The Revolution of Deborah Sampson

The Revolution of Deborah Sampson is a two-person play based on the life of an extraordinary woman. Deborah Sampson, better known as the Secret Soldier, was the only recognized female veteran of the American Revolution.

A descendent of William Bradford and Miles Standish, Miss Sampson was born into an impoverished family of eight and left fatherless by the age of five. The excessive taxation by England of the colonies forced her mother to sell her into a ten-year term of indentured servitude.

At the age of twenty-one, she wished to fight for her own independence. She wove her own military uniform and journeyed on foot from her home in Plympton, Massachusetts to West Point, NY, where she was outfitted and enlisted in the Continental Army in May of 1782.

She served as a male soldier, taking the name of her deceased brother Robert Shirtlieff. For eighteen months she fought honorably. When she was wounded, she fell ill and was examined by a surgeon, whereupon her secret was discovered.

On October 25th, 1783, she was given an honorable discharge. Nine years later, she received payment and official recognition as a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

The Revolution of Deborah Sampson, a play of high energy that employs the art of quick-change, join-in reenactments, and a touch of stage combat, is not just another tale of female heroism. It is an extraordinary story that epitomizes the needs and actions of the early Americans and their reasons for revolution. In short, it is a lesson in early American history.

Curriculum/Program Objectivess

  1. To have students gain a deeper understanding of the Pilgrims' original relationship to Great Britain and the New World.
  2. To expose students to the lifestyle of the colonists and the events that led to the Revolutionary War.
  3. To highlight the role of women in society.
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The second governor of the Pilgrim Colony from 1621 to 1657 and ancestor to Deborah Sampson. Under his rule, the Pilgrims survived despite poverty and blight. He is responsible for the first Thanksgiving and maintaining a 45-year peaceful co-existence with neighboring Indian tribes.
Any inhabitant of a colony. Here it refers to those people occupying the thirteen British colonies.
A famous lawyer, he was a member of the First Continental Congress. In 1775, in a speech before a Virginian Provincial Convention, he delivered the famous line "Give me liberty, or give me death."
Many of the early Americans, in order to survive, sold themselves and their children as servants. Most agreements lasted for ten years. The servant was given an initial sum of money, land, or transportation, as well as food, clothing, and shelter for the duration. In return, the servant was to devote all his or her efforts and energies to the master's needs.
Became ruler of England in 1760. It was his attempts to control the land and monies of the colonies through legislative acts such as the Sugar Act, the Quartering and Stamp Act, etc. that eventually led to America's Revolution.
The ruler of England who, believing in "The Divine Rights of Kings," persecuted many of the Puritan Protestants. Eventually his actions caused the Pilgrim voyage of the Mayflower in 1620.
Written on board the Mayflower., this is a list of law-abiding rules created by the male Pilgrims for the colonists. It is often referred to as "America's First Constitution."
Deborah Sampson was his aide to camp at West Point when she was given an honorary discharge by General Knox.
More commonly referred to as Indians, they taught the Pilgrims to hunt, fish, and plant, and made it possible for them to survive in the New World.
Any person setting out on a voyage. In American history, it refers to the early group of English settlers in New England. They arrived on the Mayflower on December 26th in 1620 at Plympton, Massachusetts.
The wife to King James I. Our play's depiction of a meeting between she and Standish is fictional yet plausible. The Queen did cause the King much embarrassment by publicly opposing his religious point of view.
An American colonist fighting for independence.
Born 1760, died 1827, enlisted as a soldier in the Continental Army disguised as a man in May of 1782. She took the name of her older brother Robert Shirtlieff. She was honorably discharged on October 25th, 1783.
The early English Pilgrims who had separated from the English Protestant body known as Puritans.
One of the original Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower. A non-Separatist who offered his services to the Separatists as a soldier and later as messenger to England. Also an ancestor of Deborah Sampson.
1775-1783. The war that was fought between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies. This led to the birth of a new nation: the United States. On September 3rd, 1783, Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, by which it recognized the independence of the United States.
A colonist whose loyalties lay with England.
The historic American figure who is often referred to as "Father of the Country" because in 1775 he was elected commander in chief of the Continental Army that won American Independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, in 1787 he was elected president of the convention that wrote the American Constitution, and in 1789 he became the first President of the United States.
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Questions for Discussion and Classroom Activities

  1. The Pilgrims were some of America's first immigrants. Their immigration from their comfortable homes in England of 1620 to the uncivilized New World was very courageous indeed. Have students list the differences in amenities of those who inhabited England in 1620 as opposed to those of the early American settlers. Have students make a list of reasons as to why one might want to stay in England. Have them make a list of reasons as to why they needed to leave.
  2. Indentured servitude is thankfully a practice of the past. It is difficult to imagine. People would commonly indenture themselves and/or their children to feed their families. Indentures usually lasted for ten years or more and servants were not allowed without their master's permission to engage in any activities - school, marriage, etc. - outside of their work obligation. These servants received no salary. Have students break into partners. Have them make a list of their everyday activities. Then have one partner choose to have an enormous debt and need to sell himself into indentured servitude to the other. Have the other student then take his daily activity list and tell him what he may or may not continue to do. Have them discuss their feelings and how this would impact upon their future.
  3. Have students improvise everyday events around an imaginary inn and tavern in 1762. Then have them recreate the same events but in 1763 after King George III's introduction of the Sugar Act. Do the same again with the Quartering and Stamp acts, etc. Discuss students' reactions and discoveries.
  4. During the American Revolution, some people were Rebels yet many were Loyalists or Tories who did not wish to break with England. People often lived in secret, while their own family or town possessed opposing political views. Have students work in partners and exchange letters as townspeople, brothers and sisters, shoemakers, bakers, etc., who can no longer continue a relationship due to an event that exposes their differences. Have them clearly detail their position.
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Bond, Alma Halbert, Ph.D. and Freeman, Lucy. America's First Woman Warrior: The Courage of Deborah Sampson. New York: Paragon House.

Bierhorst, John. A Cry/from The Earth (Music of the North American Indians). Sante Fe, Ncw Mexico: Ancient City Press, 1992.

McGovern, Ann. . . .If You.Sailed on The Mayflower in 1620. New York, Toronto, London, Auckland, Sydney: Scholastic Inc., 1991.

---------. The Secret Soldier (The Story of Deborah Sampson). New York, Toronto, London, Auckland, Sydney: Scholastic Inc., 1975.

Schmidt, Gary D. William Bradford, Plymouth's Faithful Pilgrim. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1999.

Vinton,John Adams, Rev. The Female Review, Life of Deborah Sampson, the female soldier in the War of the Revolution. Boston: J .K. Wiggins and William Parson Lunt,1864.

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What they say about...Deborah Sampson

"A truly professional and patriotic work. Worthy of audiences of all stages." -Marvin Kaye, Director, The Open Book Theatre Company

"This was an invaluable educational experience. Our campers were completely mesmerized." -Deborah Roberts, Theatre Canp Director, Tenafly, NJ JCC

"To hear the story of this courageous woman told with such wit and insight was an inspiration to both my daughter and myself. Thanks for bringing this program to our community." -Donna Smiley, PTA parent, after previewing the program performed at the Jumel Mansion.

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Artists' Information

Anne PasqualeAnne Pasquale (actress & playwright) is presently a member of The Actors Studio. She trained at LAMDA and the New York School of the Arts. She has appeared on TV in: As The World Turns and Search for Tomorrow. In Great Britain she performed a range of roles from Viola in Twelfth Night to Sarah Goddard, a turn of the century Rhode Island feminist. Some of her New York stage credits include: The New Dramatist's Three Sisters, Lincoln Center’s A View from the Bridge, Theatre of the Open Eye’s Birdbath, The 78th Street Theatre Lab’s Ruffian on the Stair, and Paradise Lost at The Actors Studio. In addition, Ms. Pasquale creates and tours her repertoire of Living History Programs for audiences of all ages in venues along the East Coast. Recent appearances include: Nellie at The NHHC Chautauqua, Liberty Belles at The Yale University Museum and Deborah Sampson at The John Jay Homestead.
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