Introductory Comments

Editorial Method





Chapter I Introductory

Chapter II Campaign of 1776

Chapter III Campaign of 1777

Chapter IV Campaign of 1778

Chapter V Campaign of 1779

Chapter VI Campaign of 1780

Chapter VII Campaign of 1781

Chapter VIII Campaign of 1782

Chapter IX Campaign of 1783

Suggestions for Additional Reading



Aunt Jane and Uncle Don McClelland

with Affection


Introductory Comments

Etched on Joseph Plumb Martin’s tombstone are the modest words, “A Soldier of the Revolution.” He was born in 1760 just before the outbreak of the American Revolution. He lived for nearly 90 years, during which time the young United States established itself as a legitimate political entity, if not a potential rising star, among the nations of the world. He died in 1850, an “aged man” living in virtual poverty. Martin never commanded large bodies of troops in battle; he never held major political offices; he never engaged in vital diplomatic negotiations; he never invented anything of consequence or made a notable scientific discovery; and he never acquired great wealth to distribute as a renowned philanthropist. Martin was very much an ordinary person who in his youth served courageously in the Continental army and who in his adult years, according to one of his admirers, regularly displayed “a fund of knowledge, which, with his lively, social disposition, and ready wit, made him a highly entertaining and instructive companion.”1

Martin grew to adulthood in times that were truly extraordinary. British North American colonists had begun to believe that their parent nation of Great Britain was attempting to subvert their fundamental liberties. When King and Parliament kept trying to tax them, the Americans vocalized such slogans as “no taxation without representation” and spoke anxiously about a plot by home government leaders to shackle them forever in the chains of imperial tyranny. They also protested defiantly, so much so that King George III during the summer of 1775 declared them to be in open rebellion. Four months earlier warfare had broken out when British regulars, looking for gunpowder and weapons, marched from Boston into the Massachusetts countryside and became entangled in a day of combat with resolute citizen-soldiers that began at the villages of Lexington and Concord.

Even after this initial shedding of blood, large numbers of colonists, including most patriot political leaders who gathered in Philadelphia during May 1775 to attend the Second Continental Congress, hoped and prayed for a peaceful resolution of grievances. More confrontational delegates, however, insisted upon making full provisions for defense. Their will prevailed. On June 14 Congress voted to establish a Continental army, initially to consist of the ten to fifteen thousand New England enthusiasts who had rallied together to challenge the King’s troops and keep them entrapped in Boston. Soon thereafter the delegates selected general officers, and they named as commander in chief the highly regarded Virginia planter George Washington, then attending Congress and an experienced veteran of the French and Indian War.

These decisions had a lasting impact on the life of Joseph Plumb Martin, who was not yet 15 years old when Washington traveled northeast from Philadelphia to the vicinity of Boston to assume command of his newly adopted Continental force. Joseph was born on November 21, 1760, in the western Massachusetts town of Becket. His family lineage was certainly respectable. His father, the Reverend Ebenezer Martin, had graduated from Yale College in 1756. Two years later Ebenezer became the first Congregational minister in frontier Becket, where he moved with his wife Susanna. The daughter of a freehold farmer named Joseph Plumb, Susanna grew up in Milford, Connecticut, a few miles west of New Haven, the home of Yale. She wed Ebenezer while he was still in college. Joseph was one of seven children produced by their union.

Family life with Ebenezer was tumultuous. Throughout his checkered, largely unsuccessful ministerial career, he was continually quarrelsome, besides being enamored of his own opinions and careless in the handling of his personal finances. In late 1764 he lost his Becket pastorate because of an unpleasant disagreement with the town fathers over land ownership issues, this among other undefined “indiscretions.” The latter likely related to his spendthrift habits.2

How Ebenezer provided for himself and his family during the next three and a half years remains unclear. Possibly Susanna’s father gave them extended shelter in Milford. When Ebenezer finally secured another pastorate in June 1768 with the newly formed parish of Westford in the northeastern Connecticut town of Ashford, 7-year-old Joseph remained with his Plumb grandparents, who assumed permanent responsibility for his upbringing. Perhaps, among other reasons, they did so to help lighten the burden of family expenses as Ebenezer began anew his ministerial calling. Also, Susanna may have wanted to keep her young son away from his overbearing father.

Ebenezer Martin soon showed that he could not shed his imprudent ways. In 1772 he sidestepped debtors’ prison by appearing before Connecticut’s General Assembly and declaring his insolvency. Five years later his Westford congregants dismissed him for ongoing “complaints of unministerial conduct.” Because he offered a public apology, he gained “a regular dismission.” Ebenezer then migrated with his family to frontier New York and offered his pastoral services at various locations before his death in 1795. “His reputation” was never that of a saintly divine, wrote one Congregational church historian, but rather “of an able, but not always wise man—one who said smart things and odd things, that were remembered sometimes to his discredit and injury.”3

While his father was ministering to his Westford parishioners, Joseph sprouted toward adulthood under the stern but benevolent nurturing of his grandparents. Grandfather Plumb was not “wealthy,” as his grandson later described him, but he was a respectable, hardworking farmer. His desire was to teach his grandson how to make a satisfactory living from farming the land, but then Lexington and Concord intervened. Joseph found himself caught up in the rage militaire of 1775, or what seemed like a universal obsession to bear arms against the King’s forces. Romantic images about the glories of marching off to war filled his youthful mind, a beguiling prospect in comparison to his tedious daily routine of farm chores. The life of a soldier was what Joseph was sure he most wanted, but he was not yet old enough to enlist without his grandparents’ permission. The Plumbs refused to indulge his fancies, at least not during the first year of the Revolutionary War.

Joseph had no way of foreseeing that the rage militaire would not last. The patriot enthusiasts of 1775 found military service to be anything but glamorous. They had expected to fire a few musket shots at those damnable British “lobsterbacks,” but they did not relish the rigorous training and discipline by which soldiers learn to function effectively in battle. Camp life was not only boring but very hazardous to personal health because of continuous exposure to the elements, rotten food, accumulated filth, and the ever lurking presence of such deadly diseases as smallpox. Combat, as some of these sunshine patriots soon learned, could result in permanent disablement or death from enemy gunfire and thrusting bayonets. For all of these reasons the patriot rush to arms of 1775 quickly waned. Washington’s Continental force began the 1776 campaign season critically short of troop strength, which helped give Joseph his opening. When the Continental Congress called for special levies of state troops to serve for the remainder of the year, he was able to enlist without strong opposition from his grandparents.

As Martin explained, he thought he had formed “pretty correct ideas” regarding the reasons why the revolution was necessary. His romantic notions about war, however, did not prepare him for the terrible privations—he called them his “constant companions, Fatigue, Hunger, and Cold”—that he endured year after year as a Continental soldier. Repeatedly he risked life and limb as he fought in major engagements that in 1776 included the defense of Long Island and New York City and the Battle of White Plains; in 1777 the Battle of Germantown in Pennsylvania and the defense of the Delaware River forts; in 1778 the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey; and in 1781 the siege of Yorktown in Virginia. Martin’s length of service, his version of going to high school and college in making the passage to adulthood, made him a “duration” or longterm Continental enlistee, of whom there were very few, probably no more than 1 out of every 250 persons in the Revolutionary populace.

Only 22 years old at the war’s end in 1783, Martin had to find some means to provide for himself in the days and years ahead. For a brief time he taught school among Dutch settlers in the Hudson Highlands region north of New York City. Even though the inhabitants encouraged Martin to remain with them, he had to reckon with his own academic shortcomings. Unlike his father, he had only the bare rudiments of a formal education. “I had never studied grammar an hour in my life,” he admitted, then adding crisply: “When I ought to have been doing that, I was forced to be studying the rules and articles of war.”

Farming was Martin’s only real alternative. Before leaving the army, he had considered traveling with one of his comrades to western New York in search of tillable land. He did not make the trip. The most likely reason was that the Six Nations of Iroquois Indians still had not lost their long-standing claim to that region. Nor did Martin return to Milford. His Plumb grandparents had died during the war, and their farm holdings had likely passed to one or more of their sons—brothers of Joseph’s mother—if not sold off for payment of debts.

Looking elsewhere for opportunity, Martin, like hundreds of other penniless veterans who mustered out of the service with little else except the clothes they were wearing, followed up on rumors that an abundance of decent land was available on easy terms in what would be the future state of Maine. In the spring of 1784 he traveled east with “no material halt” until he reached the mouth of the Penobscot River along the ruggedly beautiful mid-Maine coastline. Here in the vicinity of old, crumbling Fort Pownal, an important military post during the French and Indian War, he settled in and made his home for the remaining 66 years of his existence.4

Martin prospered at first, and he eventually moved from a rude cabin to a more impressive framed structure. In May 1794 he married Lucy, the 19-year-old daughter of Sara (Stimpson) and Isaac Clewley, a prominent local farmer and ship’s carpenter. Over the years, Lucy bore several children, including Joseph (b. 1801), described in the records as “an idiot from birth”; twins Thomas and Nathan (b. 1805); James Sullivan (b. 1810); and Susan (b. 1814).5 Martin gained the respect of his neighbors in the bustling little fishing and farming community that became the incorporated town of Prospect (now Stockton Springs) in the same year as his marriage. Seven times he won election to the town’s board of selectmen. He was also a local justice of the peace and served in the Maine legislature. In 1818 he became Prospect’s town clerk, a post he held for the next 25 years.6

Along the way something went awry for Martin and his growing family. When the United States Congress adopted the Revolutionary War Pension Act of 1818 to assist aging veterans who were subsisting in “reduced circumstances,” a tactful way of referring to poverty, Martin quickly applied for relief. He testified under oath that “I have no real nor personal estate nor any income whatever[,] my necessary bedding and wearing apparel excepted—except two cows, six sheep, [and] one pig.” He described himself as “a laborer” who “by reason of age and infirmity” was “unable to work” and reported that his wife Lucy was both “sickly and rheumatic.” Without the proposed pension sum of $96.00 per year, he would, he declared, be “unable to support myself and family.” The court, after establishing the estimated value of his whole estate at only $52.00, ruled that Martin should have “the assistance of his country.”7

This portrait of destitution stands in stark contrast to the image of the enthusiastic young veteran who had tasted a modest level of affluence after first migrating to Maine. Clearly, something had gone drastically wrong. Martin may have inherited his father’s spendthrift temperament, or perhaps his easygoing, affable disposition undercut his capacity to safeguard his own interests in business dealings. Still another possibility is that Martin, to comply with the terms of the Pension Act, purposely minimized the extent of his material assets. This explanation seems doubtful, however, since neighbors testified under oath about his more than humble if not desperate economic circumstances.

The most convincing explanation relates to the question of land ownership in mid-Maine. Hoping to obtain free land, Martin settled in the area of the Waldo Patent, which came under the control of Washington’s Chief of Artillery, Henry Knox, after the Revolutionary War. Knox, now the Waldo Patent proprietor, expected to receive substantial payments from everyone, including Martin, for the land they had settled on in the Waldo Patent region. Having no choice, Martin agreed in 1797 to a payment schedule. In that year, he had finally received title to 100 acres of soldiers’ bounty lands in the territory of Ohio, and he quickly assigned this grant to a land agent, hoping to use whatever cash he received to help pay for his 100-acre Waldo Patent farm. In 1801, he begged Knox for more time to meet his obligation but received no sympathy. Ten years later Martin owned only 50 acres, a small portion of which he farmed with no particular success. In the end, his $8.00 a month pension from the federal government, and for which he expressed much gratitude in his memoir, enabled him to live with his wife Lucy at a poor but dignified subsistence level for the rest of their lives.8

Advancing age, physical infirmities, and virtual impoverishment did nothing to blunt the workings of Martin’s ever-curious mind. During his elderly years, noted one of his acquaintances, he regularly indulged his “taste for drawing, for poetry, and for composition.” More than anything else, his diverse “intellectual pursuits contributed largely to the comfort of his old age.”9 Martin wrote lyrics for church hymns used by local Congregational churches and prepared illustrations of wild birds. He composed many verses of poetry and drafted a historical account of Fort Pownal, long since razed. His masterwork was his autobiographical reminiscence, the Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier, which received virtually no public notice when first published in 1830 by a Hallowell, Maine, printer.10

Martin, like many an aging veteran of his much venerated generation, took pleasure in talking about his personal deeds and escapades in the martial struggle for American liberty. In turn, willing listeners encouraged him to record his wartime experiences. Setting aside concerns about his educational deficiencies, Martin started writing. At first he “thought a very few pages would contain” his recollections, but once under way he could not bring himself to cut short his writing. “As soon as I let one thought through my mind,” he explained, “another would step up and ask for admittance.” As he scribbled away, Martin felt the intoxicating pleasure of reliving the many memorable days of his youth. Unbeknown to him, he was crafting a priceless account of the Revolutionary era that in our own time has finally begun to receive long overdue and much deserved recognition as an authentic American classic. Certainly the Narrative deserves to stand in the company of another classic memoir of the era, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography.

More than 500 diaries and recollections by soldiers who fought for independence are known to exist, but Martin’s Narrative represents the most complete memoir by a common soldier. At its core is the highly entertaining story of a robust, fun-loving lad and his rite of passage to adulthood as a short- and long-term enlistee in the Continental army. Experiencing combat for the first time at the tender age of 15 served as the first crucial test of young Martin’s personal fortitude. Since his initial venture in soldiering was anything but a pleasant experience, his decision to re-enlist for the duration of the war in 1777, he stated, was “against my inclination.” Had he had some personal ambition, some clear goal for his life, or more capacity to fend off the self-serving solicitations of the so-called patriots who paid him to serve as their substitute, he would have said “no” to further campaigning. Having signed up again, however, Martin kept facing other examinations in “dangers and sufferings” that tested the depth of his capacity to put up with miserable living conditions along with the mayhem of war.11

In the end Martin took pride in having followed through on his long-term commitment, but at no point in describing his wartime journey into adulthood does he take himself too seriously or place himself on some larger-than-life heroic pedestal. Throughout his account he stays within character by invariably presenting himself as a person of ordinary courage. Martin likewise shines a bright light on the ways in which he and other common persons demonstrated their agency as historical actors through their contributions to the hallowed events of the era. His memoir is anything but top down in its orientation; rather Martin presents history from the point of view of everyday persons like himself. “Alexander [the Great] never could have conquered the world without private soldiers,” he wrote in his preface. Martin thus invites his readers to obtain a more rounded sense of historical reality by not just dwelling on the actions of great leaders but by also regarding the experiences of “one of the lowest in station in an army, a private soldier.”

To assure greater breadth of focus in his Narrative, Martin embraced the thoughts and concerns of his rank-and-file comrades in arms. He depicted them not only as stout-hearted but as increasingly resentful of the civilian patriots for whom they were fighting. Their mounting anger reflected abysmal levels of material support, starting with such basics as food and clothing. Shortages could result in humorous situations, which Martin willingly describes. During the autumn of 1777, for example, a large Continental detachment, having failed after an exhausting march to engage enemy troops near Philadelphia, was returning to camp when the soldiers received a supply of whiskey but without food rations—they had not eaten for more than a day—to help absorb the alcohol. They became uproariously drunk, so much so, quips Martin, that “had the enemy come upon us at this time, there would have been an action worth recording.”

No one guffawed, however, when various Continental brigades finally became mutinous in protesting their miserable circumstances. The two near uprisings of Martin’s own Connecticut troops in January 1779 and May 1780 helped vent the anger of soldiers “exasperated beyond endurance,” he wrote. From his perspective the blame lay with “their country sitting still and expecting the army to do notable things while fainting from sheer starvation.”12

Having experienced the war and its dangers and sufferings firsthand, Martin had little tolerance for any romanticizing of the alleged virtuous character of the Revolutionary generation. As such, he would have dismissed the commentary of most historians of his day. Typical was the renowned work of George Bancroft, whose 10-volume history celebrated the establishment of a freedom-loving republic in America as part of a plan inspired by Providence to provide humanity with a safe haven from the debauched political and social systems of Europe. The colonists, wrote Bancroft, were avid participants in God’s “grand design,” and they eagerly left “behind … their families and their all” and came forward “swift as a roe or a young hart over the mountains” to engage in combat against the tyrannical British. “The alacrity with which these troops were raised,” declared Bancroft, “showed that the public mind heaved like the sea [for liberty] from New England to the Ohio and beyond the Blue Ridge.”13

Martin’s memoir does much more than just reject the lyrical chords of patriotic mythology. Through his personal memories so engagingly recalled in his memoir, he openly assaulted the rapidly forming public memory of the Revolution as a time of universal public virtue in which the colonists virtuously rose up as one and sacrificed their all to overcome the beastly British lion over eight long years of warfare. He knew how few persons had stayed out for the whole contest and how this small number had endured deep pangs of hunger if not near starvation, interminable marches in brutal weather, and the cheerless prospect of entering battle in ragged clothing if not half naked, all standard hallmarks of longterm Continental service. Had the civilian populace truly displayed such abiding selflessness, as later imagined by Bancroft and endless patriot-minded orators at July 4th celebrations, or had they willingly offered the army decent levels of material support, Martin and his comrades would not have suffered so much. They would not have had to endure the persistent shortages of so many necessities, even including straw and blankets that would have given warmth and helped sustain life itself during the long winter encampments at such sites of human suffering as Valley Forge and Jockey Hollow.14

With wit, charm, pathos, and an occasional dose of sarcasm, Martin thus framed his recollections in sharp contrast to the standard patriotic canon of his day. He did so because he still had not forgotten how he and his comrades, after so many years of faithful service, had been “turned adrift like old worn-out horses” at the war’s end without receiving duly contracted forms of compensation, especially back wages. He did so because he did not like the “wiseacres” who were recasting reality by telling everyone what “an useless appendage” the Continental army apparently had been, relative to short-term militia units, in securing American independence. He did so because of the “hardhearted wretches” who were complaining about “poor old decrepit soldiers” like himself finally receiving pensions as long overdue compensation for their dedicated service. He did so, finally, because he felt a strong craving, if not compulsion, to present the truth of his experiences, no matter how much at odds with national mythology.

Martin’s irreverence in regard to pronouncements about the Revolution’s patriotic character bothered many of his early readers. One contemporary commentator described the Narrative as “a lively view of the privations and sufferings of the common soldiery in the mighty conflict for liberty and independence,” but he also felt compelled to mention its many “defects,” which he left unspecified. He obviously meant matters of content in addition to grammar and punctuation, especially since he “regretted” that Martin, “before sending his book to the press, … had not placed it in the hands of some judicious friend for revisal.”15 This person, like so many other nineteenth-century Americans, would have preferred to have his history laced through with great heroes and patriotic lore. A “judicious friend” thus might have shown Martin how to modify his words to make them fit more correctly with the mythologized public memories of the Revolution.

No one, however, could have persuaded Martin to abandon his point of view, quite simply because he had developed a sense of history at variance with the conventions of his own time. Martin’s wartime experiences had taught him the importance of studying the lives of ordinary persons. In his prefatory remarks, he invited his readers to consider what famous military commanders could have accomplished without their soldiers. “Nothing at all,” he concluded emphatically. After describing his modest part in the defense of the Delaware River forts during the campaign of 1777, Martin commented on what “little notice” writers had accorded that valiant but futile effort. The reason, he stated, is that “there was no Washington, Putnam, or Wayne there. Had there been, the affair would have been extolled to the skies.” The fundamental problem lay with the way in which his generation preferred to record history: “Great men get great praise, little men nothing. But it always was so and always will be.”

Martin, who died on May 2, 1850, some 67 years after his military service came to an end, was not prophetic on the latter count. Many historians of our own era are devoting countless hours to reconstructing the lives of ordinary persons. They do so in an effort to comprehend more fully the contributions of the lowly, the forgotten, and the unnoticed in history. More specifically, modern-day historians have come to appreciate that George Washington, for whom Martin held abiding respect, could never have achieved the exalted stature of a great military captain without the services and sacrifices of the ordinary soldiers who so courageously stood by him during the Revolutionary War. Each was as necessary and essential as the other in their mutual triumph of securing American liberties. That was Joseph Plumb Martin’s insightful message over 175 years ago, as his masterful Narrative so engagingly makes clear.

Editorial Method

Martin had a natural ability to express himself clearly in vigorous prose. What he needed was an editor to help him overcome his lack of training in the fundamental rules of grammar and punctuation. Apparently he did not have access to such a person, so I have defined my editor’s role as that of proffering assistance to him as well as to his modern readers. Martin, for instance, occasionally made grammatical errors. He would “sat” out on a journey, rather than “set” out. I have silently corrected these slips along with a handful of minor spelling errors. With respect to punctuation, Martin had a particular fascination with commas. He seemed to think that every good sentence required several of them. I have adjusted or eliminated his extraneous punctuation, especially commas, with an eye toward sharpening the intended meaning of his words. Very occasionally I have added commas for the same reason. In almost all instances I have eliminated the period and dash combination [.—] that he sometimes employed to separate sentences, a standard form of punctuation in Martin’s era but no longer in fashion today. In those instances in which his words have fallen into disuse, changed in meaning, or lost resonance to our modern ear, I have added clarifying terms in brackets. An example would be mauger [notwithstanding].

Serving as Martin’s surrogate editor, I concluded that brief portions of the Narrative repeat points already well established or divert readers from the main story line. Like any prideful writer, Martin probably would have objected to any tampering with his text. Like any worthwhile editor, I would have reminded him of the need to maintain a crisp pacing to assure an engaging presentation of his many adventures. Since copies of the original 1830 edition have become extremely scarce, those seeking the full text should consult George F. Scheer’s 1962 edition of the Narrative, which bears the title Private Yankee Doodle.

I have prepared a series of notes to help amplify the historical setting of Martin’s adventures. He did not dwell on the larger ramifications of the wartime events in which he participated. His battle descriptions, for example, have a tactical emphasis but rarely make reference to broader matters of strategy. The notes provide supplemental information about the sweep of issues, personalities, and events during the Revolutionary era. They also offer information about the many geographic sites mentioned by Martin during his seven years of military campaigning. As an additional aid to readers, I have included five maps originally prepared by the respected nineteenth-century cartographer Colonel Henry B. Carrington. The complete set of these maps may be found in Carrington’s Battle Maps and Charts of the American Revolution, originally published in 1881.


I owe a special debt of gratitude to those individuals who so kindly extended me assistance in the preparation of this volume through its various editions. James L. Kochan and Alan Stein, at one time associated with the Morristown National Historical Park in New Jersey, provided guidance in locating a microfiche version of the 1830 edition of Martin’s memoir. A rare original copy of the Narrative may be found in the Park’s renowned Lloyd W. Smith Collection of Early Americana. The Morristown site encompasses the Jockey Hollow camp site where Washington’s Continentals suffered through the unusually harsh winter of 1779–80. David J. Fowler, former Research Director of the David Library of the American Revolution in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, graciously answered numerous queries and furnished a copy of Martin’s Revolutionary War pension file. Dave Fowler and the late Ezra Stone, for many years the David Library’s president, were always hospitable and supportive colleagues and friends. Karen Guenther, Leigh Fought, and Karen Martin made substantial contributions in matters relating to research and editing. Historian David Burner regularly offered his encouragement and infectious enthusiasm. At Blackwell Publishing, Peter Coveney, Executive Editor in History, and Deirdre Ilkson, Editorial Assistant, have been indispensable participants in the development of this new, updated edition. Joseph Plumb Martin, I am sure, would have heartily endorsed the dedication of this volume to my aunt and uncle, Jane and Donald McClelland. He would have also taken great pleasure in their company and friendship, as has this Martin of a later generation.

1 Joseph Williamson, “Biographical Sketch of Joseph P. Martin, of Prospect, Maine, a Revolutionary Soldier,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 30 (1876): 330–31. Martin’s remains are buried at the Sandy Point Cemetery in Sandy Point, Waldo County, Maine, close to where he lived from the mid-1780s to the time of his death in 1850.

2 Joseph S. Clark, et al., “Churches and Ministers in Windham County, Connecticut,” The Congregational Quarterly, 1 (1859): 268–69. For additional information, see the sketch of Ebenezer Martin in Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College, 1701–1815 (6 vols., New York, 1885–1912), 2: 420–21; and “A Complete List of the Congregational and Presbyterian Ministers in Massachusetts, from Settlement of the Colonies to the Present Time,” The American Quarterly Register, 7 (1834): 32, 35.

3 Clark, et al., “Churches and Ministers,” Congregational Quarterly, 269.

4 Alan Taylor, Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Maine Frontier, 1760–1820 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1990), 14–21. Taylor points out that the deceptive lure of cheap land was a major reason for the tripling of Maine’s population to 100,000 people between 1775 and 1790.

5 Henry J. Martin, Notices: Genealogical and Historical, of the Martin Family, of New England (Boston, 1880), 289; Ethel Kenney Lord, “Isaac Clewley; Father and Son,” Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, 93 (1959): 235–36.

6 Alice V. Ellis, The Story of Stockton Springs, Maine (Belfast, Me., 1955), 21, 73–75.

7 Statement sworn before Judge William Crosby of the Court of Common Pleas, Third Eastern Circuit, Hancock County, Maine, July 7, 1820, contained in the Revolutionary War pension file of Joseph Plumb and Lucy Martin, Number W.1629, National Archives, Washington, DC (microfilm). For additional general information, see John P. Resch, “Politics and Public Culture: The Revolutionary War Pension Act of 1818,” Journal of the Early Republic, 8 (1988): 139–58.

8 Taylor, Liberty Men and Great Proprietors, 247–49. Taylor suggests that Martin’s less than flattering commentary in his memoir about Continental army officers, especially their self-indulgent behavior in providing for their own needs first, directly reflected his frustrating land patent dealings with Waldo Patent proprietor Henry Knox.

9 Williamson, “Biographical Sketch,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 331.

10 Technically Martin’s Narrative is not an autobiography, but rather a memoir, since the text focuses only on the years of his youth when he served as a Continental soldier, not his whole life.

11 For a listing of diaries and recollections, see J. Todd White and Charles H. Lesser, eds., Fighters for Independence: A Guide to Sources of Biographical Information on Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution (Chicago, 1977).

12 On the subject of mounting soldier anger and forms of protest, see James Kirby Martin, “A ‘Most Undisciplined, Profligate Crew’: Protest and Defiance in the Continental Ranks, 1776–1783,” in Arms and Independence: The Military Character of the American Revolution, eds. R. Hoffman and P. J. Albert (Charlottesville, Va., 1984), 119–40.

13 George Bancroft, History of the United States from the Discovery of the American Continent (10 vols., Boston, 1834–1874), 8: 62–64.

14 On Revolutionary realities in comparison to patriotic mythologies, see James Kirby Martin and Mark Edward Lender, A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763–1789, 2nd edition (Wheeling, Ill., 2006), passim. On public memories and celebrations of the Revolution in comparison to personal memories shared by Martin and others, see Alfred F. Young, The Shoemaker and the Tea Party (Boston, 1999), passim; Alfred F. Young, Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution (New York, 2006), 1–23; Sarah J. Purcell, Sealed with Blood: War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America (Philadelphia, 2002), passim.

15 Williamson, “Biographical Sketch,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 330–31.


maps_001.jpg maps_002.jpg


of some of the


of a


interspersed with

Anecdotes or Incidents that Occurred within his

own Observation


[Joseph Plumb Martin]

“Long sleepless nights in heavy arms I’ve stood;

And spent laborious days in dust and blood.”

Pope’s Homer


Joseph Plumb Martin [JPM] contends that ordinary persons too often get virtually no credit for their contributions to their times and that they should receive just as much attention as that bestowed on great leaders in the construction of historical memories.

I have somewhere read of a limner, who, when he had daubed a representation of some animal, was always compelled, for the information of the observer, to write under it what he intended it to represent: As, “this is a goose, this is a dog,” &c. So, many books, and mine in particular among the rest, would perhaps be quite unintelligible as to the drift of them, unless the reader was informed beforehand what the author intended.

I shall, therefore, by way of preface, inform the reader that my intention is to give a succinct account of some of my adventures, dangers, and sufferings during my several campaigns in the Revolutionary army. My readers (who, by the by, will, I hope, none of them be beyond the pale of my own neighborhood) must not expect any great transactions to be exhibited to their notice. “No alpine wonders thunder through my tale,” but they are here, once for all, requested to bear it in mind, that they are not the achievements of an officer of high grade which they are perusing, but the common transactions of one of the lowest in station in an army, a private soldier.

Should the reader chance to ask himself this question (and I think it very natural for him to do so) how could any man of common sense ever spend his precious time in writing such a rhapsody of nonsense? To satisfy his inquiring mind, I would inform him, that, as the adage says, “every crow thinks her own young the whitest,” so every private soldier in an army thinks his particular services as essential to carry on the war he is engaged in, as the services of the most influential general: And why not? What could officers do without such men? Nothing at all. Alexander never could have conquered the world without private soldiers.

But, says the reader, this is low; the author gives us nothing but everyday occurrences; I could tell as good a story myself. Very true, Mr. Reader, everyone can tell what he has done in his lifetime, but everyone has not been a soldier, and consequently can know but little or nothing of the sufferings and fatigues incident to an army. All know everyday occurrences, but few know the hardships of the “tented field.” I wish to have a better opinion of my readers, whoever they may be, than even to think that any of them would wish me to stretch the truth to furnish them with wonders that I never saw, or acts or deeds I never performed. I can give them no more than I have to give, and if they are dissatisfied after all, I must say I am sorry for them and myself too; for them, that they expect more than I can do, and myself, that I am so unlucky as not to have it in my power to please them .…

The critical grammarian may find enough to feed his spleen upon if he peruses the following pages; but I can inform him beforehand, I do not regard his sneers; if I cannot write grammatically, I can think, talk, and feel like other men. Besides, if the common readers can understand it, it is all I desire; and to give them an idea, though but a faint one, of what the army suffered that gained and secured our independence, is all I wish. I never studied grammar an hour in my life. When I ought to have been doing that, I was forced to be studying the rules and articles of war .…

A note of interrogation: Why we were made to suffer so much in so good and just a cause; and a note of admiration to all the world, that an army voluntarily engaged to serve their country, when starved, and naked, and suffering everything short of death (and thousands even that), should be able to persevere through an eight years war, and come off conquerors at last!

But lest I should make my preface longer than my story, I will here bring it to a close.