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Portrait of Deborah Sampson.
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Oley Valley Elementary School: Student Projects

Contributions of Women during the American Revolution

By
Gillian Courtney
Park Ranger
Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site


During the American Revolution thousands of women took an active role in both the American and British armies. Most were the wives or daughters of officers or soldiers. These women, who maintained an almost constant presence in military camps, were known as "camp followers." Here at Stony Point Battlefield, there were 52 women who were captured with the British garrison on the night of July 15, 1779 by the American Corps of Light Infantry. In spite of the fact that these women were not considered to be part of the army they were still included in the list of British prisoners taken at Stony Point. Because women frequently did not serve any military function during the war, their individual names were never listed in the records of the day and are therefore unknown to us. It is also difficult to state accurately what their duties were as camp followers. It may be surmised though that their duties consisted primarily of cooking, mending, laundry, childcare, and nursing the sick. As a camp follower a woman was paid a small wage and was supplied with a half ration of food for herself. While the above mentioned tasks were performed by the majority of women found within camp life, an occasional woman found herself placed or placed herself in extraordinary circumstances. Her participation in such situations were frequently well beyond the roles dictated by 18th-century society.

One of the most remarkable individuals of the Revolution was a young lady by the name of Deborah Sampson. It was her desire to avoid hard labor on the family farm that led her to impersonate a man and join the American army. Sampson first enlisted under the name Timothy Thayer early in 1782. When she failed to report for duty after a night spent imbibing at a local tavern, her true identity was discovered. In May of 1782, she re-enlisted, this time in Captain George Webb's Co. 4th Massachusetts Regiment, under the name of Robert Shurtleff. She participated in several battles and in 1783 was named aide-de-camp to General John Paterson at West Point. Her identity was again discovered during the summer of 1783 by a physician who treated her when she became seriously ill. Shortly thereafter she was honorably discharged from the army. She subsequently returned to Massachusetts where she married.

Margaret Cochran Corbin (Captain Molly), was the wife of John Corbin, an artilleryman in Captain Thomas Proctor's 1st Company of Pennsylvania Artillery. Unlike Deborah Sampson, Margaret was a camp follower. Following her husband's example she was taught how to load and fire cannons gaining the respect and admiration from the other artillerymen in the Company. On November 16, 1776, Margaret assisted in the battle at Fort Washington, New York. "Molly", as she later became known, stood on the front line with her husband John. In the course of the battle he was mortally wounded. As a result she assumed his duties as matross and was injured herself. Once the fort fell she was moved to Philadelphia where she was paroled and later pensioned by Congress. Corbin was later assigned to the Corps of Invalids at West Point where she remained until her death in 1800. "Captain Molly" is now buried on the grounds of the United States Military Academy.

Mary Ludwig Hays, another camp follower, accompanied her husband John, a member of the 1st Pennsylvania Artillery, into the Monmouth, New Jersey Campaign of 1778. During the battle she supplied water to the troops, thereby receiving the name "Molly Pitcher." Like Corbin before her, when Mary's husband was wounded, she assumed his duties as matross assisting the other artillerymen in the Company. Shortly after the war ended John died and Mary remarried. Unfortunately her second marriage did not last long. She supported herself until her death in 1832 with grants, however unlike Margaret Corbin, never received a military pension. These accounts are only a few of the many examples of women who have served their country since its beginnings, something to be proudly remembered during Women's History Month.

Gillian Courtney
Last changed: March 12, 1999
Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site
P.O. Box 182
Stony Point, NY 10980
(914)786-2521

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