|Birth: ||Dec. 17, 1760|
|Death: ||Apr. 29, 1827|
Cenotaph for Deborah Sampson. Deborah's gravesite is located at Rock Ridge Cemetery.
She was the daughter of Jonathan Jr Sampson and Deborah Bradford, wife of Benjamin Gannett, married 07 Apr 1785 in Suffolk. Joined the Revolutionary War and fought under the name of Robert Shurtleff.
Deborah Sampson was born in Plympton, Massachusetts on December 17, 1760, as the fifth 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 drowned in a shipwreck in 1765, when Deborah was not yet five years old. But the family later discovered that he left his family and created a new life in Maine. Because her mother lacked the means to support the family, her children were sent to live at different households.
When she turned 18 and was released from her indentured servitude with 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.
In 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, this time successfully enlisting in the Continental Army on the Muster of Master Noah Taft under the name of her deceased brother, Robert Shurtliff from Uxbridge, Massachusetts. Her signature still exists in Massachusetts records.
She was chosen for the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment under the command of Captain George Webb. The unit, consisting of fifty to sixty men, was first quartered in Bellingham, Massachusetts and later the unit mustered at Worcester under the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Colonel Shepard. Although she had some trouble with the men in her regiment after she looked in on the men changing, her distant cousin, Reverend Noah Alden, a minister in Bellingham, kept her secret.
Deborah fought in several skirmishes. During her first battle, 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 abandon 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. Fearful that her true identity would be discovered, 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. On April 1, 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. He did not betray her secret; he took her to his house, where his wife and daughters further treated her.
After Sampson recovered she returned to the army, but not for long. In September 1783 peace was assured through the signing of the Treaty of Paris. November 3 was the date for the soldiers to be sent home. When Dr. Binney asked her to deliver a note to General George Washington, she knew that her secret was out. However, General Washington never uttered a word; instead, she received an honorable discharge from the service, a note with some words of advice, and a sum of money sufficient to bear her expenses home. Thus, on October 25, 1783, General Washington honorably discharged Deborah Sampson from the Army at West Point, after a year and a half of service.
Deborah got married in Stoughton, Massachusetts to Benjamin Gannet (1757-1837), a farmer from Sharon, Massachusetts, on April 7, 1785. They had three children Earl in 1786, Mary in 1788 and Patience in 1790. Susanna Baker Shepard was an adopted orphan that they took in as their own.
Eight years later, in January 1792, she petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for back pay which the army had withheld from her because 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. 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.
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.
Newburyport Herald (Newburyport, Massachusetts) on Tuesday, May 8, 1827, Page 3: Volume: VI: Issue 315
“Another Revolution “Soldier” no more. In Sharon, Mass. Mrs. Deborah Gannett, aged 67. The Memoirs of this Heroine of the Revolution, who served as a volunteer, in male attire, for three years, are well known. But the most distinguished feature in her character is that of having been a heroine in the American Army of the Revolution. She inlisted (sic), a volunteer, in the Massachusetts corps, in the habiliments and character of a soldier, where she continued three years, to the close of the war. Extraordinary as this may appear, she not only, on every occasion, performed the arduous duty of a soldier with more than ordinary alertness, gallantry and courage—having been in several severe engagements, and twice dangerously wounded—but sustaining a character unsullied, and her sex, undiscovered, till peace was declared. At the disbanding of the army she received an honorable discharge from the same, and returned to her relatives in Massachusetts, still in her regimentals. After the peculiar circumstances of her case were developed, the government of this State not only paid her full wages, but added a considerable bounty. She has regularly received a pension from Congress.”
Deborah's gravesite is located at Rock Ridge Cemetery.
Created by: Anne Shurtleff Stevens
Record added: Apr 21, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 88889189