Who Was Deborah Sampson in the Revolutionary War?


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Deborah Sampson of Massachusetts served as a soldier in the American Revolutionary War by disguising herself as a man. As Robert Shurtliff, Sampson served between 1781 or 1782 and July 1783, participating in marches, battles and raids along with other enlisted soldiers. She was wounded several times. In 1783, stationed in Philadelphia, she became unconscious during illness, and her disguise was revealed. She was honorably discharged in October 1783.

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After discharge, Sampson married Benjamin Gannet, a farmer in Sharon, Massachusetts, and had three children. Like many Revolutionary War soldiers, Sampson had difficulty receiving her pension. She published a memoir and engaged in a lecture tour in 1802-1803, the first American woman to travel as a public speaker. In 1805, with help from Paul Revere, she finally received her pension. Since 1982, May 23, the day she officially mustered into the military, is celebrated as Deborah Sampson Day in Massachusetts.

Although Sampson is the only known example of a woman who enlisted using male identity in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War saw others use this tactic to enlist. While the disguises were sometimes elaborate, physical exams for military enlistment were rudimentary, checking for obvious infirmity that would keep the person from performing military duties.

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