Meryl Streep is among the celebrities in Philadelphia this week to support nominee Hillary Clinton. But first, she saluted Deborah Sampson, a women who fought during the Revolutionary War disguised as a male soldier.
“What does it take to be the first female anything? It takes grit and it takes grace,” Streep said. “Deborah Samson was the first woman to take a bullet for our country. She served, disguised as a man, in George Washington’s Continental Army. She fought to defend a document that didn’t fully defend her. ‘All men are created equal,’ it read. No mention of women.
“When she took a blast in battle to her leg, she was afraid to reveal her secret. So she took a pen knife, she dug out the musket ball, and she sewed herself back up again.”
According to the National Women’s History Museum, Sampson was born in 1760 near Plymouth, Mass. She and her siblings were farmed out to other households after their father died at sea and her mother could not afford to raise seven kids.
As a girl Sampson worked for the family she was sent to live with, then worked as a teacher and weaver. In 1781, disguised as one Robert Shurtlieff, she arrived at West Point and joined Capt. George Webb’s Company of Light Infantry.
She kept her gender secret for two years, until a military doctor discovered the truth.
Sampson was honorably discharged in 1783. Two years later she married Benjamin Gannet and they had three children. Sampson returned to a more conventional vocation for the time period, as a mother and homemaker, but she was the first woman in the country to go on a lecture tour. After she died in 1827, Benjamin was awarded pay as the spouse of a soldier after a committee saluted his wife’s “female heroism, fidelity and courage.”
Streep linked Sampson’s singular place in history with Clinton’s after Clinton officially became the nominee: “Tonight more than 200 years after Deborah Sampson fought and nearly 100 years after women got the vote, you people have made history.”