What Every Woman Should Know is a series on American Women’s History. This post has been cross-posted to The New Agenda.
Today we celebrated our nation’s 233rd birthday. Like many countries, our collective past serves to bind us together through thick and thin, and some of the stories are as familiar to us as that Grimm fairy tales or Mother Goose. Some other stories, however, are not so familiar to us. We all know of George Washington’s victories, Thomas Jefferson’s gorgeous articulation of our common values, and John Adam’s prudence in defiance and in governance. The list of names we know from our founding is long—consider Patrick Henry, Ben Franklin, James Madison, Paul Revere, Benedict Arnold, and a host of others—and they are largely male, with the exception of Betsy Ross and Martha Washington, or the occasional mention of Abigail Adams.
Women played a role in our founding, but that history is seldom told to our children. As with early colonial women, we are left to educate our children in the whole history of our nation. That includes the tales of many brave women who actually fought in the American Revolution, or who served in a military capacity. You won’t often hear it in history class, but our nation has had female veterans from the very beginning. Here then, in celebration of our founding, is a sampler of women who served in the America Revolution.
Deborah Sampson was 21 years old when she enlisted in the Continental Army—as a man. At 5’7” tall, few suspected that the soft-faced boy was actually a woman. She served from 1782 to 1783, a year and a half during which she saw battle and was wounded. She actually hid in the woods and tried to heal herself in order to escape being discovered. She was eventually discovered a year later by a Philadelphia physician who treated her for ailments related to her wounds. At that time, she had been assigned as a waiter to General John Patterson. The doctor eventually did tell the General about Deborah Sampson, on the day the soldiers were ordered home after the war had ended. According to legend, General Patterson never said a word, and honorably discharged Sampson that day. She later went on speaking tours where she told crowds about her experience, and was eventually awarded a soldier’s pension. He husband, Benjamin Gannett, was the only man to receive a widower’s pension as a result of his wife’s service during the American Revolution.