Revolutionary War hero recognized for Women’s History Month

Mar 10, 2024

For the past 15 years, amateur historian Steve Connolly has been studying the life and ancestry of Revolutionary War hero Deborah Samson who shattered all social and gender norms in 1782 when she disguised herself as a man to join the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment.

Connolly presented his knowledge of Samson’s life at the Dartmouth Grange on Sunday, March 10. The Dartmouth Heritage Preservation Trust helped sponsor the presentation. 

Connolly has some personal connections to Samson. He grew up in Sharon where Samson settled with her family and was later buried in Rock Ridge Cemetery. 

Today, the town of Sharon honors Samson’s heroism with a monument on Main Street as well as a street and park named after her. As it happens, Connolly is also Samson’s second cousin, 14 times removed. His presentation on Sunday focused on Samson’s upbringing and unusual military career, considering the patriarchal period that Samson was born into. 

Serving in the Continental Army under the fake name of Robert Shurtleff, Sampson served in the light infantry and fought in several skirmishes undetected — but not unscathed. She was struck on the head by a sword and was shot twice in the leg in a battle outside Tarrytown, New York. 

Connolly dressed in period clothing for the presentation on Sunday. When he’s not lecturing on Samson’s life, he partakes in historical reenactments, much like the one that the Dartmouth Heritage Preservation Trust will be holding on Sunday, June 9 at the Akin House. 

The event will feature demonstrations of how people lived in 18th century America and will also include actors modeled after Revolutionary historical figures including Deborah Samson. 

Samson was a women’s rights activist way before her time, Connolly explained. She served 18 months in the military before a doctor eventually discovered she was a woman while she was sick with fever. After her identity was blown, Samson became the first woman to be honorably discharged. 

She continued to make history when with the help of Paul Revere she petitioned the government to grant her a military pension. 

“She was unafraid to speak up for women’s rights,” Connolly said. “Especially when she was justifiably due. And that impresses me. She wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Her wounds from the war never fully healed, making Sampson the first female wounded veteran to receive a military pension.

“I find most interesting her perseverance and her intuitive nature, her understanding to a basic degree of political smarts and how to align herself with power to get what she needed,” Connolly said.

Dartmouth resident Sally Johnston was among the people to attend Connolly’s presentation. 

“I thought it was wonderful,” Johnston said of Connolly’s presentation. “I wish we had heard of Deborah Sampson in school.”