Revolutionary War: Deborah Sampson or Samson

Revolutionary War: Deborah Sampson or Samson


Deborah Sampson or Samson, first woman to serve in the American army.

Stories about Revolutionary War: Deborah Sampson or Samson

Deborah Sampson (or Samson) Enlists

  • Bellingham, MA

Deborah Sampson or Samson (spelling was irrelevant and interchangeable until fairly recently) was born into poverty in Plymouth in 1760. She grew up as an indentured servant with a family of 10 sons, then worked as a teacher before enlisting in the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment under the name of Robert Shurtliff or Shurtlieff on 20 May 1782. She looked and acted the part of a man. George Webb was the captain of his/her company.

Although the last major battle of the American Revolution had been fought six months earlier, there were still pockets of British hold-outs and guerilla warfare. In Robert's first skirmish, he received a musket ball in the thigh and a gash on his forehead. After the head wound was treated and before his gender was discovered, he limped out of the hospital tent and removed the ball himself.

After recuperating from the wounds, he spent seven months serving as a waiter to Gen. John Patterson. There is a legend that he was sent to defend Congress in Philadelphia in 1783, where he came down ill with a severe fever. He was taken to the home of a Dr. Binney, who discovered the ruse. There is one Binney family, that of widow Susannah Binney, in Philadelphia in the 1790 census. Robert Shurtliffe was given an honorable discharge on 23 October 1783. In 1785, Deborah married Benjamin Gannett - they appear in the 1800 census of Sharon, Norfolk County, MA.

Another woman who served as a man during the Revolutionary War was "Samuel Gay". The National Archives printed Reference Information Paper (109) Military Service Records at the National Archives (2007). The second illustration, page 4, is that of the discharge papers of Corporal Samuel Gay, of A. Hunt's Company, 1st Massachusetts Regiment. Gay enlisted on 14 February 1777 and was discharged in August 1777 "being a woman, dressed in mens cloths".

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