Louisa Susannah Wells, Loyalist Woman

Oral History

On the Water - Life at Sea - Wells

Image of Louisa Susannah Wells: Reproduced from The journal of a voyage from Charlestown, S.C., to London undertaken during the American Revolution by a daughter of an eminent American loyalist (Louisa Susannah Wells) in the year 1778 and written from memory only in 1779. Baker Business Historical Collections, Harvard Univerisity, E278.A2 A29.

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Historical Context

Presentism is an attitude of looking at the past using your present-day attitudes and experiences. Trying to step out of the present and into the true context of the past is always a challenge. As you tackle this historical challenge, rather than think about what you would do in Louisa Susannah Wells’ situation, consider her position in society as a female colonist who was loyal to King George III. Try to answer the questions objectively without judging her decisions.


These questions are based on the accompanying primary sources. They are designed to help you practice working with historical documents. Some of these documents have been edited, but all are authentic. As you analyze the documents, take into account the source of each document and any point of view that may be presented in the document.

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  1. According to the words of Louisa Susannah Wells and referring to at least one supporting primary sources, to which social class do you think Miss Wells belonged? Was she poor or wealthy? Cite your evidence.
  2. Based on listening to the first-person account of Louisa Susannah Wells and careful reading of an excerpt from her autobiography, explain where Miss Wells was sailing and why.
  3. Based on careful reading an excerpt from the autobiography of James Collins and at least one supporting primary source, list and compare the dangers Miss Wells faced by staying in South Carolina to those of her voyage across the Atlantic.

Supporting Primary Sources

Never did any of us experience joy, so truly, as when we found ourselves in the wide Ocean, out of the dominion of Congress.
—Louise Susannah Wells’ journal
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Lead sounding weight

Running a vessel aground in coastal waters can cause damage to the hull and lead to the loss of cargoes and lives. To navigate shallow waters, sailors used sounding weights to measure the water depth under their vessels. The depression in the bottom of the lead weight was filled with tallow or wax to sample the bottom. Knowledge of the bottom conditions was used in anchoring.

...The poor fellows, perhaps expecting instant death, would beg hard for life, and make any promise on condition of being spared, while their wives or friends would join in their entreaties.
—James Collins, teenaged soldier
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Additional Primary & Secondary Sources



  • Frolicksome—given to frolicking; merry and playful
  • Sounding—1 a: measurement of depth especially with a sounding line; b: the depth so ascertained; c: plural, a place or part of a body of water where a hand sounding line will reach bottom