Deborah Sampson

by Emma from Fredericksburg


In my eyes, a hero is someone who sacrifices their life for what they believe in, doesn’t let barriers keep them from fulfilling their goals, and learns from experiences so that they can educate others. A woman who exhibited all these characteristics went by the name Deborah Sampson when at home, but on the battlegrounds in the Revolutionary War she was known as Robert Shurtlieff. This woman was brave and believed in freedom.

She was born December 17, 1760, and at a young age Deborah displayed hard work and determination to support her single mother and her seven siblings, working as a servant. She was a hard working individual throughout her life and learned from hard times. As time went on, she found herself doing a lot of manual labor and Deborah grew to be just as strong as the men. Not only was Deborah physically strong she was also mentally strong. She read a lot and learned easily. In time, she became very well educated.

After she turned 18 she couldn’t work as a servant any longer, so she used her skills to become a weaver and teacher in a local school. However, after a few years, she aspired to do more with her life and decided to do something adventurous. So, in 1782, she enlisted as Robert Shurtlieff and became a soldier of the Light Infantry Company of the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. During the Revolutionary War, women weren’t allowed to fight or be part of the military. Because she was tall and strong like all the other men, no one could make out her true identity. She was brave and fought as the first woman in the American military.

Deborah Sampson, of the Fourth Regiment, Massachu (
Deborah Sampson, of the Fourth Regiment, Massachu (

She fought in many encounters while in the army. It wasn’t until July of 1782 that she was wounded; she was hit by a musket ball in her thigh and was cut across the forehead. She was so determined to keep her true identity a secret, she left the hospital before her leg could be treated and her secret revealed. To remove the musket ball, she used a penknife and sewed the wound herself. Her leg was never fully recovered, although she was able to keep her secret for a bit longer so that she could continue to fight for the freedom of the United States. I think this bravery and determination are the key values of a hero.

In 1783, Deborah got a fever and had to hospitalized. It was then that her doctor discovered her secret, although he didn’t reveal it until later that year when the Treaty of Paris was signed. The doctor sent her to General George Washington to disclose her identity. Even General George Washington found Deborah Sampson’s bravery phenomenal, and thus never shared her identity with others and granted her an honorable discharge. Amazingly, even though she was sent home, she continued to fight, but in a new way. The end of her military career wasn’t the end of her days of being a hero.

Later, Deborah Sampson revealed herself to be a woman, and fought a more personal battle. Because Deborah was female and shouldn’t have been in the military, she didn’t receive a military pension. So, in 1792, Deborah petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for her back pay. The military continued to deny her a pension like any of the other soldiers simply because she was a woman. It wasn’t until 1804, when her close friend, Paul Revere, wrote in her behalf to the representative of Massachusetts for her to get a military pension. She received $4 a month, a fraction the men received. Five years later, she petitioned once again. This time she was granted the full $76 per month. With that money, she was able to pay all her debts and take care of her husband and three children.

After many years of hardship, Deborah Sampson learned from her experiences and shared them with people all over the country. Not only was she the first woman in the military, she was also the first woman lecturer. In her talks, she told people about her adventures and how she became stronger through suffering.

Statue of Deborah Samson Gannett at Sharon Public (photo © Mike (mlcastle) on Flickr: use permitted with attribution)
Statue of Deborah Samson Gannett at Sharon Public (photo © Mike (mlcastle) on Flickr: use permitted with attribution)

Deborah Sampson died at age 67 in Massachusetts, in the year 1827. She was an inspiration for women all over the world, including me. Her struggles proved that being a woman doesn’t make you incapable of being a brave and glorious soldier. She is my hero because she was strong, brave, smart and determined. These heroic qualities made her want to serve her country. She also didn’t let social barriers keep her from being the first woman in the American Military. She is my hero because she wasn’t afraid to do something different, was not afraid of being judged for her choices, and made a difference in the world in which she lived.

Page created on 6/21/2011 5:46:54 PM

Last edited 1/9/2017 5:32:09 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Deborah Sampson - National Women's History Museum