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Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier Hardcover – February 10, 2004
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(Indeed! How many Americans know that quite a number of women disguised themselves as men to fight in the War of Independence, as well as the American Civil War?)
In this thoroughly researched, highly readable account, Professor Alfred F. Young ferrets through myth, slander, and forgotten facts to recreate Deborah Sampson Gannett; a young woman who, disguised as a man, served in the Light Infantry Company of the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, and as a waiter to General John Patterson. (She later married, bore three children, adopted a fourth, and was her family's primary breadwinner!)
While I expect an Emeritus Professor of History at Northern Illinois University (and a Senior Research Fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago) to be thorough and attentive to detail, what kept me reading this book from cover to cover was the way he brought Deborah to life, imagining her out of an enormous pile of fact and hearsay. He has also portrayed enriching details of post-colonial New England that round out the biography.
Initially, I ordered this book as background research for my novels. It surpassed my expectations on many levels, and I refer to it often. If you enjoy American History and/or Women's Studies, Young's "Masquerade" is an obvious choice.
But what relevance does it have for the average reader in today's world? The author sums it up when describing the import and effect of the Deborah Sampson statue outside the public library in Sharon, Massachusetts.
"Do you have to disguise yourself as someone other than who you are, to do what you want to do in life? Do you have to pretend in order to cross a forbidden boundary?"
Happily, most 21st century Americans can answer no. But Deborah Sampson Gannett, who fought in the war for our independence could not say the same. And neither can millions of women living in other parts of the world.
We've come a long way, baby. But somehow, I can't relax.