The Art World’s Race Problem: Black Aesthetics Detached from Black Humanity
My Emotional Constitution

The Afterlife of “The Muse of the Revolution”

By Nancy Rubin Stuart

Mercy Otis Warren statue and The Muse of the Revolution
Photo credit of Mercy Otis Warren statue: Nancy Rubin Stuart

Who can predict the afterlife of a book? Marketing committees, like the one at Beacon Press, try to assess that before deciding to buy a manuscript. In contrast, authors often write books because we are excited about our subjects and want to share them with others. Naturally, we want to attract a wide readership, but given the large number of books published each year, we rarely expect our books to remain popular beyond the first few years of publication. 

In 2008, when Beacon Press published The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation, the book had favorable reviews and attracted many readers. In 2009, it received the 1699 Winslow House Book Award, and that year Beacon Press published it in paperback. As a women’s historian, I was thrilled because Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) was not well known.

The wife of patriot James Warren of Plymouth and the mother of five sons, Mercy was one of the nearly forgotten Founding Mothers of the Revolution. Between the 1760s and the early 1770s, she and James hosted secret Sons of Liberty meetings in their Plymouth home. Dutifully, Mercy sat in the chimney corner—a colonial woman’s traditional place—as the men conversed. The Warrens’ friend, John Adams, struck by Mercy’s learning and intelligence, not only welcomed her views but also urged her to write. Through his interest and insistence, Mercy penned anti-British plays which were widely published in pamphlets. Years later, after the 1788 introduction of the US Constitution, she advocated for a Bill of Rights, and finally in 1805, published her three-volume History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution

While researching the book at the Massachusetts Historical Society, I was directed to the Pilgrim Hall Museum Library in Plymouth, where I read a typescript of Mercy’s Revolutionary- era letters and discovered her “voice.” Oddly enough, I soon realized that the town of Plymouth, where she lived and wrote, had no publicly displayed information about her. Yet the Warrens’ former home, the eighteenth-century Winslow-Warren House, still stood downtown and housed several businesses.

In the months before publication of the book, I also learned that residents of nearby Cape Cod were more familiar with Mercy than those in Plymouth. Not only was she born and grew up in West Barnstable, but by 2001, a citizens’ campaign had raised funds for her statue which stands in front of the Barnstable Court House opposite one of her brother, James Otis, Jr, the “spark that lit the Revolution.” A year later, the annual Mercy Otis Warren Award was established to honor a woman who had contributed outstanding volunteer service to the community. Consequently, my book received invitations for talks and a warm welcome on the Cape.  

Over time, interest in the book flagged, and I wrote other books with Beacon Press. By 2017, my husband and I decided to downsize and we moved to Plymouth. Still nothing, I realized with dismay once I refamiliarized myself with the town, had been done to memorialize Mercy there.

On a cold Saturday morning in January 2024, Susan St. Marie, a history fan and Plymouth friend, invited me to join her and two historical interpreters who wanted to honor Mercy’s accomplishments. During that meeting, we created a promotional committee to promote her in Plymouth. On Monday, February 5, a newspaper reporter wrote an article in the online Plymouth Independent about our plans. We then received an outpouring of requests from individuals, the tourist bureau, historical and civic organizations, and museums eager to offer support for our project. Apparently, we had touched a nerve with a previously silent group of people who recognized the importance of honoring Plymouth’s most important Revolutionary-era women.

On March 1, our committee formed The Mercy Otis Warren Society LLC, an educational organization created to memorialize her through historical presentations, tourist guides, walks, an informational kiosk, plaque and statue, digital information, printed brochures, book sales (including mine), and other items. We are now waiting for approval so that the Society can become a nonprofit organization.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Mercy Otis Warren Society’s promotional arm, Celebrate Mercy Otis Warren, will host a free debut presentation on March 27 at 7:00 PM at the Plymouth Public Library. After our introduction, the audience will watch an historical enactment of Mrs. Warren’s argument with her mentor, John Adams, played by interpreters Michele Gabrielson and Michael LePage. 

“Books are the mirrors of the soul,” Virginia Woolf once wrote. Meanwhile our committee continues to wonder if the soul of Mercy Otis Warren reached out to help me write The Muse of the Revolution. Then, realizing books often lack an afterlife, she kept reaching out to other members of our organization to make sure she would be remembered in Plymouth.


About the Author 

Nancy Rubin Stuart is an award-winning author and journalist whose eight nonfiction books focus upon women and social history. Her most recently published works include Defiant BridesThe Untold Story of Two Revolutionary-Era Women and the Radical Men They MarriedThe Muse of the RevolutionThe Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation, and Poor Richard’s Women: Deborah Read Franklin and the Other Women Behind the Founding Father. A former journalist, Stuart has written for the New York TimesHuffington Post, the New England Quarterly, and national magazines. She serves as executive director of the Cape Cod Writers Center. Connect with her at