Mary Priscilla Brank married David Vance Sr. in 1775 and was only married for a year before her husband left to fight with the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War.
Like thousands of women before and after her, Priscilla kept her husband’s property running while he was at war. She also raised a newborn and cared for several family members.
We will never know how Priscilla felt on July 4th, 1776, but we do know that, despite the sacrifices women made that proved vital to the success of the new nation, Priscilla and her female contemporaries were denied political, financial, and even physical independence—even as thousands of men died for ideals of freedom and self-government.
Priscilla was not alone in her struggle to keep her home running while David was serving as a soldier. Aggy, one of the women enslaved by Priscilla and David Vance Sr., likely spent July 4th, 1776 working for her enslavers, putting aside her personal beliefs and aspirations in order to fulfill the wishes of the people who owned her. She and other enslaved women, men, and children watched as slaveholders fought for independence while denying the enslaved any freedom at all.
100 years ago, American women did not possess the freedoms laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. 40 years ago, African Americans still did not have access to many of those same rights.
As you celebrate Independence day, we hope you’ll join us in pausing to reflect on the stories of Priscilla and Aggy, and ask yourselves:
How well are we living up to our founding ideas today, and how do we work to make sure all Americans have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?