During the time when women were not allowed to serve in uniform in the Continental Army, one woman has the distinction of successfully serving in Washington’s army while disguised as a man. She was among the first women with a documented record of military combat experience. Safe to say, she is the Mulan of the American Revolutionary War.

Off To A Rough Start

Deborah Sampson Gannet was born in Plympton, Massachusetts, on December 17, 1760. She was one of the seven children of Deborah Bradford, a great-granddaughter of Massachusetts Governor William Bradford, and Jonathan Sampson, whose ancestry was among the Mayflower passengers. Despite this pedigree that placed her among America’s First Families, the Gannets were impoverished, so when her dad did not return one day after a sea voyage, her mother struggled to feed her seven children. Later on, they would find out that her father did not die but instead had a newfound love and migrated to Lincoln County, Maine.

Her mother decided to send all her children to live with her relatives and friends, which was common in New England back then. As for Deborah, she was sent to a relative, but when her mother later died, she was sent to be a companion to Reverend Peter Thatcher’s widow named Mary Prince Thatcher. The old lady in her eighties asked Deborah to read the bible for her, she learned how to read.

Deborah was sent to Middleborough with the Jeremiah Thomas family when Mary died. There, she worked as an indentured servant until she turned 18. She was not maltreated or anything, but she was not sent to school like the Thomas kids because they treated women’s education as unnecessary. Education was not free in those days and families tended to spend that money on their sons first. This did not prevent Deborah from learning what she could from Thomas’s sons, who shared their school works with her. And it paid off.