Deborah Sampson was born in Plympton, Massachusetts, in 1760. She was hired out as an indentured servant to a family in Middleborough, MA. Upon gaining independence at age 18, she worked as a weaver and briefly as a schoolteacher.
In 1782, Sampson disguised herself in men’s clothing and enlisted in the Continental Army under the name “Robert Shurtliff.”
Sampson was deployed to the Hudson Valley, where they saw action as a light infantryman and was wounded twice. The masquerade was uncovered while being treated for a near-fatal fever in Philadelphia, but Sampson received an honorable discharge from General Henry Knox in October 1783.
Upon returning to Massachusetts, Sampson married Benjamin Gannett of Sharon, and had three children. She won acclaim with the publication of a romanticized memoir – The Female Review: or, Memoirs of an American Young Lady – and a public speaking tour, during which she dressed in uniform and performed the soldier’s manual exercise of arms.
She began a successful campaign to secure a pension and gained the support of eminent public figures including silversmith and patriot Paul Revere. In 1804, Revere visited her at her farm in Sharon. He wrote to William Eustis, the congressman for her district, on her behalf, asserting that he found her “much more deserving than hundreds to whom Congress have been generous.”
“I have been induced to enquire her situation, and Character, since she quitted the Male habit, and Soldiers uniform; for the more decent apparrel of her own Sex; & Since she has been married and become a Mother.,” Revere wrote. “Humanity, & Justice obliges me to say, that every person with whom I have conversed about Her, and it is not a few, speak of Her as a woman of handsom talents, good Morals, a dutifull Wife and an affectionate parent.”
In 1982, the Massachusetts legislature proclaimed Deborah Sampson the official state heroine and declared May 23rd “Deborah Samson Day.”
You can learn more about her story here.
Illustration: 1797 frontispiece portrait of Sampson, courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society.