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Friday, January 30, 2015

Hannah Snell – Woman, Soldier, Sailor, Actress 1723-1792

 The more stories I read about women in the past, particularly in the Colonial period, the more I realize what a wimp I am!! Meet Hannah Snell. If I wrote a novel based on this woman’s life, no one would believe me. 

When Hannah’s husband left her penniless and pregnant, she did what any woman would have   After the child died, Hannah Snell disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the army as “James Gray”. Nobody suspected “James” of being a woman until, for neglect of duty, she was sentenced to receive 600 lashes. Being stripped to the waist to receive her punishment didn’t stop the officer meting out the lashes because she took nearly 500 of them before another officer interceded. Whether or not it was due to her gender is unclear, but apparently, she was a good enough soldier for she was allowed to remain in the army, but having not found her husband, she deserted a month later.

You would think that would have been enough of a lesson for the lady, but Hannah Snell turns up again in history. This time as a regimental marine. She was appointed assistant-steward and cook to the officers’ mess on the sloop ‘Swallow’, and sailed to the East Indies on attachment to Admiral Boscawen's fleet,

The officers were pleased with “James’s” skill at cooking, washing, and mending, but they soon discovered that she was equally good in battle. At the siege of Pondicheery, Hannah was part of a first invasion group which crossed a chest-high river while being fired on by the French. She was on guard duty in the picket ground for seven nights and in the trenches for two weeks. 

Eventually, however, Hannah was wounded—one shot in the abdomen and six bullets in her right leg and five in her left. She allowed the surgeon to repair her legs but kept her abdomen wound a secret and tended to it herself along with a black women who had become her friend.

After a full recovery, Hannah made Ordinary Seaman and set sail first aboard the Tartar Pink and then the Eltham. It was aboard the latter where she was suspected of stealing a shirt and spent five days in irons. Otherwise she got along well with the other sailors, who still not knowing her gender, teased her about her smooth face and called her “Miss Molly”.

Whilst in Lisbon, Hannah finally heard some news of her husband, but, unfortunately, he had been executed in Genoa. Her efforts to find him had been in vain, so in 1750, Hannah Snell retired from the navy and took to the stage where she was engaged to play various military and naval heroes. Afterward, she opened a Tavern called The Female Warrior

Wow, real life is indeed stranger than fiction sometimes, eh?


  1. WOW!! That is absolutely amazing, MaryLu!!

    And - I'm an even bigger wimp than you, although - I was sturdier and took more risks as a young woman supporting her children. I render a guess that there aren't many women, today, who would take risks this large - I feel many of us have become weaker due to modern conveniences. While I would be one of the last willing to give up my modern conveniences, it would be fun to travel back in time to some of these eras - for a day!!

    Thank you for this interesting post!!

    Shared post!!

  2. I've read a little bit about her....amazing. Great post!

  3. What a fascinating woman, and you're right, people wouldn't believe it if you wrote about her. Great post, MaryLu.

  4. Holy cow, that is a crazy story! I like the name of her tavern :) Yeah, I can't even imagine surviving 500 lashes and then 12 bullets!! Ouch :(


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