About This Location
Nestled in the serene Rock Ridge Cemetery in Sharon, Massachusetts, lies a gravestone that tells a remarkable story—one of bravery, resilience, and pioneering spirit. This gravestone belongs to Deborah Sampson Gannett, a woman who disguised herself as a man to serve in the American Revolutionary War, making her one of the first women to do so in the United States military. Let's explore the unique history and significance of Deborah Sampson's gravestone.
A Courageous Soldier
Deborah Sampson Gannett, originally known as Deborah Sampson, was born on December 17, 1760, near Plympton, Massachusetts. Raised in a challenging environment after her father's untimely death, Deborah faced adversity from an early age. However, her determination and sense of duty led her on an extraordinary path.
In 1782, at the age of 21, Deborah made a bold decision—to disguise herself as a man and enlist in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army under the alias Robert Shurtleff. Her choice marked the beginning of a remarkable journey that would see her serve as a combat soldier for an astounding 18 months.
During her service, Deborah was not a passive bystander. She actively participated in several skirmishes, including scouting missions, leading infantrymen, and even raiding a Tory home where she played a crucial role in capturing 15 men. Despite taking a bullet to the shoulder, she continued her service, demonstrating her unwavering commitment to the cause of American independence.
The Discovery and Honorable Discharge
Deborah's true identity remained concealed for over a year and a half. However, in the summer of 1783, just weeks before the Treaty of Paris marked the end of the Revolutionary War, she fell seriously ill with a high fever. It was during her medical treatment in Philadelphia that her secret was uncovered by Dr. Barnabas Binney. Surprisingly, instead of facing reprimand, Deborah received an honorable discharge from the army on October 25, 1783.
A Pioneer for Women's Rights
Returning to Massachusetts after the war, Deborah Sampson married Benjamin Gannett in 1784, with whom she had three children and adopted a fourth. However, her remarkable journey was far from over. In 1792, she made history once again by petitioning the Massachusetts State Legislature for back pay for her military service, becoming one of the first American women to do so. Her persistence paid off, and she received the recognition she deserved.
In 1802, Deborah embarked on a groundbreaking lecture tour, speaking about her wartime experiences in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. She became the first American woman to complete such a tour, drawing widespread attention and acclaim. Following her lecture tour, Deborah petitioned Congress for a disability pension due to her shoulder injury, eventually becoming the only woman to receive a military pension associated with service in the Revolutionary War.
Legacy and Commemoration
Deborah Sampson passed away on April 29, 1829, but her remarkable contributions to American history did not go unnoticed. In 1983, she was proclaimed the Official Heroine of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Today, her legacy is honored through various memorials and tributes.
Deborah Sampson's gravestone in Rock Ridge Cemetery is a poignant reminder of her extraordinary life. The gravestone is draped with an American flag, reflecting her status as a local hero. It stands as a testament to her courage, resilience, and pioneering spirit.
Additionally, the town of Sharon has erected a statue in front of the public library, named a park after her, and preserved the "Deborah Sampson Gannett House" to ensure her memory lives on for generations to come. A boulder in Plympton, Massachusetts, with a bronze plaque, also pays tribute to her memory.
Deborah Sampson Gannett's gravestone in Rock Ridge Cemetery, Sharon, Massachusetts, is not just a marker of her final resting place but a symbol of her indomitable spirit and unwavering commitment to the cause of freedom. Her remarkable journey from a challenging upbringing to a pioneering soldier and advocate for women's rights continues to inspire and captivate the hearts of those who visit her grave.
As you stand by her gravestone, draped with the American flag and adorned with flowers in warm weather, you can't help but be moved by the story it represents—the story of Deborah Sampson Gannett, a true American heroine whose legacy will forever endure.