Deborah Sampson, who fought in the American Revolution disguised as the soldier Robert Shurtlieff, was born on December 17, 1760 in Plymton, Massachusetts, near Plymouth. Although descended from distinguished Pilgrim stock, the Sampson family was poor. When Deborah’s father failed to return from a sea voyage, her mother, unable to provide for her seven children, placed them in various households.
After spending five years in two other homes, Deborah, at age 10, was bound out to Deacon Benjamin Thomas, a farmer in Middleborough, who had a large family. At age 18, when her time as an indentured servant was over, the self-educated Deborah made a living by teaching school during the summer sessions in 1779 and 1780 and by weaving in the winter.
Slowly the idea of joining the army dressed as a man took hold. After venturing out undetected in her disguise, she resolved to enlist, which she did in the spring of 1781. In May she arrived at the fortifications at West Point, New York, on the west bank of the Hudson River, where she was detached to Captain George Webb’s Company of Light Infantry and issued a uniform and accoutrements.
It was soon after that she was assigned to a scouting party given the dangerous task of marching through the Neutral Ground of what is today Westchester County to assess the British buildup of men and materiel in Manhattan, which General Washington was contemplating attacking. On the return trip, she had her first taste of battle when her group was attacked by British sympathizers and troops.
Deborah Sampson died in Apr 29, 1827