Penelope Barker was born in Edenton in 1728 to Mrs. Elizabeth Blount and Dr. Samuel Pagett. Her father, having an untimely death, cast young Penelope into adulthood at an early age. She would help her mother raise two children along with running the family plantation. Penelope, about age 17, married John Hodgson. While married to Hodgson she bore him two children but while pregnant with the second child, Hodgson died. The death occurred when Penelope was 19. Being a wealthy man, Hodgson left her a third of his estate. Penelope, still being young and attractive, remarried in 1752 to a wealthy planter as well as politician named James Craven. James Craven would suffer the same fate as the pervious husband leaving Penelope widowed again at age 28. All of Craven’s estate was left to Penelope as there were no other heirs to collect, this left Penelope the richest woman in North Carolina. A couple of years after the passing of Craven, Penelope would remarry for the third time to Thomas Barker. He was 16 years her senior. Together they had 3 children, but all died before reaching one. By the time of the American Revolution Penelope was no stranger to death and managing her properties.
Just before the outbreak of the American Revolution, Thomas Barker went to England to serve as a diplomat for North Carolina. War would soon break out leaving Penelope in Edenton by herself because her husband was stuck in Great Britain. The ambitious woman that Penelope was would not let the British practice, “taxation without representation.” Already seeing that the British were being boycotted throughout the colonies, Penelope thought that it would also be beneficial for the women of the colonies to formally boycott the British. Penelope contacted fifty different women with similar beliefs in the town of Edenton. Penelope expressed, “Maybe it has only been men who have protested the king up to now. That only means we women have taken too long to let our voices be heard. We are signing our names to a document, not hiding ourselves behind costumes like the men in Boston did at their tea party. The British will know who we are.” Together these women met at Mrs. Elizabeth King’s house to sign a petition against the British. Today it is known as The Edenton Tea Party. This was the first boycott of British goods by women in the colonies. The Edenton Tea Party is even expressed as the first political activism by women in the colonies. A London newspaper responded to the proclamation by making a caricature of the women, depicting them as horrible mothers and harlots. The Edenton Tea Party and Boston Tea Party will go down in history as two successful boycotts of British goods during the American Revolution.
Thomas Barker would return back to North Carolina in 1778. The two built the Barker House which currently stands at the end of Main Street in front of Edenton Bay. Penelope would live until 1796, out-living Thomas Barker and all but one child. Penelope is buried at Hayes Plantation. Penelope was an activist against the British Crown, a manager of plantations and a mother. She will forever live in the history of Edenton and North Carolina.
History of American Women. (Nov 28, 2008). Women in the American Revolution. In Penelope Pagett Barker. Retrieved March 3, 2013, from: Link
National Women’s History Museum. (N.D) Biography Index. In Penelope Barker. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from: Link
Silcox-Jarrett, Diane. (1998). Penelope Barker, Leader of the Edenton Tea Party,” in Heroines of the American Revolution, America’s Founding Mothers. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Green Angle Press, 1998.