Hannah Snell (1723-1792) was a famous British soldier in the 18th century.
Born in Worcester in England, Snell is said to have had a fascination with soldiers even as a child. When she was a young woman she moved to London and in 1744 married a man named James Summs. The couple had a daughter, but the child died only one year old and Summs disappeared. Hearing a rumour that Summs had been pressed into military service, Snell borrowed the clothes of her brother-in-law, James Gray, and assumed his identity to join the British army and locate Summs.
Although she later discovered that Summs had been convicted and executed for murder, this did not prevent Snell from pursuing an adventurous military career disguised as James Gray. According to her own account she became a soldier in the 6th Regiment of Foot, where she was stationed in Carlisle during the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland. During this time she was trained in military drill and the use of firearms. However after she prevented a sergeant from raping a local girl she was sentenced to 600 lashes of the whip for 'neglect of duty'. As she endured the first 500 lashes without making a sound her commanding officer ordered that she be spared the final 100 lashes.
Snell left the regiment after this and instead decided to travel to Portsmouth where she joined the British Royal Marines and set sail to India on the Swallow. In 1748 Snell fought in the naval Battle of Pondicherry where the British attempted to capture a French colony. She reportedly killed several Frenchmen before being wounded herself. She is also known to have fought in a battle at Devicotta and was wounded a total of 12 times during her naval service, including suffering a musket shot to the groin. She operated on herself to remove the musket ball so that she wouldn't be identified as a woman by the ship's surgeon.
In 1750 Snell returned to Britain and decided to finally reveal her true identity to the other members of her unit. With the encouragement of her shipmates she petitioned the head of the British army, the Duke of Cumberland, to grant her a military pension. Remarkably, the pension was granted and she was honourably discharged from the army. Snell's exploits became popular gossip around London and she eventually sold her story to a London publisher under the title 'The Female Soldier'.
Snell retired to Wapping where she opened a pub named 'The Female Warrior'. She lived for another 40 years, married twice more and raised 2 sons. In her old age Snell began to suffer from dementia and in 1791 she was admitted to the Bedlam asylum where she died 6 months later.