The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson
This historical biography by Ann McGovern, illustrated by Harold Goodwin, is published by Scholastic Inc. and is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Other belief systems
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
In 1765 when Deborah Sampson is 5 years old, her mother sends her to live with a cousin. Cousin Fuller loves and cares for the child, and he teaches her to read. When Cousin Fuller dies three years later, Deborah is sent to care for an old woman named Mrs. Thatcher in Middleborough, Massachusetts. The minister in town realizes the job is too big for an 8-year-old, so he helps place Deborah with Deacon Thomas and his family. Pledging to serve the family for 10 years, Deborah takes care of the four boys and does hard labor indoors and out. She loves reading and wishes she could go to school with the boys. She begins keeping her own diary on pieces of tree bark.
The years between Deborah's 10th and 18th birthdays are eventful for the American colonies. British soldiers exert control, causing Americans to rebel in actions including the Boston Tea Party. American men make and hide weapons in preparation for war, and leaders sign the Declaration of Independence. Battles rage, and French forces come to the aid of the American soldiers.
At age 18, Deborah is free of her debt to the deacon. She works as a schoolteacher and visits her mother, who is concerned that Deborah is still unmarried. Deborah isn't anxious to settle down; she longs for adventure. She begins to hatch a plan for joining the Army and seeing the world.
Deborah gets men's clothing and practices her mannerisms so she can pass as a man. She is even able to fool her own mother into thinking she is a man. In her early 20s, Deborah nervously joins the Army under the name Robert Shurtliff. She seems young to the other soldiers, since she has no facial hair, and they call her Bobby. She sees combat and is even wounded.
Fearing a doctor will discover her secret, she extracts a bullet from her own leg rather than let him help her. She aids other soldiers in battle, too, and her good conduct earns her a position as Gen. Paterson's personal orderly. When Deborah contracts a severe fever, a year and a half into her military service, a doctor discovers she is a female. He sends a note to the general, who can't believe the news.
The general gets her a dress, at her request, and discharges her. Soon afterward, she marries a farmer named Benjamin Gannet, and later she gives birth to three children and takes in a fourth. Deborah gives speeches around the area about her adventures in the war and dies at age 67. A warship and a street in Sharon, Massachusetts, both bear her name.
Other Belief Systems
Deborah consults a fortune-teller to see if she can be recognized as a woman while dressed as a man.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why weren't women allowed in the military in Deborah's day? (Have your child consider the living conditions, food, etc., in her answer.)
What were women supposed to do while men fought?
Why does Deborah want to become a Continental soldier?
- Why isn't she happy being a schoolteacher?
What kind of adventures do you hope to experience someday?
What are some historical facts you learned about the Revolutionary War and the time period?
- How was Deborah's day similar to your world? How was it different?
Alcohol: Before joining the Army, Deborah has a suitor. She loses interest when he arrives at her home drunk. Deborah is given wine to ease her pain when she's injured in battle.
This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.
You can request a review of a title you can't find at email@example.com.