MASQUERADE: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier

Alfred Fabian Young, Author . Knopf $26.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-679-44165-6

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. (Feb. 19)

Reviewed on: 01/12/2004
Release date: 02/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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