Hannah Snell

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Hannah Snell

Hannah Snell (23 April 1723–8 February 1792) was an 18th century British woman who disguised herself as a man and became a soldier.


Hannah Snell was born in Worcester, England[1] on 23 April 1723. Locals claim that she played a soldier even as a child. In 1740, she moved to London and married James Summes on 18 January 1744.

She gave birth to a daughter, Susannah, who died a year later. Snell borrowed a male suit from her brother-in-law James Gray, assumed his name, and began to search for Summes, who had abandoned her while she was pregnant with his child.[2] She later learned that her husband had been executed for murder. According to her account, following the death of her daughter, on 23 November 1745[3], she joined John Guise's regiment, the 6th Regiment of Foot, in the army of the Duke of Cumberland against Bonnie Prince Charlie

She deserted when her sergeant gave her 500 lashes and moved to Portsmouth and joined the Marines. She boarded the ship Swallow at Portsmouth. The ship sailed to Lisbon. Her unit was about to invade Mauritius, but the attack was called off. Her unit then sailed to India.

In August 1748, her unit was sent to an expedition to capture the French colony of Pondicherry in India. Later, she also fought in the battle in Devicottail in June 1749. She was wounded eleven times to the legs.

She was also shot in her groin and to avoid revealing her gender, she instructed a local woman to take out the bullet instead of being tended by the regimental surgeon.[4][5]

In 1750, her unit returned to Britain and traveled from Portsmouth to London, where she revealed her sex to her shipmates on 2 June. She petitioned the Duke of Cumberland, the head of the army, for her pension. She also sold her story to London publisher Robert Walker, who published her account, The Female Soldier, in two different editions[3]. She also began to appear on stage in her uniform presenting military drills and singing songs. Three painters painted her portrait in her uniform and The Gentleman's Magazine reported her claims. She was honorably discharged and the Royal Hospital, Chelsea officially recognized Snell's military service in November and granted her a pension in 1750 (increased in 1785), a rare thing in those days.

Gentleman's Magazine article about Snell. Wood engraving, 1750.

Hannah retired to Wapping and began to keep a pub named The Female Warrior (or The Widow in Masquerade, accounts disagree) but it did not last long. By the mid-1750s, she was living in Newbury in Berkshire. In 1759, she married Richard Eyles there, with whom she had two children. In 1772, she married Richard Habgood of Welford, also in Berkshire, and the two moved to the Midlands. In 1785, she was living with her son George Spence Eyles, a clerk, on Church Street, Stoke Newington.

In 1791, her mental condition suddenly worsened. She was admitted to Bethlem Hospital on 20 August. She died on 8 February 1792.

Cultural references[edit]

Playwright Shirley Gee has written two fictional dramatisations of Snell's life: a radio play, Against the Wind (1988) and a stage play, Warrior (1989).[6]


  1. ^ Creighton, Margaret S.; Norling, Lisa (1996). Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 38. ISBN 0801851599. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  2. ^ Margaret Creighton and, Lisa Norling (1996). Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 11.
  3. ^ a b The Female Soldier; Or, The Surprising Life and Adventures of Hannah Snell. Ams Pr Inc. 1989. ISBN 0404702570.
  4. ^ Pennington, Reina (2003). Amazons to Fighter Pilots - A Biographical Dictionary of Military Women (Volume Two). Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 404. ISBN 0-313-32708-4.
  5. ^ Druett, Joan (2000). She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 106. ISBN 0684856905.
  6. ^ Bradley, B.G. "'Warrior' a feast for senses and mind". The Mining Journal. Retrieved 11 November 2010.

Further reading[edit]

  • Matthew Stephens - Hannah Snell: The Secret Life of a Female Marine, 1723–1792

External links[edit]