Forgotten Revolutionaries: Camp Followers Discovery CartMay 9, 2020
During the Revolutionary War, women and children travelled with both the British and Revolutionary armies. Whether part of a soldier’s family or not, they served vital roles, including as laundresses and food vendors. Eighteenth-century armies were stalked by disease, and they relied on women for much of the cleaning and nursing that they used to prevent and treat illnesses. Camp followers were so important that military forces allotted them food rations and regulated their work much as with actual soldiers. You can read more about camp followers in books like Holly A. Mayer’s Belonging to the Army and Nancy K. Loane’s Following the Drum, featured in the Museum’s Read the Revolution biweekly email newsletter, and learn about a unique camp follower, the Baroness von Riedesel, over Mother's Day Weekend.
Explore replica objects related to camp followers in our latest digital discovery cart!
Bowl and Spoon
Camp followers sold fresh produce to hungry soldiers whose military rations often only included dried and salted foods.
Soldiers often paid camp followers to do their laundry. People didn’t bathe very often, but they kept their clothing clean. Women washed shirts and other garments using soap and water heated in a tin kettle like this one.
Camp followers endured the same conditions as soldiers. They marched long distances – often with children in tow – and slept outdoors.
Women on campaign still wore women’s clothing, including garments like these shoes, petticoat, stays, and bonnet. These garments were durable but often still fashionable.
Adults were not alone as they followed the armies. Some children went with their parents on campaign. They did chores, helped around camp, and played with toys like this whirligig. You can make your own using these instructions!
Camp followers had to carry their belongings on their backs, just like soldiers. One witness described Hessian camp followers as “having a bushel basket on their back, by which they were bent double, the contents seemd to be Pots & kettles, various sorts of Furniture, children peeping thro the gridirons & other utensils.”
The Forgotten Revolutionaries: Camp Followers Discovery Cart was released as part of Virtual Mother's Day Weekend with the Museum, sponsored by The Haverford Trust Company and RSM. Explore more Virtual Mother's Day Weekend offerings including a Revolutionary do-it-yourself Mother's Day card craft and a video presentation on Baroness von Riedesel. Explore more replica objects at our Artisans and Makers Discovery Cart.