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Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier Paperback – March 8, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
This meticulous biography presents one of the classic examples of a woman in disguise serving in the nascent U.S. armed forces. A particularly prolific and gifted editor and scholar of the American Revolution, Young (The Shoemaker and the Tea Party) follows his subject as closely as possible given scanty evidence, beginning with Sampson's birth in 1760 on a small farm in Massachusetts. Sampson was virtually orphaned as a child, but after turning 18 supported herself as a weaver, before serving from 1782 to 1783 in the light infantry company of a Massachusetts regiment, seeing combat and being wounded. Discharged after her gender was revealed, she married, had three children, received a bonus and lobbied for a pension with the help of such notables as Paul Revere. She also made the first-ever speaking tour by an American woman, both lecturing on her experiences and sometimes appearing in uniform to demonstrate the use of arms. Never well-off, Sampson died in 1827. She has been viewed in many different lights in American historiography and even in the chronicles of her own family ever since. Young, a senior research fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago, set out to check every previously recorded "fact" about Sampson and questions most of them, discussing his research at considerable length. The result is two threads in one book: a biographical narrative and a detailed discourse on the methodology of researching the lives of people for whom sources are few. The author achieves success with both threads at some cost in readability, but it is a loss suffered in a good cause, particularly for serious students of history. 31 illus., 3 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Historian Young meticulously reconstructs the life of a woman who, disguised as a man, fought in the American Revolution. Virtually orphaned as a child, Deborah Sampson supported herself as a weaver and served in the light infantry company of a Massachusetts regiment in 1782-83, seeing combat and being wounded. Discharged when her disguise was penetrated, she afterwards married, had children, and lobbied for a pension with the help of such notables as Paul Revere. She was the first American woman to tour as a lecturer, recounting her experiences, and she cooperated with a biographer whose final product was as accurate as Parson Weems on Washington but is still the primary source on her life. Young discusses in great detail his fact-checking about Sampson and his rationale for discounting much of what was supposedly known about her. An authority on the Revolutionary period, he puts her life into a well-realized context as he well exemplifies the methodology of researching the lives of subjects for whom sources are scanty, dubious, or both. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
(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.