Deborah Sampson, 1760-1827

  • Deborah-Sampson-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism and Army & Security ForcesWoman Tags: Greater Boston Women, State Heroine, and Warrior

  • HerStory

    A woman warrior of the American Revolutionary War, fought for the Patriot forces while disguised as a man.

    Sampson was born in Plympton, Massachusetts. In her youth, her father abandoned the family, and she was sent into care at family members and later to work as a servant. Even though she didn’t get any formal education, she learned to read, and at the age of 18, she worked as a teacher, as a skilled weaver and a light carpenter.
    When Sampson was 22 years old, during the American Revolutionary War, she decided to join the (male-only) army. She cut her hair, dressed in men’s clothes and called herself Timothy Thayer. This attempt failed when she was recognized by a local resident.
    Her second try was more successful, and again she cross-dressed and joined as “Robert Shirtliff” to an elite unit that was known for choosing above average tall and strong men. Due to her unusual height (approximately 5 feet 9 inches tall), nobody suspected she’s a woman.
    Sampson fought in several battles until she got wounded in her thigh by two musket balls and suffered from a cut on her forehead. Even though she didn’t want to be treated, she was taken to a hospital. Out of fear that her secret will be revealed, she left before they attend her thigh and she removed one of the bullets herself. The second one was too deep, and her leg never fully recovered.
    Her injury didn’t stop her; she continued to serve and was assigned as a General’s waiter. A year later, Sampson became ill, and the doctor who treated her discovered her true gender and identity. Instead of informing the army authorities, he took her to his home, where his wife and daughters took care of her. Sampson served in the army as a man for 17 months.
    Two years after her release, she got married. They were poor, with four children, couldn’t farm their land and the army withheld her payment because she was a woman, so she had to borrow money from family and friends, one of them was Paul Revere who requested on her behalf the pension she deserved. At the age of 42, in order to make a living, Sampson began giving lectures about her time in the army. In those lectures, she used to go off the stage, change to her uniform and perform complicated military drills.
    After 33 years of recurring attempts, the Congress approved Sampson’s petition, and she got the money owed her for serving the country. Sampson died at the age of 66 from yellow fever. Only years after her death, she was acknowledged for her bravery and heroism.

    “I am indeed willing to acknowledge what I have done, an error and presumption. I will call it an error and presumption because I swerved from the accustomed flowery paths of female delicacy”

    “I am indeed willing to acknowledge what I have done, an error and presumption. I will call it an error and presumption because I swerved from the accustomed flowery paths of female delicacy”

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Because she had no beard, her comrades gave her the nickname “Molly”.
    • Her story was written in the American history books and was portrayed to TV in different series.
    • During WW2, a Liberty Ship was named in her honor.
    • A statue of her was erected in the city of Sharon, and a park is named in her honor.


  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books about her


    * Sampson is honored with the title The Official State Heroine of Massachusetts

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Deborah Sampson Cross-Dresses to Fight the British (feat. Evan Rachel Wood) - Drunk History

    Deborah Sampson demonstrates great courage by disguising herself as a man to fight for America in the Revolutionary War.

    About Drunk History:
    Based on the popular web series, Drunk History is the liquored-up narration of our nation's history. Host Derek Waters, along with an ever-changing cast of actors and comedians, travels across the country to present the rich tales that every city in this land has to offer. Booze helps bring out the truth. It's just that sometimes the truth is a little incoherent.

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  • Photo credit - Library of Congress