Dear Assassin's Creed III; The American Revolution was no Sausage-fest

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Just Who Is Assassin’s Creed III’s New Hero? is a Kotaku interview piece by Stephen Totilo with Alex Hutchinson, Assassin's Creed 3's creative director, a nice "Getting to know you" for the game's new lead Connor Ratohnhaké:ton. While reading I came across a side bar portion that made me go SheHulk SMASH!!

Still no lady assassin... Assassin's Creed lore is full of female assassins, but we've yet to be able to play one in the game (though we have played as female Templars in the game's multiplayer. Why not feature a heroine as the lead in AC III? 
"It's always up in the air," the new game's creative director, Alex Hutchinson, said, "I think lots of people want it, [but] in this period it's been a bit of a pain. The history of the American Revolution is the history of men. … There are a few people, like John Adams' wife, [Abigail]—they tried very hard in the TV series to not make it look like a bunch of dudes, but it really is a bunch of dudes. It felt like, if you had all these men in every scene and you're secretly, stealthily in crowds of dudes [as a female assassin], it starts to feel kind of wrong. People would stop believing it."
As a (unofficial-genological-paperwork-pending) Daughter of the American Revolution I take whole-hearted offence to this statement. Alex Hutchinson name drops Abigail Adams as a singular nod to woman-kind's influence in the Revolutionary War, concluding that the war was run by just "a bunch of dudes". It would seem that though he has seen the John Adams mini-series (I highly recommend it) he isn't aware of any other female figures in the war aside from Mrs. Adams.

The constraints of portraying women in the Revolutionary era are hardly as restrictive as Hutchinson would make it seem in his comment. Women were not cloistered during this time and while political influence was admittedly exercised mostly by men, there were many women who were in the thick of battle. Women tended the wounded, acted as guides, some took up arms, and few enacted their own assassinations of British soldiers. There is fodder galore for a female lead in AC III. The historical revisionist style, now a trademark of the series, gives the writers the freedom to weave the stories they tell into the lives of real historical figures, the same way they did with Caterina Sforza in AC II.

For the unaware here is a Whitman's Sampler of women who could easily have been included in  AC III or used to inspire a female lead.

Molly Pitcher

While commonly attributed to be Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, the tale of Molly Pitcher has become folklore and is likely a combination of  several different women's stories. The common tale is that at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, Molly's husband (a matross or cannon loader) became injured or ill and was carried away from the battlefield. She took up her husband's position and manned the cannon through out the rest of the battle. Her presence supposedly caught the attention of General Washington himself, who gave her the warrant of a non-commissioned officer. Afterwards she was often referred to as "Sergeant Molly".

Margaret Corbin
Margaret Corbin followed her soldier husband John to war (as many women did at the time). Her husband died manning a cannon while defending Fort Washington and Margaret was severely wounded. The battle was lost and Margaret was gravely disabled by the injuries she suffered. Later she became the first American woman to receive a soldier's pension for being wounded in battle, though it was only 1/2 of what any other soldier would have received. Her remains were relocated in 1928 by the Daughter's of the American Revolution to West Point Cemetery were a monument was also erected in her honor.  Her story is likely one of the primary inspirations for the "Molly Pitcher" legend.

Nancy Ward, Nanyehi ("One Who Goes About")
Nanyehi in Cherokee or Nancy Ward as she was know to the English was born to a Cherokee woman of the Wolf Clan, daughter of  Francis Ward "Fivekiller", a white man living among the Cherokee. She acted as a diplomat between the Cherokee nation and English settlers. A proponent of peace, she was a pioneer of women's influence in diplomatic relations.
During the Revolutionary War the Cherokee nation was divided on who they should support (if anyone at all). Ward spoke out in favor of Colonist support. Her cousin, Dragging Canoe, led regular raids on Colonist camp settlements and she offered warning to settlers about an impending attack. She also tried to mediate between the two sides to prevent retribution attacks from escalating.

She continued as a defacto ambassador of the Cherokee nation for years, before eventually opening a small inn in Tennessee. She passed away in 1822 before the Cherokee were removed from their remaining lands during the Trail of Tears. She was nearly a hundred years old when she died.

Margaret Bratton
Margaret Bratton  and her husband were in charge of a Colonial gunpowder storehouse during the war. When British soldiers attempted to take control of the storehouse, Margaret set fire to it. She sacrificed the resources rather than see them in enemy hands and took out some enemy soldiers to boot. It is said that afterwards she was taken prisoner where she was questioned by the British and confessed to the arson. She was later released and continued serving the war effort as a nurse, tending both British and American soldiers.

Nancy Hart
Many women couldn't leave their  family's to serve with their husbands as camp followers and had to defend their homes alone. Often times they were taken over by enemy soldiers looking for headquarters and defensible positions. As the story goes, one evening a small group of British soldiers traveling through the area stopped at Hart's home demanding she feed them.  She acquiesced and sent her daughter to fetch some well water (and secretly warn the other town's folk of the soldier's presence). Not suspecting any foul play from the lone woman they left their guns unattended by the door as the filed in for dinner. Nancy managed to gain control of the muskets, tried to take the soldiers prisoner, and when they resisted she shot two of them.

There are also tales of Nancy disguising herself as a crazy man, wandering though British camps to gather information for American forces.

Sybil Ludington
While Paul Revere is better known, Sybil Ludington had a much more impressive ride. While less than half Revere's age, Sybil rode more than twice the distance (40 miles) on April 26, 1777. From 9 o'clock till dawn, she rode in an effort to rouse men to aid her father Col. Henry Ludington to defend Danbury, Conneticut from British troops. When she ended her ride nearly 400 men were raised to meet the invading forces. While the regiment was too late to save the town they did manage to drive the British back to Long Island Sound.

Deborah Sampson, aka Robert Shurtlift Sampson
Deborah Sampson at age 18 disguised herself as a man and used her brother's name to enlist as a Continental Soldier. She was assigned to the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. She fought in several skirmishes, and was wounded in her first battle outside of Tarrytown, New York. She suffered a head wound and took two musket balls to the thigh. After having her head wound treated she slipped away from the hospital fearing further examination by doctors would expose her identity. She later managed to dig one of the shots out of her leg with a pen knife, while the other was too deep for her to retrieve. A year later while sick with a fever she was treated by Doctor Barnabas Binney, who discovered her gender. Rather than expose her he sent her to his home to be nursed by his own family. Deborah was later honorably discharged after a year and a half of active service. She is one of the few women that has a documented service record from the Revolutionary War.


These biographies are hardly comprehensive and largely incomplete. Even so, as you can see from the few examples given above, women were not non-existent during the Revolutionary War and had widespread influence. I am very disappointed that Hutchinson so casually labeled the Revolution as a "history of men". It was the birth of a nation, composed of many different men, women, and children. Not a series of battles and political negotiations committed by a single gender.