Researching eighteen-century women are often more difficult than men due to the lack of documentary evidence and lower participation in the public sphere. Ann Hunter, the wife of William Hunter, is no exception. While she did not leave a fulsome historical record, Ann jointly operated the family’s businesses, contributed to the community, and participated in civic and political events.
William and Ann operated several newspapers, retail shops, and manufacturing businesses throughout their lives. For most of their lives, these businesses skirted the edges of financial stability, and Ann’s contributions were vital for commercial growth and maintaining solvency. While her name did not appear on the newspapers’ masthead along with William’s, Ann provided valuable assistance in the labor-intensive newspaper and book publishing businesses. Likely, she ran the couple’s retail establishments and maintained food gardens for sustenance on farm lots outside of town.
Ann also participated in significant community events. For example, she contributed to a sumptuous dinner honoring the Marquis de Lafayette’s 1825 visit to Frankfort, Kentucky. Her profile was likely higher than her husband’s, as William was not invited to be an honorary “manager” at the event like other businessmen.
After the Hunter’s move to Washington, DC, William interacted with Andrew Jackson and served seven succeeding presidents. Ann also rose to the attention of a President. In the summer of 1863, Ann traveled with her daughter to Granville County, North Carolina. The purpose of the visit is not known; however, it is possible that they traveled to be with a sick or wounded relative. To return home, the women applied to the War Department for a pass. The Secretary of War, seeking a decision to grant safe passage to DC, referred the case to President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln concluded, “the old Lady might come but not the daughter.”
While William’s historical record is more fulsome, with some digging, the voices and accomplishments of women can be recovered. That is the primary lesson of Women’s history month which can be applied to all history projects, even those with seemingly scant evidence.
Procknow, Eugene. William Hunter – Finding Free Speech: The Son of a British Soldier Who Became an Early American. Sunbury, PA: Oxford Southern, 2022.
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