deborah sampson gannett

DEBORAH SAMPSON GANNETT WAS A FEMALE SOLDIER IN THE AMERICAN WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE. SHE DISGUISED HERSELF AS A MAN IN ORDER TO ENLIST, AND FROM THAT POINT, SHE FOUGHT THROUGH THE ENTIRE REMAINDER OF THE WAR AS A MAN WITHOUT DETECTION. ONE TIME SHE GOT SHOT IN THE GROIN AND SHE REMOVED THE BULLET AND TREATED THE WOUND HERSELF SO THE DOCTORS WOULDN’T FIGURE IT OUT.

HER COVER WAS BLOWN WHEN SHE TOOK ILL AFTER THE WAR, AND AT HER REQUEST, THE DOCTOR ONLY DIVULGED HER TRUE SEX TO HER COMMANDING OFFICER SO THAT SHE COULD BE GIVEN AN HONORABLE DISCHARGE.

AFTER THIS, SHE WOULD SHED HER DISGUISE AND CONTINUE LIVING AS A WOMAN WITH HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN, BUT WHEN HER FAMILY FELL ON HARD FINANCIAL TIMES, SHE WAS DENIED HER MILITARY PENSION BECAUSE SHE WAS A WOMAN, AND SHE EVENTUALLY HAD PAUL REVERE WRITE HER A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION THAT WOULD LEAD TO HER RECEIVING HER RIGHTFUL MILITARY BENEFITS. 

Deborah Sampson (1760-1827) was a soldier who fought for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

Born in the small village of Plympton, Massachusetts, Sampson became an indentured servant after her father died at sea. By age 18 she became a free, self-educated woman and initially made a living as a schoolteacher and weaver. 

Living in the shadow of the American Revolutionary War, Sampson wanted to join the Continental army, but as this was not allowed she decided to disguise herself as a man. She traveled to New York in the spring of 1781 and enlisted in the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment using the name of her dead brother, Robert Shurtleff. 

Sampson was assigned to a scouting unit and fought in several skirmishes against British forces. On July 3rd 1782, she fought in a battle outside Tarrytown, New York, where she suffered two musket shots to the thigh and a sword wound across her forehead. Doctors treated her head wound in hospital, but fearing her identity as a woman would be discovered, she left before they could examine her thigh. She removed one musket ball herself using a penknife and sewing needle but could not remove the second. As result the leg never fully healed.

Needing time for her injury to heal Sampson volunteered to look after a sick soldier, Richard Snow, in a private home. However the house belonged to a Tory named Abraham Van Tassel, who consigned the pair to live in a stifling hot attic during the summer. Snow died under the conditions. Sampson later had her revenge by leading a night raid on Van Tassels’ estate with the assistance of Van Tassel’s own daughter. 15 men were captured in the raid. 

In April 1783, Sampson was promoted and served as a waiter for General John Paterson. That summer Sampson was among those deployed to Philadelphia to put down a minor rebellion by American officers. During this time she came down with a fever and the doctor who treated her, Barnabas Binney, discovered she was a woman. He kept her confidence while he treated her but later informed General Paterson.

By the time Sampson had recovered the war was over and she was honourably discharged from army. She returned to Massachusetts where she married a farmer named Benjamin Gannett, with whom she had three children. In 1792, she petitioned the state for the military pay that had been withheld from her because she was a woman, and won her case. In 1804, her friend Paul Revere, a known hero of the Revolutionary War, helped her fight for a military pension, which was also eventually granted.

Sampson died in 1827 from yellow fever, aged 66. Numerous memorials to her can be found in her hometown of Sharon, Massachusetts.

(Image courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society)

Deborah Sampson Gannett was born in 1760 outside Plymouth, Massachusetts. In May 1782, dressed as a man, she enrolled in the Continental Army under the name Robert Shurtliff. She fought in several battles until she was discovered, after being wounded in 1783, to be a woman. She received an honorable discharge and in 1785 married Robert Gannett.

Sampson Gannett was relatively unknown until 1797 when, in conjunction with the writer Herman Mann, she published a narrative of her time as a cross-dressed Revolutionary soldier. It was titled The Female Review: or, Memoirs of an American Young Lady, Whose Life and Character Are Particularly Distinguished - Being a Continental Soldier, for Nearly Three Years, in the Late American War.

The work was a straightforward tale that touched on the author’s homosexuality through descriptions of titillating, affectionate interactions with women. Sampson Gannett’s intention in publishing the narrative was to gain public attention for her attempt to be awarded a military pension. In 1802 Sampson Gannett commenced a series of public lectures about her life. Near the end of the presentations, she left the stage, returned dressed in her Army uniform, and executed complicated and physically taxing military drills.

Her presentation was extremely popular in Boston, and she repeated it in other New England cities. In 1816, after years of petitioning and with help from Paul Revere, Sampson Gannett was finally awarded the full pensions she deserved by both the state of Massachusetts and Congress.

A grandmother of mine is Deborah Sampson Gannett, a woman who posed as male to fight in the Revolutionary War, and who is generally viewed as a closeted queer. (She was also the first woman in the US to take a bullet for her country)

My mother revealed to me a few months ago that she is asexual.

I think queerness might be hereditary.

(Fun fact. My mom was in the military, too. Correlation? Ha.)