On Dec. 17, 1760, Deborah Sampson was born in Plympton, Massachusetts. She was a descendant of William Bradford, a Plymouth Colony governor, yet she grew up in poverty. She worked during her teenage years as an indentured servant, and she later became a schoolteacher. However, she would become best known for her service as a soldier in the American Revolution (1775-1783).
When the American Revolution began, Sampson, like many Americans, wished to support the patriot cause. However, at that time, women were not allowed to serve in the military. Undeterred, Sampson chose to disguise herself as a man. She concealed her physique, made herself men’s clothing, and practiced behaving as a man. Finally, under the name Robert Shurtleff, she enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of the American army in May 1782.
Sampson fought in several battles and was wounded at least twice. She was shot multiple times, and once reportedly removed a bullet herself. She hid a leg wound so that doctors would not discover she was a woman. About June 1783, Sampson was hospitalized in Philadelphia because of a high fever, and her identity was discovered. General George Washington ordered that she be given an honorable discharge.
After her war experience, Sampson returned to Massachusetts, married, and had children. A book about Sampson’s army experiences, The Female Review, was published in 1797. In 1805, the United States Congress awarded her a pension because of her military service and wounds. Sampson died on April 29, 1827.