Everything Hannah Snell Accomplished By Pretending To Be A Man

Hannah Snell had a remarkable life, and many of her extraordinary adventures happened when she was pretending to be a man. Born on April 23, 1723, in Worcester, England, she liked to play soldier as a little girl and had her friends marching to her orders at an early age (via the Worcester News). Snell later fell in love with James Summs, a Dutch seaman, according to Berkshire History. The pair married when she was around the age of 20, but the union proved to be a short one,  as Summs took off after Snell got pregnant. She took care of their daughter, Susannah, on her own, but the little girl sadly died when she was still an infant (via Women’s Museum of California).

After Susannah’s death, Snell decided to track down her wayward husband. She disguised herself as a man and used her brother-in-law’s name, James Gray, to enlist in the army. She served in Captain Miller’s company and somehow became the target of a sergeant’s ire. Eventually, she was sentenced to receive 600 lashes as punishment, and she took 500 lashes while managing to hide the fact that she was a woman from the rest of the troops. According to Forces Net, Snell left the army when she feared a former neighbor might recognize her and blow her cover.

Hannah Snell served as a marine

After being in the army, Snell continued her military career by joining the Royal Marines (via Forces Net). She then traveled to India as part of the crew of HMS Swallow. Once there, she fought alongside her fellow soldiers as they marched to Pondicherry. But a bullet struck Snell in the groin, and she once again had to struggle to keep her identity a secret. Reports vary on how she tended to the wound — some indicate that she found a woman to help her, while others say she took the bullet out herself.

Snell recovered from her injuries and continued to live the life of a seaman. According to Berkshire History, she earned the nickname “Molly” for her smooth face. That moniker was a little too on the nose for Snell, and she later went by “Hearty Jemmy.” She kept up her charade while serving on two different ships. And while in the Marines, Snell finally learned the fate of her estranged husband — he had been executed in Genoa. With her search for her husband finally over, Snell returned to land and to being a woman after her tour ended in 1750.

Hannah Snell became famous for her charade

Back home in England, Hannah Snell revealed her true identity in a pub filled with soldiers. Robert Walker wrote about this legendary scene in his book “The Female Soldier.” She allegedly said, “Why gentlemen, James Gray will cast off his skin like a snake and become a new creature” (via Forces Net). Snell went to explain, “I am as much a woman as my mother ever was, and my real name is Hannah Snell.” Once the news got out about Snell, she became a celebrity of sorts and took her story on the road, appearing on stage in London and other places (via Berkshire History). During her travels, Snell sang and performed military drills for her audiences.

The Duke of Cumberland helped Snell receive recognition for her service and gave her a military pension. Snell also went on to run a pub known as “The Female Warrior” for a time. Eventually, she found love again and remarried a local carpenter in 1759, and together they had a son (some reports say that they had two sons.) After her second husband’s death, she married for the third time in 1772. By the late 1780s, Snell had developed mental health issues. She was sent to Bedlam Hospital, a psychiatric facility, where she died in 1792.

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