Editors' Note: Judd Proctor and Brian Burns host "The Rainbow Minute," a community radio show devoted to LGBT history and culture founded in 2006. Proctor is a retired elementary school teacher and staunch gay activist. Burns is an author and horticulturalist. The couple resides in Richmond, Va. This post is part of the 2011 National Gay History Project.
Just beyond the grounds of the Virginia Capitol in Richmond stands a historical marker honoring Anna Maria Lane, a soldier in the American Revolution. It distinguishes her for donning men's clothing so she could enlist with her husband in the Connecticut Continental Line. "In the garb, and with the courage of a soldier, she performed extraordinary military service," the sign reads.
Lane's military history was originally discovered in the early 1920s by a Mr. Carter, the editor of Richmond Magazine. In doing research on Revolutionary War veterans and their pensions, he found reference to Lane in the documents. It included the fact that she was wounded at the Battle of Germantown in 1777. Carter also wrote a brief article about her asking readers, her descendants and anyone who knew her or had information about her to contact him.
Over the years, more details about Lane's story have come to light. Some accounts have her as a native of New Hampshire. It is known that both she and her husband John enlisted in the Continental Army Line in 1776 and served in the campaigns in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia. At that time, no physical was required to enter the army: Front teeth and operating thumb and forefinger were required in order to properly load a musket. Lane would have been dressed "in the garb," meaning in men's clothes to disguise her female identity.
Both Anna Maria and John served with the troops under Gen. Israel Putnam, who, after the battle of Brandywine, linked up with George Washington's army in an attempt to protect the colonial capital of Philadelphia. It was at the Battle of Germantown in October 1777 where Anna Maria sustained a wound that left her lame for the rest of her life. This did not stop her from remaining by her husband's side during the rest of the war, as records place them together in Williamsburg in 1781.
After the war, both Anna Maria and John lived in Virginia, with John working at the state arsenal at Point of Fork in Fluvanna County. In 1801, they moved to Richmond, where John joined the public guard and Anna Maria volunteered as a nurse at the military hospital. It was there that she met Dr. John H. Foushee, who recommended to Gov. James Monroe and the Council of State an approval of a small stipend for her work.
Later, Lane petitioned the Virginia government for a pension because 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." After Lane's husband and several other men were discharged from the Public Guard, Gov. William H. Cabell requested pensions for those disabled male soldiers and a few women.
In 1808, the Virginia General Assembly awarded Anna Maria Lane an unusually large yearly pension of $100, compared to $40 awarded to others, in recognition of her service "in Revolutionary War, in the garb, and with the courage of a soldier." She continued to receive the allotment until her death on June 13, 1810.
In 1997, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources erected a historic marker in Richmond at the intersection of North Ninth Street and East Franklin Street to memorialize Lane, just outside the Virginia State Capital gate. With the state seal at the top, it is labeled marker SA 47 and titled, "Anna Maria Lane, Soldier of the American Revolution." She remains the only documented woman veteran of the Revolutionary War to reside in Virginia.