Rob Wilson

Deborah Sampson -
The USA’s first female soldier

Deborah Sampson Gannett, better known as Deborah Sampson, achieved fame by disguising herself as a man in order to serve in Washington’s Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Although she is not the only woman with a documented record of military combat experience in that war, she is probably the most famous. 

She came from Massachusetts and joined the 4th Massachusetts Regiment to fight against the British. She was the only woman to earn a full military pension, although this was only granted posthumously following the Committee of Congress’s recognition that the history of the Revolution “furnished no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity and courage.” 

Hermann Mann wrote a romanticized biography of her role as a soldier during the Revolutionary War in The Female Review or memoirs of an American Young Lady..

According to Mann, in 1782, as the Revolutionary War raged on, Sampson determined to join the fight by disguising herself as a man. She cut her hair, bound her breast, and enlisted under the name of Robert Shurtleff. She was assigned to the Company of Light Infantry serving under Captain George Webb. 

She took part in a number of dangerous missions, including scouting to assess British strength in the Manhattan area, which Washington was proposing to attack. She was involved in raids on Tories that supported the British cause, as well as taking part in the siege of Yorktown. 

Despite a number of close calls, including at least two occasions when she was wounded, she managed to disguise her true sex. It was not until she became ill during an epidemic, and was taken to a hospital and lost consciousness, that the truth was revealed. Apparently, Washington was not amused by the deception, but despite this she received an honorable discharge. 

She later married Benjamin Gannet. Although her life after the army was typical of a farmer’s wife, including raising 3 children, she also did some lecture tours to publicize her experiences. It was only after her death that her husband petitioned Congress for “pay as the spouse of a soldier”. He was eventually awarded the money, though he too died before receiving it. 

The Gannets prospered and became well established in the media and publishing world, responsible for titles such as USA Today. 

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Portrait of Deborah Sampson from the Frontispiece and title page from Mann’s biography: Nathaniel and Benjamin Heaton, 1797

Deborah Sampson as portrayed by Rose, in the uniform of the 4th Massachusetts Light Infantry. This is a studio painted model

The First Presbyterians in Springs traveled by horse and buggy (or farm wagon) to the church in the village. By 1880, some of the residents of Springs, began to hold worship services and conduct a Sunday School in their homes or in the one room schoolhouse that stood where Ashawagh Hall stands today. On July 17, 1882 the Presbytery of Long Island approved the establishment of the Springs Chapel under the guidance of the First Presbyterian Church, and the minister from that church would be expected to lead both congregations.

On August 24, 1882, the new chapel was dedicated. The land had been donated by members of the Miller family, whose descendants still live in a house across the street from the church. The Chapel was built in 1882 by contractor George A. Eldridge of East Hampton at a cost just under $1000, including the steeple. Capt. Sineus Edwards provided the bell that still hangs in the church steeple. He purchased the bell in Albany and sailed it down the Hudson River and Long Island Sound to his landing in Accabonac Harbor, in sight of the Chapel.


The education and parish building was added in 1955, and the Springs Chapel was chartered as an independent, fully self-governing Presbyterian Church in 1971.

 

Be sure to attend the 140 Years Celebration at Springs Community Presbyterian Church on August 14th.

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