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.

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