Joseph Plumb Martin

Martin was a Revolutionary war soldier who joined the Connecticut State Troops in 1776 when he was 16 years old. He arrived just in time to take part in the disastrous New York campaign, came home because his short enlistment was up, and then re-enlisted in 1777 in the Continental Army. He would serve with the 8th Connecticut Regiment for the remainder of the war.

His memoir is unique in that it offers a perspective of the war from the viewpoint of the common soldier, something that’s pretty rare. He also tells an engaging story with with and humor–here is how he tells of his recruitment and signing up:

I one evening went off with a full determination to enlist at all hazards. When I arrived at the place of rendezvous I found a number of young men of my acquaintance there; the old bantering began—come, if you will enlist I will, says one, you have long been talking about it, says another—comes, now is the time. ‘Thinks I to myself,’ I will not be laughed into it or out of it, at any rate; I will act my own pleasure after all. But what did I come here for to-night? Why, to enlist; then enlist I will. So seating myself at the table, enlisting orders were immediately presented to me; I took up the pen, loaded it with the fatal charge, made several mimic imitations of writing my name, but took especial care not to touch the paper with the pen until an unlucky wight who was leaning over my shoulder gave my hand a stroke, which caused the pen to make a woful scratch on the paper. ‘O, he has enlisted,’ said he, ‘he has made his mark, he is fast enough now.’ Well, thought I, I may as well go through with the business now as not; so I wrote my name fairly upon the indentures.

Although his memoirs are rare, it should be noted that literacy among New Englanders wasn’t, especially in Massachusetts where he was born. It’s been estimated that ¾ths or more of all white males were literate in New England and ½ or more of white females were literate (with the rates even higher in Massachusetts).

One other thing that’s special about this book is that the front and back boards are literally boards of wood that have been bound together.