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The Surprising Story of Deborah Sampson Gannett, a Soldier in the Revolutionary War

Focusing on Details: Spotlight

All documents and text associated with this activity are printed below, followed by a worksheet for student responses.

Introduction

Deborah Sampson Gannett was one of a handful of women who fought in the Revolutionary War disguised as men. She was a descendent of Pilgrims Miles Standish (on her father’s side) and William Bradford (on her mother’s). In 1781 she enlisted to serve in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment under the name Robert Shurtleff. She received multiple sword and bullet wounds and received an honorable discharge in 1783.

Look closely at the highlighted sections of the document below to answer the questions that follow. Click on View Entire Document to read the transcription.


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Worksheet

The Surprising Story of Deborah Sampson Gannett, a Soldier in the Revolutionary War

Focusing on Details: Spotlight

Examine the documents included in this activity and write your response in the space provided.



Your Response




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Activity Element

Testimony of Deborah Sampson Gannett

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Conclusion

The Surprising Story of Deborah Sampson Gannett, a Soldier in the Revolutionary War

Focusing on Details: Spotlight

Answer the following:
  • What do we learn about Deborah Gannett's service in the Revolutionary War?
  • Gannett previously received a pension from the State of Massachusetts. Why is she testifying now, 35 years after her discharge? (Hint: you should be able to identify a minimum of two reasons.)


Your Response




Document

Testimony of Deborah Sampson Gannett

9/14/1818

Deborah Sampson Gannett was one of a handful of women who fought in the Revolutionary War disguised as men. She was a descendent of Pilgrims Miles Standish (on her father’s side) and William Bradford (on her mother’s). In 1781 she enlisted to serve in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment under the name Robert Shurtleff. She received multiple sword and bullet wounds and received an honorable discharge in 1783.

In 1792 the General Court of Massachusetts awarded her a pension citing her “extrodinary [sic] instance of female heroism and by discharging the duties of a faithful and gallant soldier.” In 1805 she petitioned the State of Massachusetts for an “invalid” pension. Her petition was supported by Paul Revere who, in his letter to U.S. Representative William Eustis (Massachusetts), said Gannett's “ill health is in consequence of her being exposed when she did a soldiers [sic] duty...I think her case much more deserving than hundreds to whom Congress have been generous.”

This document is Gannett’s sworn testimony that she "served as a private soldier...in the war of the revolution" and states that "she is in such reduced circumstances, as to require the aid of her country" for additional compensation. Her testimony is part of her application for a larger, Federal pension from the U.S. Government. It references that her service record was lost (during the burning of Washington by the British in 1814), and provides a thorough accounting of her service in the Revolutionary War. Gannett was one of only two women to receive a Federal pension, the other being Margaret Corbin.

Transcript

Deborah Gannett, of Sharon, in the county of Norfolk, and District of Massachusetts, a resident and nation of the United States, and applicant for a pension from the United States, under an Act of Congress entitled an Act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States, in the revolutionary war, maketh oath, that she served as a private soldier, under the name of Robert Shurtleff, in the war of the revolution, upwards of two years in manner following [illegible]. Enlisted in April 1781 in the company commanded by Captain George Webb in the Massachusetts regiment commanded then by Colonel Shepherd, and afterwards by Colonel Henry Jackson - and served in said corps, in Massachusetts, and New York - until November 1783 - when she was honorably discharged in writing, which discharge is lost. During the time of her service, she was at the capture of Lord Cornwallis, was wounded at Tarrytown - and now receives a pension from the United States, which pension she duly relinquishes. She is in such reduced circumstances, as to require the aid of her country for her support---

Deborah Gannett

Mass. District September 14, 1818
“Sworn to before me
[illegible] Davis
Dis judge
Mass. District
This primary source comes from the Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
National Archives Identifier: 54636851
Full Citation: Testimony of Deborah Sampson Gannett; 9/14/1818; Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application File S 32722, Deborah Gannett, Mass.; Case Files of Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service, ca. 1800 - ca. 1912; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, ; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. [Online Version, https://docsteach.org/documents/document/testimony-deborah-sampson-gannett, June 27, 2022]


Testimony of Deborah Sampson Gannett

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