Snell, Hannah (1723–1792)

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Snell, Hannah (1723–1792)

English soldier. Born on April 23, 1723, in Worcester, England; died in Bethlehem Hospital on February 8,1792; the daughter of a hosier; married James Summs (a sailor); children: one.

The daughter of a hosier, Hannah Snell was born in 1723 in Worcester, England. She was orphaned at age 17 and went to live with her sister in London. While still quite young, she met and married James Summs, a sailor, who abused her and then abandoned her when she was pregnant with their first child. Determined to find him, Snell left her baby with her sister and, disguised as a man, joined the infantry regiment battling the supporters of Charles Edward Stuart (1720–1788), known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. Snell got into trouble with her sergeant, and after being punished with a flogging she deserted and headed south.

In Portsmouth, using her brother-in-law's name of James Gray, she joined the crew of the sloop Swallow which accompanied Edward Boscawen's fleet of 30 to the East Indies in 1747. During the assault on the French garrison at Pondicherry in August 1748, in which the British lost a third of its land force of 6,000 and the French lost 250, Snell was badly injured in the groin, but succeeded in removing the bullet herself, so that the surgeon would not learn her gender. After recovering, she served on the Tartar and the Eltham, distinguishing herself in action.

Upon her return to Europe, Snell discovered that her husband was dead, thus ending her mission. Receiving a government pension for her service, she retired from soldiering and wrote a somewhat exaggerated account of her adventures under the title The Female Soldier, or the Surprising Adventures of Hannah Snell (1750). She also gave exhibitions on the London stage, dressed in full military regalia. With the money she earned from her autobiography and her performances, she was able to open an inn which she called the Female Warrior. By one account, Snell was married a second and third time before her death in Bethlehem, a notorious hospital for the insane from which the word bedlam derives, on February 8, 1792.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts