Military Biography Revolutionary War Soldier Deborah Sampson Part 1

About the Revolutionary War Deborah Sampson, history and biography of the American female soldier.


DEBORAH SAMPSON (U.S., Revolutionary War)

On a warm summer day in May, 1782, 21-year-old Deborah Sampson, a trim, blue-eyed, taller-than-average female, dressed herself in a soldier's uniform and entered a Continental Army recruiting office posing as a man. She emerged as an enlisted soldier and, for the next year and a half, managed to dupe the most renowned officers of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

Deborah was a unique woman. Born on Dec. 17, 1760, in Plympton, Mass., she had to fight her way out of an unhappy, depressing environment. Her father, a sailor, had died at sea. Her mother, unable to keep the family together, farmed the children out to relatives or any family who was willing to provide for them. Like the oppressed Cinderella, Deborah became a household drudge. Living in the home of a respectable farmer in Middleborough, Mass., she was too busy minding the farm animals and cleaning house to attend school with the other children in the family. But Deborah had a tremendous yearning for self-improvement. Borrowing books from friends, she taught herself to read and write. She also began to keep a journal, recording both her good and bad deeds.

Her earliest biographer, Herman Mann, said of her in 1797, "To a considerable extent, she was a day-dreamer, and a builder of castles in the air. She had a strong desire to see the world, to visit distant regions, to behold society in new lights and under unusual aspects. . . . She resolved therefore, to put on male attire, and travel; and to this end spun and wove, with her own hands, cloth, which (she says) she employed a tailor to make up as a suit for gentleman, pretending that it was for a young man, a relative of hers, who was about leaving home for the army. She found these garments became her so well, that even her mother, whom she visited at Plympton in this costume, did not know her. . . ."

Deborah Sampson enlisted, under the name of Robert Surtlieff (her brother's first and middle names), in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, which was then commanded by Col. William Shepard. She was a courageous, bold, and fearless soldier. She went through two campaigns without having anyone discover her sex. She bound her breasts with a bandage to help achieve the proper male profile, and kept a reasonable distance from her comrades to avoid any friendly display that might reveal her true identity. Her fellow soldiers, who seemed to respect and admire her, called her "Molly," playfully referring to the absence of any beard.

Deborah was a woman who would have enjoyed the freedom of the 20th century. She often stated that she found men's clothes more convenient than those worn by women. Dressed in full military attire, she was a handsome soldier and attracted the ladies. One woman she met fell deeply in love with her and gave her, as an expression of her admiration, six shirts, a watch, and 25 Spanish dollars. Feeling that the woman deserved some explanation, Deborah wrote her that the charade couldn't continue, and signed the note, "your own sex."

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