Women Soldiers in the American Revolution
By Marjy Wienkop, 1st NJ Regiment
It would be absurd to think that during a time like the American Revolution when emotions ran so high, families were being torn apart, and one's home, property, and lifestyle were at stake that there weren't a handful of women who wanted to take up arms and pitch in. The military looked aside when young boys joined up. In many places boys as young as twelve were seen in the ranks. It was, therefore, not uncommon to see a soldier with no facial hair and one having a high voice. Since there were no real physical examinations for recruits, other than a cursory visual examination, some women who were not overly feminine in appearance, especially rural women whose hands and face showed a life of physical outdoor labor, were able to sneak into the ranks. The mores of the time dictated that a person's body be pretty much covered all the time and full bathing was very infrequent, so it is possible to believe no one might catch on to the deception. There is evidence, as in the case of Deborah Samson, that some women were known to be such by their messmates, but because of their fighting ability and toughness were accepted as equals.
The following is an ongoing project and by no means complete. The accounts of women soldiers have come together very slowly. Some are fairly detailed and some exist only as a single sentence or phrase, almost as an afterthought. Most accounts have come from the few pension applications that exist or through discharges when a woman was discovered. There are a few eyewitness accounts that have come second- hand through diaries or interviews. There are virtually no personal diaries. The literacy rate among common folk was low during the 18th century as compared with the Civil War period where thousands of diaries exist. Women soldiers who served, survived the war, were never discovered, and didn't seek government pensions are untraceable.
There are several accounts of women soldiers in Continental Regiments. The most popular account is that of Deborah Samson (the correct spelling does not include a "p" in the last name). Nailing down what appears to be truth and what seems to be erroneous is difficult, as there are many slight variations to the story. Deborah Samson was enlisted by Capt. Ephalet Thorp on May 20, 1782 as Robert Shurtliff in Capt. George Webb's Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of Foot. From descriptions of her uniform, she was apparently part of a light infantry unit. She participated in fights against Tories from West Point to Tappan Zee in New York State. Near Tarrytown, her unit ran into a skirmish where Samson received a saber wound to the left side of the head. At East Chester, Deborah's unit was ambushed by Tories and she received two musketballs in the thigh. She went off alone and removed one by herself, leaving the other in. Samson also participated in some fighting with Indians near the Adirondacks.
Deborah left New York with Major General John Patterson for
Philadelphia to serve as his clerk. There she picked up a fever. Dr.Barnabas
Binney, upon treating Samson, discovered her identity and told General Patterson.
Patterson told General Washington who had General Knox make out discharge papers.
Deborah was honorably discharged in October 1783 and received back pay of
L 34 in 1792; in 1805 received invalid pay, aided by Paul Revere, of
$4 a month. It was doubled in 1818 to $8. She died in 1827 at age 66.
Another soldier was Anna Marie Lane. Her birth and death dates are unknown. Virginia State records indicate the governor entered a petition on her behalf as "she is very infirm having been disabled by a severe wound which she received fighting as a common soldier in one of our Revolutionary Battles", namely the Battle of Germantown. The state at the same time pensioned a John Lane, possibly her husband or brother.
Elizabeth Gilmore of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania drew pay as a private in the Continental Army (Pennsylvania Archives, Phila., 1874-1914, 5th Series, IV,680.) She is also listed among "Rangers on the Frontier" (Ibid, 3rd Series). According to the DAR memorial plaque on her grave, she married a fellow soldier in 1780 and both continued to serve in the same company until the end of the war.
Ann (or Nancy) Bailey enlisted as Samuel Gay on February 14,
1777 in Capt. Abraham Hunt's Company of the 1st Massachusetts Regiment.
She quickly rose to the rank of corporal. One account says sergeant, but several
accounts say corporal. Either way, Bailey seems, at this point, to be the woman who
achieved the highest rank. In less than three weeks, she deserted for reasons
unknown. Capt. Hunt swore out a warrant for her arrest. He discovered she was
female on March 3, 1777. The court fined her
L 50 and she was given
two years in prison for "appearing in mens cloths". There was a second trial at
which she was fined L 16 to the state. After this she disappears from
Another woman in uniform was discovered and discharged, having enlisted in the 1st New Jersey Regiment in 1777. She was driven "threw the town with the whores march beating" after a very short time in the ranks.
Margaret Corbin used her own name and appears to have been accepted by her fellow soldiers. She served with her husband in the artillery in the Battle of Ft. Washington where they were both wounded, Margaret losing part of her arm and a breast from grapeshot. She was captured and treated as a prisoner of war. After her release, she was assigned to garrison duty in the Invalid Corps at West Point, NY. She must have been in men's clothing because she would not have been in the Invalid Corps and on garrison duty in a skirt. Her treatment as a prisoner of war and assignment to garrison duty is only congruent with that of a soldier, not a campfollower. A pension granted in 1780 specifically stated she be given "one compleat suit of cloaths out of the public stores". The Quartermaster General only had clothing for men. She died around 1800 near Highland Falls, NY. Her grave was located by the DAR in 1926 and the body was reinterred at West Point. Corbin having served with the artillery, is often confused with Mary Ludwig Hayes McCauley of Battle of Monmouth fame, as Molly Pitcher. Hayes was, however, observed by several people wearing a skirt.
Sally St. Clair was a Creole girl who disguised herself as a soldier in a South Carolina Regiment and followed her lover into battle fighting beside him. One account says it was the famous Sgt. Jasper of Marion's Brigade, but I doubt this. She was killed in the Battle of Savannah reportedly protecting him. Sally was not discovered to be female until her death.
There exists a vague reference of "two females" recruited for the 2nd South Carolina Regiment. They were never named and left no further record, so it is unknown for sure what their roles were.
A woman was also observed who "stepped into her husband's place in an infantry formation" at the Battle of Monmouth.
Women soldiers existed on the frontier, also. Ann (Mad Ann) Bailey, born Ann Hennis in 1742 in Liverpool, England, migrated to America in 1761, settling in the Shenandoah Valley. She married Richard Trotter, a veteran of the French and Indian War and a prominent member of the Augusta militia. They lived near the present day Covington, Virginia. Trotter was killed in the battle at Pt. Pleasant on the Ohio River in 1774 while with Col. Andrew Lewis' militia fighting Indians. Ann vowed revenge. She dressed in male buckskin attire and rode a black stallion named Liverpool. Reportedly, she was an excellent shot and absolutely fearless. Ann became an Army courier and scout, receiving regular army pay and rations. Her belligerent mannerisms and hatred of Indians terrified them, so they named her "Mad Ann".
In 1785 she married John Bailey in Greenbrier County and after his death moved back to Pt. Pleasant where her son William had settled. At age seventy, she built her own log cabin and lived there until her death on November 22, 1825 at age eighty-three.
A great majority of the soldiers of the Revolution were short-term militia enlistments who signed up for one to three years. As these recruits were so desperately needed and were under even less scrutiny than the Continental regulars, it is even more likely that women entered these ranks.
Capt. Reuben Randolph's 5th Company of the Monmouth County (NJ) militia has listed in its roster a Jenny (also spelled "Jeany" in some records) Sutton. A 1776 payroll in the NJ State Archives shows that Jeany Sutton served 35 days at Perth Amboy. It is unknown for sure whether "Jenny" or "Jeany" was female or if this is some form of nickname of the French "Jean". There were some families of French Hugenot descent in this part of Monmouth County, now southern Ocean County, but Sutton is not a French surname. Curiously, in researching some of the French families found in the area, I found that after the French and Indian War, the descendants all had English or Biblical given names. None were of French origin.
There exists a very unusual document discovered by the Daughters of the American Revolution. It is a list reading a "Classed Returne of Capt. James Green's Company for filling up the New Jersey Regiments as Well as for Raising the men to be stationed on the Frontears of the County, as Follows Viz: ...". It is dated 29 June 1780. The list of names includes 95 men and 19 women. The names of the women are not segregated into a particular class or division, but are interspersed within the names of the men. There are some women's surnames that match those of the men indicating some relation, but in other cases there are single women, and even a widow, with no other family members on the list. The women with surnames the same as a man's on the roster are not necessarily listed near him. There appears to be no separation between the males and females in Capt. Green's roster. It is a distinct possibility that these women were fighting members of equal stature to the men.
So far there has been no extensive or systematic search made on women soldiers of the Revolutionary War, but as they are found and as I and others make the search, names will be added to the list of women who chose to fight for their liberty.
Bibliography of sources not listed within the text
"Ann Bailey: Mystery Woman Warrior of 1777", Patrick J. Leonard. MINERVA: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military. Vol.XI, Nos.3&4, Fall/Winter 1993, pp. 1-4.
America's First Woman Warrior: the Courage of Deborah Sampson. Lucy Freeman and Alma Bond., Paragon House, NY. 1992.
Battle Cries and Lullabies. Linda Grant DePauw. University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
The Female Review: The Life of Deborah Sampson. John A. Vinton., Boston. 1866.
Founding Mothers. Linda Grant DePauw., Haughton-Mifflin, Boston, 1975.
GSA, National Archives and Records Service, Vol.3, p. 161, card #37174622 (in ref. to Ann or Nancy Bailey)
A History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Edwin Salter. E. Gardner and Son, Pub., Bayonne, NJ. 1890.
Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolution, Vol.6, p. 340.
"Militia Women of 1780, Monmouth County, New Jersey", Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine. Vol. 113, No.4, April 1979, pp. 309-312.
NJ State Archives, Revolutionary War MSS Series, MS # 1128 (ref. for Jeany Sutton)
Private Yankee Doodle. J. P. Martin. Little,Brown, and Company. Reprinted by permission by Eastern Acorn Press, 1991.
The Uncommon Soldier of the Revolution. National Historical Society., Eastern Acorn Press 1986.
Woman Warriors. David E. Jones, Brassey's, Washington, 1997.
"Women in Combat", Armed Forces and Society, Linda Grant DePauw. Vol.7, No. 2, Winter 1981, pp. 209-226.
Copyright © 2000 Marjy Wienkop. All rights reserved.