An excerpt from Women of the American Revolution:
A soldier’s life was dangerous. If one was not injured or killed in combat, they still had the unsanitary camp conditions to deal with. High casualties can be attributed to disease, cold, and heat rather than any British weapon. Reasons women might disguise themselves in order to fight were numerous, despite the risks. Those who were enslaved or indentured servants might see it as a path to freedom, especially if they were light complexioned enough to claim Caucasian ancestry once away from those who knew of their origins. Women might attempt to leave behind a shameful past or hide a premarital pregnancy. Like Deborah, they might hope to escape poverty or the insecurity of being a single woman in a nation at war. Some fled abusive husbands or parents, and, just as their male counterparts did, some women wanted to join the war effort due to passionate patriotism.
Whatever was Deborah’s inspiration, in April 1782 she enlisted in the army, claiming to be Timothy Thayer. Discovered and in fear of prosecution, she fled her native Middleborough, Massachusetts. Whether she had intended to honor her enlistment or whether she, like many others, was hoping to slip away with her signing bounty in hand, is unknown. But when she enlisted a second time on 20 May 1782, this time as Robert Shurtliff, a name common enough in the area to allow Deborah to remain anonymous, she accepted a bounty of £60 and joined new recruits at Worcester for muster. The American victory at Yorktown had taken place the previous October, but three-year recruits were still being signed on in the case that a treaty did not follow as expected. After all, it was not the first American victory of the war and news took weeks to cross the Atlantic. The Continental Army could not yet rest.