This is a Sneak Preview from American Amazons: Colonial Women Who Changed History, Chapter 9. First, we set the scene.
The grandfather, Gomps, has been telling his two grandchildren – Hannah and Carter – the history of colonial women who changed history. Their parents, Mark and Mandy, sit in but do not to participate.
In this Chapter, their grandmother, Peach, tells the story instead of Gomps. Since Peach is a mystery writer, she is perfect for this subject – the mystery of women who masqueraded in various ways to help the cause of freedom.
I hope that this small slice of my book will interest you in reading more.
Thanks, Alex Bugaeff.
The Mystery of the Masqueraders
“Tonight’s mystery is about the masqueraders,” Peach began.
“Let me start by asking you a question: suppose a woman was so patriotic that she wanted to fight on the front lines. How would she do it?”
“No way!” blurted Hannah. “Women fought as soldiers?”
“Really?” said Carter. “Not just in back like Molly Pitcher?”
“That’s right, at the front, with a musket,” Peach replied. “How would she do it?”
“But, but, they wouldn’t let her!” Hannah said.
“She would know that they wouldn’t let her,” Peach continued. “So how would she do it?”
“You mean just one day?” Hannah asked.
“Nope, marching, fighting, camping, day after day,” Peach persisted. “How would she do it?”
Peach waited to let the idea sink in and give them a chance to think of a way. As she waited, she glanced over at Mandy and Mark. Both had bemused smiles on their faces.
Finally, Carter said, “You said masquerader before. Did she dress as a man?”
“Hannah, what do you think?” Peach asked.
“But there would have been men all around her,” she replied. “How would she change clothes, go to the bathroom, hide her . . . you know?”
“Congratulations, kids,” Peach exclaimed. “You’ve solved the mystery. Let’s see how she did it.
“The most famous masquerader was Deborah Sampson, a young woman of Massachusetts. We don’t know much about her except that she was determined to fight alongside the men.
“Deborah sewed a uniform and bound herself up with yards of linen, if you know what I mean, and enlisted in the infantry under the name Robert Shirtliffe.”
“Couldn’t they tell?” Carter asked.
“Apparently she was tall and strong,” Peach replied, “and I’m sure that she spoke in as low a voice as she could. And it looks like the Continental Army needed volunteers so much that they didn’t ask too many questions.
“All told, Deborah served three years, fighting on the front lines . . .”
“Three years?” Hannah shouted. “No way she could have gotten away with it for that long. No way.”
“Maybe she didn’t get away with it,” Peach replied. “The legend says that the men had a nickname for her – ‘Molly.’”
“Molly?” Hannah said, “They knew?”
“There’re two possibilities,” Peach answered. “Either they thought Robert was gay or they knew Robert was a woman and accepted her. Carter, what do you think?”
“It’s possible they thought it was a gay man,” he replied, “but that wouldn’t have been the end of it. Did they do anything to Robert?”
“You mean like harassment?”
“Not that anyone reported,” Peach replied.
“Then it means that she fought well enough and they just accepted her,” he concluded.
“Hannah, you buy that?” Peach asked.
“Makes sense, but I still can’t believe it,” she replied. “Three years? And she was in battle?”
“In battle and wounded . . . twice. The first time, she was cut in the head by a sword in hand-to-hand combat.”
“Hand-to-hand?” Carter exclaimed. “She fought that close?”
“Sure did. The second time she was hit in the leg by a musket ball. To keep her secret she treated herself instead of going to the field hospital.
“Deborah recovered pretty well from both injuries, although her leg didn’t heal right, but she got sick from a disease that was sweeping the ranks – dysentery.
“She was sent behind the lines to recover and the doctor who treated her discovered her secret.”
“So the jig was up,” Hannah declared.
“Not at all,” said Peach. “He said nothing and moved her to his home for long-term recovery. There he wrote a letter to George Washington, and when she was well enough, she delivered it herself.
“She must have been scared to death,” said Hannah.
“I imagine,” said Peach, “but it seems Washington didn’t say anything either, and, instead, wrote a letter discharging her from the Army with his thanks.”
“What happened to her?” Hannah asked.
“She got married, had a family and one day got a letter from Washington, who was by this time the President. The letter asked her to come to Philadelphia to receive a military pension and a grant of land with the thanks of Congress.
“Now, I know what you’re going to ask,” Peach continued. “Is all of this true?”
“Yeah,” Carter said.
“You’re right to be skeptical,” Peach replied, “and there are descriptions that differ on the details, but there’s no denying that Deborah served for three years, on the front lines, dressed in Army uniform. And it’s on the record that Washington wrote her discharge and that Congress gave her the pension and land.”
“Wow, she was brave,” said Hannah.
“I’ll say,” said Carter. “It’s hard to believe, but sounds like it’s true.”
“Were there others?” Hannah asked.
“Others, what?” Peach replied.
“At the beginning, you said masqueraders,” Hannah continued, “more than one.”
“Oh, yes,” Peach said. “We don’t know how many masqueraded as Deborah did, but there are quite a few others that we know at least something about. Let’s start with the Martin sisters.”
American Amazons: Colonial Women Who Changed History will soon be available on Amazon in print and ebook. If you received this excerpt through email, you will be notified when it comes out. If you saw this excerpt through another medium and wish to be included on the email list, please send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. Alex.
Copyright © 2014 Alex Bugaeff