Category: A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier

Excerpt: A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier

The troops were stiled new levies, they were to go to New-York; and notwithstanding I was told that the British army at that place was reinforced by fifteen thousand men, it made no alteration in my mind; I did not care if there had been fifteen times fifteen thousand, I should have gone just as soon as if there had been but fifteen hundred. I never spent a thought about numbers, the Americans were invincible, in my opinion. If any thing affected me, it was a stronger desire to see them. p. 16

Ah, the courage of youth, backed with conviction and supplemented by a desire to be the equal of his peers, to say nothing of his yearning to get away from home.

Excerpt: A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier

I thought I was as warm a patriot as the best of them; the war was waged; we had joined issue, and it would not do to “put the hand to the plough and look back.” I felt more anxious than ever, if possible, to be called a defender of my country. I had not forgot the commencement affair [see excerpt from pp. 10-11], that still stuck in my crop; and it would not do for me to forget it, for that affront was to be my passport to the army. p. 15

The author of the introduction to this Signet edition, Thomas Fleming, seems to have misread the this passage. As a result, the following statement appears on p. viii of the Introduction. For the life of me, I cannot even guess how he came to the leap about the British in Lexington in this connection. For what it’s worth, I recommend the text only on the merits of the memoir itself as this Introduction and the Afterward can be entirely dispensed with without diminishing Mr. Martin’s words one iota.

Why did he stick it out? Part of the reason, of course, was the legal claim the army had on him once he enlisted. Deserters were summarily hanged…But he also felt, after the war began, that “it would not do to put the hand to the plough and look back.” Moreover, the “commencement of the affair”–the brutal way the British shot Americans on Lexington green in April 1775–”stuck in my crop.”



Excerpt: A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier

Just before we had done sowing, I told him [JPM’s grandsire] that all my young associates were going to New-Haven to commencement this season. “Well”–said he, “you shall go too, if you chuse, and you shall have one of the horses, you shall have your choice of them, and I will give you some pocket money.” pp. 10-11

Well, the day arrived; I got up early, did all the little jobs about the place, that my grandsire might have nothing to accuse me of. He had gone out during the morning and did not return till breakfast time. I was waiting with impatience for his coming in, that I might prepare for my excursion,–when, lo, he did come,–much to my sorrow; for the first words I heard, were, “come, get up the team, I have gotten such a one,” naming a neighbour’s boy, somewhat older than myself, ‘to go with us and cart home the salt hay.’ Had thunder and lightning fallen upon the four corners of the house, it would not have struck me with worse feelings than these words of his did. Shame, grief, spite, revenge, all took immediate possession of me. p. 11

Time and again, as I read through a different work, A People’s History of the American Revolution, I see the various motives of the people who served, those who resisted, those who assisted. This passage from Mr. Martin’s memoir starts to give a clear picture of the motives that drove him to enlist.


Excerpt: A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier

I recently finished reading an excellent little piece of American history, A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: The Memoir Previously Published as Private Yankee Doodle: Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin. While I learned the usual rote memorization details of the American Revolutionary War back in grade school, and precious little else even in college American History, since this war was but mere chapter in our great saga, the emphasis I’d learned focused on the usual precipitating events, great names, battles, dates, locations, and outcomes, but only in the broadest of brush strokes. Never had I been exposed to the fine details one might find by looking at the war through the eyes of Everyman. This work has been my introduction to that particular view.

Many times I find the writing of merit merely on its charm. Other times the tales told shed light on people, the times, the places in a way that never would have occurred to me. Other times the passages that struck me just hit some particular nerve, or occasionally serve to illustrate parallels between the times as they were and the times as they are now. Since I enjoyed the book so very much, I thought I’d do you, kind reader, the service of sharing the occasional excerpt such that you might feel compelled to do yourself the favor of giving the work a read.

With that little bit of preamble out of the way, let’s get started, shall we?