Deborah Samson

war heroine
Born: 1760
Birthplace: Plympton, Massachusetts

The oldest of at least seven children, Samson learned responsibility at an early age. Her father abandoned the family when she was five. A few years later Samson became an indentured servant, taking care of several boys. As the Revolutionary War got underway, she was infuriated by British action and questioned why she was not allowed to fight for her country. She worked as a school teacher in Middleboro, Massachusetts, for most of the war. But, in 1782 Samson dressed as a man and enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment as “Robert Shurtliff.” Although General Cornwallis had already surrendered at Yorktown, there was still fighting in New York. Shurtliff soon earned a reputation as an outstanding soldier. At Tarrytown, New York, Shurtliff was wounded in the head and thigh. Later, while being treated for the head wound, she concealed the musket ball in her leg for fear of being discovered. She unsuccessfully tried to remove the ball herself, and her leg never healed properly. Later, Shurtliff contracted fever and fell unconscious. The examining doctor did learn her secret, but did not tell anyone for some time. However, in 1783, the doctor did tell a general at Fort Knox and she was honorably discharged. After the war, she married Benjamin Gannett. The couple had three children and was often in dire straits financially. Samson's friend, Paul Revere, persuaded the Massachusetts government to give her back pay and interest, a total of 37 pounds. This was inadequate, and Samson went on the lecture circuit, discussing her wartime experiences. Later, she received a pension of $4 a month. She died at the age of 67, and is the official heroine of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Died: 1827