Skip to content

Meet Deborah Sampson

Deborah Sampson enlisted on May 20, 1782, in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army for three years using the name “Robert Shurtleff”. In appearance, she was five feet seven inches in height, taller than most women, with an erect carriage and strong features.

Deborah, the daughter of Jonathan and Deborah (Bradford) Sampson, was born in Plympton, Massachusetts, on December 17, 1760. She was a descendant of Abraham Sampson who came from England about 1629, and settled in Duxbury. Isaac Sampson, son of Abraham, was one of the earliest settlers of Plympton, and married Lydia, daughter of Alexander Standish, and grand-daughter of Miles Standish. Jonathan Sampson, son of Isaac, married Joanna Lucas in 1721, and had a son, who married Deborah Bradford, the great grand-daughter of Governor Bradford. The last Jonathan of Plympton was the father of Deborah. Her great-great-grandfather, Alexander Standish, married Sarah, daughter of John Alden. She has a distinguished bloodline of Bradford, Standish, Alden, Lucas and Sampson mingled in her veins. When 10 years old, Deborah was bound out in the home of Deacon Jeremiah Thomas. By the time she was eighteen, her indenture ended; she had learned enough to teach school in Middleboro for two six-month summer terms between 1779 and 1780.

She enlisted on May 20, 1782, in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army for three years using the name “Robert Shurtleff.” In appearance, she was five feet seven inches in height, taller than most women, with an erect carriage and strong features. When wounded at Tarrytown, New York, Deborah treated herself and did not seek medical attention. Her sex was discovered by Doctor Barnabus Binney in Philadelphia where she was hospitalized with a fever. He did not reveal her secret, but quietly made arrangements ending her military service. Private Robert Shurtleff was honorably discharged from the army by General Henry Knox at West Point on October 23, 1783.

While living in Stoughton with her uncle and aunt following her discharge, Deborah met Benjamin Gannett, a farmer. They married early in 1785. Three children were born to them in five years: Earl Bradford, Patience, and Mary (Polly).

As a pioneer in the field, she toured New England and New York in 1802, delivering a series of lectures.

Massachusetts, acting on Deborah’s petition in 1792 for pay never received for her military service, passed a resolve. This resolve, approved by John Hancock, reads in part “that the said Deborah Sampson exhibited an extraordinary instance of feminine heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful, gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her sex unsuspected and unblemished and was discharged from the service with a fair and honorable character.”

The report from the Congressional Committee on Revolutionary Pensions reads, in part: “The Committee believe . . . they are warranted in saying that the whole history of the American Revolution records no case like this, and furnishes no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity and courage . . . and there cannot be a parallel case in all time to come.”

Deborah Sampson Gannett died on April 29, 1827.

Deborah Sampson
Grave of Deborah Sampson Gannet located in the Rock Ridge Cemetery Sharon, Massachusetts
Grave of Deborah Sampson Gannet located in the Rock Ridge Cemetery Sharon, Massachusetts
Birthplace of Deborah Sampson, Elm Street, Plympton, Massachusetts
Birthplace of Deborah Sampson, Elm Street, Plympton, Massachusetts
Documents signed by Deborah Sampson Gannett regarding her service
Documents signed by Deborah Sampson Gannett regarding her service

When you join the DAR, you enter a network of more than 185,000 women who form lifelong bonds, honor their revolutionary ancestors and promote historic preservation, education, and patriotism in their communities.

Site maintained by our webmaster.
This site was updated on April 25, 2021

The content contained herein does not necessarily represent the position of the NSDAR.  Hyperlinks to other sites are not the responsibility of NSDAR, the state organizations, or individual DAR chapters.