J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

“A Tale of Muskets and Masquerade”

Earlier this month David M. Shribman reviewed the novel Revolutionary by Alex Myers for the New York Times. It’s a fictional treatment of the person who enlisted in the Continental Army late in the Revolutionary War under the name of Robert Shurtliff:
Deborah Samson is 22 and free of indenture, but addicted to adventure. She has left the church, and yet she is a believer of sorts, in independence for the American colonies and for herself. She recoils at orders to serve at table, and yet she yearns to serve in arms. . . .

So she cuts her hair and her ties with her Massachusetts village, a rebel against the restrictions imposed by her town and her time, and most of all by her gender. These are enduring themes, as old as the country.

That the tensions in this 18th-century tale—based on a true story—are explored in a 21st-century novel is, in a way, unsurprising. That this story—the tale of a woman who dresses like a man to live the life of a man and to do what’s considered the work of a man—is woven by a female-to-male transgender author is, even the writer has acknowledged, more than a coincidence.
Myers is also a distant relative of Deborah Sampson, the review says. Shribman is quite taken with the novel, acknowledging some “rookie” mistakes but calling it “remarkable.” Myers will read at the Harvard Book Store on 31 January.

If you’d prefer a nonfiction study of Sampson, look for Alfred F. Young’s Masquerade. It was Myers’s main source during his research.

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