Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Esther De Bredt Reed 1746 ~ 1780


Esther De Bredt Reed

Esther De Bredt was born in the city of London, on the 22nd of October, 1746, and died on the 18th of September, 1780, in the city of Philadelphia. Her thirty-four years of life were adorned by no adventurous heroism, but her self-sacrifice, her brave endurance, and her practical aid during the short years she was permitted to dedicate to the young country in the throes of a great and devastating war, earned for her a place among the women who have helped to form the nation.

Her father, Dennis De Bredt, was a British merchant, and his house, owing to his large business relations with the Colonies, was the home of many young Americans who at that time were attracted by pleasure or business interests to the imperial metropolis. Among these visitors, in or about the year 1763, was Joseph Reed, of New Jersey, who had come to London to finish his professional studies among British barristers (such being the fashion of the times).

 There the young English girl met the American stranger, and the intimacy; thus accidentally began, soon produced its natural fruits. The young couple came to America in November, 1770, and from the first, as in all the years of turmoil that came with the war, the English girl, who had been reared in luxury, threw her heart and her fortunes into the conflict in which her husband's country was involved. Under her urging, her husband joined Washington's army, and, inexperienced as he was, he earned military fame of no slight eminence. Washington peculiarly honored him, and the correspondence between Mrs. Reed and the Commander-in-Chief on the subject of the mode of administering to the poor soldiers has been published and is of the greatest interest as showing how the influence of woman was felt even in those times when she is popularly supposed to have been considered "an afterthought and a side issue." Her letters are marked by business-like intelligence and sound feminine common sense, on subjects of which, as a secluded woman, she could have had personally no previous knowledge, and Washington, as has been truly observed, "writes as judiciously on the humble topic of soldiers' shirts, as on the plan of a campaign or the subsistence of an army."

La Fayette refers to Mrs. Reed's efforts in behalf of the suffering soldiers as those of "the best patriot, the most zealous and active, and the most attached to the interests of her country."

All this time, it must be remembered, it was a feeble, delicate woman who was writing and laboring; her husband away from her with the army and her family cares and anxieties daily multiplying. As late as August, 1780, she wrote from her country place on the banks of the Schuylkill, where she had been forced to retreat with her three babies: "I am most anxious to get to town, because here I can do little for the soldiers." But the body and the heroic spirit were alike over-tasked, and in the early part of the next month an alarming disease developed itself, and soon ran its fatal course, Esther Reed died as much a martyr to the cause of her country's liberty as any of General Washington's soldiers who met death on the battlefield.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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