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Barker, Penelope

by Michael G. Martin, Jr., 1979


Mrs. Penelope Barker/President of the Edenton Tea Party of 1774.Penelope Barker, revolutionary patriot, was born in Edenton, Chowan County. Her parents were Samuel Padgett, physician and planter, and Elizabeth Blount, daughter of the prominent Chowan planter and political leader James Blount. Penelope had two sisters: Elizabeth, who married John Hodgson, a noted Edenton attorney; and Sarah, who married Joseph Eelbeck, a physician. While still in her teens, Penelope was shaken by a series of tragic blows. Within a year, death claimed her father and her sister Elizabeth. She quickly learned the meaning of responsibility, for the Hodgson household and Elizabeth's children, Isabella, John, and Robert, were placed in her care. In 1745, John Hodgson and Penelope Padgett were married. Two sons, Samuel (1746–55) and Thomas (1747–72), were born of this union. The marriage was a short one, however, for in 1747, Hodgson died.

Again Penelope was forced to assume heavy burdens: the care of five children and the management of the Hodgson plantations. A most eligible widow at nineteen, she soon attracted the attention of James Craven, local planter and political leader, and they were married in 1751. While no children were born of this union, the marriage did result in a sizeable increase in Penelope's wealth. When Craven died in 1755, his extensive estate passed entirely into her hands.

Penelope was only twenty-seven when James Craven died, and her beauty, coupled with her great wealth, attracted many suitors. One of the most prominent of these was widower Thomas Barker (1713–89), Edenton attorney and member of the assembly, who married Penelope in 1757. Three children were born to the Barkers, none of whom lived to reach the age of one year: little Penelope survived less than two months, Thomas less than nine, and Nathaniel less than ten. In 1761, Penelope was left to manage the household and plantations alone, for in that year Thomas Barker sailed for London to serve as agent for the North Carolina colony. As a result of the American Revolution and the British blockade of American ports, he was forced to remain in England until early September 1778.

Edenton Tea Party, US 17 Business (West Queen Street) in Edenton, Chowan County. Image courtesy of State Archives of North Carolina. In contrast to most colonial wives, Penelope Barker was well accustomed to single-handedly managing her household and lands. Her character had been tempered by tragedy. She had borne five children and mothered her husbands' four others by previous marriages. By 1761 seven of these children had died, and in 1772 her son Thomas Hodgson died at the early age of twenty-five. The lone surviving child, Betsy Barker, also left Penelope's care through marriage to Colonel William Tunstall, a prominent planter of Pittsylvania County, Va.

As the colonial independence movement grew in intensity, with an increase in riots and other extralegal activities in opposition to British taxation, Penelope, because of her husband's position, probably realized as much as any other person in North Carolina the potential costs of such actions. Thus, her leadership of fifty-one Edenton women, on 25 Oct. 1774, in open opposition to Parliament's Tea Act of 1773 must have been well considered. The choice of a tea party as the form for such an action is not surprising. The tea party was in the colonies, as in Britain, the most socially acceptable of gatherings, often including both men and women. Meeting at the home of Elizabeth King, wife of an Edenton merchant, with Penelope Barker presiding, the ladies signed the following resolve: "We the Ladyes of Edenton, do hereby solemnly engage not to conform to ye pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea, or that we, the aforesaid Ladyes, will not promote ye wear of any manufacture from England, until such time that all Acts which tend to enslave this our Native Country shall be repealed." This episode might well have passed unnoticed by history if a caricature depicting the "Edenton Tea Party" had not appeared in the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser on 16 Jan. 1775.

Following the Revolution, Penelope led a more subdued life in Edenton, finally welcoming the return of her husband in 1778 and mourning his passing in 1789. She outlived Barker another seven years and in 1796 was buried beside him in the Johnston family graveyard at Hayes Plantation, near Edenton. The only known portrait of Penelope Barker hangs in the Cupola House, Edenton.


Additional information from NCpedia editors at the State Library of North Carolina: 

Penelope Barker's mother, Elizabeth (Blount) Padgett, was the daughter of John Blount and his wife and Elizabeth (Davis), and the granddaughter of James Blount and wife Anne (Willis).

Educator Resources:

Grade 8: Edenton Tea Party. North Carolina Civic Education Consortium.

Grade 8: Timeless Tea in Celebration of North Carolina Women. North Carolina Civic Education Consortium.


Hathaway, J.R.B., ed. The North Carolina Historical and Genealogical Register. 1st ed. Vol. 1. Edenton, NC, 1900.

Hayes Collection, 1748–1806 (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

James C. Moore, comp., North Carolina Heroines of the American Revolution (1972).

Lou Rogers, "Penelope Barker," We the People of North Carolina, vol. 2 (Nov. 1944), and Tar Heel Women (1949).

Additional Resources:

Iredell, James, 1751-1799. Page 511. Raleigh, N.C. [N.C.]: Division of Archives and History, Dept. of Cultural Resources,1976-. 1976. (accessed March 1, 2013).

Tryon, William, 1729-1788. Page 149. Raleigh [N.C.]: Division of Archives and History, Dept. of Cultural Resources,1980-. 1981. (accessed March 1, 2013).

Hayes Collection, 1694-1928 (collection no. 00324). The Southern Historical Collection. Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (accessed March 1, 2013).

Parramore, Thomas C. 1967. Cradle of the colony: the history of Chowan County and Edenton, North Carolina. [Edenton, N.C.]: Edenton Chamber of Commerce.

Moore, Elizabeth Vann. 1989. Guide book, historic Edenton and Chowan County: Edenton, North Carolina, incoporated 1722. [Edenton, N.C.]: Edenton's Woman's Club.

Powell, William Stevens, and Jay Mazzocchi. 2006. Encyclopedia of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Dillard, Richard. [from old catalog]. 1906. The historic tea-party of Edenton, October 25th, 1774.

“Tempest in a Teapot,” Tar Heel Junior Historian (September 1971): 2-4

Daughters of the American Revolutions website:

Penelope Barker (1728-1796), National Women's History Museum:

Edenton Historical Commission:

The Edenton Tea Party, Learn NC:

"Barker House." N.C. Highway Historical Marker A-55, N.C. Office of Archives & History. (accessed March 1, 2013).

"Edenton Tea Party." N.C. Highway Historical Marker A-22, N.C. Office of Archives & History. (accessed March 1, 2013).

N.C. Council for Women and Domestic Violence Commission, Dept. of Administration. Page 27. [Raleigh, N.C.] [N.C.]: N.C. Dept. of Administration, N.C. Council for Women,[1991]. (accessed March 1, 2013).

North Carolina Council for Women. Page 87. [Raleigh, N.C.] [N.C.]: N.C. Council for Women,[2000]. (accessed March 1, 2013).

Image Credits:

"Mrs. Penelope Barker/President of the Edenton Tea Party of 1774." From the North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC.

Edenton Tea Party, US 17 Business (West Queen Street) in Edenton, Chowan County. Image courtesy of State Archives of North Carolina. Available from (accessed July 25, 2012).


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User Tags: 


This would make a good movie or Netflix Series. It is time we started hearing more about women's contributions throughout history!

Good evening NCPedia,

I'm working on a project in which Penelope Barker is the topic, and have discovered a book I've not been able to retrieve. The information is the following:

Coffey, Mary Ann. "Take Tea" At the Barker House in the Tradition of Penelope Barker and the Patriotic Ladies of Edenton October 25, 1774. (1998). Edenton
Historical Commission.

I cannot check it out it via Interlibrary Loan, since I don't have an ISBN. I looked for this book on the Penelope Barker House's Gift Shop website, but could not find it. Is there another place that you know of where I may obtain this book? I've also emailed the Historic Edenton State Historic Site, but thought I'd also contact you while I'm waiting for their reply. Thank you.


Jo Anna Rohrbaugh

of course like your website however you have to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very troublesome to inform the truth on the other hand I’ll certainly come again

This was great, we were doing a live representation of the Colonial Congress and the important people at the time, and I was so glad I had this website. I am acting as Penelope Barker and this really was helpful...

That's wonderful. Thanks for visiting NCpedia.

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library

I love what you guys are usually up too. This sort of clever work and reporting! Keep up the excellent works guys

I think Penelope's mother, Elizabeth Blount, was granddaughter of James Blount rather than daughter. Elizabeth Blount seems to have been daughter of John Blount, and John Blount son of James Blount.

she is one of the coolest women in history

help me it is not working

Thanks so much! I have an assignment to do with Penelope Barker, and this helped tonnnsss!

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