In October of 1778
Deborah Samson of Plymouth Massachusetts disguised herself as a young man and
presented herself to the American army as a willing volunteer to oppose the
common enemy. She enlisted for the whole term of the war as Robert Shirtliffe
and served in the company of Captain Nathan Thayer of Medway, Massachusetts.
For three years she
served in various duties and was wounded twice - the first time by a sword cut
on the side of the head and four months later she was shot through the shoulder.
Her sexual identity went undetected until she came down with a brain fever, then
prevalent among the soldiers. The attending physician, Dr. Binney, of
Philadelphia, discovered her charade, but said nothing. Instead he had her taken
to his own home where she would receive better care. When her health was
restored the doctor met with Robert's commanding officer and subsequently an
order was issued for Robert Shirtliffe to carry a letter to General Washington.
(This may also be "legend" as there is no record of her ever being in
When the order came for
her to deliver a letter into the hands of the Commander-in-chief, she knew that
her deception was over. She presented herself at the headquarters of Washington,
trembling with dread and uncertainty. General Washington, to spare her
embarrassment, said nothing. Instead he sent her with an aide to have some
refreshments, then summoned her back. In silence Washington handed Deborah
Samson a discharge from the service, a note with some words of advice, and a sum
of money sufficient to bear her expenses home.
After the war Deborah
Samson married Benjamin Gannett of Sharon and they had three children. During
George Washington's presidency she received a letter inviting Robert Shirtliffe,
or rather Mrs. Gannett, to visit Washington. During her stay at the capital a
bill was passed granting her a pension, in addition to certain lands, which she
was to receive as an acknowledgment for her services to the country in a
military capacity as a Revolutionary Soldier, in part thanks to the efforts of
In Military Service
For America Memorial