Femlae Badasses in History: Deborah Sampson (1760-1827)

by spaceinvaderjoe

Deborah Sampson certainly was one outstanding example of female badassery in American history. Serving at the frontlines of the American Revolutionary War, she is an example that, even in its earliest days, women had served the United States in combat roles. By publicly campaigning for her role as a soldier to be recognized and succeeding, she not only, as Lucy Freeman and Alma Pond put it, bridged gender differences but also asserted the sense of entitlement felt by all veterans.


Deborah Sampson was born in 1760 in Plymouth, Massachusetts to a family of colonial stock. Because of their poverty, Deborah was forced to become an indenture servant, spending her youth in seven different households. After being released from servitude at age 18, Deborah chose a career as a schoolteacher and rejected the notion of getting married.

Being a staunch patriot of the very young United States, Deborah decided to enlist in the Continental Army in 1778. Since women could not become soldiers, she disguised herself as a man and going by the name of Robert Shurtleff Sampson, enlisted at her local recruiting office.

She was assigned to the 4th Massachusetts Regiment consisting of 50 to 60 men with only her distinct cousin, a reverend, knowing her secret. As part of the regiment, Deborah fought distinctly in several skirmishes until she was wounded during her first battle in 1782. She was shot two times in the leg and after unsuccessfully pleading to her fellow soldiers to let her die, she snuck out of the hospital they brought her two and removed one of the two musket balls in her leg herself with a penknife and a sewing needle.

For the rest of the war she was assigned as a waiter to General John Patterson due to the injuries she sustained.

In 1783 she came down with a fewer and a doctor discovered her secret. The doctor decided not to betray her outright but seems to have informed General John Patterson. In the same year after the treaty of Paris brought Peace she received an honorable discharge from the army at West Point, although not receiving her fully pay.


In 1792 Deborah petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for the pay the army had withheld from her because she was a woman. Her petition was approved by the Senate and signed by then Governor John Hancock, citing her extraordinary display of female bravery.

Ten years later, Deborah Sampson, by then married with four children and considerable financial trouble, started petitioning again in order to receive her military pension. For this purpose she enlisted her friend Paul Revere from whom she also occasionally borrowed money. She was successful in her petitioning to Congress but it took until 1816 until she received her full military pension for invalid soldiers of a total of 76.80 Dollars per year.

She died in 1827 at age 66 due to yellow fever.


Deborah Sampson stands until this day as an early example of women serving in combat roles, which sheds the debate concerning this issue today in a quite ridiculous light. Also, by her petitioning, she asserted the claim to wellfare for veterans everywhere and of every race and gender. Several books have been written about her and a monument to her memory can be found in Sharon, Massachusetts. Despite this, American politicians concerned with the issue of women serving in combat roles would do good to remember her outstanding example of bravery.