Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Image Attributed to Deborah Sampson
One wonders: Who were those women who would insist on disguising themselves as men to fight in the Revolutionary War? What were their motives? Were they driven by adventure or patriotism? Like Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as as a man in order to fight in the Continental Army, she was one of those women warriors, but her motives as indicated in valid historical documentation seems to be ambivalent.. However, she was part of a small number of women whose record of combat in the war gave them a particular measure of celebrity.
   Certainly getting into the army was no easy task because women were not permitted to do this. Undaunted by the dictates of society Sampson's mind was made up. She decided to disguise herself as a man in order to join the army. She was astute enough to know that preparation would be the order of the day, so she bound her breasts, practiced walking and talking like a man and at times even managed to fool her mother...
   ENLISTING AS A MAN Imagine playing down a woman's female attributes and discarding the adornments of femininity? It took bold reserve to impersonate a man. However, in 1781 when Sampson was twenty-one years old, she was feeling restless and thought of other pursuits; travel for one, adventure another or was it a patriotic surge that well up in her bound bosom. Women, at that time, had very limited options of diversion or employment, but Sampson seems to have been cut out for a more interesting destiny. She did not hesitate by putting her plan in action, and realized she would have to cross-dress. Wearing a man's suit Sampson visited a fortune teller to confirm her conviction. After that encounter her resolve was strengthened and during a long winter Sampson decided to join the military as a male soldier.
    MASTER NOAH TAFT Deborah was tall for a woman and she downplayed her femininity with proper military attire including the coat, waistcoat and breeches she had sewn that winter. Thus attired, she presented herself on May 20, 1782, under the name of her deceased brother. Robert Shurtleff Sampson, as Master Noah Taft of Uxbridge, Massachusetts.  She was enlisted in Captain Webb's  Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. Legend has it that before she joined up her mother was trying to get Sampson married to a wealthy suitor. I wonder, did she choose the army instead to escape this forced marriage? It seems to me this strong headed determined woman was bent on fulfilling her own destiny, despite any unforeseen consequences.
Typical Uniform like worn by Deborah
   SOLDIERING ON One can never really know her true motive but with patriotism in her heart she fought in several skirmishes with valiant courage.  In a battle, on July 3, 1782, outside of Tarrytown, New York, she was seriously wounded; taking two musket balls in her thigh and a massive cut on her forehead. She able to conceal the thigh wound from the doctor and took care of this injury herself, but before it was completely healed she was was sent back to rejoin the army. The wound never healed properly and she suffered the rest of her life.Soldering on as best she could she was wounded again four months later, when she was shot in the shoulder. It was then that Dr. Barnabas Binny was called to administer to her wounds, only to discover her bound breasts. He did not immediately report her but let her recover in his own home with his wife and family.  Later Dr. Binny made the truth be know in a letter to General Peterson and her secret was revealed. Contrary to common belief that an impostor could be punished, Deborah was spared any retribution, and was given an honorable discharge in October 1783, and she returned home to Massachusetts.
   A FARMER'S WIFE It's seem unlikely that after such a military adventure that Deborah Sampson could return to a normal life. Well, the draw of domesticity prevailed and she married Benjamin Gannett in 1785. They subsequently had three children, and the family had a small farm in Sharon, Massachusetts.
   Life as a wartime warrior may have ended with her discharge, but she took full advantage of her life as a soldier, which was document in By Herman Mann in the biography "The Female Review ." After its publication, spunky Sampson embarked on a speaking tour throughout New York and New England,. It is recorded that during her performance she dressed in her male uniform and regaled the gawking crowd by performing maneuvers from the manual of arms.
Statue of Sampson at Sharon Public Library
PENSION DILEMMA Seeking a pension for her role in the war Sampson's campaign was met with reserve. However, with the success of her biography and speaking tour, she renewed her campaign for a pension and gained support from the American Revolution hero, Paul Revere, who petitioned Congress to grant her a pension. Through Revere's intervention Sampson was finally awarded a pension in 1821. After her death from yellow mountain fever in 1827, several statues and monuments were erected in her honor in Sharon. In 1982, The Massachusetts legislature declared Deborah Sampson the official state heroine and Sharon memorializes Sampson with Deborah Sampson Day (May 23). Then there's Deborah Sampson Street, a Deborah Sampson Statue in front of the Sharon public library and Deborah Sampson field and the Deborah Sampson House.
   Deborah Sampson remains celebrated in the annals of women warriors of the American Revolution. Her legacy of bravery, fortitude and perseverance are lessons of unrivaled heroism.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

MARGARET CORBIN the REVOLUTION'S Fort Tryon Heroine By Polly Guerin

The 1909 memorial at Fort Tryon Park, NYC
Margaret Corbin (nee Cochran) looms as important an American Revolutionary heroine as does many other women who fought bravely for our country's Independence. Margaret Corbin, however, has due recognition that is permanently etched into the historical lore of New York City. At the site of the  1776 battle defending Fort Washington in northern Manhattan, now known as Fort Tryon Park; its drive and entrance are named after this bold and feisty woman who fought heroically against British attack.
   A FEISTY COMPETITOR: At the age of 21, in 1772, Margaret married a Virginia farmer named John Corbin. When the war began, John, like other patriots, enlisted in the First Company of Pennsylvania Artillery. The custom of that time brought women to the forefront of the conflict. Margaret, like other women, went along with their husbands serving on the battlefield. Margaret is known to have declared,"You might be a soldier, John Corbin, but I am your wife and my place is by your side."  At first she joined other patriot women who brought pitchers of water, to the parched soldiers and water to cool the over-heated cannons during battle as well as cooking, washing and caring  for wounded soldiers. Margaret became a feisty camp followers and accounts of her bravery remember how she stood side-by-side with her husband at the cannon.
   FORT WASHINGTON On November 16, 1776 after the American forces retreated into New Jersey following the battle of Long Island and later the battle of White Plains, about 600 American soldiers remained on the hill in present-day Fort Tryon Park. Margaret passionately worked the cannon side-by-side with her husband John, an artilleryman, who was in charge of firing a small cannon at the top of a ridge.  On November 16, 1776, an assault by 4,000 Hessian mercenaries under British command attacked the outnumbered Maryland and Virginia riflemen who were defending the position. John and Margaret in tandem worked one of the two cannons the defenders possessed. When John was shot and killed, leaving his cannon unmanned, Margaret swept into action. and immediately took his place.
Margaret Corbin Recharging the Cannon
   MARGARET AT THE CANNON Stepping up into the footsteps in history after witnessing her husband's death, in the heat of the battle, Margaret continued to man the cannon and fired shots until she, too, was wounded; her arm, chest and jaw were hit by enemy fire.Legend has it that if it were not for a passing doctor who administered to her wounds she was would have been left for dead.
   The British ultimately won the Battle of Fort Washington, and Margaret and her brave comrades were subsequently captured. The British subsequently renamed the spot for Major General Sir William Tryon, who was also the last British governor of colonial New York. Although the Continental Army ultimately succeeded in winning the War of Independence, the site continued to be referred to as Fort Tryon. It is interesting to note that in the 1970s there was a movement to rename the park for an American hero. Serendipitously at that time Margaret Corbin's story resurfaced and, honoring her memory, the park's plaza and drive were named for Corbin and the park retained the Tryon name.
  HONORING THE HEROINE: As the equivalent of a wounded soldier, Margaret was more fortunate than most of the men, Though her injuries were not fatal,
Margaret Corbin memorial at West Point cemetery
Margaret's wounds crippled her for life. Officers from her regiment, remembering her bravery, successfully petitioned for Corbin to receive a pension and on July 6, 1779, the Continental Congress granted Corbin one-half the monthly pay of a solider in the Continental Army. With this act, Congress made Margaret the first woman warrior in the United States to receive a lifetime military pension. After Congress's decision, Margaret was affectionately known as "Captain Molly" and served in the Invalid Regiment, created by Congress for wounded soldiers. In 1781, the Corps of Invalids became part of the garrison at West Point, New York. Corbin was discharged from the Continental Army in 1783, and died in 1800, at the age of 48 as a result of her war injuries. Her heroic legacy lives on to inspire generations of women warriors now, and all the tomorrows to come.
   In 1982, a plaque honoring Corbin was  placed by the Chamber of Commerce of Washington Heights on the eastern of the two stone plynths which mark the start of the Margaret Corbin Drive. For Art Deco enthusiasts, a large Art Deco mural depicting the Battle of Fort Washington scene decorates the lobby of a nearby apartment building at 720 Fort Washington Avenue. It is interesting to note that at one time local schools developed a curriculum about Corbin and in 1982, a plaque honoring the heroine was placed at 190th Street and Fort Washington Avenue.
  What conditions created a feisty patriot like Margaret Corbin? Perhaps it was her early life in West Pennsylvania. She was born on November 12, 1751 and her parents were Robert Cochran, a Scots-Irish immigrant, and his wife, Sarah. It was a frontier upbringing with Indian savages on the prowl. In 1756, her parents were attacked by Native Americans; her father killed, and he mother kidnapped, never to be seen again. With such a wrenching memory five year old Margaret, early on, must have developed a strong constitution that served her well in later years as one of the first women warriors to fight for independence from British rule during the American Revolution. .


Tuesday, June 9, 2015


A romanticized painting: Molly Pitcher Stands Her Ground
To most Americans interested Revolutionary War history, the folk heroine, Molly Pitcher's life is chronicled in numerous storytelling versions. The name  is generally attributed to Mary Ludwig Hayes, who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1754-1832). The chances of celebrity never entered her mind. She never attended school or learned to read, and education considered a waste of money on young girls at that time. Yet, Molly Pitcher would prove her mettle and stand her ground as a true American heroine.
   Searching for the Real Molly: However, controversy surrounds the name and the question has often been asked: "Who was the real Molly Pitcher?"  Searching for the real Molly Pitcher has validity, but the name could also be a catchall nickname that really could be applied to many more untold heroines who served as camp followers.
  Camp Followers: The term camp followers also has a positive and negative connotation. It is a term used to identify civilians, wives, sweethearts, mothers and the children of soldiers who followed the army during the Revolution and provided services that the army did not supply---selling goods and services---including carrying pitchers of water to soldiers, cooking, laundering, nursing, sexual services.
   Cannoner Molly Pitcher may be a persona inspired by the actions of a number of real women. However, legend has it that the real Molly Pitcher is most likely a young soldier's wife named Mary Ludwig Hayes. During the American Revolutionary War, William Hayes (also known as John Hayes) enlisted as a gunner in the Continental Army. At that time it was not unusual for wives to be near their husbands in battle and assist as needed, even taking over the gun when the soldier collapsed. Pitcher followed William Hayes to New Jersey during the war's Philadelphia Campaign (1777-78) and Mary was one of a group of women, led by Martha Washington, known as camp followers, who would wash clothes and blankets, and care for sick and dying soldiers.
Battle at Monmouth On the day that Hayes fought in the Battle of Monmouth in Freehold, New Jersey, June 28, 1778, it was a scorcher. On the brutally hot day, his wife Molly made countless trips to a nearby spring to fill 'pitchers' of cold water for the battle fatigued and wounded soldiers. When her husband collapsed at his cannon he was carried off the battlefield; Molly dropped the pitcher and took his place and rallied on fighting with courage and conviction. In the heat of the battle, Mary continued at the cannon and at one point a British musket ball or cannonball flew between her legs and tore off the bottom of her skirt.  Mary supposedly said something to the effect, "Well that could have been worse," and continued to "swab and load"  the cannon using her husband's ramrod. Molly fought skillfully and heroically and so endeared herself to the men that it was during this time she probably received her nickname, as troops would shout, Molly! Pitcher!" whenever they needed her to bring fresh water.
After the Battle: George Washington asked about a woman who was seen loading a cannon on the
battlefield.  In commemoration of her courage, he issued Mary Hayes a warrant as a non commissioned officer.  Afterwards, she was known as "Sergeant Molly," a nickname she used for the rest of her life. At the end of the war, May and her husband William returned to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. After her husband William Hayes died, May Hayes married another Revolutionary War veteran John McCauley, and continued to live in Carlisle. In 1822, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvanian awarded Mary McCauley an annual pension for her service. She died in 1832, in Carlisle, and is buried in the Old Graveyard there.  A statute of "Molly Pitcher," standing alongside a cannon stands in the cemetery.
   Molly Pitcher has held a revered place in the patriotic lore of the American revolution and continues to be recognized in popular culture. For instance, there is the Honorable Order of Molly Pitcher bestowed by the U.S. Field Artillery Association (USFAA) to recognize women who have voluntarily contributed in a significant way to the improvement of the U.S. Field Artillery Communities. There is the Molly Pitcher Inn located in Red Bank, New Jersey, not far from the Battle of Manmouth. On 1-95 (New Jersey Turnpike) a service area is named Molly Pitcher Service Area in Cranbury Township, New Jersey. Postage stamps were issued and then, too, there are towns named after Molly Pitcher and even Mary Pitcher apartment buildings. Molly Pitcher became one of the most popular and enduring symbols of women who contributed to winning the War of Independence. An American Revolutionary heroine that inspires even today.