Women in the American Revolution

On March 12, 1776, the Continental Congress released a public notice thanking the women who were contributing to the revolutionary cause. The notice first appeared in a Baltimore newspaper. The notice urged others to recognize women’s contributions and announced, “The necessity of taking all imaginable care of those who may happen to be wounded in the country’s cause, urges us to address our humane ladies, to lend us their kind assistance in furnishing us with linen rags and old sheeting, for bandages.” Nursing and “camp followers” were not the only contribution that women gave to the revolutionary cause. There are many examples of women doing far more than nursing and making bandages.

Deborah Sampson

Deborah Sampson was 22 years old when she dressed in men’s clothing and enlisted in the Continental Army as Robert Shirtliff. Sampson joined the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, a light infantry regiment in Uxbridge. Light Infantry Companies were elite troops, specially picked because they were taller and stronger than average. Light infantry units were usually used for to protect a larger units flank, provide a rear guard, or were sometime sent on reconnaissance missions. Because she joined an elite unit, Sampson’s disguise was more likely to succeed, since no one was likely to look for a woman among soldiers who were specially chosen for their above average size and physical ability. At the battle of Tarrytown, New York, Sampson was injured taking two musket balls in the thigh and a laceration to the head. She was taken to a doctor who examined the head wound and bandaged it. She then snuck away, removing one of the musket balls on her own, with a pocket knife. she sewed the wound closed and returned to her unit. The other bullet remained in her leg for the rest of her life. Sampson was then reassigned as the personal attendant of General John Paterson. Paterson and his company were sent to quell a riot in Philadelphia in the summer of 1783. While in Philadelphia, Sampson became ill and was sent to Dr. Barnabas Binney. Binney removed Sampson’s clothing and discovered that she was disguised, but instead of revealing this to Sampson’s Commander, he had her taken to his house where Binney’s wife and daughters nursed Sampson back to health. When Dr. Binney asked Sampson to deliver a note to General Paterson, she correctly assumed that it would reveal her sex. In other cases, women who pretended to be men to serve in the army were reprimanded, but Paterson gave her a discharge, a note with some words of advice, and enough money to travel home. She was honorably discharged at West Point, New York , on October 25, 1783, after a year and a half of service.

Deborah Sampson: Frontispiece of The Female Review: Life of Deborah Sampson, the Female Soldier in the War of Revolution

Prudence Cummings Wright

When the men of Pepperell, Massachusetts marched off to fight for the patriot cause, the women of the town mustered their patriotic spirit and formed their own militia to protect the town. Prudence Cummings Wright was elected the leader of this militia named Mrs. David Wright’s Guard. The militia unit originally formed when Wright had overheard her brother-in-law discussing giving intelligence to the British in Boston. The all female militia unit would dress in men’s clothing and carry hunting rifles and farm tools as weapons. Wright’s Militia watched the only bridge that these British spies could cross. The Militia caught the spies and turned over the information to continental authorities.

Prudence Cummings Wright – New England Historical Society

There are many more stories out there of the women who fought and assisted the revolutionary cause. Women who did not gain the notoriety of Martha Washington, or Abigail Adams. Please check out the links below that will tell you more about the Women who are heroes of the American Revolution!

American Battlefield Trust – Women of the Revolution

Journal of the American Revolution – 10 Amazing Women of the Revolutionary War

Women and the American Story

The Role of Women in the American Revolution

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