Mary Silliman’s War


June 21, 2013
by Hugh T. Harrington Also by this Author


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In January I made a list of the 10 best, in my opinion, Revolutionary War films.  I neglected to include a film that deserves to be in the top half of that list; Mary Silliman’s War.

This 1994 film is based on the true story of Mary Silliman and her husband, General Gold Selleck Silliman of Fairfield, Connecticut as told in the biography, The Way of Duty, A Woman and Her Family in Revolutionary America by Joy Day Buel and Richard Buel.

Often forgotten when we think of the Revolutionary War is the involvement of non-combatants.  In this case, General Silliman was not commanding troops but rather served as a state’s attorney.  He was caught up in the intense conflict between the Tories, Whigs and those who tried to remain neutral.  Silliman was abducted during the night by Tories and taken to Long Island and imprisoned.

His wife, wonderfully portrayed by Nancy Palk, rises to the occasion and works to obtain his freedom through various plans of exchange.  Time and time again she is thwarted.  Wonderfully depicted is the neighbor vs. neighbor clashes of civilians as well as conflict with those in authority who find General Silliman a convenient political bargaining chip.

This is a wrenching tale.  Absent are the ranks of soldiers firing in battle.  Instead, there is the struggle of a woman to overcome the myriad of obstacles in her way.  Eventually, she very reluctantly resorts to desperate measures.

Halfway through watching this film my wife commented, “This is stressful!”  She has never said that before while watching a film.  Mary Silliman’s War is that kind of viewing experience.  It is stressful, authentic and extremely compelling.  The attention to authenticity is extraordinary.  The viewer experiences a you-are-there feeling that is rare among films.  And, the feeling is historically correct.

This is one of the best Revolutionary War films ever made.  Some may say it is the best.  Anyone interested in the Revolutionary War owes it to himself to watch Mary Silliman’s War.  It is not often available at the usual places but it can be found at  Watch a two-minute clip above or click below to rent/own the film and watch it now on your computer or mobile device.


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