I’ve added a new page telling the story of my cousin, Dr. Caleb Noble Ormsby, the California Gold Rush, and the SS Central America. Please click on this link to read the entire story.
Deborah Sampson was the first known American woman to impersonate a man in order to join the army and take part in combat. She was born in Plympton, MA on December 17, 1760, the oldest of three daughters and three sons to Jonathan and Deborah Bradford Sampson.
Deborah is my 3rd cousin, 7 times removed. We both descend from William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony. I descend from Bradford’s son, William IV. Deborah descends from his other son, Joseph.
Sampson’s youth was spent in poverty. Her father abandoned the family and went off to sea. Her mother was of poor health and could not support the children, so she sent them off to live with various neighbors and relatives. At the young age of ten, Sampson became an indentured servant in the household of Jeremiah Thomas in Middleborough, MA. For ten years she helped with the housework and worked in the fields, which helped developed her physical strength. She attended school in the Winter since there wasn’t as much farm work to be done. She learned enough so that, after her servitude ended in 1779, she was hired as a teacher in a Middleborough public school.
On May 20, 1782, when she was twenty-one, Sampson enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army at Bellingham as a man named Robert Shurtliff (also listed as Shirtleff or Shirtlieff). Robert Shurtliff Sampson was the name of her deceased brother. Being almost 5 foot 8 inches tall, she was almost a foot taller than the average woman of her day and taller than the average man. Other soldiers teased her about not having to shave, but they assumed that this “boy” was just too young to grow facial hair. She performed her duties as well as any other man.
Back home, rumors circulated about her and she was excommunicated from the First Baptist Church of Middleborough, MA, because of a strong suspicion that she was “dressing in man’s clothes and enlisting as a Soldier in the Army.”
Although the last major battle of the Revolution had been fought the previous October when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, guerilla warfare was still being fought in several areas by Tories refusing to surrender. It was during one of these skirmishes that Shurtleff suffered a forehead wound from a sabre slash and then was hit by a musket ball in the upper left front thigh. At a field hospital, a French doctor bound up the head wound, but was not advised of the thigh injury. When the doctor began to attend another wounded soldier, Shurtleff limped out of the hospital, and later, removed the musket ball herself.
However, when he was later hospitalized for fever, the physician attending her discovered that she was a woman and made discreet arrangements that ended her military career. Sampson was honorably discharged from the army at West Point on October 25, 1783.
Deborah Sampson returned home, married a farmer named Benjamin Gannett, and had three children. She also taught at a nearby school. About nine years after her discharge from the army, she was awarded a pension from the state of Massachusetts in the amount of thirty-four pounds in a lump payment. After Paul Revere sent a letter to Congress on her behalf in 1804, she started receiving a U.S. pension in the amount of four dollars per month. In 1802, Sampson traveled throughout New England and New York giving lectures on her experiences in the military. During her lectures, she wore the military uniform.
Deborah Sampson Gannett died April 29, 1827 in Sharon, MA, at age sixty-six. Her children were awarded compensation by a special act of Congress “for the relief of the heirs of Deborah Gannett, a soldier of the Revolution, deceased.” She is buried in the Rock Ridge Cemetery in Sharon.
On May 23, 1983, Governor Michael J. Dukakis signed a proclamation which declared that Deborah Samson was the Official Heroine of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Two news services stated this was the first time in the history of the United States that any state had proclaimed anyone as the official hero or heroine.
Relation: 3rd cousin, 7 times removed
I’m thinking about how our daily lives compare to those of our ancestors, hundreds of years ago.
At night, they would quietly walk around their home, so as not to disturb those who were sleeping, while holding a candle or lamp to illuminate their way.
Last night, I stayed up later than the rest of the family. So that I wouldn’t wake anyone up, I quietly walked upstairs without turning on the lights. To illuminate my way, I held…an iPod touch with the Flashlight application on.
One aspect of genealogy I find most interesting is discovering the occupations of my ancestors. Here are some of the more interesting ways they supported their families.
sawyer – a sawmill owner, operator or worker
smith – a metal worker
ferryman – the owner or operator of a ferry
vicar – a parish priest who receives a salary or stipend
stave mill operator – creates the narrow strips of wood for barrels
railroad fireman – shovel coal into the firebox of the steam engine
joiner – a person who makes furniture and light woodwork
jurist – a legal expert, lawyer, or writer
collector of fines
surveyor of highways – monitor local road conditions, and arrange and supervise the work parties to maintain them
In the autumn of 1774, a year after the tea party in Boston, a British ship, the “Greyhound”, that was denied entry into Philadelphia, tried to sell its cargo in Greenwich, Cumberland Co., NJ. She was loaded with a cargo of tea sent out by the East India Tea Company, and was undoubtedly under the impression that the conservative feelings and principles of the people of New Jersey would induce them to submit quietly to a small tax.
Having found a Tory, or English sympathizer, one Daniel Bowen, the Greyhound’s crew secretly stored the cargo of tea in the cellar of his house. However, this unusual procedure was noted by the citizens.
News of the Boston Tea Party had already reached Greenwich and that defiant example was regarded by many of the local settlers as worthy of their own contempt for the British. Fate now presented them with a ready-made opportunity to duplicate the act.
On the evening of Thursday, December 22, 1774, a company of about forty young patriots, including Silas Newcomb and his son Ephraim, disguised as Indians, entered the cellar of Bowen’s house. The Newcombs are cousin ancestors of mine. They took all the cargo from the cellar into an adjoining field and set it on fire.
After the “Indians” had destroyed the tea, a county-wide committee met the next day. It piously resolved: “first that we entirely disapprove of the destroying of the tea, it being entirely contrary to our resolves; second, that we will not conceal nor protect from justice any of the perpetrators of the above act.”
Quite a few tongues must have been in quite a few cheeks when the vote was taken on that resolution. There on the committee sat at least two of the tea burners: Silas Newcomb and Joel Fiftian.
Two legal efforts were launched to punish the tea burners. Neither was successful.
Greenwich has been granted the distinction of being one of the five tea-party towns in America, the others being Charleston, Annapolis, Princeton, and Boston. It was the last tea party before war broke out. In 1908 the monument seen above was erected in the old market place on Ye Greate Street. It lists the names of the known participants. (This photo is used under the Creative Commons license and is attributed to Flickr member pwbaker.)
This bold act shocked the community and generated a controversy which led to the crystallization of sentiment between British and Colonial simpathizers. Many families took the cue and departed to Canada. Today, in Nova Scotia and other provinces are many descendants of Cumberland County families.
Silas Newcomb was born in Edgertown, Dukes Co., MA on April 23, 1723. He married Bathsheba Dayton in Fairfield, Cumberland Co. Together they had 5 children – Ephraim, Mary, Dayton, Silas and Webster. He joined the New Jersey Militia and later was colonel of the First New Jersey Regiment and brigadier general of the New Jersey Militia. He resigned in December 1777. Silas Newcomb died in 1779 in Fairfield.