Deborah Sampson aka Robert Shurtleff (with Greta LaFleur)

This season on Vulgar History, we’re investigating How Do You Solve A Problem Like Marie Antoinette? To do so, we’re looking at the lives of people who lived during the revolutionary era of the 18th century.

In honour of Pride Month, this week we’re talking about trans historical figure Deborah Sampson/Robert Shurtleff. Deborah/Robert fought in the American Revolution in a sort of Mulan scenario and their gender presentation has lots to discuss.

Greta LaFleur, associate professor of American studies at Yale University, is our guest this week to help explain Deborah/Robert’s story and offer an introduction to the American Revolution.

Organizations to Support:

Greta recommends supporting the Trans Justice Funding Project (US)

Ann recommends supporting:

Point of Pride (US)

Trans Care+ (Canada)

The Trevor Project (US)

References:

The Natural History of Sexuality in Early America by Greta LaFleur

Trans Historical: Gender Plurality Before the Modern, co-edited by Greta LaFleur

Deborah Sampson essay by Harry M. Ward from Women in World History

Vulgar Pride podcast playlist on Spotify

Get 15% off all the gorgeous jewellery and accessories at common.era.com/vulgar or go to commonera.com and use code VULGAR at checkout

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Transcript

Vulgar History Podcast

Deborah Sampson AKA Robert Shurtleff (with Greta LaFleur)

June 5, 2024

Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. My name is Ann Foster, and I am a Canadian. I wanted to say that because some people may not know that, some new listeners, I don’t say that every single episode and I don’t feel the need to say that every single episode but I do this week because I know that to people outside of North America, my accent, which is sort of a flat, standard, the accent that Canadian people have when they grew up listening to a lot of CBC radio in their house, sort of like, I don’t know, standard Canadian accent. Some people might think I’m an American and you’re going to become very aware in this episode that I’m a Canadian. The reason why is because we’re talking about American history this week. 

American history is not something that I’ve ever studied. Because I’m in Canada, you don’t study American history in school because in my high school world history class, we talked about Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome and lots of different places, not America. And then I did an undergraduate degree in history– This is also information for new friends, new people joining the podcast being like, “Who is this person?” I did an undergraduate degree in history; my special interest has always been in social history. If I could go back and I knew the options that exist, I might have specialized in something called like, “Scandalous, audacious, slutty chaos people from history” but that’s what I do on this podcast. 

Anyway, in my undergraduate degree in history, I took classes in Russian history, I took classes in Canadian history, I took classes in various things, never American history. But all that being said, I somehow have, like a lot of people in Canada I think, American history so permeates so much of the popular culture that we’re all, in Canada, raised watching. You’re just tuning in to watch your Saturday morning cartoons and suddenly they’re making a joke about George Washington or they’re making a joke about Thomas Jefferson. Or you’re watching, I don’t know, Full House, Family Matters, and suddenly, the kids have to do a project about the Mayflower and the pilgrims, or like, episodes about American Thanksgiving. So, I kind of know some stuff, against my will just from the amount of American pop culture that I have absorbed. 

Anyway, I’m putting all of this into preface because today we’re talking about American history and I have a guest on who is an expert in American history, thank goodness. I’m joined by Greta LaFleur who is an associate professor of American Studies and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at Yale University. This is their shit. Greta knows colonial America, that’s what they study. So, thank goodness Greta was able to join me to explain the context of it. But also, Greta’s work working with women’s gender and sexuality studies gets into this story because it’s also a queer history, it’s trans history. Again, to new listeners, I am a cis, straight, white woman and there are a lot of nuances to this stuff that I’m eager to learn and curious to know more about but that I don’t bring to the party. So again, Greta, amazing perfect guest to talk about this topic. 

A bit more about Greta. Greta is the author of The Natural History of Sexuality in Early America and co-editor of Trans Historical: Gender Plurality Before the Modern. Both of these books, I used to research for this week as well as referring to my ever reliable, the multi-volume book that is in the library in which I work in Saskatoon, Canada, Women in World History. I think this book, this volume that we have at the library (I say we because, new listeners, I have a day job and that is working for the public library) I think it’s about 20 years old. I like to use it for episodes like this where I have an expert on, I just kind of bring these notes up in front of me to look at dates and names and places so I can follow along chronologically. This essay by Harry M. Ward from Women in World History is what I was referring to when we mention it a few times in this episode as well. 

So, I mean, I’m going to say, on this podcast, American listeners, this is the first real American history episode of Vulgar History. There’s going to be more coming up in this season seven part one, so just get ready for it. I’m going to talk about American history from the context of not an American and I think a lot of Americans, without realizing, so many things are written by and for Americans but I’m approaching this as a person who has never studied this. You’ll hear me in the course of this episode come to the realization that the American Revolution was not a thing that happened for one day in 1776 but, in fact, happened over multiple years, a fact I did not know until I had this conversation! So, I’m going to talk about America. Americans, get ready, we’re talking about your history. 

And also, if you are, well anyone, but especially new listeners who saw the show art, maybe you heard one of the ads talking about, “Oh! A Marie Antoinette season. I love that, I love Versailles and I love ‘Let them eat cake,’ and I love the wigs, and the big skirts and stuff.” Rest assured, this is still a season, a series called How Do You Solve A Problem Like Marie Antoinette? but this is part one and part one, I’m laying the ground of this revolutionary era in which Marie Antoinette was born, in which she lived, in which she was executed. Marie Antoinette was executed as part of the French Revolution; the French Revolution was inspired and directly connected to the American Revolution. So, talking about the American Revolution, it all connects and at the very end of this episode, perhaps you will be surprised or curious about how I’m going to connect this person, Deborah Sampson/Robert Shurtleff, to Marie Antoinette. Guess what? I am. Because everything ties back to her in this season. Anyway, so get ready for some American history here on Vulgar History with special guest, Greta LaFleur. 

 —————

Ann: So, I’m so happy to welcome Greta LaFleur to the podcast. Welcome, Greta.

Greta: Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Ann: Yeah! And we’re here to talk about a person who, can you explain, you just explained to me before we started recording, what name and pronouns we’re using for this person, please? 

Greta: So, the person we’re talking about today, I’m going to use two names for them but those names together, so Deborah Sampson Robert Shurtleff and I’ll often refer to them as Sampson Shurtleff, by the two last names that they used during their life. I’ll use also they/them pronouns for them because they lived as both a man and a woman during their time in this world. There’s some evidence that they actually lived as a man under a different name at a different point in their life, but I don’t remember what their name was, what that name was, it was a short-lived thing. So, we’ll just say Sampson Shurtleff and they/them. 

Ann: Yeah. I really wanted to establish that right off the bat because this person, [chuckles] I keep saying, “this person” because I’m like, “Ahh, what do I say?” Sampson Shurtleff. Sampson Shurtleff is often written about as Deborah Sampson, a woman who disguised themselves as a man, which is one reading of their life and then there’s I think more recent scholarship talking about “Robert Shurtleff, a trans man who lived their truth!” which is another reading of their life. And what I’ve read of your writing, you’re kind of like, “We don’t know.”

Greta: I think that the “We don’t know” is really important, not because I’m trying to deny any of their trans experience and I do think, I mean, to live as a man in the world and to join the military as a man in the late 18th century, it was incredibly risky. The penalties for it could be quite intense, there was a strong association of “women” or anyone assigned female at birth, who travelled with the military as associated with sex work which was, of course, criminalized, as it remains today in most places. So, you know, the penalties for doing that were quite intense and Sampson Shurtleff did it anyway. To me, that feels like strong evidence that on some level they were comfortable with their life as a man, and we also know that they continued to live as a man for a while and sometimes travelled under their brother’s name after they were discharged from the military. So, I’m not comfortable calling them a woman. 

At the same time, after they left the military and after they stopped living under their brother’s name, for example, they resumed living as a woman (and I say resumed because they had lived as a woman in a period prior to that) married a man, had a bunch of kids but then also went on this speaking tour and resumed their person as Robert Shurtleff and did military drills to raise money to get veteran’s pay from the US government. So, I just think it’s important to leave the question of their gender experience open, not only because they have this really wonderful and rich history of living in different roles but also because the way that people thought about gender in the moment that they lived in was really, really different from how we think about it today.

Ann: Yeah, I’ve done a couple of episodes of this podcast before where I’m still learning about how to talk about trans history and things like that. When a story doesn’t fit exactly into the narrative that most people know about a person who transitions and lives their truth, then it’s kind of like, “Ooh!” So, it’s just the umbrella of trans history comprised of lots of people living with lots of different gender presentations, and we don’t know what the context was in their time. But for us today, we’re talking about this in the context of they/them pronouns, we don’t know… [chuckles]

Greta: Yeah, I like leaving it open. I think if we leave it open, we can see different facets of what gender meant in that period and I think being able to see those facets allows us to understand in what ways Sampson Shurtleff really departed from gender conventions of their moment and in what ways their life kind of really walked in alignment with it, with those conventions.

Ann: And then the other side of this conversation as well, because I’m in Canada so when I started researching this and the American Revolution and stuff, I reached out to my listeners who are Americans because I wanted to learn better how this is taught in schools and what people think. One person who I was in touch with, a listener, about Sampson Shurtleff, is a woman who serves in the military, and she was saying she finds Deborah Sampson so inspiring, and I think a lot of military women do. So, I also don’t want to be out here discounting people who admire Deborah Sampson as a woman who joined the military because Deborah Sampson Robert Shurtleff is an admirable, heroic person whatever their gender. So, I don’t want to take that away from people.

Greta: The thing I maybe am willing to take away from people [chuckles] is, you know, they lived a really interesting life and they lived very bravely in a lot of ways but, you know, they were also part of a military endeavour and part of the thing, one of the things I write about Sampson, one of the things that they did during their time in the military that guarded them such acclaim is they did surveys on what was then and now at times from the North American frontier and settled it while perpetrating some pretty intense violence against Native people, you know? It’s like, all these things are true at the same time.

Ann: Exactly, exactly. That’s why I’m really happy you’re here to bring the nuances to this person who you’ve clearly written about, you’ve obviously thought about a lot, you’ve studied a lot. So, just bring these nuances that, even for me reading your writing and some other writings, I’m still coming from the context of Canada and not fully appreciating the cultural significance of the American Revolution and kind of what that meant.

Greta: Oh lord, yeah. [laughs]

Ann: But also, that’s the thing, even in Canada, the names that I had heard of about the American Revolution are the literal Founding Fathers who were all wealthy white men who were able to read a lot, read widely, become educated, debate philosophy. But the war itself, it’s people like Sampson Shurtleff, poor people, who are actually fighting the battles. It’s not all fancy generals.

Greta: Yeah. And you know, one of the things I think is really interesting about Sampson Shurtleff’s own history is they actually enlisted in the military twice. The first time, I don’t think they actually, there’s no evidence to say that they actually served but… Well, let me back up and say that enlisting in the Continental Army in that time and place, you would get an enlistment bonus, basically. You would get paid a one-time lump sum to enlist and I mean, would still exist here in the United States today. The thing about Sampson’s enlistment is that you can’t think about that out of the context of them being extremely poor. 

Sampson was, we were talking about this before the podcast started, but some people will refer to Sampson as working class and that’s a little historically inappropriate just because the divisions between class, working class, middle class, upper class/wealthy, those were not really salient distinctions for the 18th century, most people were very, very poor. And especially toward the beginning of the Revolutionary War, in part because of colonial taxation procedures, people were really, really broke. People in western Massachusetts were on the verge of starvation, you know what I mean? So, Sampson, as a poor person, that would have been really, really salient for them and that would have been a real live pressure. 

So, we don’t know whether Sampson enlisted in the military to remove themselves from their cultural community so they could go live their life as a man, they may have also enlisted because they needed money. I really want to honour that as also an origin story for a particular kind of trans experience. If Sampson identified, Sampson Shurtleff identified as a woman but lived as a man in order to get this enlistment bonus, I actually think that is part of trans history, do you know what I mean? Poor people’s history is trans history too. I just… We don’t know what drove them to do that and it could have been a mixture of both of course.

Ann: And that’s what’s interesting too, everything is interesting about this to me but in terms of me trying to find writings about Sampson Shurtleff and wading my way through the kind of like, “Daughters of the Revolution, look at this…” Not just like, “This was a woman who presented as a man,” which… maybe. But also, the stuff where it’s like, “They were so driven by patriotism, they were such a patriot that they had to do this, they had to disguise themselves.” What you’re saying is, they needed money, they were poor. So, let’s talk about where they are from, which is Plympton, Massachusetts, near Plymouth. There are five children in this family. So, just in terms of poverty and stuff, the more children you have, the more poor you are, really.

Greta: Yeah, remember this is an area with no birth control, you know what I mean? Maybe you have rhythm method stuff but there’s no real birth control to speak of. So, people who were gestational parents would sometimes… It was a real difficult part of the condition of someone with a uterus, you know what I mean? Because if you were in a situation, especially if you were married, you couldn’t control your reproduction in a lot of ways.

Ann: It seems like what controlled the reproduction here was the fact that the father left them.

Greta: Yup, yup, yup.

Ann: “Abandoned the family and soon thereafter died in a shipwreck.” So, the children were sent off to board with other people because the mother couldn’t support them.

Greta: Yes, yes. And board, maybe board but also more likely is that they were indentured out. So, this was a really common practice of servitude in this period and remember, there’s no child labour laws at this point. People, children would start working as early as 4 or 5 years old and they would sort of stay and be raised in the family in which they worked but they would still be workers within the context of the family. So, it’s this sort of complicated thing for Sampson because it’s also how Sampson gets educated. She… I’m saying ‘she’ in this moment because this is when they were a small child and they were living as a woman– or, living as a girl because they weren’t a woman, they weren’t an adult. So, they were basically taught to read by the children in the family that they worked for.

Ann: Again, it’s so interesting to have the narrative of a poor person living in America at this time which is… There’s exceptional things about the story of Sampson Shurtleff but I think this would be so similar to so many other poor people, you know? Too many kids, not enough money, then the father leaves and you have no breadwinner, you have nothing, so the kids are just sent off. I’m sure this happened all over the place to lots of people. 

Greta: Yeah, and I mean, you know the father, if he died in a shipwreck, there’s so much, we have very little of an actual solid historical record. I just want to say this because my moon is in Capricorn, I’m into details. Maybe he abandoned them, maybe he went and worked as a sailor because if he died in a shipwreck, he might have been working as a sailor. And sometimes if you went and signed yourself up for service on a ship, you might be gone for five years, you know what I mean? Shipping was the way things got around the world in that moment, as it really kind of still is today but you would be gone, and you wouldn’t be heard from. There wasn’t any mail, there wasn’t any GPS, there wasn’t any Wi-Fi, you know what I mean? So yeah. He was gone, regardless.

Ann: And I guess that’s another good point to bring up, how do we know what we know about them? Some of it is regimental records and stuff exist but part of it is this biography that came out during their lifetime.

Greta: Yeah. It’s tricky, you know, a biography is an interpretive document too. So, Hermann Mann who was the– I’m actually blanking on what relation he has to Horace Mann. I want to say he was Horace Mann’s uncle or something, maybe cousin, it wasn’t a direct relationship. People refer to Horace Mann as the father of public education in the United States; there’s a very fancy private school in New York (which is like the opposite of public education) [both chuckle] called Horace Mann. So, Herman Mann wrote this biography of Sampson in order to help Sampson Shurtleff who was living exclusively as Sampson at this point in their life, to help them make a claim for what was then called an invalid’s pension, which is basically veteran’s pay, from the US Military.

Ann: So, the story, I guess we’ll get to that later, but I just want to let everybody know that the biography itself is somewhat, I haven’t read it, but it sounds like it’s a bit sensationalized and Sampson Shurtleff later was like, “Eughhh, that part’s not true.”

Greta: Yeah, I mean we don’t have a ton of… Hermann Mann actually rewrote the biography I think three times, that last one wasn’t published. But he expanded it and expanded it and expanded it, which was a really common way of doing that work in that time and place. So yeah, Sampson wanted the cash, they wanted to be able to make this claim. Again, they remain kind of poor throughout their life it wasn’t that they all of a sudden got rich, so they really wanted their veteran’s pension, so they were kind of willing to do what they needed to do for it. They also went on this speaking tour where they redonned their military uniform and did military drills for crowds of people to make money that way. So, as someone who works on colonial America or early national United States, I’m always a little bit, like reception history, sometimes we really know what happened and sometimes we really don’t so I’m always like, a little bit on the fence about the, I don’t know, the verifiability of some of these things. 

Ann: Yeah. Just like the detail, I assume we got from the biography, that their father abandoned them and died in a shipwreck where it’s like, maybe that’s what Sampson Shurtleff thought but is that what happened?

Greta: Yeah. There’s also a lot of historical interpreta– Historians will take, especially in earlier moments, will take real liberties. I don’t know if you’ve read Alfred Young’s biography of Sampson, which is a more recent book, it’s called Masquerade I think, but there’s a Q&A section in the back where it’s like, “Was Sampson a feminist?” He’s like, “No.” “Was Sampson a lesbian?” “No.” People feel very comfortable offering interpretations, very definitive yeses or no’s about experiences of people from like 250 years ago. I do not feel that kind of comfort. [chuckles]

Ann: Can I ask you a question, I have done a couple of episodes about Catalina de Erauso, are you familiar with that story?

Greta: A little bit, yes. I think a friend of mine wrote something about them, yeah.

Ann: That’s a story where again, most of what we know is based on their autobiography which almost 100% was written by a ghostwriter and not by them. So, there’s stuff you know happened and then there’s stuff like, that’s probably just exaggerating and then there’s just like, “Oooh, lesbianism!” There’s this stuff thrown in where it’s like, this is just to sell books.

Greta: Yes. With Hermann Mann for example, there’s actually a lot of scholarship actually on the sort of, sapphic craze at the end of the 18th century. So, like, Katherine Binhammer wrote this piece called… Oh gosh, I’m trying to remember… I’m actually blanking on the article but it’s on the 1790s. There’s actually a lot of work on interest in lesbianism at the end of the 18th century so in the 1790s. There’s a book called These Firey Frenchified Dames about Philadelphia. So, people knew that that would get readers, do you know what I mean? So, can we even trust Hermann Mann? No. I mean, we can trust it the way we can trust any biography, but any biography is an active interpretation. 

Ann: Yeah. And for me, it’s almost like I prefer when the biography is so salacious, I’m able to be skeptical about it the way that everybody should be skeptical about everything, really. It’s easier to be skeptical when you’re like “Okay, that’s a bit much.”

Greta: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Totally.

Ann: Okay, I have a question for you as well as an American person who studies colonial history. [Greta laughs] So, Sampson Shurtleff is just like, indentured servitude, work on farms and whatever. So, 1782 was the first time that they tried to enlist in the army, and I was like, wait, wasn’t the American Revolution famously 1776? It went on for several years?

Greta: Oh yeah, long time, long time. Long time. Yeah.

Ann: [chuckles] Okay. Didn’t know that.

Greta: It’s also like 1776, honestly, I might mess up this history right now, but I believe 1776 was the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was the thing that kind of started the process but it’s a multi-year war. Some people argue that the revolutionary period goes up until the early 19th century, you know what I mean? I’m not a military historian, I actually truly do not care about the Revolutionary War. [laughs] As someone who works on American cultural history, other aspects of American cultural history are much more interesting to me but obviously it’s a very important event or series of events.

Ann: Okay. Honestly, that’s just interesting to me because revolutions take a long time.

Greta: Yeah, yeah!

Ann: It’s interesting. If we’re going with the narrative of the super patriot, it’s like, “Well, why did it take them until 1782 to join up?”

Greta: Indeed, indeed. The other thing is that like, the Revolutionary War, this is something that I do think is interesting, wasn’t a super popular effort, most people did not support it. People were crabby about England for sure, there was a lot of anti-colonial sentiment, but the actual revolution itself, people were threatened to join the effort, people who were loyalists, their homes were burned down, their families were killed, it was a pretty brutal time – I’m not trying to defend loyalism or defend the revolutionaries, whatever, the thing happened and it’s not interesting to litigate whether it was right or not because it happened – but it was a pretty rough time, and a lot of people did not support the revolution.

Ann: That’s really interesting too because the cultural way that it’s understood now is just kind of like, everybody was like, “Get outta here England!” and they all joined up as one to…

Greta: No, no.

Ann: No. Okay. So, which also ties into the motivation of potentially just wanting to join up for money. So, what happens is, 1782… Also, from what I’ve read, Sampson Shurtleff in terms of passing as a man was tall and broad so just physically was maybe more able to do that than somebody who was built differently.

Greta: Yeah, I mean, I do think this is something that I feel like we talk about as, like, trans and gender non-conforming people today, some people’s bodies code socially toward one gender or another and that is real for trans people for cis men and women. It’s real because gender is a series of social cues. So yeah, they were supposedly a tall person and that definitely would have helped them. I’m a tall person and I feel like I get read, I get sir-ed more often as a result. Short-haired, tall: man. You know what I mean?

Ann: Also, I think especially if we’re talking about 1782, culturally it’s like men’s clothes and women’s clothes were so different. So, if you see a person dressed, and we’ve talked about this on the podcast before, there are societies where it’s like, if you’re dressed like that, why wouldn’t I assume that’s a man?

Greta: Yeah, yeah. And same to this day. I mean, this is a silly example, but I went to a “women’s college,” and I put this in quotes because not everyone who attends “women’s colleges” for undergraduate institutions are actually women. But they are total hotbeds of queerness, lesbianism, gender nonconformity, they’re delightful places in many ways, even as they themselves have these really complex histories. But after graduating, so many people I was around for so long were, like, genderqueer people and people who presented in a masc fashion and I’d see young teenage cis boys on the street and be like, “Oh, a dyke, a dyke, a dyke.” It’s what you’re used to sort of reading. [laughs]

Ann: Exactly. So, I think there’s a benefit. Actually, I’ll just let you know as well, so a few weeks ago I did an episode about women in Mexico who fought during the Mexican Revolution, who dressed as men, and some of the descriptions it’s like, this person had a unibrow and a goitre on their neck which could maybe hide an Adam’s apple. So, there are certain physical traits that maybe people would explain it’s like, this is why. Because that’s another context where… Actually, I’ll ask you about this in a second but in the context of the Mexican Revolution, some of these groups were very much like, “No women allowed. No women can join.” So, the women had to pass as men. 

But unlike Sampson Shurtleff there was a point, two notable examples, who partway through these illustrious military careers, being really successful with the revels were like, “Surprise! I’m actually a woman,” and then they were kicked out. And that’s where I’m more comfortable with those stories being like, yeah, that’s a woman in disguise, they had this “Surprise!” But then there is at least one example of what, in the podcast, we talked about as a trans man, a person who after the revolution ended continued living as a man, would shoot anybody who called them a woman. [chuckles] So, there’s just these different experiences but it was just making me think about the fact that physical characteristics made it easier for some people to do this than others. 

Greta: Yeah, and I think… I do want to just bracket one thing, and this is just my particular vibe about this stuff which is, you know, I think a lot belongs to the category of trans history including sometimes people who would not themselves by the metrics of our day, identified as trans. And I do think that people who identify as women but who live as men for a period of time to, like, join the military or do whatever they need to do, I do think that’s part of trans history, d’you know what I mean? And there’s a way that people are like, “Sampson Shurtleff wasn’t trans because they went back and became a wife and a mother and blah, blah, blah.” I’m like, it’s so difficult even now in a lot of places to live as a trans person; threats of violence, lack of access to work, lack of access to support. It’s so difficult now, why would we take that away from Sampson Shurtleff in their own moment where gender roles were maybe much more rigid for white, working people? If that makes sense.

Ann: And that’s what I’m continuing to learn and that’s why I’m so happy you’re on the podcast. Every time I have a trans history, I try to have a guest on because I’m like, I need help explaining this and understanding this. That’s where what I’m coming to understand is the difference between trans history and a trans person. 

Greta: Exactly.

Ann: You can’t speak about a person’s experience, but we can say, this is part of trans history.

Greta: Yes. I think broadly, people who flout like gender norms and gendered expectations, to my mind, do belong in trans history because of that way of living. Right now, our understanding of transness and gender nonconformity is very tied to self-identification but that has not always been the case. I want to just shoutout to colleagues in Black Studies who work at the intersections of Black Studies and Trans Studies because I think people like Riley Snorton for example, or Natasha Tinsley really actually looked at the way that, for example, because of the way that Black people and Black femininity in particular, Black womanhood in particular, has been because of the way that white supremacy shapes gender norms that Black women, even cisgender Black women, have been sort of exiled to the margins of gender normativity, even as many, many people have been themselves defined imagined themselves as gender normative. So, I think those people are part of trans history too, you know what I mean? That’s just my shoutout here.

Ann: No, and thank you for that as well. We’re going to get to with Sampson Shurtleff and like, their run-ins with Indigenous people but this is also very much… A story that I think is so much that of other poor white people in America at the time, there was lots of poor not-white people at the time who would have different life experiences. 

It sounds like the first time they tried to sign up for the army, somebody recognized, they’re like, “Oh Deborah.” [laughs] Somebody knew them. What this says, I don’t know what you think about this, but it says because Sampson Shurtleff had an awkward way of holding a quill because part of one of their fingers was missing. Something very distinctive that was like, “Oh, that’s interesting, you’re missing that forefinger just like Deborah. Wait a minute, that is Deborah!” [Greta chuckles] I don’t know. It’s like having a distinctive birthmark or something. Whatever happened, they were not accepted at this point.

Greta: Yeah, that’s interesting, I actually haven’t heard that story. Where is this coming from? Out of curiosity.

Ann: This is coming from the Women in World History essay.

Greta: Oh okay, got ya. Okay. Yeah, I mean I don’t know that story, but we definitely know that they did try to sign up for the military at least once before. 

Ann: I will just say, this essay in Women in World History, it’s kind of, it’s a very expansive thing and the essays vary in quality but they’re always just a good run down so that’s kind of what I have in front of me. It has a real “Deborah Sampson, a brave heroine of the American Revolution!” I’m like, delete these paragraphs and get to the actual stuff. [both laugh] Anyway, this is kind of going through… So, the second time, I don’t know how many times they tried but they successfully enlisted as Robert Shurtleff which is the name of her brother was called Robert. I don’t know where Shurtleff came from.

Greta: It’s interesting, you know, I had a graduate student whose name I’m blanking on right now, who works on a period a little bit later than me said that in England another word for a ‘molly,’ so a molly was a word for an effeminate man or a gay person. So, molly houses were body houses of effeminate men, and they were associated with sex work. Another work for molly was a ‘shirtlift’ like S-H-I-R-T-L-I-F-T. I had never heard, this was way after my book came out, so I was like, that’s so interesting. I mean, I love the idea that Sampson Shurtleff would have actually picked that name on purpose but the likelihood of that I think is actually low but anyway, just a fact.

Ann: Well, it’s interesting that I, don’t know, anyone taking on… I love names, is a thing about me. I’m like, “Wow, if I had to choose a fake name for myself, what would I choose?” I don’t know how much thought went into the name.

Greta: I will say that Sampson also lived… Let me just say that there’s a lot of bad history about Sampson so they definitely also lived, they travelled under their brother’s name, maybe another brother. It’s all just to say, I’m curious of whether they actually had a brother named Robert, but they definitely had a brother named Ephraim and they lived as Ephraim for a minute too. 

Ann: Yeah. It’s interesting. I don’t know the names, I haven’t looked up the census of people living in colonial America, but if I was trying to go super undercover as a man I’d be like, “My name is Joe Smith,” I’d choose the most basic name. Robert Shurtleff is already like, how do you spell that? [Greta chuckles] To me I’d be like, that’s a bit attention-getting. Anyway, so accepted this time. I think I don’t know, I picture people in this time, like the Founding Fathers, they have their hair back in little ponytails, so I imagine just pulled it, maybe not cut the hair off but maybe pull the hair back.

Greta: Yeah, well remember that cutting hair is like, difficult. Also, marks of normative masculinity, you wouldn’t really cut your hair, d’you know what I mean? So, for example, beards, I think the thing that would have been weirdest about Sampson Shurtleff would have been the lack of a beard because adult men, unless you were a priest or an actor, a preacher or an actor, you were expected to have a beard. That was a standard– So, maybe they were understood as young, which is also something that I think trans and gender nonconforming people today will really identify with. Now that I’m 42, it happens less often but as a sort of masc-presenting person, until maybe five years ago, people would be like, “Are you in high school?” And I’d be like, I have literally wrinkles all over my face. [laughs] How old do you think I am?

Ann: Yeah, I’m just thinking of all these examples like Barbara Streisand in Yentl, it’s just like, a young man, is how they were taken probably. So, let’s see, this says, again this is from this essay and correct me if you haven’t come across this information. It says they signed up for “Three years or the duration of the war.” [chuckles]

Greta: Yeah, yeah.

Ann: Which is really vague. It’s like, it could go on for 25 years, but this is how you get your money so that’s what they did. Oh yeah, here you go. “Because they looked too young to shave, other soldiers began calling them Molly.”

Greta: I mean, see… Again, I’m curious where people– Sorry, I think you sent this to me and I didn’t read it because my work has been bananas recently but if we’re being really honest, and you don’t have to put this in the podcast, of course, I have some healthy skepticism about these sources, d’you know what I mean? I’m like, where are they getting this? there’s a lot of historical fantasizing that happens around figures like Sampson Shurtleff which is not to say that it’s wrong and I’m actually here for the historical fantasizing. But as someone who has also done a lot of work on them, I’m a little bit like, I haven’t heard any of this, so I’ve got some questions.

Ann: No, no, no. This is good. And I will also mention, I’m not sure when this is from. The public library is where I get this and it’s this multi-volume set and this is probably from 1992, and I think a lot of the sources are like, “Women of the Revolution: Our Heroines.” 

Anyway, so at this point, they’re in the army and I feel like the army is just desperate for people to join. So, there’s probably also not a lot of skepticism if someone is like, “I would like to join,” they would be like, “Please, yes, do.” They’re not going to be like, “Mmm, prove yourself.” They just wanted bodies, right?

Greta: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. 

Ann: So, they join. I appreciate that you have as little interest as I do in the war itself. [Greta laughs] This is all just like, “This regimen and this regimen and blah blah blah.” What this claims is they “Dressed and used the latrines during darkness” and I would presume, you know, things you’d have to do to just not… I don’t know what the set-up is but it’s like yeah, you’re not going to use the communal showers or whatever.

Greta: I mean there weren’t communal showers but yeah, totally. Remember we’re in the 18th century, do you know what I mean? People were bathing in rivers.

Ann: Yeah, that’s true. No one is clean, everyone’s gross. But this also reminds me of Jim in Our Flag Means Death where it’s kind of like finding ways to not be around other people when they’re doing certain things.

Greta: Exactly. This is part of again, thinking about the way that trans people today and gender nonconforming people today have been forced into this kind of adversarial relationship with “single sex spaces,” bathrooms, locker rooms. Even things like, I don’t know how much you follow TERF stuff, trans-exclusionary radical feminist stuff, but there’s a lot of “No trans women in shelters,” or prisons because of the “single sex” aspect of those spaces. It’s just a highly contentious space for trans people then and now. And I think this is why I’m a huge advocate of getting rid of single sex spaces but yeah.

Ann: Yeah, exactly. It’s the 1782 version of that same sort of thing.

Greta: Same sort of thing, exactly.

Ann: And just finding ways. But also, I wonder if the way that the army was like, “We need more bodies, this war is going on forever,” how skeptical or suspicious anyone in the army would have been because they’re just like, “You’re in the army, great. Let’s just be bros, this is fine.”

Greta: I mean, I don’t know but that’s the thing that I actually love about working on this period and I really have I feel like an ethical and political and emotional investment in letting us not know and preserving what we don’t know because I think A) following people like Saidiya Hartman, I think acknowledging what we’re not able to know allows for what Hartman calls “critical fabulation,” but like, the product of filling in that with our own questions. Even you saying, “Oh it’s like they were trying to hide the configuration of their body.” Like yeah, that must have been what it was like, but we also just don’t know, and I think the process of trying to imagine what life was like for someone who chose to live like that is a really important process. I think it really changes the way that we think about history.

Ann: I think it does too. I’m just trying to picture this situation and these other people, how cool or not various people would have been with this or if everyone is like, “We’re in war, we’re all poor. This sucks, we could die tomorrow. Who has time to care about this?” I don’t know.

Greta: I’m guessing it was probably all of the above. I can’t imagine that no one there was like “Wow, this person doesn’t ever show their body,” but then I also don’t know what the gender norms around men’s spaces or you know what I mean, men’s communities were like in that moment. We just don’t know. But I also think that we think about the way that community building happens in weird sometimes unexpected ways when there’s a lot of stress and intensity. You know, they were marching for miles and miles and miles and days and months at a time. That’s a lot. I think at a certain point you’re like, “I don’t even care, I’m just really tired. I can’t wait to get where we’re going. I’m dirty, I’m hot, and I need water,” you know what I mean?

Ann: Yeah, exactly. I’m just thinking about, I guess it’s probably a later era slightly but gentlemen’s clubs of the 1800s or something, those are all rich people who would be like “Only men here,” but this is just, like you were saying, the intersections of queer people and trans people and poor people and other marginalizations. I think poor people are used to being like, “Okay. Do we have food? Great. We’re friends now.” There’s not time to really…

Greta: I mean, yeah. We just don’t have a lot of information about what their time in the military was like and so I just don’t know. One thing I will say about Sampson is that there’s also records that suggest that they were kicked out of their church, possibly due to implications, it’s not really clear, might have been drunkenness but it also might have been, was perceived to be inappropriate racial contact, contact with a working Black woman who worked in a house in their neighbourhood. So, it’s also interesting to me to think about Sampson Shurtleff as someone who maybe had some level of comfort in terms of crossing social barriers, if that makes sense.

Ann: That’s really interesting too, that was briefly mentioned in this as well. So yeah, everyone is their own unique interesting person, but it seems like they were an outlier in various ways, perhaps, from what was expected in society. So then, various injuries but the one that is the most serious is a musket ball pierced their thigh. Can you talk us through what happened there?

Greta: Let me just start by saying muskets are the shittiest guns on earth. [Ann laughs] I mean, I live in the United States, it’s the home of the gun and what’s happening down here is disgusting but muskets, they were really inefficient, they took a long time to load, you had to load them between shots, they weren’t automatic or semiautomatic in the way that most guns are today, they were not super accurate. If you were standing 20 feet in front of someone and shot at them and you had really good aim, you might not hit them. They were not… you know what I mean? 

Let me also say one other detail. A) That someone might end up with a musket ball in their thigh sounds, like, totally predictable and possible. That also said, thigh injuries is a very classic trope in representations of “women” living as “men,” you can find that in medieval lay, you know what I mean? It’s a very old version of that story. So, there’s a part of me that’s like, is that real? I believe they were shot, for sure. And actually, having a musket ball in the thigh would have been a less dangerous– I know that one of the things that we know about them is that they were actually redeployed after their injury so it does actually track that it would be in some sort of soft tissue that’s non-organ-bearing, do you know what I mean? So, a thigh would have been one of those places. You could have a bullet or a musket ball go through your thigh and maybe not hit an artery or major organ that would actually kill you. 

But remember that mortality rates– [chuckles] As a colonial Americanist, every time I get hurt or get sick, I’m like, “Oof! Thank god I don’t live in colonial America,” you know what I mean? I tore a tendon in my ankle about six months ago and the first thing I thought was, “Thank God I don’t live in colonial America.” [Ann laughs] People just didn’t heal the same way and there weren’t antibiotics. So, an injury like a tissue injury could really, really end your life. So yeah, that happened. 

Supposedly they were sort of discovered because they got sick, and they got a fever from an infection due to the musket ball injury and were discovered to have sort of a body that was configured in a way that we associate with womanhood now. Specifically, in the biography, it’s sort of rendered in this titillating idiom that like, “The doctor saw their breasts,” but we don’t really know what happened. But they were injured, there’s good evidence there.

Ann: And part of the evidence, I presume, is that later on after their death that their widow, widower, one of the things that they mentioned was that the effects of this wound continued through life. So, there was an injury which I feel like, you’re not going to get out being in this army without an injury, chances are.

Greta: Yeah, and one of the reasons that Sampson wanted what was then called an invalid’s pension, but which was basically veteran’s pay, one of the reasons they wanted it is that they were disabled after the war. Actually, Don James McLaughlin writes about this in a really great essay so anyone who is interested email me and I can send it to you, but Sampson Shurtleff was also a disabled person, and they wanted the invalid’s pension because they needed a way to support themselves, they couldn’t work the way they did.

Ann: Yeah. And that’s also what’s so interesting to me– Again, everything is interesting about this to me, but that facet I hadn’t thought about. In terms of Sampson Shurtleff and in terms of all of the veterans, so many people fought in this multiyear war that we call the American Revolution and then after the fact people, wand– well, not wandering around…

Greta: They were wandering around. There was actually a lot of wandering, yeah.

Ann: Philosophically, people are wandering around and so many of them would have these disabilities and/or PTSD and different things and there was really not support for that as we see through, we’ll get to it, but Sampson Shurtleff’s trying to find money and then her widower trying to find money and everything. Yeah so, injury. But the person, the doctor kept the secret at this point, or not?

Greta: Supposedly. Again, this is all part of the story that I’m not, I have a lot of historical skepticism about but yes, the narrative that we have is that the doctor supposedly kept Sampson Shurtleff’s secret and then Sampson Shurtleff was redeployed.

Ann: Exactly, this is the sort of part where you’re like, this feels like a novel, this feels like a nice little narrative happening, this feels like the movie, Disney’s Mulan. What actually happened? We don’t know. We know there was an injury, and we know eventually, Sampson Shurtleff was not, “Oh my gosh!” discovered and kicked out. They were discharged in the usual way from the military. So, this is 178– Oh, “The war had officially concluded. The signing of the Peace of Paris, September 3, 1783.” But you said, skirmishes continued but basically, they didn’t need these battalions anymore?

Greta: Yeah, but also remember that now we’re talking about nationhood. So, now the United States, the new United States has this other problem, and the problem is the reality of the fact that this is a settler colony, d’you know what I mean? This is a group, a huge group of European Americans who are claiming land that had since time immemorial been controlled by, I’m not going to say owned because ownership wasn’t the model that people used, controlled by, stewarded by, negotiated by Indigenous nations, you know what I mean? This is not new to the Revolutionary War of course, you have things like what’s called or referred to as King Philip’s War, there’s a wonderful book by Lisa Brooks about this, just a really fantastic history of King Philip’s War, told from the vantage point or told, organized around Native women. 

I mean, the United States is still Indian country, but it was really Indian country in a very pressing way so the United States as a settler colony was really in a position where it was like, okay, so how do we make claim to this territory and also without the support of British military? The early United States was a kind of hot mess, honestly, as it should have been and, of course, they had no legitimate right to be there, and we still don’t have a right to be in North America. 

The military was also used to do like, surveying, to try to settle and also control territory that was on what was then called the frontier. And remember that like, the “frontiers” were things like western Pennsylvania, we’re not even talking about the Mississippi River, we’re talking about western New York, western Pennsylvania, what’s now Ohio. Anyway, I’m rambling but yeah, the military had a different task after the end of the Revolutionary War.

Ann: And so, actually to sort double back to during… So, Sampson Shurtleff was in the military for basically a year then, 1782 to 1783. 

Greta: Yeah, I think they were in there like, a little bit less than two years, yeah.

Ann: And during that time, there is, again, this is like, I’m so glad you’re here just to go through what happened and what was just sort of like, “This will sell books.” But there was an incident, perhaps, where they were directly involved in killing some Indigenous person or people?

Greta: Yes. So, I tried to game out… The first time I was writing about this, I was really trying to follow the story that Mann was giving about where Sampson was. There’s no indication of where they are in Mann’s biography of Sampson Shurtleff. My guess is they were in what is now Ohio or claimed as Ohio or possibly western Pennsylvania. So, I was like, maybe Lenape, maybe Miami, I was trying to make an educated guess about what the sort of political origin, political and cultural origin of the Native person they supposedly killed was. 

But also like, do I doubt that Sampson killed a Native person? Absolutely not, I don’t doubt that at all. But in terms of the way that it’s narrativized in the story, do I think that it happened as that story said? I’m not sure. It’s really sort of proffered in Mann’s biography as a way of solidifying the realness of Sampson’s masculinity. I think it’s really important to think about settler whiteness and sort of gendered freedom as these mutually constitutive things. The way that particular forms of gendered freedom in the United States have really happened at the sort of, like, have occurred on the backs of you know, racial and colonial violence.

Ann: Yeah. So, whether it’s true in the specifics or not, the fact that this book was like, “Here’s proof of the masculinity and it’s by killing an Indigenous man,” the fact that that would convince readers like, “Oh yeah, that is masculine.” That just speaks to what, culturally…

Greta: No, right! And that’s intense right to think about that. “Oh, we take this seriously now because Sampson was someone who worked in the settler colonial project.” It’s intense. 

Ann: Yeah, and that’s like right at the very beginning you were talking about how this is a complex legacy where it’s not just like, “Yay! Trans history, it’s all heroes.” It’s also colonial history and it’s also…

Greta: Yeah, and it’s one of those things where it’s like… This is going to sound counterintuitive, but I want a world where trans people can also be villains. I mean I don’t want trans villains, I don’t want any villains, but there’s a flatness that happens in trans historiography where people are just looking for heroes and they’re looking for models of trans life that reflect our own values in our current moment. The thing is, trans people are people; they’re good, they’re bad, they’re evil, you know what I mean? They’re wonderful, they’re ambivalent, they’re complex, like everybody else. I think about Trump’s military ban of trans people when he was still in power, which will probably be reinstated if he’s elected and do I want that form of discrimination, of anti-trans discrimination to exist in the world? No. But do I support US militarism? Also absolutely no, and I’m the grandchild of career Air Force officers, career Air Force people.

Ann: Yeah, and that level of, it’s the same thing… Overall, this podcast, the project is kind of women’s history is what I look at a lot of the time and it’s a similar thing in that where it’s just like, the history of women, there is a flatness to it where it’s like, “Look at these amazing women who did great stuff.” And it’s like Queen Elizabeth I fucked up the world. It’s not just girl power. I think everyone in history, I think it’s just respectful to sort of interrogate them and look at their legacy and treat them as people not just as icons. 

Greta: Yeah, exactly and we can really take seriously the way that people flouted gender norms without saying that all flouting of gender norms has good results, you know what I mean?

Ann: Yeah, exactly. And this is part of why this is such a complex story. 

So, they are discharged an honourable discharge. So, this is post-army life, and this is post-army life where I’m going to just quote this terrible essay, just so you know, “Unable to resist the urge to crossdress again, she wore men’s clothing,” but one could also… how would you phrase? [laughs

Greta: Oh lord. I don’t use the phrase– following my friend and colleague Colby Gordon, I don’t use the word “crossdress” to talk about anyone in history except for people who literally said that about themselves which doesn’t really start happening until like, the 20th century. So, I’ll say “They lived as a man, they donned men’s attire.” So yeah, Sampson did, we know, live as a man, maybe under a different name than Shurtleff also at that point, this is the tricky thing about calling Sampson Shurtleff, for a little bit after the Revolutionary War as well and some evidence that they went and used their brother’s name and worked on local farms and basically did what white working people did, they went from town to town looking for work. 

Ann: And I think what I saw in this earlier was pre-war, during the indentured servitude era, I think they did do farm work, so that’s a skill set that they have. So, it’s like, “Okay, I’ll just brush off these skills.” And again, if they’re a tall strong person it’s like, “This is appropriate work, I’ll get hired for this job.”

Greta: Yeah, and the gender division of labour among poor people just wasn’t stark. Among wealthier people yeah, sure. But among poor people, you were expected to be able to do most things, you know?

Ann: Yeah, fair. That reminds me of other things I’ve talked about on this podcast that I won’t tell you about. [chuckles] Just… do you know the story of Mary Toft?

Greta: No, I don’t know who Mary Toft is, uh-uh.

Ann: Okay, Mary Toft was a woman in England who, her evil in-laws made her pretend to give birth to rabbit parts. 

Greta: Oh!

Ann: This is around the same era. Anyway, but what I know, it was a weird story and it’s one the most trigger-warning-heavy episodes of this podcast I’ve ever done.

Greta: Out of curiosity was Mary Toft, was she or they into evangelical religion by any chance? 

Ann: No, it was just her family wanted… It was during the time when weird freak show stuff would make money. And this is the thing, this is where I’m making the link to this story. They were dirt-poor people, and she gave birth to actual babies and then it’s like, you had to go back, work on the field. Someone would cover for her for one day and then she’d be back working on the fields. So, I was just thinking about that in the context of women working on farms I’m like, oh yeah, yeah, I’ve read about this before where it’s like, “We just need the hands. What are you doing not being at work?” It’s like, “Well, I gave birth this morning.” “You’re fired!”

Greta: Yeah, but it wasn’t like, you weren’t fired because it wasn’t wage labour, you know what I mean? 

Ann: Oh fair. Yeah, yeah. 

Greta: It’s like you’re not fired, you’re just going to stay in something that’s akin to captivity here for the next seven years.

Ann: Yeah, just for longer. Okay, so they’re working again on a farm and then what happens here because then they start living as a woman again and also become sort of a celebrity. 

Greta: Yeah, so I’m not really sure, that period between travelling around and working, living as a man who may or may not have been named Robert Shurtleff at that point, between that period and marrying and having kids, I truly don’t know. By the time they start doing their tour where they’re trying to raise money and also like, raise awareness for this campaign that a bunch of high-profile white men have signed onto to try and get them an invalid’s pension, at this point they were already married and had kids. So, clearly, there are several intervening years there, d’you know what I mean? At least a few intervening years. And so, I truly don’t know. I think that’s kind of, there’s kind of absence of historical record there. 

We do know that at some point they start living as a woman, they marry a man, they have a bunch of kids, so then that person becomes Deborah Sampson Gannett, that’s the name that they’re living under, and then they start this tour. So, they get Hermann Mann, this very famous, or maybe not famous but sort of powerful political printer named Philip Freneau in New York, starts taking up their cause and wrote this sort of long poem about them that got read at Congress. 

Ann: So, what this says is just some details that you can let me know if they’re true or not. Actually no, first I’m going to tell you a stupid thing it says. It’s like, “Sampson soon attracted a suitor.” [chuckles] Which is the dumbest way to phrase that. Anyway, so it says… Sampson Shurtleff “received no pay while in the army, this was not unusual as most soldiers went unpaid from 1782 to 1783. The continental currency was worthless.”

Greta: Yes.

Ann: What does that mean? What’s the continental currency?

Greta: So, I’m not actually sure exactly what the continental currency was. There was a huge problem in early America around money. So, remember that prior to nationhood, up until the 1780s, you don’t, everything is just this compact nation of different colonies, they’re all British colonies. So, you have the colony of Maryland, the colony of Connecticut, the colony of… Well, whatever, all these different colonies and everyone had their own currency. The tricky thing is yeah, it was a huge– There’s so much written on this currency issues. And then there was huge inflation, some currency was worth more than others, some people just didn’t literally know what currency was worth.

Ann: That just seems so overly complicated! 

Greta: Yeah, it was a real mess, it was a huge mess. So, people, I mean, there are books and books and books and books and books written about this problem, and a lot of currency was just worthless. Apart from the problem that you couldn’t use, like, New Jersey currency… I think if I’m remembering right, there’s also like, municipal currencies, or there were multiple currencies within a particular colony too. So, it was just total chaos and also, there was huge inflation problems. So, a lot of currency was worthless anyway, you know what I mean?

Ann: Is this… We don’t need to get into this but is this where Alexander Hamilton saves the day by making one currency? Is that what he did? Is that why he’s famous?

Greta: Honestly, this is where… I honestly don’t work on the “Founding Fathers” at all. Hamilton was instrumental in the creation of a national bank, I do know that, I’m not sure if it’s the National Reserve. I only know that frankly, I’m going to shout out to a law professor I had, my constitutional law professor, who played us the scene from the Hamilton musical where there’s like a rap battle about this.

Ann: Yeah, and that’s the full, that’s what I know about Hamilton as well is from the musical. I’m just like, money, he did something with money. This sounds like a problem, perhaps he solved it.

Greta: I don’t know if it was the currency itself. But honestly, don’t quote me on this. I am not a Hamilton scholar, I don’t know. 

Ann: It just seems like, okay. So, currency issues as you just described. “Eventually states issued veterans settlement certificates to be redeemed in the future,” like an IOU or something?

Greta: Basically, yeah. Kind of like a bond. You know, you can buy a government bond today?

Ann: Yeah. But Sampson Shurtleff had not been given one of these, evidently, they had lost their discharge papers.

Greta: Yeah, that’s possible.

Ann: So, I mean the whole thing sounds like chaos. Joining the army, leaving the army. I feel like everyone’s poor. Was paperwork issued? Of course, it wasn’t.

Greta: Well, paperwork probably was issued but remember that paper was itself a mess. I work on a lot of, I do actually in archives work with a lot of 18th century documents and they’re like, it’s a very different type of paper than the paper we have today. And think about the conditions; there were no trains, there were no cars, there were no buses. You were walking mostly, if you’re a poor person, you’re walking, you’re getting from place to place by walking. Maybe if you have access to a horse, but horses were expensive. You’re walking in all weather, you’re sweating into the clothes you’re wearing, you’re walking in the rain, you’re walking in the snow, and there’s no, like, moisture-wicking materials. People are wearing cotton or wool; your stuff gets wet. 

Ann: Yeah, you can’t laminate it. So, it probably just disintegrated. 

Greta: Yeah.

Ann: So, then there’s this lecture tour, or no, we’re not at the lecture tour yet, at least in this document. At this point… 1792, Sampson Shurtleff “sends a petition to the Massachusetts legislature and eight days later they were granted the sum of 34 pounds,” which I don’t… Who knows how much that is now?

Greta: 34 pounds, I’m going to see if I can ballpark it. So, like, what year was that? That was…

Ann: 1792.

Greta: I want to say that in our currency that would be a few hundred dollars? That feels like, yeah, about the right… But there are historical currency converters, you could just go online and look that up.

Ann: Oh, for sure but it’s not just like, $40,000. It’s not like, “Go buy a house.”

Greta: No, no, no, no, no.

Ann: “Thank you so much for being in the army, go get a hot dog.”

Greta: Yeah, exactly. [chuckles]

Ann: And then 1797, Hermann Mann published a biography of Deborah Sampson Robert Shurtleff. This is where it says, “Although he interviewed them at length, the book contains much exaggeration and fiction.” [chuckles]

Greta: Yes, yes.

Ann: But this book, you said earlier, was part of trying to get the pension, trying to share the story.

Greta: Yeah, and remember that like, seriously like three-quarters of the book, which I’ve read all the different manuscripts of it, or the different versions of it, three-quarters of the book has nothing to do with their time in the military at all. It’s about their childhood, there’s a huge part of The Female Review, the 1797 one, that’s about Sampson’s unique genius, it’s really focused on their educability and their thirst for knowledge and their investment in observing and learning about the natural world and the cosmos. It’s really, to me it almost reads like a treatise for public education, which would track given Mann’s relationship to education.

Ann: Yeah, so there’s kind of various goals of this work. It says here that Mann also prepared the speech for Sampson Shurtleff, which was delivered, which makes sense to get someone to write that for you, people still do that today, get your speech writers. 

Greta: Yes, absolutely. 

Ann: So, here’s the lecture tour, delivering this speech at various places. It says, “One of the first women to go on a paid lecture circuit.”

Greta: Let me just say though that that had a real precedent in some British people doing it, like Hannah Snell, very similar. There’s a huge range of stories like, Cathy Davidson writes about this, of like, people who join the military then come out as men, leave the military, start living as a woman, and then tell the story of it. So, Hannah Snell, I think it’s quite possible that Mann knew about Hannah Snell and actually suggested that Sampson, at that point, Sampson Gannett do what Hannah Snell did.

Ann: And go on this lecture tour.

Greta: Yeah, go on this lecture tour and perform military drills, yeah.

Ann: Yeah, and that’s what the lecture, it was like, “Here’s the speech and now I’m going to put on the uniform and do some military stuff,” and people pay tickets to see it because again, it’s just hustling, needing money.

Greta: Yeah, and it’s like, remember the lectures and kinds of public presentations were a major form of popular entertainment for more wealthy people. It’s like, we can go to the movies, people at that point go to lectures and plays.

Ann: Yeah, so it’s just interesting, it just reminds me of nowadays, everybody has a side hustle and various things. It’s like, “Use promo code Sampson Shurtleff for…” [chuckles]

Greta: [chuckles] Yeah, totally, totally.

Ann: That’s the vibe, just trying to do whatever they can get money because again, I think there’s at least three children. They too, because of the disability, are not able to work so it’s all just what can you do?

Greta: The lecture tour was them working but they were disabled, and they struggled, this is again, go to Don James McLaughlin’s essay, if you want, I don’t know if you link to stuff on your podcast but I can send it to you.

Ann: Listeners, it’ll be in the show notes. Yeah, because that’s a really interesting angle I hadn’t thought about. But then we get into some, I was like “Oh!” Some little celebrity neighbour, Paul Revere was a friend of theirs and Paul Revere wrote on their behalf to try and get this.

Greta: Yeah, they did have a lot of like, kind of, I think through Hermann Mann and other people, they had a lot of wealthy male kind of supporters. 

Ann: I just got, I was like Paul Revere, I know that name, vaguely. 

Greta: Oh yeah, oh yeah. “One if by land, two if by sea,” yeah.

Ann: This is just where the quest for the pension kicks up a notch yet more where people like Paul Revere are writing on their behalf and stuff. And this is an ongoing thing. So, 1804, applying for the disabled veteran’s pension. 1805, Congress placed them on a stipend of $4/month… $8/month… Anyway so, some money but not a liveable wage I would say.

Greta: I’m trying to remember what people were making in that era, I’d have to look it up, I don’t remember on the top of my head. If you think about that first payment of 34 bucks or 34 pounds that they got, I don’t know what the pound-to-dollar ratio was but if you think of it as roughly about the same in that moment, $8/month, is that what you just said? $8/month?

Ann: Yeah.

Greta: $8/month times 12, it’s like, it’s not 96. No, maybe it is 96. It’s 48 times 2, yeah, it is 96. 

Ann: It is 96, good job.

Greta: Yeah, that’s 96 dollars a year, so that gives you a sense of what 34 pounds would have been. So, not a year’s it would have been maybe three months’ salary for a poor person. 

Ann: And then also again, a house and a farm and children. It’s not nothing but still, it’s not… which is just interesting in the context of the American Revolution and all these heroes and stuff, it’s like, the veterans were not treated well after the fact even though they were so instrumental in winning because you need troops.

Greta: And that remains true to this day, you know what I mean? Veterans are not treated or supported the way that they need to be by the US government. As much as I’m anti-militarism, I’m very pro-person, you know what I mean, and again, I am the grandchild of career military people and also career police people on the other side. Again, I’m anti-militarism and anti-policing but if the government is going to employ people to do its work, then it needs to support them after they leave, especially when they’re injured.

Ann: Yeah. Well, especially when what they’re doing is inherently dangerous, with muskets and whatever. It’s like, “Thank you for your service,” like, mm, that’s not money. So, this is like, I’ve lost track of how old they are at this point but 1827, they die aged 66.

Greta: Yes. So, 66… 27… Oh god, I can’t do that math in my head right now.

Ann: But basically, they’ve been fighting for a pension for 25-plus years, and it says, “Several months before their death when asked the value of their possessions they replied, all they had was $20 worth of clothing.”

Greta: Yeah, that was pretty standard for a poor person, pretty standard.

Ann: Although I will say, because I do… Especially right now, I know that a lot of my listeners of my podcast are American and I have not, until recently, done American history but I like telling people when there’s places they can go. The grave, there’s a whole wing in Rock Ridge Cemetery in Sharon.

Greta: Yeah, Sharon. Totally.

Ann: Where’s Sharon?

Greta: Massachusetts. It’s central Massachusetts. Actually, my aunt lives quite close to there. [laughs]

Ann: Okay. So, a whole wing of Rock Ridge Cemetery is dedicated as a memorial to Deborah Sampson Gannett so people who live near there…

Greta: I should go. I should go, yeah. 

Ann: I mean, if anyone’s there. I’m usually like, “This tomb in, like, Romania…” It’s like, I don’t know how many people are going to be in that neighbourhood. But here, perhaps people could go.

Greta: Oh yeah!

Ann: And I always appreciate when there’s a good memorial to a person. 

Greta: Yes.

Ann: So, after they’re dead, 9 or 10 years later, “Congress passed an act allowing pensions to widows of deceased Revolutionary War soldiers,” and this is interesting because their husband applied for a pension which is, just in terms of gender and trans history and stuff, they’re like, “This is for the widows of soldiers,” and he’s like, “Well, I’m that.”

Greta: He’s like, “I was married to a soldier.” Yeah.

Ann: Yeah, which is interesting. So, a lot of… and I guess this is part of why we know what we know is because of these ongoing, not legal disputes but petitioning. 

Greta: Yeah, and petitioning was a classic 19th-century popular tool vis à vis representative governance. So yeah.

Ann: At first it was deemed that widowers were not covered under the law but then they decided that this case was a worthy exception, so their husband was given $80/month! Bit more than the $8/month.

Greta: Indeed, indeed. By a factor of 10.

Ann: Yeah, retroactive to 1831. Anyway, he did not live to collect. He was 83 and he died.

Greta: Oh, okay. Dang, he lived a long time for someone in that era, yeah.

Ann: Yeah, I guess if you don’t get an infected wound…

Greta: Oh no, there were lots of other… People died from tooth infections, d’you know what I mean? People just died from everything.

Ann: Fair, yeah. And there’s all of the diseases. Anyway, so he died and then Congress I guess was like, “Oh, uh-oh.” To their credit, and I’m not going to ever say that again in my life, to the credit of Congress, they passed a special act giving their children, as heirs the sum of $466 to be divided equally among them so they actually did give some money to people in this situation, for once.

Greta: Literally once. [laughs]

Ann: Yeah. It’s like, first, here’s whatever I said, $34. And here, $466. You know? A bit more. 

So, I just have a couple things here in terms of how they are remembered, which is a lot of, like, “Women of the Revolution” vibes. So, the town of Sharon has a statue in front of the public library, wait, are you familiar with this statue?

Greta: No, I’ve actually never seen it. It’s really silly because again, my aunt lives in the town next door. [laughs]

Ann: Do you know, is the statue in women’s clothes or men’s clothes?

Greta: I’ve seen pictures of that statue. I want to say that they were in their military uniform, but I could be wrong. You could google it, yeah.

Ann: Yeah, I’m just curious. Listeners, you can too. There’s Deborah Sampson Park and then the Deborah Sampson Gannett house which is privately owned and not open to the public. 1906, the town of Plympton, Massachusetts, which is where they were from, with the Deborah Sampson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, placed a boulder on the town green with a bronze plaque inscribed to their memory. During World War II, a ship was called the SS Deborah Gannett and as of 2000, the town flag of Plympton incorporates Sampson as the official heroine of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Greta: Yes. And Sampson Shurtleff I believe remains the “Heroine of Massachusetts.” Which you know, I feel like Massachusetts would just call them like, do you know what I mean, the state person or whatever. 

Ann: I personally don’t gender the word hero…

Great: Yeah, same.

Ann: But I guess technically it is. So yeah, they are remembered in various ways, but this is why I wanted to talk to you about this because it’s very, the memories are very much like, “This woman who did all these woman things! Let’s remember her as a woman!” which is not to take away from women who find inspiration in this story.

Greta: Totally, totally. Not at all. I’m happy with Sampson Shurtleff being remembered in lots of different ways, I don’t need there to be one narrative about Sampson Shurtleff. In general, I think that history is for the use of the people who are alive in the current moment, d’you know what I mean, whatever that current moment is. So, if people want to have Sampson as a “heroine,” fine. I think also, I don’t think that eliminates their value as a figure of trans history either. 

Also, just as another note, during a fundraiser for Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 maybe 2015, Meryl Streep talked about Deborah Sampson, not as Robert Shurtleff, as Deborah Sampson.

Ann: Yeah. I don’t know, I personally just find it uncomfortable that she’s, like, to remember this person as, “Here’s the homestead where they lived with their children as a wife and isn’t she a great woman?” It’s an interesting person, it’s a flawed person, it’s a weird story. But to me, over anything, it’s kind of the veteran who was not acknowledged and lived and was poor.

Greta: Yeah. And there’s a lot of fantasy that goes into all of this sort of historical production and narrativization. Some of it is based in reality and a lot of it is not, you know?

Ann: Yeah, but I guess, and this is the area of history that you study, the colonial period, I think the Revolution has been so, everyone involved has been elevated to this level of godhood almost.

Greta: Yes, yes, totally.

Ann: So, everyone who was involved has to be this amazing, super perfect person to create this narrative that then, America can be like, “Look at how we were founded by these heroes and heroines, every one of them was remarkable.” And so, Sampson Shurtleff is just kind of swept up in that when really, they were emblematic of the everyday poor soldier.

Greta: Yes, yes. And I think that’s the thing that like, people, I think there’s a way that we don’t want to think of historical figures as… There’s a way we want to think of them as exceptional in a lot of ways. Sampson wasn’t exceptional, do you know what I mean? Sampson Shurtleff was actually representative of one of the broader cross sections of European Americans living in the United States at that time.

Ann: Yeah, and so I’m grateful that we know as much about them as we do, just to stand in for all of the poor people who were living there and struggling. I just feel it’s like, “We named a park after you and here’s a statue,” where it’s like, well, you could have given them money in their life, I think. I think they would appreciate that more. 

Now, I forget if I sent you this, but we’ll talk through it if I didn’t. At the end of all my episodes, I score all the people we talk about.

Greta: Oh yes, you did. I did see this, I did see this. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ann: Okay, good, good. So, the first category is Scandaliciousness or Scandalousness, how scandalous was this person seen by the people in their era and their society? I’m curious what you think on a scale of 0 to 10.

Greta: So, I actually would say, like, if I’m going to do an overall, in their early life, I think it was quite high. I think about that detail about them getting kicked out of their church, that’s scandalous, that’s scandalous, you know what I mean? So, in their early days, 8, d’you know what I mean? But over time, when they were giving the tour where they did their lecture and they sort of did their military drills, I would put them lower like 5, 4, maybe even 3 at that point.

Ann: So, if we average that out to something like 5, maybe?

Greta: 5, 6, yeah. 5 or 6.

Ann: I’m going to say 6 just to bump it up because I imagine the period in which they were growing up as this very religiously… Church and religion was so important to those early colonists and to be cast out of the church allegedly would I think…

Greta: Yeah, but there were a lot of churches. We’re talking about the late 18th century which is not Puritanism. I mean, technically it’s a descendant of Calvinism in many places, like in Massachusetts in particular, but I think we’re in a little bit of a different moment from the pilgrims, you know what I mean?

Ann: Okay fair. But also, thank you because I truly don’t know much about American history.

Greta: Oh yeah, when we talk about pilgrims, we’re talking about the 17th century, usually. ‘Pilgrim’ is not really a thing but we’re talking about early Calvinists who are the people that people refer to as pilgrims, that, we’re talking mostly about the 17th century.

Ann: I’m going to with a 6 for Scandaliciousness although it is interesting that by the time the petitioning for the pension, going on the lecture tour, people weren’t just like, “Oh, I’m going to go see this shocking person.” I think people were going to be like, “Let’s go see this interesting hero.”

Greta: I think the vibe was less hero but like, “Oh, this person did this weird thing! I want to hear about this weird thing.” It’s entertainment. But remember, there are certain forms of entertainment… Think about what’s it called… What was that, like, popular romantic BDSM novel?

Ann: Fifty Shades of Grey?

Greta: Fifty Shades of Grey. Yeah, was it sort of titillating? Yes. But people read it on the subway. You’re not going to read porn on the subway, but you will read Fifty Shades of Grey, do you know what I mean? So, like, I think we’re in the Fifty Shades of Grey neighbourhood over here with Sampson Shurtleff’s speaking tour.

Ann: I’m going to go with a 5.

Greta: Perfect.

Ann: The next category is the Scheminess which also involves, as I presume I told you, just coming up with a plan, just being resilient, being flexible to life circumstances. What do you think about that?

Greta: I would give them high Scheminess. I would say like, 8 to 9 I would say overall. 

Ann: And can you quantify that? Because of going in the army?

Greta: Yeah. So, I think A) You have to secure some clothing, clothing was quite expensive. I mean, the fact that Sampson Shurtleff said at the time of their death, “I have $20 in clothing,” clothing was a commodity, you would pay people in clothes sometimes. So, they had to secure the clothing, they had to show up, we know they did this multiple times, they had to live in a very particular, very carefully thought-out way while they’re in the military, they spent years scheming about how to secure their pension. So yeah, high scheminess, I think.

Ann: Definitely. Yeah, yeah. Significance, you can interpret this however you think. It can be to you personally; it can be history in general.

Greta: So, I’ll talk about history in general and I’ll say their significance is high, and I would say that their significance level is a little bit inflated here by virtue of the fact that we know very little about poor people who joined the military for the most part, very little. Especially in the later part of the Revolutionary War, who weren’t involved in any of the major battles, we don’t really know that much about those people, you know what I mean? But we know a lot about Sampson relative to other people who would have been their kind of class status and background at the time that they joined. Even outside of the military stuff, we don’t know that much about poor people who are living their lives in New England in the early 19th century. So, I would say high significance in that sense, high historical significance. 

Ann: Yeah, representational significance.

Greta: Yeah, exactly. A lot has been put on them, whether or not it’s right is a different question but a lot has been put on them.

Ann: So, on a 0 to 10 what would you say for Significance?

Greta: Oh, I would give it an 8.

Ann: Okay. And then the final category, and I’m very interested in what you think about this is Sexism. How much did sexism hold them back, how much more could they have done if not for that? And that’s interesting because they kind of side-stepped around that by being a man, presenting as a man, joining the army. But then afterwards…

Greta: I was going to say… [chuckles] I mean, the fact that they had to campaign for so long to get their invalid’s pension, I think that’s your evidence right there, d’you know what I mean? And I think like… I even do think, I’m really interested in histories of sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia because they don’t always have histories that map neatly onto histories of women, poor people, trans people, people of colour, you know? So, I would say, I don’t even know that the way that we think about gendered, the relationship between men and women, I don’t know that sexism is even quite the right frame but clearly, the fact that they were a woman, or they were understood to be a woman at the point that they were applying for an invalid’s pension, totally prevented them from having access, or not totally but for a long time prevented them from things that they should have had access to by virtue of having served in the military. So, that alone feels like a pretty high degree. 

But at the same time, they also did things that people who were assigned female at birth did not usually do and did not seem especially held back by that. Although, there’s a part of me that wants to preserve that like, what if they were someone who today we would think of as trans who would have lived their life as a man the whole rest of their life but just kind of couldn’t, found it too hard. I wonder about the sexism and sort of cis sexism of that. So, maybe I’ll put that as like, a 6.5.

Ann: Sure. [chuckles] That’s very specific, thank you. But yeah, it’s interesting talking on the podcast about someone like this who has different overlapping marginalizations to parse out the sexism and you can’t really because everything is… It’s like talking about a Black person from this period, it’s like well, there is sexism and there’s also racism and how can you quantify it? But these are the categories I invented five years ago and I apply them to everybody.

Greta: Okay, perfect. Perfect.

Ann: So, let me see, I’m just doing some official math on my calculator. 28.5 is their overall score, out of 40. That doesn’t mean anything to you necessarily, but I’ll just let you know who… Let me see, Catalina de Erauso only got a 23.5 so already in terms of trans history, they’re leaping ahead. 

Greta: Okay, okay. 

Ann: 28.5… Who… [laughs] You know who they just beat is Cleopatra.

Greta: Okay, okay. All right, all right. Interesting.

Ann: Cleopatra only has a 28 and this is our first ever 28.5. So yeah, that’s where they fit. Also, in terms of gender history like Hatshepsut, I don’t know if you know the Egyptian pharaoh who…

Greta: No, uh-uh.

Ann: Okay, Hatshepsut was a woman who ruled as a male king.

Greta: Oh, I do know who this is, I do know who this is. Yes.

Ann: Yeah, and Hatshepsut has a 29 so they’re just neighbours. 

Greta: Okay, okay. Love it.

Ann: And then in terms of American gender history, Louisa May Alcott, potential trans history figure, 29! 

Greta: Yup, totally see that. Yeah, I see that.

Ann: This is a good neighbourhood I think, you know, applicable. And that’s why I find it interesting to have somebody, there’s like queens, there’s whatever, there’s aristocrats, and to have a poor person on here to be like, yeah, treating everybody equitably on this podcast in terms of these four random categories. 28.5. 

So, thank you so much. I want to wrap things up. You mentioned a couple articles and you can send me those links and I’ll put those in the notes so people can find them. 

Greta: Yes, I will.

Ann: But do you want to let people know what you’re up to and where they can follow along with your work? You have books, talk about your books!

Greta: Oh yeah, I wrote a book that came out in 2018 called The Natural History of Sexuality in Early America; Chapter 4 is about Sampson Shurtleff and if anyone’s interested. I also wrote, or actually, I edited a book with two other people, Anna Klosowska and Masha Raskolnikov, called Trans Historical: Gender Plurality Before the Modern and that came out with Cornell University Press in 2021. And that is about, I talk about Sampson all the time, I talk about Sampson in the intro and also the epilogue, but there’s a lot of stuff on trans history on there. I’m trying to think of other… I mean, I’ve done a bunch of different things. 

I also edited a special issue of a journal called Trans Studies Quarterly with my friend Serena Bassi and the special issue is about, is organized around trans exclusionary feminisms and the global new right, so that’s much more of a contemporary, like, set or collection of pieces about the gender politics of right-wing movements right now. It’s especially interested in the way that alt-right and far-right movements are organizing against and around transness as an experience. So yeah, check it out if you want to. 

I’m sort of on Twitter @GretaLaFleur, I’m not super active on social media, to be honest. But yeah.

Ann: Good for you. Honestly, good. [chuckles] No one should be. But also, just what you mentioned about the recent article, that’s part of why I really want to share these stories on my podcast, just to sort of continue to reinforce to people that it’s not just trans history was not just invented, there’s always been people living outside of a gender binary, this is not new. It’s just people like Deborah Sampson, the story has until I think pretty recently has been told as like, “A brave patriotic woman who had to disguise herself, had to crossdress.” But it’s like, recontextualizing these stories in the broader umbrella of trans history, I think, that’s what I feel I can do on this podcast is just be low-key constantly reminding people that this is not new, there’s been people like this… Hatshepsut was whatever, 15,000 years ago. If you’re talking about historically, it’s like, this has always been a thing, this is not new.

Greta: Yes. Not in any way.

Ann: Thank you so much. Honestly, I could never have done this without you. All the American history nuances, I’m just like, “Oh, the American Revolution was more than one month? Oh okay.” I’m clueless.

Greta: Oh yeah, oh yeah. It sure was. No problem at all and thanks for having me on.

Ann: Yeah, you were the perfect guest. Thank you so much!

Greta: All right, thanks!

—————

So, as our Marie Antoinette season, this thing that we’re doing a special segment at the end of each episode, how does this person connect directly back to Marie Antoinette? So, Deborah Sampson/Robert Shurtleff served as a soldier under George Washington when George Washington was in his army guy era, pre-president guy era. So, George Washington was friends and one of his allies was a French guy called the Marquis de Lafayette who you may know, who I know from the musical Hamilton. Actually, I said at the beginning about how little I knew about American history was mostly gleaned from cartoons and things but also, I am aware of the musical Hamilton and when it came out, I was like, “Wow, these songs are a bop! What the hell is this story? Who are any of these people?” And I did a lot of digging around on Wikipedia, wound up mostly confused and my ultimate takeaway was like, “Okay, this is a story kind of like Jesus Christ Superstar where there’s two guys and they’re kind of rivals and then one of them dies and one of them doesn’t,” and everything else just kind of faded away. But what I do remember from the musical Hamilton is that Daveed Diggs plays the Marquis de Lafayette and it’s a great role. Marquis de Lafayette is going to be a crucial person in a lot of episodes because he’s really a guy who connects directly from Marie Antoinette to the American Revolution. 

So, George Washington was pals, hung out with Marquis de Lafayette. Marquis de Lafayette, before he came to America to help out with the American Revolution lived in France and was an aristocrat and he knew Marie Antoinette and in fact, they hated each other; more on that in a future episode. So, to get from Sampson Shurtleff to George Washington to Marquis de Lafayette to Marie Antoinette, that is three degrees of separation separating these two people. 

I do want to also mention, as this episode was recorded and as this is being broadcast, first of all, it’s June, it’s June when you’re listening to this, and it is Pride Month here in Canada and in the US and in the UK and other places. The original pride, Pride Month started the whole stone wall, the first Pride was a revolution, as people say, and we’re all about revolutions this season on this podcast. And the reason why it was a revolution in the first place is because like the revolutions that we’re talking about this season, not just the American Revolution and the French Revolution but just the small, you know, one person just being like, “Fuck this shit” like Marie-Josèphe Angélique was like in the first episode of this. The first Pride was just like, “Fuck this shit” was the vibe. And then during my lifetime as an elder millennial, there was a time when it was like, this is nice. The stores were selling rainbow merch and people are having these nice parades or whatever. 

But these days, queer rights are under attack, trans rights are under attack, through the government, societally there’s so much shit going on. Businesses like Target are afraid to stock Pride merchandise in the stores because people are being assholes about it. It’s such a shitty situation for queer rights, for trans rights right now and it’s Pride Month and we just did this episode about trans history. Part of why I’m doing these episodes (I’m saying episodes because next week is also a trans history American story, stay tuned for that) is just as a reminder, the same way I did the Hatshepsut episode a few months ago; there’s never been a gender binary in any society in the history of the world. There’s always been queer people, there have always been trans people. This is not new, it’s always been like this. so I’m just hoping to spread the word and get everyone to just get everyone to be like, “Oh, that’s right, this isn’t new, this is a thing that’s always been around.” 

Anyway, to actively help because it’s so easy to feel like this in so many circumstances in the world today, the nightmare dystopia we’re all living in, to feel helpless but some organizations that are out there doing the work to, most importantly, support queer people to support trans people whose rights and lives are under attack, even just the right to use a bathroom, people who are helping those people. So, in Canada, there’s an organization called Trans Care+ who focus on supporting the health, care, and wellness of trans and gender-diverse communities through programming research and advocacy. In the US there’s an organization called Point of Pride which provides financial aid and direct support to trans folks in need of health and wellness care. Also in the US, the Trevor Project is the leading suicide prevention and crisis intervention non-profit organization for LGBTQ+ young people. They provide information and support to LGBTQ+ young people 24/7, all year round. So, if you are able to, I do encourage you to support organizations like these ones. Maybe there’s another one in the country where you live or there’s another one in your city. Just supporting people, if you’re able to, that’s what I would suggest, rather than buying a pair of rainbow-patterned socks or whatever, let’s actually help people. 

Claire Willet who is, she used to be on Twitter and now she is on Bluesky but a few years ago I saw this old tweet of hers was trending and it kind of spoke to me and sort of phrased what I’ve been trying to say over these past few minutes. She said, “For Pride Month this year, can straight people focus less on ‘love is love’ and more on ‘queer and trans people are in danger,’” and just keep that in mind. Like, Pride this year might be more of a riot, might be more of a revolution, and maybe it kind of needs to be.

Anyway, this is Vulgar History. My name is Ann Foster and… So, we did score Sampson Shurtleff on what we call the Fredegund Memorial Scandaliciousness Scale. That’s named after, just so you know new listeners, there was a time where I did, I read a book and I became so obsessed with this person Fredegund, the book was called The Dark Queens by Shelley Puhak, super recommend. Fredegund, currently she has the highest score on the Scandaliciousness Scale. She did not get a perfect score, she got a 38 out of 40 but I was so moved by her story, and she was so important to me that I renamed the entire scale in honour of her, the Fredegund Memorial Scandaliciousness Scale. 

So, you can see everybody who I’ve ever covered on this podcast on that scale if you go to VulgarHistory.com at the top, there’s a thing that says “Scores” so you can scroll down to see where different people fit like Sampson Shurtleff with a 28.5. In terms of other trans-cestors, trans ancestors, Hatshepsut is there with a 29. I’m just scrolling to see who else is where, other people you might know. Louisa May Alcott who we did an episode about in a trans-affirming way has a 29. I just like when people who have similar vibes sit together on the scale, it confirms for me that the scale is measuring something somehow.

Anyway, if you want to keep up with me and this, first of all, I do have a newsletter on Substack that’s called Vulgar History À La Carte so that’s, you know, you’re listening to me talk right here but if you want to read the words I write you can find my newsletter which is at VulgarHistory.Substack.com, and the newsletters I’m doing there, it’s not just a written version of this podcast, it’s different topics. So, I’m sharing essays there about specifically, at the moment, Tudor history which, to new listeners, that was kind of my entry point into studying scandalous audacious people from history, is Tudor history. That’s kind of where I started and then I’ve expanded from there. I did recently on there post essays about Lady Jane Grey, there’s this new series starting up later this month called My Lady Jane on Amazon Prime which is like, a radical reinterpretation of the story of Lady Jane Grey so read about her there or also, I did episodes about her a while ago. 

You, yes you, can also support the podcast on Patreon at Patreon.com/AnnFosterWriter. There are a couple things happening on there. First of all, you can join as a free member and I post things there regularly just pictures and things to talk about and stuff, announcements, go on there. So, you can just join as a free member, totally fine. If you join for at least $1/month then you can get early, ad-free access to all episodes including past episodes, you don’t get early access to past episodes, but you get ad-free access to all episodes of Vulgar History. So, the new upcoming episodes, like, I think about four days early and you can listen to the previous ones without the ad breaks in them on there for $1 or more a month. Also, for $1 or more a month, you’re able to comment on various things and there’s also a chat there with episode discussion, where we talk about what you thought about the episode, and recommending books and TV shows to each other. 

If you subscribe to the Patreon at $5 or more a month, you get all of the above as well as bonus episodes. So, I do, or I have been doing, there’s a pretty good back catalogue, there’s 22 I think episodes of Vulgarpiece Theatre, that’s where I talk about costume dramas with friends of the podcast, Allison Epstein and Lana Wood Johnson. Most recently we’ve talked about I, Claudius, the 1976 mini-series that I have been really, really, really into lately. We haven’t done any movies about American his– oh no, we have, we have done some about American history, we did Newsies at one point. There’s also other special things you can find there sometimes there’s too much to talk about with a guest so I take that to the After Show so there are some episodes there as well as sometimes when I’m researching a woman in history, I find a man who is so obnoxious that I have to yell about it and you can find those episodes there as well, those are called So This Asshole. And if you just like to listen to specific episodes of Vulgarpiece Theatre, you can just purchase one episode if you want to listen to us talk about Les Misérables for instance, the movie starring Russell Crowe or Queen Margot, a movie that my cohosts did not love as much as I did. Anyway, you can just get one episode, you can just buy an episode if you want to as well. Also, if you’re curious about the Patreon vibe, you can just get a 7-day free trial, listen to what you want to listen to and then peace out. You know what, whatever you want to do.

I also want to mention our brand partner, Common Era Jewellery. This is a small woman-owned business that makes beautiful jewellery inspired by women and other people from classical mythology as well as from history. In terms of Pride Month and that sort of thing, there is a Sappho-themed necklace you can purchase from them, Hatshepsut is also there, sort of a genderqueer figure from trans history. There’s also, I mean, other figures who you might be familiar with from mythology, Aphrodite, Medusa is there, and also some figures we’ve talked about on this podcast before, Cleopatra, Agrippina the Younger, Anne Boleyn and they’re all on beautiful necklaces, rings, and you can get those in molten gold and also in more affordable gold vermeil. Vulgar History listeners can always get 15% off anything you buy from Common Era by going to CommonEra.com/Vulgar or using code ’VULGAR’ at checkout. 

If you want to support this show specifically, merch is available at VulgarHistory.com/Store, that’s for all of you Americans. If you’re outside the US, I recommend using our alternate store, Vulgar History.Redbubble.com and in terms of pride month and that sort of thing, one of the designs we have in our shop is of the transcestor, the iconic trans woman who has also appeared in the recent TV show Franklin starring Michael Douglas, le Chevalière d’Éon, who I’ve done an episode about as well. It’s a beautiful design that was made by a queer trans artist named January Jupiter who I’ve partnered with for a lot of merch and it’s a picture of the Chevalière d’Éon looking amazing in her trademark black outfit, long skirt and headpiece, fencing which is a thing she did, and it says, “We have always been here,” just saying trans people have always been here. So, that might be something you’re interested in. You can get it on a sticker, on a mug, on a T-shirt from the various merch stores, I’ll put a link to that in the show notes just because it’s Pride Month and I want to highlight that design specifically. 

Also, actually, if you’re interested in other episodes of Vulgar History that have been about people from the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, I have made a playlist of those on Spotify. There’s I think, I want to say 20-something episodes. It includes episodes where I’m talking, episodes where I have guests, episodes where it’s an author talking about a book that they’ve written about a queer historical person. The whole playlist is there so you can really celebrate Pride by listening to stories of the kind of audacious dirtbags that I like to celebrate on this show as Greta LaFleur said, I think it’s worth celebrating trans people from history who are also kind of assholes. The heroes and the assholes alike. 

If you want to get in touch with me, if you go to VulgarHistory.com there’s a form there that sends an email right to me if you have thoughts or feedback. If you live somewhere around where the Sampson Shurtleff house is or if you’ve been to any of these museums, I’d love to know. I’m not a well-travelled person and I love to see other peoples’ pictures and stories about museums and stuff that you visited. You can also keep up with me on Instagram @VulgarHistoryPod where my DMs are open so you can also send me pictures of your travels there as well. 

Anyway, my friends, happy Pride Month, let’s burn it all down. And oh, next week, I think I said but just to clarify, next week is going to be another Pride-themed episode, another American history-themed episode, and another trans history episode with a very special returning guest I hope you’re all really excited about, I’m really excited about. Until next time, keep your pants on and your tits out! 

Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster, that’s me! The editor is Cristina Lumague. Theme music is by The Severn Duo. The Vulgar History show image is by Deborah Wong. Transcripts are written by Aveline Malek, find transcripts of recent episodes at Vulgar History.com. 

Organizations to Support:

Greta recommends supporting the Trans Justice Funding Project (US)

Ann recommends supporting:

Point of Pride (US)

Trans Care+ (Canada)

The Trevor Project (US)

 

References:

The Natural History of Sexuality in Early America by Greta LaFleur

Trans Historical: Gender Plurality Before the Modern, co-edited by Greta LaFleur

Deborah Sampson essay by Harry M. Ward from Women in World History

Vulgar Pride podcast playlist on Spotify 

Get 15% off all the gorgeous jewellery and accessories at common.era.com/vulgar or go to commonera.com and use code VULGAR at checkout

Get Vulgar History merch at vulgarhistory.com/store (best for US shipping) and vulgarhistory.redbubble.com (better for international shipping)

Support Vulgar History on Patreon

 

 

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