Deborah Sampson: First Woman in the U.S. Military


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When I was younger I joined the U.S. Army and became a soldier. During the time that I enlisted, there were not a lot of female soldiers in the service. I recently decided to do some research to see who the first American female soldier was. I found out that the first woman to enlist for military service was a woman named Deborah Sampson (Born October 13, 1754/Died July 22, 1832) and she was from Massachusetts. She became a Continental Soldier by pretending to be a man. Legend has it that she used the names Robert Shurtlief and Timothy Thayer. For three years she fought in the Revolutionary War and was injured on several occasions. So fearful that her injury and medical treatment would reveal that she was a woman, she actually once removed a musket ball herself from her own body. She cut it out of her own thigh, but eventually her secret was revealed and it was George Washington that gave her an honorable discharge. After being discharged, she traveled nationwide as a lecturer and shared her stories of being a soldier. She also became an advocate for women’s rights.

Right around the time that the Revolutionary War began, Deborah decided that she was going to enlist and become a soldier. She was in her early twenties at the time. For a few years she was a school teacher and later a nanny, but she always dreamed of being a soldier. Borrowing some men’s clothing from a family that she’d worked for, she disguised herself as a man and in 1782, she enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army at Bellingham.

She was stationed at West Point for some time and fought several battles. When she became ill with something called “malignant fever,” an illness which many soldiers were afflicted with, she was taken to a hospital in Philadelphia and that is when it was discovered that she was actually a woman. The physician who treated her did so in his own home to keep her secret until she was healed. After treatment, he turned her in and she was given an honorable discharge.  She later settled down, got married and had three children.

On January of 1792, the Massachusetts General Court ordered that Deborah be paid for her active duty as a soldier in the U.S. Army. It was declared that she had served and she was paid.  Paul Revere sent a letter to Congress compelling them to pay her and to also give her a pension.

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About Ms. Hamilton

Ms. Hamilton is a longtime New Jersey resident and a veteran of the U.S. Army. She attended Katharine Gibbs College in Montclair, New Jersey, where she completed the Paralegal Studies Certification Program and is also a State of New Jersey Notary Public. She has worked in the legal field for many years, mostly in the area of quasi-criminal law. She completed her B.S. in Information Technology at Capella University in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is currently completing her M.A. in Public Policy at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. Her areas of interest are social policy and criminal rights.
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One Response to Deborah Sampson: First Woman in the U.S. Military

  1. digenion says:

    I remember hearing about this female soldier at the conference in Bloomsburg, PA I attended. Have you researched other female soliders in history? I know a lot of women joined their husbands in the camps during wartime. And some of them, like Sampson, took a weapon and joined them in battle. Do you believe she was given honorable discharge because the war was almost over or over completely?

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