Deborah Sampson SHOP (HTrPS:IISHOP.WOMENSmIS(O13GQOpJNECLI1II4TE (IDONATE) Deborah Sampson (1760-1827) Edited by Debra Michals, PhD 1 2015 (1) D


Deborah Sampson


Edited by Debra Michals, PhD 1 2015



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Deborah Sampson


Edited by Debra Michals, PhD 1 2015


Deborah Sampson became a hero of the American Revolution when she

disguised herself as a man and joined the Patriot forces. She was the only

woman to earn a full military pension for participation in the Revolutionary


Born on December 17, 1760 in Plympton, Massachusetts near Plymouth,

Sampson was one of seven children to Jonathan Sampson Jr. and Deborah

(Bradford) Sampson. Both were descendants of preeminent Pilgrims:

Jonathan of Myles Standish and Priscilla Alden; his wife, the great

granddaughter of Massachusetts Governor William Bradford. Still, the

Sampsons struggled financially and, after Jonathan failed to return from a

sea voyage, his impoverished wife was forced to place her children in

different households. Five years later, at age 10, young Deborah was bound

out as an indentured servant to Deacon Benjamin Thomas, a farmer in

Middleborough with a large family. At age 18, with her indenture completed,

Sampson, who was self-educated, worked as a teacher during summer

sessions in 1779 and 1780 and as a weaver in winter.

In 1782, as the Revolutionary War raged on, the patriotic Sampson disguised

herself as a man named Robert Shurtleff and joined the Fourth

Massachusetts Regiment. At West Point, New York, she was assigned to

Captain George Webb’s Company of Light Infantry. She was given the

dangerous task of scouting neutral territory to assess British buildup of men

and materiel in Manhattan, which General George Washington contemplated

attacking. In June of 1782, Sampson and two sergeants led about 30

infantrymen on an expedition that ended with a confrontation—often one-

on-one—with Tories. She led a raid on a Tory home that resulted in the

capture of 15 men. At the siege of Yorktown she dug trenches, helped storm

a British redoubt, and endured canon fire.

For over two years, Sampson’s true sex had escaped detection despite close

calls. When she received a gash in her forehead from a sword and was shot

in her left thigh, she extracted the pistol ball herself. She was ultimately

discovered—a year and a half into her service—in Philadelphia, when she

became ill during an epidemic, was taken to a hospital, and lost


Receiving an honorable discharge on October 23, 1783, Sampson returned to

Massachusetts. On April 7, 1785 she married Benjamin Gannet from Sharon,

and they had three children, Earl, Mary, and Patience. The story of her life

was written in 1797 by Herman Mann, entitled The Female Review: or,

Memoirs of an American Young Lady. She received a military pension from

the state of Massachusetts. Although Sampson’s life after the army was

mostly typical of a farmer’s wife, in 1802 she began a year-long lecture tour

about her experiences—the first woman in America to do so—sometimes

dressing in full military regalia.

Four years after Sampson’s death at age 66, her husband petitioned

Congress for pay as the spouse of a soldier. Although the couple was not

married at the time of her service, in 1837 the committee concluded that

the history of the Revolution “furnished no other similar example of female

heroism, fidelity and courage.” He was awarded the money, though he died

before receiving it.

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