Services of Captain John Markland,", Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 9 (1885), 105. Dann, The Nagle Journal, 6‑7. General orders, 10 and 13 September 1777, Washington to the President of Congress, 11 September 1777, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol. 9 (1933), 200, 208, 213. General orders, 10 July 1777, ibid., vol. 8 (1933), 375. Kenneth Roberts, March to Quebec ‑ Journals of the Members of Arnold's Expedition (Portland, Me., 1980), 337, 338, 483, 495, 556, 683. Mayer, Belonging to the Army, 199.

19. Ambrose Collins’ narrative, A.G. Hibbard, History of the Town of Goshen, Connecticut (Hartford, 1897), 142-149.

20. Thomas Anburey, Travels Through the Interior Parts of America (New York: New York Times & Arno Press, 1969), 10 November 1777 letter, vol. I, 436-437; 20 November 1777 letter, vol. II, 14.