Among the soldiers of the Massachusetts Fourth Regiment, a young Private, Robert Shurtliff “…was always mentioned in glowing terms as being one of the toughest, strongest, and most patriotic soldiers… Shurtliff’s physical endurance was legendary” (Leonard).
In contrast, the inexperienced, eighteen-year-old Deborah Sampson rarely received compliments nor stood out among the beauties of Plympton and Middleborough, Massachusetts. These two seemingly-different personages have much more in common that one might imagine. In the late Eighteenth Century, women had few rights given to them in their male dominated societies.Women could not legally vote, own property, or serve in the military…” (Silvey 10). Despite these statutory limitations, Sampson knew what she wanted to accomplish and she would go to any extent necessary to achieve it. Deborah Sampson helped pave the way for a change in the rights of women by showing strong vitality and persistence in following her dreams, serving her country, and by exhibiting unfailing faith in herself and her abilities – so often overlooked by society. Deborah Sampson’s exposure to war and its consequences were established at a very young age which may have prompted her desire to become a soldier.
Both of Sampson’s parents were direct Mayflower descendants. Her mother, Deborah Bradford Sampson, was the grand-daughter of the well-known William Bradford. In addition to this relation, Sampson’s father Jonathan Sampson Junior directly descends from the great Captain Myles Standish. It is very likely that her relatives, on more than one occasion, discussed how war had changed their own lives in ways such as the musket ball that intruded into William Bradford’s flesh that remained incased within his body until 1657 when his life was ended (Schmidt 184). The Sampson family seemed quite ideal.But a tragedy occurred around the time Deborah was five, her father was thought to be lost at sea but later inquires presented evidence that he abandoned his family, moved to Maine and died years later in a state of poverty. Jonathan Sampson, in contrast to his daughter, never had a good work ethic.
When his money ran out, his entire family was penniless. Therefore, when he was gone, they could not support the family and the children had to be scattered throughout other homes to work in return for shelter and meals each day. Deborah moved into the Thomas’ home and was treated with much kindness.The Thomas’ had ten sons who worked on the farms and Deborah preferred to work with them outdoors rather than in the house. In doing this, she gained and toned her muscles, her shoulders grew broader, she acquired male mannerisms, and she had also – by the age of eighteen – grown to be five foot eight. Each of the ten boys later enlisted to join the local regiment and not long after, Deborah followed. No longer known as Deborah Sampson but as the Private Robert Shurtliff, the brave woman in disguise always exercised caution, careful not to compromise her secret identity.
In seventeen-eighty-two a group of fifty recruits dressed in identical blue coats and caps, marched from Worcester to West Point. Each soldier was required to carry “…a good firearm, bayonet, hatchet, cartridge box and cartridges, buck shot and leaden balls, flint and powder, jack-knife, canteen, haversack, and blanket” (SARBC). This was a very heavy and strenuous load for any soldier to carry but everyone marched onward without complaint. Among these foot soldiers was Robert Shurtliff.Along with “his” comrades, Shurtliff belonged to Captain George Webb’s Company, in Colonel William Shepard’s Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, and General John Paterson’s Brigade. Colonel Henry Jackson was placed in Colonel Shepard’s position and officially became head of this unit. (SARBC).
Even though the last major battle of the Revolutionary War was fought the previous year when Cornwallis surrendered Yorktown, there were still ruthless battles taking place in the area sporadically with Tories who would not surrender. (Leonard). In one of these battles Shurtliff went down.This soldier took a musket ball in the thigh and a wound on the forehead. Soon after “he” was sent to a hospital where a doctor bandaged the severe head wound but received specific instruction to not deal with the musket ball in the thigh. Luckily, the French doctor heeded his orders and Sampson’s identity remained intact. Sampson had no choice but to remove the ball from the wound on her own.
She was put under the care of Nurse Parker to heal. No one is quite sure when, or how Deborah was discovered but her secret was discovered and she was discharged from the army.Deborah Sampson performed all of the tasks given to her with full exertion of her abilities but this did not change her financial circumstances. She was now homeless with no money. One day Sampson borrowed ten dollars from the prosperous Paul Revere who, after hearing about her story and seeing the unstable condition of her finances, felt that she should receive pension for her time spent in the Army so he wrote a letter and put forth much effort to make this possible. Finally, on January 19, 1792, (Leonard) the legislature granted Deborah Sampson thirty-four pounds with interest.John Hancock, the governor, signed this document making it official.
Deborah Sampson is the perfect example of following your dreams. She set an example for women everywhere to set high goals, work hard, and never give up; resulting in success. Deborah excelled in everything she did as she made a living and defended her country. She did not join the Army to fight in the Revolutionary War just on a whim; she was protecting her family and her beliefs by fighting for what she believes.Works Cited “Deborah Sampson. A time line of STAUGHTON. Web.
6 Oct. 2010 Leonard, Patrick J. “Deborah Samson. ” Canton Massachusetts Historical Society. N. pag. 16 Oct.
2006. Web. 5 Oct. 2010. McGovern, Ann. The Secret Soldier. New York: Four Winds Press, 1975.
Print. SARBC. Sharon, Massachusetts – A History. Norton, MA: Blue Mustang Press, 2005. eBook. Schmidt, Gary. William Bradford: Plymouth’s Faithful Pilgrim.
Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999. Print. Silvey, Anita. I’ll Pass for Your Comrade. New York: Clarion Books, 2008.
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