This valentine’s week, with the actual day yesterday powerfully syncing up with Ash Wednesday, has rekindled the history of one of my favorite activists from the American Revolution: Ms. Patience Wright, b. 1725-1786.
Truth be told there’s zero overt or historical connection with Ms. Wright and our modern culture’s celebrated rituals of this particular week
Here’s why this blog-post-gone-valentine (and Ash Wednesday) feature is just for her: her entrepreneurial, fearless approach to an 18th century career in art -and- spy craft.
- After her husband died in the late 1760s, Wright needed economic streams immediately. She elevated her hobbyist art to professional attainment, and is considered the first known American wax sculptor.
- Also after her husband’s death, she was raising three children and pregnant. This alone makes her deserving for valentine acknowledgement.
- Wright’s sometimes patriotic and spiritual devotion to the new America’s cause for independence wasn’t always popular (as she was a resident who lived both in New Jersey and London); her courage seems timely to honor though, since her advocacy goes parallel to the preparatory strengthening of Lent first established for the once young & unpopular Christian faith.
Ms. Wright alienated her American friends even more when she pressured (Benjamin) Franklin to support a rebellion in Britain itself. Writing to him in France (in the mid-1700s), she encouraged him to lend his services to “poor and oppressed” Britons as spiritual brothers and sisters of the American Revolution.
Patience Wright was a wax sculptor, mother of four, and to my heart’s delight – an American and quite revolutionary spy living in Britain throughout the 18th century.
I dream of this make-believe-story below!
…a.k.a. a quick imagining, fueled a little by the inner spy I’d love to be, with the stealth, artistic espionage of Ms. Patience Wright in full-swing.
So Happy Valentine’s Day to Ms. Patience Wright.
Here’s some playful fiction inspired by your spiritual grit, going back to when the United States was a fighting idea at war:
It is a late, motionless night in the streets of London. The year is 1776…that unwavering bearer of change for both sides of the Atlantic. One house in particular has stayed audibly quiet since dusk; and with the full moon …..there’s just enough light for Ms Patience Wright to sculpt the hairline of a neck.
She sits at full artistic alert near her northern most window. How she loves a studied confrontation with a block of wax..unveiling human form with every chisel. And much of London and the British elite consider her the best of the best……a renowned wax sculptor producing work in a suite of pastels.
This is the work of Ms Patience Wright….widow, sculptor, and mother of four.
She leans in closer now toward the window sill to catch all possible light from the moon. Her fingers work in their primal rhythm with the wax …. what looks like a fluid sway between smoothing-molding-lifting-pressing.
She sits back to stretch her shoulders and take in her work.
“Yes…yes…this will serve good purpose,” she says to the wells of her own self-respect.
Now all her interest turns to the final test of the bust’s left ear. But before Patience adheres the lower arc of the ear lobe, …..she writes a tiny note of intelligence (some critical news against the monarchy). She then scrolls it up, and secures the note in the ear’s upper curve.
“This will do,” she whispers in the private, moonlit arena of her craft. For Ms. Wright knows her creative trade fulfills two needs very, very well: the art of sculpture and the art of spy craft.
Once she convinces herself the bust’s ear chamber was sealed with precision and a look of innocence, she packed the small bust in a gift container and folded away her tools.
She heard the front-door taps with shifting angst. She knew that knock brought loyal support to the patriot cause. But like any fight for sovereignty, even such a sound of allegiance courted potential threat.
Nonetheless she summoned her feet toward the door.
There a shadowed figure greeted her.
With a simple flip of the agent’s cloak over his right shoulder, he said one phrase coded just for her:
“A night for liberty madam, is it not?” he asked with the impatient flare of an insider on the run.
Patience nodded as she granted the agent the box. The shine of his black riding boots then twirled away in the moonlight back to his mount…and off they went…couriers for the west bound for Benjamin Franklin himself stationed now in Paris.
Patience shut the door…and stood a moment in the stillness of her home.
Then came a stir upstairs.
“Mama, mama…” cried her young ones with their dawning appetite.
She lofted up the stairwell with satisfaction, the depth of which anointed her heart with cravings for future risks on moonlit nights.