because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Deborah Sampson

When Deborah Sampson's father ran off and left his wife and six children destitute in Middleborough, Massachusetts, in 1768, Deborah was only eight years old, but she was farmed out as an indentured servant to one family after another until she turned eighteen and became a teacher. Deborah, however, was an in-your-face woman, bored with the routines of her life serving others and being appropriately circumspect. How do we know? Because she tried to join the revolutionary forces to fight the British, that's how.

For whatever reason, though, the first time she signed up (in 1778), she got the impression that the recruiters smelled a rat, so she didn't come back as expected. But that didn't stop her from trying again four years later and this time, she cut her hair, bound her breasts, put on men's clothes and was successful. Keep in mind that when she did this, it was illegal and when the Baptist Church where she was a member caught wind of it, they excommunicated her.

Fighting under the name Robert Shurtliff Sampson -- her dead brother's name -- she was fine until she took two musket balls in the thigh. Then, rather than have the doctor figure out her secret, she dug out the ball that was less deep with a pen knife and a needle and gave up on the other one because it was too deep, so it never did heal properly.  Still, she could at least return to her duties as a soldier.

She was finally discovered and discharged when she caught a fever, but despite her eighteen months of loyal service to the Republic, even with the support of her long-term friend Paul Revere, Sampson had to fight Congress like the in-your-face woman she was from 1792 to 1816 before she was given the pension she should have gotten all along. And folks think equal pay for equal work was an idea that developed in the 1960's. Not hardly.
NOTE: The statue pictured above is of Deborah Sampson and stands in front of the public library in Sharon, Massachusetts, which also boasts a Deborah Sampson Street, a Deborah Sampson Field, and the Deborah Sampson House.

No comments:

Post a Comment