Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Anna Maria Lane, Revolutionary War Soldier

Anna Maria Lane, Soldier of the American Revolution (battle of Germantown, 3 October 1777)

Virtually nothing is known about the early life of Anna Maria Lane, not even her name before she was married. 

In For Virginia and For Independence: Twenty-Eight Revolutionary War Heroes from the Old Dominion, historian Harry M. Ward indicates that she was probably born about the year 1737 somewhere in New England, perhaps New Hampshire or Connecticut.

A marker honoring Anna Maria Lane,
Richmond, Virginia,
erected 1997
At some point before 1776, she married John Lane, who seems to have been born about 1727. His place of birth is also unknown, but in 1776, John Lane enlisted in the Continental Army in Connecticut, serving under General Israel Putnam. 

For all that is unknown about Anna Maria Lane, one thing is certain: she is the only Virginia woman documented for her role as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.

The Lanes seem to have been middle-aged in 1776. They also had a daughter, a young girl named Sarah. Anna Maria Lane may have followed her husband when he joined the Continental Army, but at some point, either by necessity, deception, or with permission, she dressed herself in men's clothing. No longer a camp follower, she began to live and fight as a "common soldier."

Together with her husband, she was at the battles of White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, Germantown, and Savannah.

Indeed, it is because she was severely wounded at the battle of Germantown on 4 October 1777 that we know about her military service. During the battle she suffered a wound to her leg, perhaps a fractured femur or hip. The injury was severe enough that it would leave her permanently disabled.

The wounded Anna Maria Lane may have been left behind at a makeshift military hospital in the Boehm German Reformed Church when Washington retreated--but she may also have resisted, since she would have risked discovery if she were subjected to medical examination.

She may or may not have continued on with her husband--accounts vary as to whether she was with him in Savannah, where he was wounded and captured as a prisoner of war in 1779.

By 1782, John Lane had been released and transferred from the Continental Army to the Virginia militia. In 1783, after the militia was disbanded, John Lane was appointed a state guard of Virginia, and then transferred from Richmond to Point of Fork, near Charlottesville. Anna Maria Lane was with him there, and both she and their daughter Sarah were hired in various capacities, including working as laundresses.

In 1801, John Lane was transferred back to Virginia. Then seventy-five years old or so, he was one of the sixty-eight old soldiers who made up the "guard garrison" and performed light duties. For her part, Anna Maria Lane went to work as a nurse in the military hospital in Virginia. In recognition of the work she performed there, Dr. John H. Foushee, Virginia's health officer, petitioned then-governor James Monroe on her behalf, and she was paid a small stipend.

By 1804, Anna Maria Lane was so incapacitated by her old injury that she was dismissed, no longer capable of working. In 1808, John Lane and several other old soldiers were also dismissed from the guard garrison. 

Elderly, infirm, and now living in poverty, John and Anna Maria Lane applied for military pensions from the state of Virginia. Recognizing their military service, Governor William H. Cabell requested the General Assembly provide pensions for seven disabled male solders--and one female veteran.* 

William Cabell's letter to the speaker
of the Virginia Assembly,
posted by the Library of Virginia
In awarding a military pension to Anna Maria Lane, the Virginia Assembly noted that she was "very infirm, having been disabled by a severe wound, which she received while fighting as a common soldier . . . from which she never recovered."

And, further:  "In the Revolutionary War, in the garb, and with the courage of a soldier, [she] performed extraordinary military services at the Battle of Germantown."

For her "extraordinary military services" she was awarded an immediate grant. And then, for the remainder of her life, she collected a quarterly pension payment of $25. (Her husband, meanwhile, collected payments of $10 every quarter.)

Anna Maria Lane died on 13 June 1810. 

In addition to Ward's history, noted above, I recommend the interview with historian Joyce Henry posted as part of the Colonial Williamsburg Past & Present podcast--to access it, click here.

The Colonial Williamsburg website has posted a brief note on Anna Maria Lane--it is illustrated by contemporary documents recording the payment of Lane's pension.

*Three other women received pensions at this time, but all three had been nurses during the Revolutionary War, not soldiers.