(An English woman who took a man's role so she could become a soldier; she is Britain's most famous female soldier)
Hannah Snell was born April 23, 1723 in Worcester, England into the large family of a draper and his wife. She had an ordinary childhood and spent much of her time playing with her siblings. They say she especially enjoyed playing soldier.Then, in 1740, her parents died, and the 17 year old Hannah moved to London. There she met and married a Dutch sailor in 1744. Right from the start there were problems with the marriage, and when Hannah became pregnant, her husband deserted her. In 1746 she gave birth to a daughter, Susannah, who, sadly, died a year later.
For whatever reason at that time, perhaps as a way of dealing with grief, Hannah decided it was time to seek out her husband, and for some either stranger reason, felt she had to disguise herself as a man to do so. She borrowed a suit as well as a name from her brother-in-law...becoming Mr. James Grey. Why, her disguise was so good that Hannah was drafted into service as soon as she arrived in the city of Coventry. Hannah never let on that she was a woman and marched with the army to Carlisle. However, for some unknown reason, she incurred the wrath of her sergeant and ended up deserting after he gave her 500 lashes.
Hannah fled to Portsmouth, and there she joined the Royal Marines...hoping to find her husband.
She boarded the ship Swallow on October 23rd and sailed to Lisbon and then on to India where she participated in an assault on the French colony of Pondicherry. Then in a later battle, she was wounded in the leg and in the groin. It is unsure whether or not she treated her groin wound herself without revealing her sex, or she may have found a sympathetic nurse who agreed to keep her secret.
It was 1750 when Hannah's unit returned to London, and this is when she learned that her husband had been hanged for murder. Now, with no reason to continue her search and weary of being disguised as a man, Hannah revealed her sex to her shipmates and was discharged from service.
"Why gentlemen, James Grey will cast off his skin like a snake and become a new creature. In a word, gentlemen, I am as much a woman as my mother ever was, and my real name is Hannah Snell"--From 'The Female Soldier, 1750
And within days, news of her exploits quickly spread throughout the country and were even published in print. She even took to donning her uniform and appearing on the stage where she would present her old drill motions. Then, in November of 1750, Hannah's military exploits were officially recognized and she was granted a lifetime pension.
Hannah lived for another 40 years, marrying twice and raising two sons. In 1789, symptoms of insanity struck, and Hannah was admitted into Bedlam Hospital where she died in 1792. She was buried among the soldiers at Chelsea Hospital as she always wanted.
Hannah had been one of the most colorful characters of the 18th century, and we will never know whether she did this because she truly desired to be a soldier or for the fame that followed. What we do know of Hannah was that she was a brave woman, a woman unafraid to to fight side by side with the men...and she was the first woman to be granted a military pension.