Mercy Otis Warren


Mercy Otis Warren, born in West Barnstable in 1728, was a playwright, a historian, a pioneer in women’s rights, a champion of liberty, an advocate of the Bill of Rights and a patriot. In an era where it was unusual for women to be educated, much less to emerge as a leader, her advocacy for the cause of patriotism and a central role for women in society was remarkable. Mercy Otis Warren was born on September 14, 1728, the third of thirteen children and first daughter of Colonel James Otis (1702–1778) and Mary Allyne Otis (1702–1774). The family lived in West Barnstable, Massachusetts. Mary Allyne was a descendant of Mayflower passenger Edward Doty. James Otis, Sr., was a farmer, and attorney, who served as a judge for the Barnstable County Court of Common Pleas. He won election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1745. He was an outspoken opponent and leader against British rule and against the appointed colonial governor, Thomas Hutchinson. 

Additional Information

The Otis children were raised in the midst of revolutionary ideals". Although Mercy had no formal education, she studied with the Reverend Jonathan Russell while he tutored her brothers Joseph and James in preparation for College. Unlike most girls of the time who were simply literate, Warren wanted to learn as much as she possibly could. She devoured book after book, learning about history and language. This set her apart from other girls, and most likely paved the way for her to break the traditional gender roles of her time. Her father also had unconventional views of his daughter's education, as he fully supported her endeavors, which was extremely unusual for the 18th century. James Otis attended Harvard College and became a noted patriot and lawyer. What little of his correspondence with Mercy survives suggests that James encouraged Mercy's academic and literary efforts, treating her as an intellectual equal and confidante.

She married James Warren on November 14, 1754. After settling in Plymouth, James inherited his father's position as sheriff. His previous occupations included farming and merchanting.

Cape Cod Woman of the Year Award

THIS YEAR'S WINNER  (Click Here to view Ceremony)

The Mercy Otis Warren Cape Cod Woman of the Year Selection Committee in partnership with the Barnstable County Commissioners is proud to announce that the winner of the 17th Annual Mercy Otis Warren Cape Cod Woman of the Year Award is NANCY VIALL SHOEMAKER of West Barnstable.

Nancy Shoemaker has been nominated several times over the years. This year she received multiple nominations from Betsy Wheeler and Marilyn Fuller, Dr. Melanie Barron, and Mindy Abbott.

In her nomination, Ms. Abbott described Nancy Shoemaker as having qualities “strikingly similar” to her early West Barnstable compatriot Mercy Otis Warren. Ms. Abbott wrote: “As historians, playwrights and publishers, they have used their literary talents and skills to promote awareness of contemporary and historical issues and by example, advocate for activism on current issues.”

Dr. Barron noted in her nomination that Nancy Shoemaker co-teaches a writing class at the Academy for Lifelong Learning and regularly encourages class members to submit Letters to the Editors and Point of View in the Cape Cod Times. Dr. Barron wrote: “Similar to the political pamphlets written by Mercy Otis Warren, these (submissions) address crucial issues in our current body politic”.

Mrs. Shoemaker is the owner of West Barnstable Press and offers her talents free of charge to a number of nonprofits. She has served on the Board of Trustees of the 1717  Meetinghouse Foundation since 2012 and has been instrumental on the History and Program Committees serving as the co-narrator for the 400th Anniversary of West Parish of Barnstable Historical Trolley Tour. She researched the history of the Paul Revere Company bell that hangs in the 1717 Meetinghouse, 

located and recovered a chandelier that hung in the Meetinghouse in the 1800’s, and secures speakers for the 1717 Meetinghouse Lecture Series.

She also has donated her time and talent to the Town of Barnstable, narrating the Citizen’s Academy’s seven village tour for the last several years and led sessions on Town  History. Images from her photograph collection have appeared in numerous

brochures, publications, and newsletters including those for the Town of Orleans, HyArts Cultural District, Harwich Conservation Trust, and many others. Nancy co-authored “Barnstable at 350” with Fred Bodenseick and Marion Vuilleumier, the first Mercy Otis Warren Woman of the Year. Much of the material contained in the

commemorative book on the Town of Barnstable’s 375th Anniversary was written by her.

Nancy Shoemaker has served as a founding member and past president of the West Barnstable Historical Society and is a current board member of the Barnstable Historical Society, giving lectures for that organization’s popular Little Crime Before Dinner series. She was a past president of Tales of Cape Cod and as a former Coast Guard Reservist, is on the Board of the Coast Guard Heritage Museum. She is a sought after speaker on a number of historical topics.

Mrs. Shoemaker is perhaps most proud of her role in preserving meadow land in West Barnstable that Mercy Otis Warren wrote of playing on as a young girl.

In their joint nomination, Betsy Wheeler and Marilyn Fuller pointed out that Nancy Shoemaker’s contributions are “quietly” made and that “as each generation becomes further removed from ...history…the more important becomes the contribution of a resident like Nancy…whose mission in life is to preserve what went before”.

The Mercy Otis Warren Selection Committee was blessed to have received nominations of many stellar candidates from all over the Cape. Because of the quality of nominees, the choice was difficult but in the end, the Committee proudly and  unanimously chose Nancy Viall Shoemaker as this year's Mercy Otis Warren

Cape Cod Woman of the Year.

Nancy’ Shoemaker’s name was placed into nomination by the Barnstable County Commissioners and approved by that body on May 9, 2018.

The award is a marquette of the statue of Mercy Otis Warren which is located on lawn of the Barnstable County Courthouse. This prestigious award is given annually to the Cape Cod woman who most demonstrates leadership in the Cape Cod Community, who has made a significant contribution to the arts, education, business, community and/or volunteerism, while embracing the ideals of patriotism.

Brochures with details about this unique and prestigious award are available for viewing and printing.  The brochure describes criteria for the award, the guidelines for nomination, and gives highlights of the life of Mercy Otis Warren.  

The award was presented Tuesday, June 5th, 7 p.m. at the Tales of Cape Cod, and the recipient will be asked to participate in the 4th of July parade in Barnstable Village.

Past Recipients

2017                       Dolores Holden Daluz

2016                       Ann M. Williams

2015                       Michelle L. DeSilva

2014                       Mary Lou Petitt

2013                       Dorothy A. Savarese

2012                       Judy W. Scarafile

2011                       Susan A. French

2010                       Gloria W. Rudman

2009                       Mary J. LeClair

2008                       Josephine P. Ives

2007                       Lynne M. Poyant

2006                       Bonnie M. Snow

2005                       Felicia R. Penn

2004                       Eugenia Fortes

2003                       Jean D. Gardner

2002                       Marion R. Vuilleumier