From the Archives - A Revolutionary War "Soldier Girl"
During the Revoluitonary War, some women became famous for openly serving on the line in battles, such as Margret Corbin, who took her husband’s place at an artillery piece when he was killed at the siege of Fort Washington in 1776, becoming one of the origins of the tale of “Molly Pitcher,” while an unknown number of others managed to serve in the ranks disguised as men. For example, Deborah Samson enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts under the name Robert Shurtliff, while an Ann or Nancy Bailey served as Samuel Gay in the 1st Massachusetts. These two women eventually were found out, which commonly occurred when a woman was wounded or became ill, or when, post-war, she applied for a pension. Many women in the ranks were probably never “discovered,” being among those killed, though Sally St. Claire, described as a Southern “Creole”– which in some usages could mean a person of mixed race – was discovered after being slain at Savannah in 1779.
While it’s likely that the number of women who served in this fashion can ever be established, the figure probably runs into the hundreds. The following account from the Salem, Massachusetts, Gazette of June 13, 1782, notes a woman who didn’t make it into the ranks. At least on this occasion.
SPRINGFIED, June 4. On Friday last a certain person appearing in public house in this town, and offering to serve in the Continental army for the term of three years was inlisted by the name of Samuel Smith, and in the same day was presented to the officer of this post for mustering. After many inquiries and very minute examination, this adventurer (although fully dressed in man’s apparel) was discovered to be of the female sex; and soon after conducted to gaol. This discovery prevented the payment of 80 dollars bounty, which she was to have received. for her promised services, after having been duly mustered. Since her confinement her accounts of herself have been many and various; at one time the she asserts this is to be the first scrape the devil ever led her into; at another, that she has been a soldier and in actual service for three months, undiscovered. It is known however that her real name is Anne Smith, originally from Ashford in Connecticut, and lately from Ashfield in this State. It appears also that our heroine began this route with stealing a horse at Ashfield. that she swopped him for another at Northampton, sold the last to a tavern keeper, about five miles from this, for a dram, a dinner, and an old coat. She acted the man so perfectly well through the whole, that she might probably have passed, had not the want of a beard and the redundance of some other matters led to a detection.
--Courtesy of C. Kay Larson