by Yoon Joung Lee
A British female soldier, Hannah Snell, was born in Worcester, England in 1723. In her childhood, she was an ordinary kid who loved playing with her siblings. She also enjoyed playing the games of soldiers even as a child.
After her parents died in 1940, she moved to London where she later married a sailor, James Summs, in 1744. When she became pregnant two years after their marriage, her husband left her. Snell gave birth to her daughter, Susannah, by herself, but the baby sadly died a year later.
Following the death of her daughter, she decided to join the military to search for her missing husband. Snell borrowed male attire belonging to her brother-in-law, James Gray, and disguised herself as a man. At that time, the Scottish Jacobites, the followers of the British Army Officer Charles Stuart, were considering uprising against English for power. They invaded England in 1745. They captured Carlisle and reached out to Derby. However, the Jacobites were eventually crushed at the battle of Culloden in 1746. Snell joined General Guise’s regiment in the army of Duke of Northumberland, which was hunting down Bonnie Prince Charlie, and eventually deserted after her sergeant ordered her to be flogged for some unknown reason.
While she was still hoping to find her husband, she fled to Portsmouth and joined the Marines with her previous military experience. In 1747, she boarded a ship called Swallow, which sailed for Lisbon and then to East Indies to capture the French colony of Pondicherry. During the battle in Devicotta in 1749, she was injured eleven times of varying degrees, once in the groin. However, her wounds could be treated without revealing her identity by the help of a sympathetic Indian nurse. When the ship returned to Lisbon, she was finally able to hear of some news of her husband who had been executed for murder in Genoa. Her efforts to search for her husband were in vain.
In 1750, Snell finished with her tour of duty and returned to Britain with her unit. During her travel from Portsmouth to London, she revealed her sex to her fellow soldiers and returned wearing female attire. Her story rapidly spread throughout the country and she appeared on stage in London with military uniform. A London publisher Robert Walker published her story with the title of ‘The Female Soldier’ in two different editions. Several painters painted her portrait in her military uniform. She also received an honorable discharge and was granted a military pension.
In the mid-1750s, she retired and briefly opened a pub named ‘The Female Warrior’ while living in Newbury in Berkshire. In 1759 she secondly married carpenter Samuel Eyles and they had two children. In 1772, after she was again widowed after his death, she remarried Richard Habgood of Welford in Berkshire and they later moved to the Midlands.
In 1791, her mental condition suddenly worsened as the symptoms of insanity began to develop in her. Snell stayed at Bethlem Hospital and died insane in 1782 at her age of sixty-nine. She was buried at Chelsea Hospital with other soldiers as she always wanted.