Independence…

by 

Marlene Smith

July, 2004

 

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Lately, I’ve filled up on enough barbeque, desserts, drinks, and antacids to have truly celebrated our country’s independence the all-American way. Of course, it made me think about independence in general, and the role women had in setting our country free.

Did you know that there were women who fought side-by-side with the men during the Revolutionary War?!? In October of 1778 Deborah Samson of Plympton, Massachusetts disguised herself as a young man and presented herself to the American army as a willing volunteer to oppose the common enemy. She enlisted for the whole term of the war as Robert Shirtliffe and for three years she served in various duties and was wounded twice! The first time by a sword cut on the side of the head and four months later she was shot through the shoulder. Her sexual identity went undetected until she came down with a brain fever, then prevalent among the soldiers. The attending physician, Dr. Binney, of Philadelphia, discovered her charade, but said nothing. Instead he had her taken to his own home where she would receive better care.

When her health was restored the doctor met with Robert's commanding officer and subsequently an order was issued for Robert Shirtliffe to carry a letter to General Washington. (This may be "legend" as there is no record of her ever being in Philadelphia.) After the war Deborah Samson married and had three children. During George Washington's presidency she received a letter inviting Robert Shirtliffe, or rather Mrs. Gannett, to visit Washington. During her stay at the capital, a bill was passed (in part due to the efforts of Paul Revere) granting her a pension in addition to certain lands that she was to receive as an acknowledgment of her services to the country in a military capacity as a Revolutionary Soldier.

There is also the little known story of Rachel and Grace Martin who disguised themselves as men and assailed a British courier and his guards. They took his important dispatches, which they speedily forwarded to General Greene. Then they released the two officers who didn't even know that they were women.

Margaret Corbin stepped up to the artillery during the attack on Fort Washington when her husband fell by her side and unhesitatingly took his place and performed his duties. In July of 1779 the Congress awarded her a pension for her heroism - and a suit of clothes.

Then there was Mary Hagidorn, who upon hearing the order by a Captain Hager, for the women and children to retire to the long cellar, said: "Captain, I shall not go to that cellar should the enemy come. I will take a spear which I can use as well as any man and help defend the fort." The captain seeing her determination answered, "Then take a spear, Mary, and be ready at the pickets to repel an attack." She obeyed and held that spear at the pickets until she was told that all was safe.

Did you know that women were torpedoed off the coast of Africa during WWII? Did you know that when Gen MacArthur returned to the Philippines, there were Navy nurses waiting for him on shore that were cut out of the press photos? Did you know that there were women prisoners of war?

Let’s take this time to reflect on the deeds and accomplishments of military women, and women in general. What kinds of accomplishments have you or the women in your life achieved? Tell them how proud you are of all they have done and what they have accomplished, no matter how small or large that undertaking was! Was it that they could pitch the best softball or grow the best flowers, or was it that they received their Masters Degree or built the tallest building? Is this you and not someone you know? Well then…go look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself how great you are! We are all revolutionaries in our own right – so stand up and be counted!!!

"Promise yourself to live your life as a revolution and not just a process of evolution. "
Anthony J. D'Angelo, The College Blue Book

 

 

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