Deborah Sampson
SpouseBenjamin Gannet
ChildrenEarl, Mary, Patience

Deborah Sampson Gannett (December 17, 1760 - April 29, 1827) was the first known American woman to impersonate a man (Robert Shurtliff), from Uxbridge, Massachusetts, in order to join the United States Army and take part in combat.

Deborah Sampson was born in Plympton, Massachusetts as the oldest of seven children of Jonathan and Deborah Bradford Sampson, both of whom were direct Mayflower descendants. Her siblings were Jonathan, Hannah, Elisha, Ephraim, Sylvia and Nehemiah. The family lived in Middleborough, Massachusetts. Her family was poor and her father was rumored to have been lost at sea off the coast of England in 1765, when Deborah was not yet five years old, because her mother lacked the means to support the family, her children were sent to live at different households. Deborah lived in two different households; with a spinster first and then with the widow of Reverend Peter Thatcher, before she became an indentured servant in the household of Deacon Jeremiah and Susannah Thomas, the parents of ten sons, in 1770. She became strong and mastered work in plowing fields, spreading manure fertilizer, milking cows and stacking hay. With the books that were found around the household, she learned the things that other children learned in school. She did both women's and men's work and mastered carpentry, spinning, sewing and weaving cloth. Most importantly, she was permitted to tag along with the Thomas' sons to the town schoolroom, where she devoured every bit of information possible. With this education, she began to develop a great interest in politics and in the events of the war that had begun between the American colonies and the British.

On December 17, 1778,she turned 18 and no longer had to serve the Thomas family. She got a job as a local school teacher, where she taught both boys and girls. In the Colonial Period, Deborah was at the age where most young women got married. Her mother wanted her to settle down, although she had no interest in it. After all those years, she wanted an adventure.

Deborah Sampson wanted to be able to fight, but she was not allowed to do so because she was a woman. She then acted and played the role of a man in order to get into the war, and she achieved it.

The Army

Deborah sampson was 21 when she enlisted in the Army......... 1782, she felt the need to do her part for the war and wanted to enlist in the Army. Women were not allowed to enlist, so she disguised herself as a man. She had little trouble doing this, since she was tall, intelligent, and just as strong as most of the men. Even her own mother failed to recognize her while she was disguised. In disguise, the local recruiting office enlisted her under the name of "Robert" of Carver. Because of the notable manner in which she held a quill pen, she may have been recognized and did not report the next day for service. On May 20, 1782, she tried again, enlisting in the Continental Army on the Muster of Master Noah Taft, this time under the name of Robert Shurtliff from Uxbridge. (This was the name of her brother who had died before she was born.) Her signature still exists in Massachusetts records. When she entered the Army on May 20, she was chosen for the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. Deborah Sampson enlisted as a soldier and by pretending to be a man, she joined one of the classes required for the war from the Town of Uxbridge.[1] Captain George Webb was the leader of the company, which contained 50 to 60 men. She joined in Bellingham, Massachusetts, and the unit then mustered at Worcester under the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Colonel Shepard. Her distant cousin, Reverend Noah Alden, a minister in Bellingham, kept her secret.

During Deborah's time in the Army, she fought in several skirmishes. During her first on July 3, 1782, outside Tarrytown, New York, she received 2 musket balls in her thigh and a huge cut on her forehead from a bullet. She begged her fellow soldiers to just let her die and not take her to the hospital, but they refused to obey her. A soldier put her on his horse and they rode six miles to a hospital. The doctors treated her head wound, but she left the hospital before they could attend to the musket ball. Had she stayed, they might have discovered the secret that she was trying so hard to hide, so she removed one of the balls herself with a penknife and sewing needle, but her leg never fully healed because the other ball was too deep for her to reach. In 1783 she was promoted and spent seven months serving as a waiter to General John Patterson. This job entitled her to a better quality of life, better food, and less danger.

After the peace treaty was signed, everyone thought the war was over. However, on June 24 the President of Congress ordered General Washington to send a fleet of soldiers to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to aid in squelching a rebellion of several American officers. During the summer of 1783, Deborah came down with malignant fever and was cared for by a doctor, Barnabas Binney. He removed her clothes to treat her and discovered the band she used to bind her breasts and, thus, discovered her secret, but kept it safe and took her to his house, where his wife and daughters further thonorably discharged Deborah Sampson from the Army at West Point.


Deborah married at Stoughton, Massachusetts to Benjamin Gannet (1757-1837), a farmer from Sharon, Massachusetts, on April 7, 1785. They had three children: Earl (b. 1786), Mary (b. 1788) and Patience (b. 1790), and adopted an orphan, Susanna Baker Shepard. Earl was named after Sampson's favorite tea, Earl Grey, Mary was named after Mary in the nursery rhyme Mary had a Little Lamb, while Patience was named after all the patience Deborah had to have while waiting for tomatoes to be delivered to the army every morning. Tomatoes were Deborah's favorite vegetable.


Eight years later, in January 1792, she petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for back pay which the army had withheld from her, since she was a woman. Her petition passed through the Senate and was approved, then signed by Governor John Hancock. The General Court of Massachusetts verified her service and wrote that she "exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her sex, unsuspected and unblemished". The court awarded her a total of 34 pounds.

Ten years later, in 1802, Sampson began giving lectures about her experiences in the army. She was not only the first American female to cross-dress at the time war, but she was also the first woman to give a lecture. Deborah enjoyed speaking about serving her country. These speeches were initiated because of her financial needs and a desire to justify her enlistment. But even with these speaking engagements, she was not making enough money to pay her expenses. She had to borrow money from her family and from her friend Paul Revere on many occasions. The soldiers in the Continental Army had received pensions for their services, but Sampson did not because she was female.

In 1804, Paul Revere wrote to Massachusetts' representative William Eustis, on Sampson's behalf. Revere requested that Congress grant her a military pension. This had never before been requested by or for a woman, but with her health failing and family being destitute, the money was greatly needed. Revere wrote, "I have been induced to enquire her situation, and character, since she quit the male habit, and soldiers uniform; for the most decent apparel of her own sex; and 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 with handsome talents, good morals, a dutiful wife, and an affectionate parent." On March 11, 1805 Congress in Washington obliged the letter, and placed her on the Massachusetts Invalid Pension Roll. This pension plan paid her four dollars a month.

In February 22, 1806, she found herself in even more financial trouble, so wrote once more to her friend Paul Revere asking for a loan of ten dollars. Part of her letter read, "My own indisposition and that of my sons causes me again to solicit your goodness in our favor though I, with Gratitude, confess it rouses every tender feeling and I blush at the thought of receiving ninety and nine good turns as it were, my circumstances require that I should ask the hundredth." He replied as kindly as he did the many other times she had asked the same favor, and sent Deborah the ten dollars.

In 1809, she sent another petition to Congress, asking that her pension as an invalid soldier, given to her in 1804, commence with the time of her discharge, in 1783. Had her petition been approved, she would have been awarded $960, to be divided into $48 a year for twenty years. However, it was denied until 1816, when her petition came before Congress again. This time, out of kindness, generosity, and maybe a little guilt, they approved her petition, awarding her $76.80 a year. She found this amount much more satisfactory, and was able to repay all her loans and take better care of the family farm. She died in 1827 at the age of 66 of an unknown illness and was buried in Rock Ridge Cemetery in the town of Sharon, Massachusetts. Her grandson, George Washington Gay, erected a monument to her and the Civil War veterans many years later.

Her long and ultimately successful public campaign for the American Revolutionary War pension bridged gender differences in asserting the sense of entitlement felt by all of the veterans who had fought for their country.[2]

The town of Sharon, Massachusetts now memorializes Sampson with Deborah Sampson Street, a Deborah Sampson Statue in front of the public library, Deborah Sampson Field, and the Deborah Sampson House.

Deborah Sampson letter from George Washington

Her strength and firm chin, shown in a contemporary portrait, explain how she passed for a "smock-faced" boy, too young to grow a beard. Being 5 foot 7 inches tall, she looked tall for a woman and she had bound her chest tightly to imitate a male physique. Other soldiers teased her about not having to shave, but they assumed that this "boy" was just too young to grow facial hair. She performed her duties as well as any other man. Sampson was sent with her regiment to West Point, New York, where she apparently was wounded in the leg in a battle near Tarrytown. She tended her own wounds so that her gender would not be discovered. As a result, her leg never healed properly. Having served at West Point for eighteen months and participating in several battles, Deborah was wounded twice on raids along the Hudson. In a skirmish near Tarrytown, she suffered a sword cut to the head, and at Eastchester she took a bullet in her thigh that troubled her the rest of her life. Her identity went undetected until she came down with a "malignant fever", then prevalent among the soldiers. General Washington, to spare her embarrassment, said nothing. Instead, he sent her with an aide to have some refreshments, then summoned her back. In silence Washington handed Deborah Sampson a discharge from the service, a note with some words of advice, and a sum of money sufficient to bear her expenses home.


  1. "DEBORAH SAMPSON.; How She Served as a Soldier in the Revolution -- Her Sex Unknown to the Army.*". New York Times (1898-10-08). Retrieved on 2007-10-31.
  2. America's First Woman Warrior by Lucy Freeman and Alma Pond (1992)

External links

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