Deborah Sampson (also known as Deborah Sampson Gannett) is well-known for impersonating a man in order to serve in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Deborah Bradford Sampson was born on December 17, 1760, in Plympton, Massachusetts, to colonial parents Jonathan Sampson and Deborah Bradford Sampson. Deborah was the first of her parents’ seven children (Jonathan, Elisha, Hannah, Ephraim, Nehemiah and Sylvia). Deborah and her family lived in Plympton, Massachusetts when she was a child, but when her father abandoned the family, she was sent to live with a relative and began working at a young age. She questioned the British’s actions at the start of the Revolutionary War, and as the war progressed, despite working as a teacher, she disguised herself as a man in order to fight alongside the men.
Deborah’s mother was unable to care for all seven of her children after her father abandoned the family.
Deborah and her four older siblings were placed with neighbors or relatives.
Deborah was sent to Middleborough to live with her cousin Ruth Fuller, where she learned to sew, read, and write.
Ruth Fuller became ill and died three years after Deborah moved in with her.
Deborah was then assigned to live with Mistress Thatcher, an elderly widow who required round-the-clock care.
Within a year, Mistress Thatcher was placed with a relative, and Deborah was placed with Benjamin Thomas.
Deborah was not allowed to attend school because she was caring for Benjamin’s sons at his home.
Deborah left Benjamin’s house when she was 18 years old and went on to become a weaver and then a teacher.
Deborah enlisted in the Continental Army as Robert Shurtliff in the spring of 1781. She was 21 years old, but she gave the age of 17.
Deborah had to sleep in a tent with six men on a hay and burlap bed.
Deborah was shot in the leg and head while on a scouting party with other soldiers. She believed she was going to die, and the British assumed she was dead, so they abandoned her.
Deborah was taken to a hospital by another soldier, and she recovered from her injuries.
Deborah became ill in 1783, and a doctor discovered she was a woman, but he kept her identity hidden.
When the doctor’s niece fell in love with Robert (Deborah), the truth had to come out.
When she revealed to the General that she was a woman, she was discharged, but with much respect and an excellent service record.
On April 7, 1785, Deborah Sampson married Benjamin Gannett. They had three children together.
Deborah was given a small pension for her military service and the wounds she received.
Paul Revere persuaded Deborah to go on tour in order to capitalize on her fame from her service in the war.
She followed his advice and gave speeches in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.
Deborah Sampson Gannett died at the age of 68 on April 29th, 1827.
‘Deborah wife of Benjamin Gannett, died April 29th, 1827, aged 68 years,’ her tombstone reads. ‘Deborah Sampson Gannett, Robert Shurtliff, The Female Soldier Service 1781-1783,’ reads the reverse side of her tombstone.