April 29, 2020
Deborah grabbed her head as her temperature skyrocketed. She began feeling sick upon arriving in Philadelphia but refrained from seeing a doctor for fear of having her secret revealed. As she tried to compose herself, the world went black. She felt the arms and hands of soldiers lifting her but she had no voice to object to where they were taking her. There was no doubt now. She would be discovered.
Born December 17, 1760, in Plympton, Massachusetts, Deborah Sampson lived less than 10 miles from where her pilgrim ancestors first stepped foot in America on Plymouth Rock. Her mother, Deborah Bradford, was the great-granddaughter of William Bradford while Jonathan Sampson, her father, contained the lineage of Myles Standish, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. (see )
The Sampson (Samson) family struggled as it grew to include seven children. Unable to make ends meet for the growing family, Jonathan took to the sea to earn a living. Some say he just never returned from a voyage, lost at sea. Others claimed he abandoned the family, later resurfacing in Maine where he took a common law wife. However, it didn’t matter to little 5-year-old Deborah. All she knew was he was gone.
Finder herself not only with a brand new baby but six other children to care for with no means of support, Deborah’s mother had no choice. She surrendered to the only viable option many in her circumstance succumbed to, separating her family and asking relatives and neighbors to raise her children.
Deborah spent several years with Mary Prince Thatcher, the widow of Reverend Peter Thatcher. The elderly woman enjoyed having scripture read to her, so she taught young Deborah to read; a skill very few females in Deborah’s position enjoyed. Upon Mrs. Thatcher’s death, 10-year-old Deborah became an indentured servant to the Jeremiah Thomas family in 1770, as was common at the time for poor children. (see ) The father of 10 sons, Jeremiah subscribed to the belief that women did not need an education. However, Deborah would not be deterred. She secretly borrowed books from his sons, who also reviewed their lessons with her as her thirst for knowledge strengthen.
Deborah not only assisted with house chores, she joined the males in the field where her physique received a workout as well. By the time she fulfilled her commitment at age 18, she was physically and mentally prepared to be her own woman. She soon obtained work as a school teacher in the summer sessions and a weaver in the winter in addition to selling her own woodworking creations door to door.
Standing 5 feet 9 inches tall, Deborah was over a half a foot taller than the average woman and an inch taller than the average man. Having performed rugged labor in the field for eight years, her body was solid and strong and not overly effeminate, even for being 21 years old. Full of desire for adventure, Deborah made a bold and courageous move.
Wrapping her small chest to conceal evidence of her true gender, Deborah began dressing like a man. She resolved herself to journey to Philadelphia and explore the capital city of the brand new country. Shortly after the Battle of Yorktown, Deborah quickly realized there was a way she could not only travel, but get paid for doing it. She enlisted in the Army under the name Timothy Thayer in Middleborough, Massachusetts. (see ) As she spent her enlistment bonus, a local resident recognized the young woman, exposing her true identity. Deborah returned the money she had not yet used and was spared any further punishment from the Army. However, her local church was informed of her deception and responded.
Upholding God’s law outlined in Deuteronomy 22:5, which states, “A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this,” her local Baptist church excommunicated her in hopes of enticing her repentance. Likewise, the community shunned her for her actions of cross dressing as well as deception. As her ancestors authored the original founding document of the country, the desire for liberty and freedom ran deep through Deborah’s veins. (see ). It was only logical that her heart would yearn to fight for that which her ancestors endured so much to achieve. Still eager to serve her country, Deborah gathered her belongings and headed to Uxbridge, Massachusetts, almost 60 miles away. On May 20, 1782, she found the recruiting office and enlisted again under the name “Robert Shirtliff” (Shirtliffe or Shurleff)
Because of her height and strength, Deborah entered the Light Infantry Company, an elite unit of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. Her troop was immediately sent to New York where they participated in a battle with the British near Tappan Bay on July 3, 1782. Fighting was fierce, leaving Deborah with a gash from a sword on her forehead and two musket ball wounds in her leg. As the field clinic medic nursed her head-wound, Deborah’s heart began to race. If they removed her pants to tend to the musket wounds, her gender would be discovered. To the surprise of the field doctors, she refused to allow them to treat her leg, limping away from the tent. She successfully removed one musket ball with a penknife before stitching the wound closed herself. However, the second ball was too deep for Deborah to remove. It remained in her leg the rest of her life, causing constant pain.
Several months later, Deborah survived another shot, this time through the shoulder. Due to her injuries, she was assigned as General John Paterson’s waiter on April 1, 1783. By that June, with the war essentially over, 400 soldiers stationed in Philadelphia confronted Congress as they convened for their next session and demanded their back pay. (see ) General George Washington quickly dispatched Deborah’s unit to the capital on June 24. After arriving, she developed a dangerous fever, which knocked her unresponsive. As Dr. Barnabas Binney prepared to check her heartbeat, she was unable to stop the examination as she had done before. He discovered the binding around her breasts. Her secret was uncovered.
To Deborah’s surprise, he did not reveal her true gender to the authorities. Instead, he arranged for her to be transported to his personal home where his wife and daughters assisted in her recovery. By September, Deborah was ready to return to her unit. Before leaving, Binney handed her a note with the instructions to present it to General Paterson upon her return. She had no doubt of its contents. She also knew she had no choice but to deliver it.
Deborah stood tall as she handed Paterson the note. After reading Dr. Binney’s letter, the look on the general’s face confirmed Deborah’s fears. She waited, anticipating the punishment due her. To her amazement, Paterson gave her another note containing fatherly words of advice and enough money for her to get back home. But first, she was dispatched to West Point where General Henry Knox, aware of her situation, presented her with an honorable discharge on October 25, 1783. (see , , and )
Deborah returned to Massachusetts where she married Benjamin Gannett on April 7, 1785. The couple had 3 children of their own and adopted a fourth. As the couple struggled to survive on their farm, Deborah petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for back pay withheld from her. The legislature approved her petition, of which Governor John Hancock signed, awarding her $34 and making her one of the first woman in America to receive payment for war service. (see , , and ) Other known women of the American Revolution who received payments were Margaret Cochran Corbin (see ) and Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley (see ). However, they both participated in the war fighting alongside their husbands. Hundreds of valiant women contributed to the war effort by tending to the camps and soldiers’ needs, such as cooking, sewing, doing the laundry, and fetching water for the cannons.
People became familiar with Deborah's story from a biography published of her in 1797. In 1802, at age 42, she embarked on a lecturing tour where she personally recounted her experience as a wartime soldier. While she praised traditional gender roles, she always ended her presentation with a quick change into her uniform. After returning to the stage, Deborah would perform complex and demanding military drills with her weapon. During her presentation, she explained what pushed her to fight for America.
“But most of all, my mind became agitated with the enquiry -- why a nation, separated from us by an ocean more than 3,000 miles in extent, should endeavor to enforce on us plans of subjugation, the most unnatural in themselves, unjust, inhuman, in their operations, and unpracticed even by the uncivilized savages of the wilderness? …We indeed originated from her [Britain], as from a parent, and had, perhaps, continued to this period in subjection to her mandates, had we not discovered, that this, her romantic, avaricious [greedy] and cruel disposition extended to murder, after having bound the slave!"
March 24, 1802 -- Federal Street Theatre, Boston
Deborah hoped her tour would earn money to help support the family yet she couldn’t even make enough to cover her travel expenses. On multiple occasions, she humbled herself to her friend Paul Revere, who always responded with funds to help her out. (see , , and ) He and General Paterson both intervened in 1804 to encourage Congress to place her on the veterans pension rolls, which they granted on March 11, 1805. She received four dollars a month.
As her pension started at the time it was awarded, Deborah again appealed to Congress to modify the start date back to her time of discharge. While that particular petition was denied, it was revisited in 1816 and then granted. She was awarded $76.80 annually, an amount that allowed her to pay off her loans and make much needed improvements to the family farm.
Deborah suffered from years of ill health at the end of her life and died on April 29, 1827, of yellow mountain fever. She was buried in Rock Ridge Cemetery, Sharon, Massachusetts, yet the family didn’t even have enough money for the tombstone. She finally received one around the time of the Civil War, which eventually noted her service in the American Revolution as the “The Female Soldier.”
Liberty, right now America and the world is experiencing an unprecedented time as countries everywhere have shut down their lives and economies to combat the COVID-19 virus. As the news changes daily, we are discovering that not only is this virus not anywhere close to as deadly as we were told, we may have been duped into destroying the best economy this country has ever seen in just 3 months. Even worse, anyone who espouses a view different that what the globalist World Health Organization (WHO) exposes is accused of wanting people to die, told to sit down and be quiet, and deleted from social media. I weep for America as I watch people cower in their homes, terrified of getting sick, as people like Deborah Sampson risked everything to fight for the freedoms we are so eagerly giving away right now.
I pray every day for God’s deliverance from the self-imposed impending depression headed our way as Congress insists on spending more and more money we don’t have while demanding the country stay closed down. There is hope as people are beginning to stand up against the tyrannical governors and mayors telling them they cannot open their businesses by doing it anyway. They are standing tall, often alone, doing what they have to do. They are the Deborah Sampsons of our day. I pray you still have an America to stand up for when your time comes, Liberty.
That’s my 2 cents.