Grace Galloway—Abandoned Loyalist Wife


March 12, 2018
by Richard J. Werther Also by this Author


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Grace Galloway was living in a world of woe. The pressure had been building, and a little after 10 p.m. on August 20, 1778, it came to a head. Knock, knock, knock came the persistent rapping on the door of her Philadelphia mansion at the corner of Market and Sixth Streets[1]. She informed the unwelcomed visitors that she was in possession of her own home and would remain in possession. Soon after, she heard the sounds of someone trying to pry open the kitchen door. She knew the invaders and what they wanted. Grace, along with several servants, held her breath and waited in the dark for nearly ten minutes as her adversaries worked to gain entry.[2] The group breaking and entering was led by none other than Charles Willson Peale, the famous artist, acting in the capacity of a commissioner in charge of confiscating Loyalist properties.

Where was the man of the house while all this was happening? He was in England with the couple’s only daughter, Elizabeth (known as Betsy or Betsay). He probably wasn’t somewhere kicked back and relaxing with a cool drink, but he surely wasn’t being terrorized or being forced from his home either. This turn of events, with the Loyalist husband gone from the scene and his wife remaining home to face the music, was not unusual during the Revolution. To modern sensibilities, this abandonment seems, at the very least, cowardly on the husband’s part, and in the late eighteenth century, when women had very little in the way of legal rights or powers, it seems downright cruel. There were, however, complex considerations and pragmatic reasons that made such a move necessary, at least in the calculus of the Galloways. While the Galloways’ case may not be the most representative of the Loyalist experience due to his political prominence and their (mostly her) significant wealth, it does illustrate much of what Loyalist women in similar situations faced.

Grace’s treatment may have been harsher than that of most other abandoned loyalist wives. After all, her husband Joseph Galloway was not just any loyalist; he had long been a prominent Philadelphia politician and lawyer, and a delegate to the First Continental Congress. There he voted for the non-importation agreement, Congress’s response to what they viewed as Britain’s violations of their liberties. While in Congress Galloway had argued forcefully (and unsuccessfully) for reconciliation between the colonies and Great Britain. His proposal was heard, debated, and even voted on. All these details were stricken from the official records of Congress. The motion for his plan of reconciliation was defeated by the narrowest of margins, six states against to five in favor. He continued the reconciliation debate later in America, and continued to push it in England, all the while tweaking his plan through 1788.[3] Galloway was one of only two members of that First Continental Congress to “go loyalist,” and certainly the highest profile one. All this combined to make him one of the most notorious traitors in the eyes of the patriots. Torturing Grace was the new state administration’s way of “striking a blow against an absent enemy: her husband”.[4]

Grace’s own distinguished pedigree also made her a target. Grace Growden Galloway was born into privilege, the daughter of Lawrence Growden, a justice in Bucks County and eventually Second Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court where he served for fifteen years. Judge Growden died in 1770, and upon his death the value of his property was estimated at 113,478 pounds Sterling. Key components of his holdings included Trevose, the crown jewel of their holdings, (where Grace lived earlier in 1778 before returning to their Philadelphia mansion to live with Joseph after the British ended their occupation of the city), Belmont, King’s Place, and Richland, a combined nearly 11,500 acres, plus various tracts associated with the Durham Iron Company. Growden’s will provided a two hundred pound per year stipend for his widow, with the remainder of the estate split between his two daughters.[5] As a result, when Grace and Joseph were married in 1753, she brought a substantial portfolio of assets into their union.

While on the surface their marriage appeared steady, there were clear fissures in the foundation. Both had headstrong personalities. Grace came from a privileged background and was used to having her way while living in high style. She felt constrained by the institution of marriage, writing in her diary well before Joseph’s departure, “Never get tied to a man/for when once you are yoked/’Tis all a mere joke/of seeing your freedom again,”[6] and even more glumly, “I am Dead/Dead to each pleasing thought each Joy of Life/Turn’d to that heavy lifeless lump a wife.”[7] Even before becoming a Loyalist, Joseph was haughty, self-absorbed, and preoccupied with political matters. His personality and fame made Grace feel overshadowed and limited.

To comprehend the position into which Grace was placed, it is important to understand what legal rights women had during this time period. The unfortunate, though unsurprising, answer is: not many. Since men controlled the legal system, when a woman married, her identity was subordinate to that of her husband. As Sir William Blackstone, the famous British legal scholar put it:

The husband and wife are one person in law … the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing; and is therefore called in our law-french a feme-covert.[8]

This was more commonly referred to as “coverture.” Covered (married) women could not own property, earn wages, or make contracts.[9] Any property they brought into the marriage was signed over to the husband and did not revert back to the wife until the husband died. If the husband absconded as a loyalist, the property would generally be attainted, eventually confiscated and, subsequently, sold by the state. Women had little legal standing to challenge such confiscations. What little wiggle room there was came in the form of prenuptial agreements where a woman or her male relatives would govern how much control the husband would have over property brought into the marriage. Because of the legal complexities involved, these were rare and generally confined to wealthier families.[10] Despite being one of those wealthier families, the Galloways had no such agreement, and even if they did it probably would have been superseded by the initiative to confiscate Loyalist properties. A husband’s abandonment left the woman, particularly a woman such as Grace Galloway, to forge ahead for very first time to “exercise [her] own judgment on legal, economic, or political matters”[11] in her attempt to protect her (their) property.

So why was abandonment of their spouses a tactic used by so many Loyalists, especially the notorious and/or well to do ones?[12] One reason is that technically, under coverture, women were deemed incapable of taking political action separately from their husbands, and, therefore, they should not have to suffer for their husbands’ political transgressions.[13] Unfortunately, this was not the reality of the situation. Despite the technical legalities of coverture, the politics of the husband were usually imputed to the wife. Certainly, in the case of a notorious loyalist such as Joseph Galloway, the patriot authorities were not about to permit legal technicalities to let his wife get away unpunished; indeed, with his departure to England, the only way they could get to him was through his wife. Though far less vocal in them, Grace also had Loyalist sympathies, rendering this point somewhat moot anyway.

In many cases, the Loyalist husband had already left home to serve in the British armed forces and was barred from returning. This was true of Galloway who was working for General Howe in New York and would have had a difficult time making his way back to Pennsylvania. There was also the very real threat of violence. Galloway had been threatened in the past, such as when a box containing a noose appeared on his front porch one morning, with a note that said, “hang yourself, or we shall do it for you”[14] Furthermore, the Loyalist husband felt that authorities would treat his wife more gently without his inflammatory presence. This logic did not work for Grace Galloway for many of the same reasons explained above. More subtle reasons for parting could include marital strife. While as described above there was friction in the Galloway union, their parting seems to have been amicable. Lastly, there may have been a measure of cowardice involved. It is apparent that the threats to Joseph were real and possibly these threats played a role in abandoning his wife and leaving her exposed to the possible baser depredations of the patriot mob. Luckily, Grace did not face this indignity.

The most important reason to leave the wife behind, and the reason that mattered most to the Galloway’s, was to protect their property in the hope of recovering it as conditions changed and passions cooled. Trevose had already been stripped clean of anything not nailed down (though Betsy had reportedly buried the china in the barnyard), but they wanted to protect the structures and the land. For example, Grace noted in her diary how she took legal action to try to prevent the forests around Trevose and other tracts from being cut down for firewood.[15]Among the casualties of the Trevose looting was a trunk Galloway was storing for Benjamin Franklin containing the latter’s papers detailing Franklin’s years in Paris.[16] Their possessions in the Philadelphia had been left intact, and had been carefully inventoried by Peale.

Their decision for Joseph and daughter Betsy to leave for New York and eventually for England in late 1778 was obviously not one they took lightly, and though it seemed cruel at first blush, it was the best in a collection of bad options. It was fraught with its own set of risks. The Atlantic crossing was always dangerous, and even more so for a Loyalist of Galloway’s stature should he be captured in flight by a Patriot cruiser. There were gut-wrenching emotions that come when leaving the place of one’s birth and the many friendships one leaves behind, not knowing whether they would ever return. From a political point of view, Joseph felt a sharp combination of disappointment and betrayal related to the failure of his efforts to save his native country from what he viewed as a grave mistake:

I call this country ungrateful because I have attempted to save it from the distress it at present feels, and because it has not only rejected my endeavors but returned me evil for good. I feel for its misery….still deeper distress will attend it. Was it in my power, I would notwithstanding its severity to me preserve it against such destruction. But it is not for mortals to counteract the will of heaven.[17]

Despite their sometimes tempestuous marriage, Joseph and Grace Galloway obviously felt similarly acute emotions that would be expected between spouses at such a parting, though Grace, in the end, urged Joseph to leave as a pragmatic matter, fearing for his safety. In one letter she said, “I have such a relief of mind from your going out of the reach of your enemies that it takes all the pain of your leaving”.[18]

We are able to understand what ensued from Grace’s point of view by the diary she kept. She began her diary soon after Joseph’s departure with Betsy for New York in June 1778 and continued, with a few minor breaks, until September 1779. The diary includes mundane details of daily life, such as the weather and who she had dinner with, but on a deeper level, she shared updates on the legal wrangling and, most poignantly, her evolving emotions as to her deteriorating situation and health. Many of Grace’s letters to Betsy are also preserved, and they provide an acute window into the emotions of the mother-daughter relationship that was so central to Grace’s decision to stay behind. All of this brings us back to the troubled scene which started this article.

Though he probably would rather have been in his studio painting portraits, Charles Willson Peale took his job as an agent for confiscated estates in Philadelphia seriously, and soon he confronted Grace Galloway face to face. She showed him the legal papers she had to support her presence. Peale quickly skimmed these and just as quickly dismissed them. He advised Grace that he had removed people from their homes before; boasting of having removed over forty people in one day, removing just these few would be no problem. In fact, according to Grace’s diary, he threatened that they would “throw her cloaths in ye street”[19] should she not come quietly. Peale went upstairs, brought down Grace’s “Work bag and 2 bonnets,”[20] and the group sat in the entryway waiting for a chariot dispatched by a local Patriot general (most likely, ironically, Benedict Arnold). When it arrived and Peale took Grace’s arm to lead her to the chariot that would take her away from her beloved home, she reiterated that she was not leaving her home on her own accord, declined Peale’s assistance by pushing his arm away, and boarded the carriage on her own, bound for the home of a friend. Even for a woman with connections, and Grace had many, coverture proved to be no protection. If Joseph thought Grace’s wealth and social standing would protect her, he was sadly mistaken. Not only did it not protect her, it likely made her a more of a target.

It may be a cliché that in adversity one discovers who one’s true friends are, but Grace quickly found out she had far fewer friends than she thought. On August 16, 1778, she wrote, “as I have no friends, they [Joseph’s friends] treat me as they please. So much for Mr. G[‘s] great friends he has not one that will go out of ye way to serve him. I am in hopes they will let me have my Estate but that will be on my own Account. No favor shewn JG or his Child: Nor has he a friend that will say one word in his favour.”[21]

As it turned out, the Philadelphia Quaker community became Grace’s friends and surrogate family support.[22] Their names dominate her diary, especially frequent dinner companion Debby Morris (with whom she lived after being evicted from the Philadelphia mansion) and later on another woman whose friendship she found very comforting, referred to only as “Neighbor Zanes” (first name likely Sarah). Even some Whigs (Patriots), such as John Dickinson, offered support and advice.[23] This woman of wealth slowly took to, and eventually came to even embrace, the simpler life that her diminished financial status dictated. Late in her diary, on August 2, 1779 she states “Sup[p]ed with Debby [Morris] & six country friends these honest Ignorant people are the happyest on earth I am pleased to see their ways.”[24]

Early on, she was able to find an inner strength she did not know she possessed, and between periods of severe doubt and self-pity that strength shined through. At time it manifested as outright defiance, such as in her April 20, 1779 diary entry:

I told them I was ye happyest woman in town for I had been strip[p]ed & Turn’d out of Doors yet I was still ye same & must be Joseph Galloways Wife & Lawrence Growdons daughter & that it was Not in their power to humble Me for I shou’d be Grace Growdon Galloway to ye last & as I had now suffer’d all that they can inflict Upon Me I shou’d now act as on a rock to look on ye wrack of others & see them tost by the Tempestuous billows while I was safe ashore[25]

Joseph’s standing with her gradually declined as her ordeal progressed. Earlier in her diary she wrote with affection about Joseph (called “JG” or “Mr. G” throughout the diary), but gradually this turned to disdain as her despair deepened. On August 10, 1779, upon receiving a letter from London she “was so Moved on My childs account that I cou’d Not forgive J G for [not] takeing More Care of his family”.[26] A letter to Betsy turned into what one might call a “virtual divorce,” stating she is “happy not to be with him … I want not to be kept so like a slave as he will always … preven[t] every wish of my heart.”[27]

In the second half of the diary, she began to self-medicate, recording nearly every night taking an “Anodine” to cope with her depression and to help her sleep. This could represent a number of medications; a medical dictionary from the late 1800’s defines Anodynes as “Medicines which relieve pain by lessening the excitability of nerves or of nerve-centres.” They ranged from opium, morphine and cannabis to more benign substances.[28] It not known exactly what Grace was taking, but her nearly daily use of this substance is indicative of her mental slide.

In the latter months of her life, she became a virtual recluse. Daily diary entries almost always end with expressions like “very low spirited,” “I am wretched,” “Oh how we are fallen,” “so distressed,” etc. On Friday, November 13, 1778, she recorded the indignity of seeing the carriage she formerly owned drive by as she was forced to walk in a driving rain storm: “came on a storm & it rain’d very hard but I wou’d come home … I was so wett in My feet & pettycoats as if I had been dipp’d in water was so frighten’d … & as I was walking in the Rain My own Chariot Drove by I own that I then thought it hard but I Kept Up pretty well.”[29]

Her deteriorating health, coupled with her building anger at her husband for putting her in this situation and her need to desperately cling to her daughter’s inheritance, caused her to forgo any opportunity to travel to England to see her husband and daughter again. Consequently, she never followed up on Joseph’s entreaties for her to join them there.

Though her diary ends in September, 1779 she kept writing, maintaining a letter book in which she expressed her feelings in letters to her daughter. Due to the difficulty of smuggling correspondence out of Philadelphia, these letters were never sent. Instead, they represented an outlet for her feelings which she hoped someday Betsy, or even Joseph, would read.[30] In late 1781, in one of her last letters, she wrote, “It is now going on three years since I was left in this dreadful situation, and my health is now so impaired that I never hope to have it in my power to see my relations or native country more. Want of health and to save your inheritance alone detains me. If by it I save my child all will be right.”[31] Never to see either her daughter or husband again, she died on February 6, 1782 in Philadelphia. She is buried in an unmarked grave at Byberry Quaker Friends Cemetery. Joseph, on the other hand, was awarded a pension of 500 pounds per year by the British Loyalist Commission, and outlived her by more than twenty years, dying in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, on August 29, 1803.[32]

As the laws of coverture dictated, Grace’s share of the Growden estate was placed under the ownership of her husband when they married in 1753. Grace, likely unaware of these legalities when they married, found out after the property was confiscated that she had been left off the deed,[33] making the blow that much worse. Thus, the property Grace brought to the marriage, and desperately wished to pass on to Betsy, was effectively owned by her husband until his death, at which point it reverted to Grace who could then bequeath it to descendants. Even though her husband was an ocean away and unlikely to return, these rules held up that transfer for over twenty years.

Grace executed a will dated December 12, 1781, even though it was unclear whether she had any standing to do so. In it, she left some household items to Debby Morris and fifty pounds in specie plus clothing, a bed and quilt to her long-time servant Nurse Jane Harrison, who had been there on that dark August evening when they were evicted. The remainder, including the property she thought and hoped would eventually revert to her, would be held in trust by a group of her Quaker friends for eventual distribution to Betsy.[34]

Trevose was purchased at auction in 1779 by Gen. James Wilkinson,[35] another noted scoundrel and alleged traitor and double-agent in the pay of the Spanish; Wilkinson swore allegiance to Spain in 1787, which led to Trevose being reacquired by Grace’s trustees in 1789. The Philadelphia home was used for a time by a Spanish merchant[36] and was later the residence of the president of the supreme executive council of the state,[37] Galloway’s political enemy Joseph Reed.

Betsy Galloway married William Roberts in England in 1793. They had one child, Grace Ann, before the marriage foundered and the couple went their separate ways. Betsy retained custody of Grace Ann, later remarried and had two sons. Included in this marriage was a post-nuptial agreement to ensure that Betsy’s inheritance would not be further encumbered by William Roberts upon Joseph Galloway’s death. This agreement, while not valid in England, was valid in Pennsylvania where the estate was being adjudicated. After much legal wrangling and many appeals, it took until 1806 before State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled in that subsequent to his death, Joseph Galloway’s treason vested in the state no right to his wife’s assets.[38]

At last, the estate that her mother sacrificed so much to protect belonged to Betsy. She had returned to America in 1791 for a short time while the matter was still being contested, trying to push the case forward to conclusion. But, she was uncomfortable in the place where her father was unwelcome (Joseph having been officially banned from returning to America) and where her mother had suffered, so, after a short stay, she returned to England.[39] After the case was settled, some properties were sold while others, including Trevose, were held. Betsy died in 1815 at age forty-four, thus having little time to enjoy the benefits of the fortune she inherited. The remaining proceeds were inherited by Grace Ann, who lived until 1837, after which the property passed on to her half-brother Robert Burton.[40] Today Trevose is a museum and historical site, open to the public.

The best epilogue to Grace Galloway’s miserable experience comes in an excerpt from a poem called “The Deserted Wife” written by Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, an eminent writer of the period who was herself a spouse left behind:

My Shatter’d fortunes I with calmness Bore
A Loss in Common but with thousands more
A Public Evil dire Effects of War
Yet on my Mind left an Indented Scar[41]


[1] There is some disagreement in the literature on whether this event took place at the Galloways’ downtown mansion or at their Bucks County retreat, Trevose. Source documents (including the diary itself) are unclear, but most secondary sources indicated the former. Trevose still stands and is operated as a museum by the Historical Society of Bensalem Township. Consultation with staff there indicated that they also believe the eviction took place at the Philadelphia location. The Galloway home at the Philadelphia location no longer stands, and no renderings of it are available. The site is adjacent to George Washington’s presidential home and was home to the original Wanamaker’s department store, which opened there in 1861.

[2] Grace Growden Galloway and Raymond C. Werner, “Grace Growden Galloway Diaries with Introduction and Notes,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 55, No. 1 (1931), 51,, accessed November 26, 2017. All diary quotations use original spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.

[3] Julian P. Boyd, Joseph Galloway’s Plans to Preserve the British Empire, 1774-1788 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1941), Appendix V.

[4] Kacy Dowd Tillman, “Women Left Behind: Female Loyalism, Coverture, and Grace Growden Galloway’s Empire of Self,” in Mary McAleer Balkun and Susan C. Imbarrato, ed., Women’s Narratives of the Early Americas and the Formation of Empire (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016), 142.

[5] Elizabeth Evans, Weathering The Storm – Women of the American Revolution (New York: Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1975), 185-186.

[6] Carol Berkin, Revolutionary Mothers – Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 94.

[7] In The Words of Women website, archive for Galloway, Grace Growden,, accessed January 20, 2018.

[8] Merril D. Smith, Women’s Roles in Eighteenth-Century America (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwoord, 2010), quoting Blackstone, 9.

[9] Smith, Women’s Roles in Eighteenth-Century America, 31.

[10] Ibid., 32.

[11] Carol Berkin, First Generations, Women in Colonial America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1997), 168.

[12] Ibid., 166.

[13] Tillman, “Women Left Behind,” 143.

[14] Ernest H. Baldwin, “Joseph Galloway, the Loyalist Politician (concluded),” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Volume XXVI, 1902, No.4., 430,, accessed: October 1, 2017.

[15] Grace Growden Galloway and Raymond C. Werner, “Grace Growden Galloway Diaries with Introduction and Notes,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 58, No. 2 (1934),, accessed November 14, 2017. The diary entries of ten different days refer to the wood-cutting issue.

[16] The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries Illustrated, Volume VIX, January to July, 1883, 430.

[17] Patton Gardenier Galloway, The Loyal Traitor – Joseph Galloway and the American Revolution (Morrisville, NC: Lulu Press, 2016), 233. The quote here is from a letter Joseph wrote to his sister. I assume, though couldn’t verify, that the author of this book is a descendant of Joseph Galloway.

[18] Galloway, The Loyal Traitor, 234.

[19] Galloway and Werner, “Grace Growden Galloway Diaries,” 51.

[20] Ibid., 52.

[21] Ibid., 50.

[22] Galloway, The Loyal Traitor, 243.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Galloway and Werner, “Grace Growden Galloway Diaries,” 164.

[25] Ibid., 76.

[26] Ibid., 167.

[27] Tillman, “Women Left Behind,” 149. This quotes a letter from Grace to Betsy dated November 23, 1778.

[28] Richard Quain, M.D., ed., A Dictionary of Medicine (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1883), 55.

[29] Galloway and Werner, “Grace Growden Galloway Diaries, 57.

[30] Evans, Weathering The Storm, 237.

[31] Ibid., 239.

[32] Baldwin, “Joseph Galloway, the Loyalist Politician,” 439.

[33] Tillman, “Women Left Behind,” 148.

[34] I was provided with a copy of the original handwritten will by the Historical Society of Bensalem Township.

[35] Per property ownership timeline provided by the Historical Society of Bensalem Township, copies obtained January 23, 2018.

[36] Berkin, Revolutionary Mothers, 95.

[37] Boyd, Joseph Galloway’s Plans, 84.

[38] Evans, Weathering The Storm, 244.

[39] Galloway, The Loyal Traitor, 283.

[40] Per Historical Society of Bensalem Township ownership records, copies obtained January 23, 2018.

[41] Rodney Mader, “Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s ‘The Deserted Wife’,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol.CXXXV, No.2 (April 2011), 163-164.

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