Biography of Deborah Sampson

Biography of Deborah Sampson

Read about the life history of Deborah Sampson, the first American woman who impersonated a man so that she could join the army...
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Aug 8, 2018
Deborah Sampson was born on 17th of December, 1760 to Jonathan and Deborah Bradford Sampson. She had six siblings.
Her family was poor and their father left them when Deborah was just 5 years old. At the age of 10, she was indentured as a servant in the household of Jeremiah and Susannah Thomas. With the Thomas family, she gained a good education.
She often learned from the books lying around the house and would go along with the Thomas' sons to school. There she learned a lot. She would also do work around the house - both men's and women's work, and she grew to be quite strong.
She had grown to become very interested in the politics of the time. When she turned 18, she could not serve as a help with the Thomas household. But she lived with them for 2 more years, and worked as a weaver and a teacher at the local school. When she was 21, she wanted a more adventurous life, and set out to seek one.
Army Life
In 1782 she enlisted in the continental army as Robert Shurtliff and became a part of the Light Infantry Company of the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. She was tall, and strong as the rest of the men, and no one could see through her disguise.
She fought in many encounters in the army. In July 1782, she was hit by two musket balls in her thigh and got a cut on her forehead. She left the hospital after her head wound was treated so that her secret would not be revealed. She then removed the musket ball with a penknife and sewed the wound herself. Her leg never healed fully but her secret was safe.
In 1783 she served as a waiter for General John Patterson. During the same year, she came down with a fever and was taken care of by a doctor called Barnabas Binney. He discovered her secret, but did not reveal it. He took her to his home where his wife and daughters took care of her.
In September 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed and Dr. Binney sent Deborah to George Washington with a note. Her secret was finally out but George Washington did not said anything. She was discharged honorably, and was sent back home with money to cover her travel fare.
After the Army
In 1784, Deborah married Benjamin Gannett. They had 3 children, Earl, Mary, and Patience. Then her struggles began. She petitioned to the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1792 for her balance pay. The army had withheld it from her since she was a woman. She was finally awarded 34 Pounds based on her exceptionally good service record.
From 1802 to about 10 years after that, she began to give lectures about her army experiences. Along with being the first woman to join the army, she was also the first female lecturer. She was motivated not only by the money she made, but also by the fact that she wanted to spread knowledge among the people.
But, her financial woes continued. She would often borrow money from friends and relatives, primarily from her friend Paul Revere. She did not get any pension from the army like the rest of the soldiers even though she had been honorably discharged, simply because she was a woman.
In 1804, Paul Revere wrote on her behalf to William Eustis, who was the representative of Massachusetts, to grant her a military pension. Her health was failing and her family was destitute. In 1805, the military awarded her with a pension of $4 per month.
In 1809 she finally sent another petition to the Congress requesting that her pension as an invalid soldier start from 1783, the time she was discharged. This would mean that her cumulative pension would amount to $960 which would give her $48 per month.
This time round, the Congress approved her request and granted her $76 per month as pension. With this money, she was able to pay off her debts and take better care of her family.
Death
Deborah Sampson died in 1827. She is buried in the Rockridge Cemetery in Sharon, Massachusetts. She was 67 years old.
Deborah proves to be an inspiration to women worldwide, that gender is not a limiting factor when one wants to fight to serve one's country.