Sunday Digest | #011
What I am watching 👀, reading 📖, and listening 🎧 to on a Sunday.
This Tuesday, we celebrate the 4th of July, the United States Independence Day from King George and Imperial Britain. So, today’s Sunday Digest will be free to everyone because I want to tell you a story.
I think it is clear that I have a mild obsession with news and current events, but my obsession stems from my love of history. The news is just history in real-time.
A Lady of the Revolution: The Unconventional Heroism of Deborah Sampson
In the heart of the Revolutionary War, a time of powdered wigs and colonial resistance, a surprising story unfolds. Meet Deborah Sampson, a woman from Massachusetts who, in 1782, dared to break every convention.
The extraordinary tale of Deborah Sampson, an unsung hero of the Revolutionary War, begins in Plympton, Massachusetts. Born on December 17, 1760, she came from a lineage traced back to some of the earliest and most notable Pilgrims. Her father, Jonathan Sampson Jr., was a direct descendant of Myles Standish and Priscilla Alden, while her mother, Deborah Bradford Sampson, was the great-granddaughter of Massachusetts Governor William Bradford.
Despite these roots, the Sampson family faced constant financial hardship. With seven mouths to feed and a father who never returned from a sea voyage, young Deborah's life quickly took a difficult turn. The financial burden was too heavy for her mother to bear alone, and so the Sampson children were scattered among different households.
At the tender age of 10, Deborah found herself bound out as an indentured servant to Deacon Benjamin Thomas, a farmer in Middleborough with a large family. While this was a challenging period in her life, it also shaped her resilient spirit.
Once her indenture ended at age 18, Deborah, who was largely self-educated, demonstrated a unique fortitude and desire to contribute to society. Over two years, she alternated her seasons, working as a school teacher during the summers of 1779 and 1780 and as a weaver in the winters. Her life had begun in hardship, but she was undeterred.
Just imagine it: A young woman, 22 years of age, taking a deep breath and making a choice that would forever etch her name in history. Deborah decides to join the fight for freedom, to stand up for the values she holds dear. And so, she does something extraordinary—she disguises herself as a man, Robert Shirtliff, and enlists in the Continental Army.
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Deborah Sampson, now known as Robert Shirtliff, found herself in West Point, New York. She was assigned to the Company of Light Infantry under the command of Captain George Webb. This wasn't a simple assignment. Sampson was entrusted with the perilous mission of scouting neutral territory. Her job was to gauge the British buildup of manpower and materiel in Manhattan, a crucial piece of intelligence that General George Washington required for his plans to attack.
In June 1782, an event unfolded that showcased Sampson's courage and leadership. Alongside two sergeants, she led a company of around 30 infantrymen into territory often fraught with danger. Their expedition concluded with a close-quarters confrontation with the Tories. Sampson didn't just survive this encounter; she led a successful raid on a Tory home that resulted in the capture of 15 men.
But the trials of war didn't end there. Sampson found herself in the thick of the siege of Yorktown. Here, she not only helped dig trenches but also joined the storming of a British redoubt, standing her ground amidst the deafening roar of cannon fire.
Throughout over two years of service, her fellow soldiers remained oblivious to her true identity. Even when she was injured – receiving a gash in her forehead from a sword and being shot in the thigh – her secret remained safe. Showing a remarkable determination, Sampson went as far as extracting the pistol ball from her own thigh to avoid detection.
However, the revelation of her true gender came unexpectedly. In Philadelphia, she fell ill during an epidemic and was taken to a hospital. In her unconscious state, her secret was discovered, bringing an end to a year and a half of courageous service under the guise of Robert Shirtliff. Despite the unmasking, Deborah Sampson had already proven her bravery and commitment, marking herself as an exceptional figure in the history of the Revolutionary War. The doctor who discovers her secret respects her privacy and, when she's recovered, helps her obtain an honorable discharge.
With an honorable discharge dated October 23, 1783, Deborah Sampson swapped her soldier's uniform for the more familiar dress of a Massachusetts citizen. Her life took a new turn on April 7, 1785, when she wed Benjamin Gannet from Sharon, Massachusetts. Together, they raised three children: Earl, Mary, and Patience. Life seemed to settle into a pattern that was typical of a farmer's wife, but Sampson's past held a different narrative.
Her extraordinary story was immortalized in 1797 when Herman Mann penned "The Female Review: or Memoirs of an American Young Lady.” It wasn't just Mann who recognized Sampson's unique contribution. The state of Massachusetts also acknowledged her service, granting her a military pension.
However, Sampson was not content to let her tale rest in the pages of a book. In 1802, she embarked on a remarkable lecture tour about her experiences, the first woman in America to do so. She often dressed in full military regalia, vividly bringing to life her daring exploits as an undercover female soldier in the Revolutionary War.
The tale of Deborah Sampson didn't end with her death at the age of 66. In a testament to their enduring bond, her husband petitioned Congress four years after her passing, seeking recognition as the spouse of a soldier. They hadn't been married during her time of service, yet the committee, deeply moved by Sampson's "female heroism, fidelity, and courage,” concluded that no other example of such bravery existed in the history of the Revolution. Benjamin was awarded the money, a heartfelt conclusion to Deborah's extraordinary tale, though he sadly passed away before he could receive it.
So, that's Deborah Sampson, a true American Revolutionary. Her story of courage and determination serves as an incredible testament to the spirit of those who fought for freedom, a spirit that defied conventions, a spirit that was willing to risk everything for the sake of liberty.
Happy July 4th!
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“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”