Revolutionary War heroine who dressed as a man and successfully served in the Continental Army for more than 17 months.
Her first attempt at joining the army in the guise of a man failed when she was discovered to be holding her quill pen like a woman.
She suffered two leg wounds in 1782, however, fearing discovery, she refused treatment and removed one of the musket balls with a pocket knife.
Her grandmother, Priscilla Mullins Alden, sailed to America on the Mayflower. She was married to Benjamin Gannett and together they had four children.
She appealed to Governor John Hancock and finally received payment for her army service.
Inspiration Quotes from Deborah Sampson:
"I am indeed willing to acknowledge what I have done, an error and presumption. I will call it an error and presumption because I swerved from the accustomed flowery path of female delicacy, to walk upon the heroic precipice of feminine perdition!"
"Why can I not fight for my country too?"
"Wrought upon at length, you may say, by an enthusiasm and frenzy that could brook no control - I burst the tyrant bands, which held my sex in awe, and clandestinely, or by stealth, grasped an opportunity, which custom and the world seemed to deny, as a natural privilege"
Deborah Sampson was born in Plympton, a small village in Massachusetts, on December 17, 1760.
When her mother could no longer look after her family, she sent her children to live with friends and relatives.
When she was 10, she went to work as a servant in a farmer’s house, helping with the farm. The hard work helped her become very strong.
She learned to sew and spin. She could hunt, ride a horse, and do carpentry work. Deborah was not allowed to go to school. Nevertheless, she loved to learn and would get the boys in the family to teach her the lessons they were learning in school. She learned so well that when she was aged eighteen she became a teacher.
Disguising as a man
During the revolutionary war she wanted to become a soldier and help, but she couldn’t because girls weren’t allowed in the army, so she decided she would pretend to be a man and join the army anyway.
She dressed like a man and practiced walking and talking like a man until people wouldn’t notice that she was a woman.
She was really tall for a woman, so she could well pass as a boy. She called herself Robert Shurtleff. She was twenty one but pretended to be seventeen.
Her soldier days
“Robert” was a good, brave soldier and things were going well until Deborah was wounded in battle.
During her first battle, on July 3, 1782, she was wounded by two musket ballsin her thigh and a gigantic cut on her forehead. Deborah was afraid that her secret would be discovered.
She was brave and removed one of the balls herself with a penknife and sewing needle, but the other musket ball was too deep for her to reach. This meant that her leg never properly healed.
Everyone was proud of Deborah, who soon became the General’s personal helper. She brought him meals and took care of him.
Everything was going well for “Robert”, or Deborah, in the army, until she became ill with fever and was cared for by a doctor, Barnabas Binney. He removed her clothes to treat her and discovered her secret. He took her to his house, where his wife, daughters, and a nurse by the name of Mrs. Parker took care of her.
After Deborah recovered, she returned to the army, even though, by this time, the war was very nearly over.
Life after the army
Deborah was given an honorable discharge from the army, after a year and a half of service.
She married Benjamin Gannet, a farmer, and they had three children, Earl, Polly, and Patia.
Although Deborah’s life after the army was a calm life of a farmer’s wife, she was the first woman in the country to go on a lecture tour that lasted almost a year to talk about her experience in the war.
However, life was not easy. She had very little money and found life hard. Unlike men who had served in the army, Deborah did not receive a pension because she was a woman.
She had to borrow money from her family and from her friend Paul Revere on many occasions. Paul Revere also helped her write letters, which helped her begin to receive pension from the government. Finally, in 1805 she started to receive pension which was four dollars a month.
Deborah’s long struggle to get the American Revolutionary War pension helped to recognize the efforts of all those who had fought for their country, whether man or woman.
The city where she lived now remembers her with Deborah Sampson Day (May 23), Deborah Sampson Street, a Deborah Sampson Statue in front of the library, Deborah Sampson Field, and the Deborah Sampson House.
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