I’d like to introduce you to Mary Fish Silliman. She and I are generations apart but her life has touched me deeply. In recent weeks, she has been an encourager and a companion to me. Mary grew in up in Revolutionary America, in a world fraught with volatility and uncertainty. She persevered through many trials — the likes of which most of us will never know anything about. She endured the pain of widowhood, she grieved the untimely death of her own children, she lived through the violence and trauma of war, she bore the shame and humiliation of financial devastation, and she suffered great physical affliction.
Considered to be both a daughter of the American Revolution, and a child of the Puritans, I would imagine that words like “rights” and “entitlement” were as far away and foreign to her as could possibly be. Her life stands in sharp contrast to our own whinny, narcissistic, self-absorbed, self-entitled, ungrateful generation. Mary was a true woman who understood that her life purpose was God’s glory. Not her pleasure.
Though accounts of seventeenth and eighteenth century women are scant, Mary kept a girlhood journal, and a book that she started to pen when she and her family thought her days were coming to an end. Fortunately for us, God had other plans and Mary lived for several more years, thereby affording her opportunity to further document her legacy of biblical womanhood.
Like the Puritans, Mary possessed a sense of duty and sacrifice that transcended the immediate. Her father, a New England preacher, had a big hand in that. In 1776, Mary wrote to her parents about a distressing turn of events that could have potentially thrust her into widowhood for the second time. She writes:
I tell you with a heart most tenderly affected that this morning an express comes in with orders from the Governor from my dearest Beloved to march forthwith to New York with a part of his regiment, there to wait for the arrival of General Washington. What I have long feared is now come upon me; I endeavour to commit him to the care of a kind of providence, hoping he may be returned in safety.1
Her father, a preacher and man of faith, gently led his daughter to higher ground with a most God-glorifying response. He replied:
Where should our Friends be, and where are they safest, but there, where the Lord calls them, where their Duty lies? There only may we hope for and expect protection, even where we are serving God, according to his Will. I therefore look on Mr. Silliman safer now, in the Army, where called, than at home, in his Chair, while his Call abroad continues. 2
Mary’s father taught her well. “The way of duty is the way of safety.” May God give us grace to see. The story is so much bigger than us.
1. Joy Day Buel and Richard Buel, Jr., “The Way of Duty: A Woman and Her Family in Revolutionary America”, New York: WW Norton & Co, 1984, page 105
1. Ibid, page 121