These days, feminists are simply liberals who claim the banner of independence but, in reality, embrace victimhood and blame others — usually men of course — for the challenges of daily life. But there was a time when women embraced freedom and weren’t afraid of stepping out of the cultural box to say so. And those women were right here in North Carolina, in the town of Edenton. Theses courageous women are just one slice of the incredible history profiled in the new book, The King’s Trouble Makers: Edenton’s Role in Creating a Nation and State. The author of this book is Dr. Troy Kickler, founding director of the North Carolina History Project. I talked with him about the book in a recent Carolina Journal Radio interview. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.
Martinez: Tell us more about why you say this was an intellectual hub. Who was there, and what were they writing about and talking about?
Kickler: Well, you had — a signatory of the Declaration of Independence called Edenton home. Delegates to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787, men like Hugh Williamson, called Edenton home.
Martinez: So these were thinkers of the day.
Kickler: These were thinkers. One of the future justices on the first U.S. Supreme Court lived in Edenton. One of his friends, James Wilson— [James] Iredell’s friend James Wilson, who was also on the U.S. Supreme Court — later moved to Edenton in the latter year or two of his life. So you could say in 1797, Edenton was home to two U.S. Supreme Court justices.
Martinez: You have mentioned a lot of men. And for the time that we’re talking about, it was the men who were out doing things, who were the leaders, who were the businesspeople.
Martinez: But Edenton, Troy, also has some history related to women, and women doing some things that, for the time, were considered pretty bold or provocative even.
Kickler: Well, yes. And that’s why I talk about Edenton’s founders and not founding fathers. And it’s because, as I mentioned before, I have an office, a satellite office, at the Barker House in Edenton, which is [the] home of Penelope Barker. And she, according to history, was the mastermind of what has become known as the Edenton Tea Party, which was when a group of 47 to 51 women signed a petition, and in doing so, they told the British Parliament, the British Crown, that they would not support the increased taxation measures that were being put in place in the early 1700s.
Signing a petition does not seem like a bold political act today. In fact, if you walk down [the] streets of Raleigh, people ask you to sign petitions for this cause and that cause when sometimes all you want to do is just go and get lunch and come back to work. But signing a petition in 1774 was women stepping into the political sphere, normally an arena reserved for men. And women had done that in the past, but this was the first organized, collective action of women that we know about, anyway, in the history of the United States.
So it was a bold move, and there were political cartoons being sketched for British newspapers at the time. So news of it traveled across the Atlantic Ocean. And sometimes, I imagine — I’m sure King George III kept up, read the newspapers — and sometimes I imagine what he thought when he read, not only about American colonists who were protesting the British Parliament and British Crown, but there were female American colonists protesting the British Crown.
Martinez: Such a scandal for the time, that’s for sure. Troy, it sounds like a great book. Tell us where we can get it.
Kickler: Well, if you go to the North Carolina History Project website, northcarolinahistory.org, you can find more information.