This Day in History: Anna Maria Lane, a “common soldier” of the American Revolution
On this day in 1810, an American patriot passes away. You’ve probably never heard of Anna Maria Lane, a woman who served as a “common soldier” during the Revolution?
The Virginia legislature knew who she was, though. In 1808, it granted her a pension for her service. Her pension was more than twice as large as her husband’s!
Unfortunately, most of Anna Maria’s story is lost to history. She may have been born around 1735, which means she would have been fighting in the war when she was in her 40s. She was married to John Lane, who enlisted not too long after the war began. It is assumed that she never formally enlisted in the army, but she did fight with the army, dressed in men’s clothing.
Maybe she had permission to dress as a man and fight, or maybe she simply disguised herself and did it anyway.
John served in the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania campaigns during the early years of the war. Anna Maria may have been with him for these tours, but she was definitely present at the Battle of Germantown during October 1777. In that battle, Anna Maria received a “severe wound,” apparently in her leg or hip. She would be partially disabled for the rest of her life.
After the war, John served in the Public Guard for a time. Thus, the Lanes were able to earn their keep. During much of this time, Anna Maria also worked as a nurse, but by 1804 she was physically unable to continue. She was getting old and her old injury still plagued her. John, too, continued to get older and more infirm. Soon, his duties were reduced to merely sweeping floors. By 1808, he was too frail even for that reduced duty.
The Virginia Governor wrote the House of Delegates on behalf of several veterans and their families, including the Lanes. “It may be literally & truly said that they have been worn out in the public service,” he wrote. Would the legislature help? They had no “property or money, and their age and infirmities rendering them unable to procure either, they must be sent forth to beg or starve, unless the humanity of the Legislature shall interfere.”
He added a special note for Anna Maria. She “is also very infirm having been disabled by a severe wound which she receive while fighting, as a common soldier, in one of our Revolutionary battles, from which she never has recovered, and perhaps never will recover.”
The Virginia legislature responded promptly and generously. It approved a $40 annuity for John and several others, and a $100 annuity for Anna Maria! The legislative resolution cited her “extraordinary military services,” which was performed “in the garb, and with the courage of a soldier.” It also made particular note of the fact that she “received a severe wound, at the battle of German-Town.”
Wow. Don’t you wish you knew exactly what it was that she’d done at Germantown to merit such a commendation?
An Act placing on the list of Pensioners certain Persons therein named (General Assembly of Virginia; Feb. 6, 1808)
Library of Virginia website: Anna Maria Lane
Library of Virginia website: A War Veteran (contains links to original pension and other documents)
Lisa Tendrich Frank, An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields (2013) (Vol. 1)