Hannah Snell (James Grey) (1723 – 1792)
An 18th Century Female Warrior
Hannah was born on St George’s day in 1723, Worcester. She was one of nine children, eight of who became soldiers, sailors or married into the services. Her grandfather also had a distinguished military career.
In 1740 at the age of 17, Hannah’s parents died. She moved to Wapping and met Dutch Seaman, James Summes who she later married. After seven months he returned to sea but nothing was heard from him. Hannah decided to look for her husband so bound her breasts, borrowed clothing and set off as a man.
She headed to Coventry after hearing the troops were gathering to counter the Jacobite Rising in Scotland. She enlisted as James Grey in Captain Miller’s Company.
The army set off north, taking twenty-two days to march to Carlisle but her disguise remained undetected. She learnt how to handle her arms and perform drills. Hannah received 600 lashes for not obeying the orders of one of her Sergeants – she bore 500 of them without a whimper. The officers admired her courage, and the Commanding Officers cancelled the final 100.
Having no luck in finding her husband she deserted and made for Portsmouth where she enlisted again into the Frazer’s Regiment of Marines. Here she saw action at Pondicherry, killing several Frenchmen before being wounded herself.
She escaped the discovery of her sex by operating on herself and removing a musket ball from her groin. Declared unfit for marine's duty she now served as a deck hand. Still searching for her husband, she finally met a man who told her that James Summes had been executed for murder in Genoa.
When her ship eventually returned to London, she returned to her sister in Wapping. However, her story became known and she was referred to as ‘the heroic marine of Pondicherry’. The Duke of Cumberland ordered her to wear men's clothes. To earn a living she went on the stage and then leased a tavern, naming it ‘The Widow in Masquerade, or the Female Warrior’.
She was awarded a Sovereign’s grant of £30 a year for life and she lived more comfortably than when on the march to Carlisle. This brave and unusual woman died in 1792 with her portrait being hung in Chelsea Hospital.