DEBORAH SAMSON Biography - Military related figures


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Name: Deborah Sampson                                                                 
Born: 17 December 1760 Plympton, Massachusetts, USA                                   
Died: 29 April 1827 Sharon, Massachusetts, USA                                         
Deborah Sampson Gannett (December 17, 1760 - April 29, 1827) was the first known       
American woman to impersonate a man in order to join the Army and take part in         
Deborah Sampson was born at Plymouth, Massachusetts, the fifth of eight children       
born to Jonathan and Deborah Bradford Sampson. Her family was poor, and her           
father abandoned the family, moved to Maine and started a new family in 1765,         
when Deborah was just five years old. He was never heard from again, and it was       
rumored that he died. Because her mother lacked the means to support the family,       
her children were sent to live at different households. Deborah lived in two           
different households before she became an indentured servant at the age of ten         
in the household of Jeremiah and Susannah Thomas. During her time with the             
Thomas family, she got a good education and sometimes taught herself. She became       
strong and mastered work in plowing fields, spreading manure fertilizer, milking       
cows and stacking hay. With the books that were around the household, she             
learned the things that other children learned in school. She did both women's         
and men's work and mastered carpentry, spinning, sewing and weaving cloth. Most       
importantly, she was permitted to tag along with the Thomas' sons to the town         
schoolroom, where she devoured every bit of information possible. With this           
education, she began to develop a great interest in politics and in the events         
of the war that had begun between the American colonies and the British.               
On December 17, 1778,she turned 18 and no longer had to serve the Thomas family.       
She got a job as a local school teacher, where she taught both boys and girls.         
Eventually, She got tired of the slow pace of life.                                   
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.                                   
Deborah Sampson wanted to be able to fight, but she was not allowed to do so           
because she was a woman. She then acted and played the role of a man in order to       
get into the war, and she achieved it. Everything was going well until one day         
when she was injured and went to the doctor; it was then that they found out           
that she was a woman. She had been fighting for 3 years, until she got caught by       
the doctor. A few years later, she was a teacher and her husband a farmer. As a       
teacher, she spoke and told the class about her experiences in the war and how         
it impacted her.                                                                       
In April 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. Her own mother failed to recognize her while she was       
disguised. In disguise, the local recruiting office enlisted her under the name       
of Timothy Thayer. 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, enlisting in the Continental Army, this time         
under the name of Robert Shurtleff from Uxbridge. (This was the name of her           
brother who had died before she was born.) When she entered the Army on May 20,       
she was chosen for the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment.       
Deborah Sampson enlisted as a soldier and by pretending to be a man, she joined       
one of the classes required for the war from the Town of Uxbridge. Captain             
George Webb was the leader of the company, which contained 50 to 60 men. She           
joined in Bellingham, Massachusetts, and the unit then mustered at Worcester           
under the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Colonel Shepard. A               
minister from Bellingham, kept her secret.                                             
During Deborah's time in the Army, she fought in several skirmishes. During her       
first on July 3, 1782, outside Tarrytown, New York, she received a musket ball         
in her thigh and a huge cut on her forehead. The doctors treated her head wound,       
but she left the hospital before they could attend to the musket ball. Had she         
stayed, they might have discovered the secret that she was trying so hard to           
hide, so she removed the ball herself with a penknife and sewing needle, but her       
leg never fully healed. In 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, but kept it safe and 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. 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. So on October         
25, 1783, General Washington honorably discharged Deborah Sampson from the Army       
at West Point.                                                                         
Deborah married at Stoughton, Massachusetts to Benjamin Gannett, a farmer from         
Sharon, Massachusetts, in April of 1784. They had three children: Mary, Earl,         
and Patience.                                                                         
Statue of Sampson outside the Sharon, Massachusetts public library                     
Eight years later, in January 1792, she petitioned the Massachusetts State             
Legislature for back pay which the army had withheld from her, since 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. She was not only the first American female to cross-dress at the time       
war, but she was also the first woman to give a lecture. 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.                         
In February 22, 1806, she found herself in even more financial trouble, so wrote       
once more to her friend Paul Revere asking for a loan of ten dollars. Part of         
her letter read, "My own indisposition and that of my sons causes me again to         
solicit your goodness in our favor though I, with Gratitude, confess it rouses         
every tender feeling and I blush at the thought of receiving ninety and nine           
good turns as it were, my circumstances require that I should ask the hundredth."     
He replied as kindly as he did the many other times she had asked the same favor,     
and sent Deborah the ten dollars.                                                     
In 1809, she sent another petition to Congress, asking that her pension as an         
invalid soldier, given to her in 1804, commence with the time of her discharge,       
in 1783. Had her petition been approved, she would have been awarded $960, to be       
divided into $48 a year for twenty years. However, it was denied until 1816,           
when her petition came before Congress again. This time, out of kindness,             
generosity, and maybe a little guilt, they approved her petition, awarding her $76.80 
a year. She found this amount much more satisfactory, and was able to repay all       
her loans and take better care of the family farm. She died in 1827 at the age         
of 67 of an unknown illness and was buried in Rockridge Cemetery in the town of       
Sharon, Massachusetts.                                                                 
Her long and ultimately successful public campaign for the American                   
Revolutionary War pension bridged gender differences in asserting the sense of         
entitlement felt by all of the veterans who had fought for their country.             
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.