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    HIST 1151 American History to 1877 Primary Source Readings 2: Revolutionary Society

    HIST 1151 American History to 1877 Primary Source Readings 2: Revolutionary Society


    A collection of primary source readings for American History to 1877.

    Eliza Lucas Letters (1740-1741), Eliza Lucas Pickney

    The primary source readings in this course align with CSCC's version of The American Yawp, Volume 1, which is derived from the The American Yawp open textbook by Stanford University Press.  While the original The American Yawp is accompanied by its own primary source reader called The American Yawp Reader, the selection of primary sources you will find in this course differ somewhat in that some of the text excerpts are from the same sources but might feature a different selection from the text. Some of the primary sources in this course are in addition to those found in The American Yawp Reader. 

    This collection is a work in progress. As introductions, annotations, and "Questions to Consider" are added, updates will be reflected. Users are also welcome to download the Word version of the reading then add or revise the introductions, annotations, or questions. 

    To take this course for credit, register at Columbus State Community College.

    This work, except where otherwise indicated, by Christianna Hurford at Columbus State Community College is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

    There are not yet introductions to all the readings in this unit,  though we anticipate adding introductions following Autumn 2019 semester. 

    Eliza Lucas Letters (1740-1741)

    Eliza Lucas Pickney


    Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]


    Eliza Lucas was born into a moderately wealthy family in South Carolina. Throughout her life she shrewdly managed her money and greatly added to her family’s wealth. These two letters from an unusually intelligent financial manager offer a glimpse into the commercial revolution and social worlds of the early eighteenth century.



    Questions to Consider:


    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?

    2. How does Eliza spend her days and what does that say about the identity she has constructed for herself as compared to other colonial women?

    3. Discuss Eliza’s role as a business woman –what greater insights can we gain into her as a person based upon this?

    4. What concerns/challenges does she face on a day-to-day basis and what does this reveal about colonial life?

    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



    Primary Source[2]


    Letter to a friend in London - May 2, 1740

    I flatter myself it will be a satisfaction to you to hear I like this part of the world, as my lot has fallen here—which I really do. I prefer England to it, ‘tis true, but think Carolina greatly preferable to the West Indies, as was my Papa here I should be very happy.

    We have a very good acquaintance from whom we have received much friendship and civility. Charles Town, the principal one in this province, is a polite, agreeable place. The people live very gentle and very much in the English taste. The country is in general fertile and abounds with venison and wild fowl; the venison is much higher flavored than in England but ‘tis seldom fat.

    My Papa and Mama’s great indulgence to me leaves it to me to choose our place of residence either in town or country, but I think it more prudent as well as agreeable to my Mama and self to be in the country during Father’s absence. We are 17 mile by land and 6 y water from Charles Town—where we have about 6 agreeable families around us with whom we live in great harmony.

    I have a little library well furnished (for my papa has left me most of his books) in which I spend part of my time. My music and the garden, which I am very fond of, take up the rest of my time that is not employed in business, of which my father has left me a pretty good share—and indeed, ‘twas unavoidable as my Mama’s bad state of heath prevents her going through any fatigue.

    I have the business of 3 plantations to transact, which requires much writing and more business and fatigue of other sorts than you can imagine. But least you should imagine it too burdensome to a girl at my early time of life, give me leave to answer you; I assure you I think myself happy that I can be useful to so good a father, and by rising very early I find I can go through much business. But least you should think I shall be quite moped with this way of life I am to inform you there is to worthy ladies in Charles Town, Mrs. Pickney and Mrs. Cleland, who are partial enough to me to be always pleased to have me with them, and insist upon making their houses my home when in town and press me to relax, a little much oftener than ’tis my honor to accept of their obliging entreaties. But I sometimes am with one or the other for 3 weeks or a month at a time, and enjoy all the pleasures Charles Town affords, but nothing gives me more than subscribing myself.

    Yr. most affectionate and most obliged humble servt.

    Eliza. Lucas

    Letter to her father - June 4, 1741

    Never were letters more welcome than yours of Feb. 19th and 20th and March the 15th and 21st, which came almost together. It was near 6 months since we had the pleasure of a line from you. Our fears increased apace and we dreaded some fatal accident befallen, but hearing of your recovery from a dangerous fit of illness has more than equaled, great as it was, our former anxiety. Nor shall we ever think ourselves sufficiently thankful to Almighty God for the continuance of so great a blessing.

    I sympathize most sincerely with a calamity as the scarcity of provisions and the want of the necessarys of life to the poorer sort. We shall send all we can get of all sorts of provisions particularly what you write for. I write this day to Starrat for a barrel of butter.

    We expect the boat dayly from Garden Hill when I shall be able to give you an account of affairs there. The cotton, guiney corn, and most of the ginger planted here was cut off by a frost. I wrote you a former letter we had a fine crop of indigo seed upon the ground, and since informed you the frost took it before it was dry. I picked out the best of it and had it planted but there is not more than a hundred bushes of it come up—which proves the more unlucky as you have sent a man to make it. I make no doubt indigo will prove a very valuable commodity in time if we could have the seed from the West Indies time enough to plant the latter end of March, that the seed might be dry enough to gather before our frost. I am sorry we lost this season. We can do nothing towards it now but make the works ready for next year. The lucern is yet dwindlering, but Mr. Hunt tells me ‘tis always so here the first year.

    The death of my Grandmamma was, as you imagine, very shocking and grievous to my Mama, but I hope the considerations of the miserys that attend so advanced an age will help time to wear it off. I am very much obliged to you for the present you were so good to send me of the fifty pound bill of exchange which I duly received.

    We hear Carthagene is taken.

    Mr. Wallis is dead. Capt. Norberry was lately killed in a duel by Capt. Dobrusee, whose life was despaired of by the wounds he received. He is much blamed for quarreling with such a brawling man as Norberry who was disregarded by every body. Norberry has a wife and 3 or 4 children in very bad circumstances to lament his rashness.

    Mama tenders her affections and Polly joins in duty with.

    My Dr. Papa

    Your most obedient and ever devoted daughter

    E. Lucas


    [1]Introduction to Eliza Lucas Letters, 1740-1741” in The American Yawp by Stanford University Press is licensed under CC-BY-SA.


    [2]Letter to a friend in London” in The American Yawp by Stanford University Press is licensed under CC-BY-SA.

    Original Source: Harriott Horry Ravenel, Eliza Pinckney (New York: 1896), 5-6, 8-10 is in the public domain.

    Image:Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger, “American soldiers at the siege of Yorktown,” 1781, via Wikimedia.



    Another Race of White Men Come Amongst Us”: Native American Views as British Replace the French in the Lower Mississippi Valley, 1765, Alibamo Mingo

    There is not yet an introduction to this reading, though we anticipate adding one following Autumn 2019 semester.  

    Another Race of White Men Come Amongst Us”: Native American Views as British Replace the French in the Lower Mississippi Valley,  (1765)

    Alibamo Mingo

    Questions to Consider:


    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  What are the author’s expectations of the White Men?  Why?  Do you think other Native American would agree with him?  Why/Why Not?
    3.  What is the author afraid of losing?  Why?
    4. Why is he concerned about the behavior of the traders towards the women?  What does this suggest about the differences between the two peoples?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



    Primary Source[1]

    When I was Young the White Men came amongst us bearing abundance along with them, I took them by the hand & have ever remained firm to my Engagements, in return all my wants & those of my Warriors & Wives & Children have been Bountyfully Supplied. I now See another Race of White Men Come amongst us bearing the Same abundance, & I expect they will be equally Bountyfull which must be done if they wish equally to gain the affection of my people.

    I and my Men have used the Guns of France these Eighty Winters Back, I wish I was Young to try the English Guns & English Powder both of which I hope will flourish & rejoice the Heart of the Hunters thro' the Land and Cover the Nakedness of the Women.

    With respect to the Land I was not Consulted in it, if I was to deliver my Sentiments evil disposed People might impute it to Motives very different from those which actuate me, it is true the Land belonged chiefly to those who have given it away; that the Words which were Spoken have been written with a Lasting Mark, the Superintendant marks every word after word as one would count Bullets so that no variation can happen, & therefore the words have been Spoken and the eternal marks traced I will not Say anything to contradict, but, on the Contrary Confirm the Cession which has been made. What I have now to Say on that head is, to wish that all the Land may be Settled in four years that I may See it myself before I die.

    I Listned to all the parts of the Talks and Liked them exceeding well, except that part from the Superintendant, where he reported that those Medal Chiefs who did not behave well Should be broke & their Medals given to others. The Conversation I have held with Faver, in private, has rung every Night in my Ear, as I laid my Head on the bear Skin & as I have many Enemies in the Nation, I dreamed I should be the Person, which would break my heart in my Old Age, to Loose the Authority I have so long held.

    I cannot Immagine the Great King could Send the Superintendant to deceive us. In case we deliver up our French Medals & Commissions we expect to receive as good in their place, and that we Should bear the Same Authority & be entitled to the Same presents, If you wish to Serve your Old Friends you may give New Medals & Commissions & presents, but the worthy cannot bear to be disgraced without a fault, Neither will the Generous Inflict a Punishment without a Crime.

    There was one thing I would mention tho' it cannot concern myself, & that is the Behaviour of the traders towards our Women, I was told of old by the Creeks & Cherokees, wherever the English went they caused disturbances for they lived under no Government and paid no respect either to Wisdom or Station. I hoped for better things, that those Old Talks had no truth in them. One thing I must report which has happened within my own knowledge, that often when the Traders sent for a Basket of Bread & the Generous Indian sent his own wife to Supply their wants instead of taking the Bread out of the Basket they put their hand upon the Breast of their Wives which was not to be admitted, for the first maxim in our Language is that Death is preferable to disgrace.

    I am not of opinion that in giving Land to the English, we deprive ourselves of the use of it, on the Contrary, I think we shall share it with them, as for Example the House I now Speak in was built by the White people on our Land yet it is divided between the White & the Red people. Therefore we need not be uneasy that the English Settle upon our Lands as by that means they can more easily Supply our wants.



    [1] Source: Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History, Mississippi Provincial Archives: English Dominion, compiled and edited by Dunbar Rowland (Nashville, Tenn: Brandon Printing Co., 1911), 240–41.

    Primary source text is in the public domain.




    Four Petitions Against Slavery (1773 - 1777)

    There is not yet an introduction to this reading, though we anticipate adding one following Autumn 2019 semester. 

    Questions to Consider:


    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  What “Revolutionary Rhetoric” do the authors use in these petitions and why?
    3.  How and why do the authors use religious language in these petitions?
    4. What kind of identity do these authors present here and how does it differ from how the colonists viewed them?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



    Primary Source[1]


    Province of the Massachusetts Bay To His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Esq; Governor; To The Honorable His Majesty s Council, and To the Honorable House of Representatives in General Court assembled at Boston, the 6th Day of January, 1773.

    The humble PETITION of many Slaves, living in the Town of Boston, and other Towns in the Province is this, namely That your Excellency and Honors, and the Honorable the Representatives would be pleased to take their unhappy State and Condition under your wise and just Consideration.

    We desire to bless God, who loves Mankind, who sent his Son to die for their Salvation, and who is no respecter of Persons; that he hath lately put it into the Hearts of Multitudes on both Sides of the Water, to bear our Burthens, some of whom are Men of great Note and Influence; who have pleaded our Cause with Arguments which we hope will have their weight with this Honorable Court.

    We presume not to dictate to your Excellency and Honors, being willing to rest our Cause on your Humanity and justice; yet would beg Leave to say a Word or two on the Subject. Although some of the Negroes are vicious, (who doubtless may be punished and restrained by the same Laws which are in Force against other of the Kings Subjects) there are many others of a quite different Character, and who, if made free, would soon be able as well as willing to bear a Part in the Public Charges; many of them of good natural Parts, are discreet, sober, honest, and industrious; and may it not be said of many, that they are virtuous and religious, although their Condition is in itself so unfriendly to Religion, and every moral Virtue except Patience. How many of that Number have there been, and now are in this Province, who have had every Day of their Lives embittered with this most intolerable Reflection, That, let their Behaviour be what it will, neither they, nor their Children to all Generations, shall ever be able to do, or to possess and enjoy any Thing, no, not even Life itself, but in a Manner as the Beasts that perish.

    We have no Property. We have no Wives. No Children. We have no City. No Country. But we have a Father in Heaven, and we are determined, as far as his Grace shall enable us, and as far as our degraded contemptuous Life will admit, to keep all his Commandments: Especially will we be obedient to our Masters, so long as God in his sovereign Providence shall suffer us to be holden in Bondage.

    It would be impudent, if not presumptuous in us, to suggest to your Excellency and Honors any Law or Laws proper to be made, in relation to our unhappy State, which, although our greatest Unhappiness, is not our Fault; and this gives us great Encouragement to pray and hope for such Relief as is consistent with your Wisdom, justice, and Goodness.

    We think Ourselves very happy, that we may thus address the Great and General Court of this Province, which great and good Court is to us, the best judge, under God, of what is wise, just and good.

    We humbly beg Leave to add but this one Thing more: We pray for such Relief only, which by no Possibility can ever be productive of the least Wrong or Injury to our Masters; but to us will be as Life from the dead.







    The efforts made by the legislative of this province in their last sessions to free themselves from slavery, gave us, who are in that deplorable state, a high degree of satisfaction. We expect great things from men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them. We cannot but wish and hope Sir, that you will have the same grand object, we mean civil and religious liberty, in view in your next session. The divine spirit of freedom, seems to fire every humane breast on this continent, except such as are bribed to assist in executing the execrable plan.

    WE are very sensible that it would be highly detrimental to our present masters, if we were allowed to demand all that of right belongs to us for past services; this we disclaim. Even the Spaniards, who have not those sublime ideas of freedom that English men have, are conscious that they have no right to all the service of their fellow-men, we mean the Africans, whom they have purchased with their money; therefore they allow them one day in a week to work for them-selve[s], to enable them to earn money to purchase the residue of their time, which they have a right to demand in such portions as they are able to pay for (a due appraizment of their services being first made, which always stands at the purchase money). We do not pretend to dictate to you Sir, or to the honorable Assembly, of which you are a member: We acknowledge our obligations to you for what you have already done, but as the people of this province seem to be actuated by the principles of equity and justice, we cannot but expect your house will again take our deplorable case into serious consideration, and give us that ample relief which, as men, we have a natural right to.

    BUT since the wise and righteous governor of the universe, has permitted our fellow men to make us slaves, we bow in submission to him, and determine to behave in such a manner, as that we may have reason to expect the divine approbation of, and assistance in, our peaceable and lawful attempts to gain our freedom.

    WE are willing to submit to such regulations and laws, as may be made relative to us, until we leave the province, which we determine to do as soon as we can from our joynt labours procure money to transport ourselves to some part of the coast of Africa, where we propose a settlement. We are very desirous that you should have instructions relative to us, from your town, therefore we pray you to communicate this letter to them, and ask this favor for us.

    In behalf of our fellow slaves in this province, And by order of their Committee.







    The Petition of a Grate Number of Blackes of this Province who by divine permission are held in a state of Slavery within the bowels of a free and christian Country

    Humbly Shewing

    That your Petitioners apprehind we have in common with all other men a naturel right to our freedoms without Being depriv'd of them by our fellow men as we are a freeborn Pepel and have never forfeited this Blessing by aney compact or agreement whatever. But we were unjustly dragged by the cruel hand of power from our dearest frinds and sum of us stolen from the bosoms of our tender Parents and from a Populous Pleasant and plentiful country and Brought hither to be made slaves for Life in a Christian land. Thus are we deprived of every thing that hath a tendency to make life even tolerable, the endearing ties of husband and wife we are strangers to for we are no longer man and wife then our masters or mestreses thinkes proper marred or on marred. Our children are also taken from us by force and sent maney miles from us wear we seldom or ever see them again there to be made slaves of for Life which surnames is vere short by Reson of Being dragged from their mothers Breest[.] Thus our Lives are imbittered to us on these accounts [.] By our deplorable situation we are rendered incapable of shewing our obedience to Almighty God[.] [H]ow can a slave perform the duties of a husband to a wife or parent to his child [?] How can a husband leave master and work and cleave to his wife[?] How can the wife submit themselves to there husbands in all things[?] How can the child obey thear parents in all things[?] ...

    How can the master be said to Beare my Borden when he Beares me down whith the Have chanes of slavery and operson [oppression] against my will and how can we fulfill our parte of duty to him whilst in this condition [?] [A] nd as we cannot searve our God as we ought whilst in this situation Nither can we reap an equal benefet from the laws of the Land which doth not justifl but condemns Slavery or if there had bin aney Law to hold us in Bondege we are Humbely of the Opinon ther never was aney to inslave our children for life when Born in a free Countrey. We therefor Bage your Excellency and Honours will give this its deu weight and consideration and that you will accordingly cause an act of the legislative to be pessed that we may obtain our Natural right our freedoms and our children be set at lebety [liberty].


    To the Honorable Council and House of Representatives for the State of Massachusetts-Bay in General Court assembled January 13th[,] 1777.

    The Petition of a great number of Negroes who are detained in a state of Slavery in the Bowels of a free and Christian Country Humbly Shewing:

    That your Petitioners apprehend that they have, in common with all other Men, a natural and unalienable right to that freedom, which the great Parent of the Universe hath bestowed equally on all Mankind, and which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever—But they were unjustly dragged, by the cruel hand of Power, from their dearest friends, and some of them even torn from the embraces of their tender Parents, from a populous, pleasant and plentiful Country—and in Violation of the Laws of Nature and of Nation and in defiance of all the tender feelings of humanity, brought hither to be sold like Beasts of Burden, and like them condemned to slavery for Life—Among a People professing the mild Religion of Jesus—A People not insensible of the sweets of rational freedom—Nor without spirit to resent the unjust endeavors of others to reduce them to a State of Bondage and Subjection.

    Your Honors need not to be informed that a Life of Slavery, like that of your petitioners, deprived of every social privilege, of every thing requisite to render Life even tolerable, is far worse than Non-Existence—In imitation of the laudable example of the good People of these States, your Petitioners have long and patiently waited the event of Petition after Petition by them presented to the legislative Body of this State, and can not but with grief reflect that their success has been but too similar.

    They can not but express their astonishment, that it has never been considered, that every principle from which America has acted in the course of her unhappy difficulties with Great-Britain, pleads stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your Petitioners.

    They therefore humbly beseech your Honors, to give this Petition its due weight and consideration, and cause an Act of the Legislature to be passed, whereby they may be restored to the enjoyment of that freedom which is the natural right of all Men—and their Children (who were born in this Land of Liberty) may not be held as Slaves after they arrive at the age of twenty one years.

    So may the Inhabitants of this State (no longer chargeable with the inconsistency of acting, themselves, the pan which they condemn and oppose in others) be prospered in their present glorious struggles for liberty; and have those blessings secured to them by Heaven, of which benevolent minds can not wish to deprive their fellow Men.

    And your Petitioners, as in Duty Bound shall ever pray.



    [1] See Citations with Each Letter. All primary sources believed to be in the public domain.

    [2] "’Felix’ (Unknown) Slave Petition for Freedom” (January 6. 1773). In Aptheker, ed., A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, vol. 1, pp. 6-7.

    [3] “Peter Bestes and Other Slaves Petition for Freedom” (April 20,1773). In Aptheker, ed, A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, vol. I, pp. 7-8. Leaflet in the collection of the New York Historical Society library.


    [4] "Petition of a Grate Number of Blackes" to Thomas Gage (May 25, 1774). In Aptheker, ed., A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, vol. 1, pp. 8-9. From the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th series, vol. 3 (Boston, IB77), pp. 432ff.


    [5] "Petition of a Great Number of Negroes" to the Massachusetts House of Representatives (January 13, 1777). In Aptheker, ed., A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, vol. 1, pp. 9-10. From the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th series, vol. 3 (Boston, 1877). pp. 432ff.


    Family Letters (Excerpts from 1774-1777), John and Abigail Adams

    There is not yet an introduction to this reading, though we anticipate adding one following Autumn 2019 semester. 

    Family Letters (Excerpts from 1774-1777)

    John and Abigail Adams


    Questions to Consider:

    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  What does Abigail Adams think of the male sex and how and why does she want this to change?
    3.  Does Abagail Adams appear to stay true to or go against the norms for women of her time? How and why?  Be specific!
    4. How does John Adams respond to Abigale Adams’ “Code of Laws” and how does this response demonstrate the very limits of the revolution itself?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



    Primary Source[1]


    Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 28 August 1774

    Prince Town New Jersey Aug. 28th, 1774


    My Dr.

    I received your kind Letter, at New York, and it is not easy for you to imagine the Pleasure it has given me. I have not found a single Opportunity to write since I left Boston, excepting by the Post and I dont choose to write by that Conveyance, for fear of foul Play. But as We are now within forty two Miles of Philadelphia, I hope there to find some private Hand by which I can convey this.


    The Particulars of our journey, I must reserve, to be communicated after my Return. It would take a Volume to describe the whole. It has been upon the whole an Agreable Jaunt, We have had Opportunities to see the World, and to form Acquaintances with the most eminent and famous Men, in the several Colonies we have passed through. We have been treated with unbounded Civility, Complaisance, and Respect.


    We Yesterday visited Nassau Hall Colledge, and were politely treated by the Schollars, Tutors, Professors and President, whom We are, this Day to hear preach. Tomorrow We reach the Theatre of Action. God Almighty grant us Wisdom and Virtue sufficient for the high Trust that is devolved upon Us. The Spirit of the People wherever we have been seems to be very favourable. They universally consider our Cause as their own, and express the firmest Resolution, to abide the Determination of the Congress.


    I am anxious for our perplexed, distressed Province-hope they will be directed into the right Path. Let me intreat you, my Dear, to make yourself as easy and quiet as possible. Resignation to the Will of Heaven is our only Resource in such dangerous Times. Prudence and Caution should be our Guides. I have the strongest Hopes, that We shall yet see a clearer Sky, and better Times.

    Remember my tender Love to my little Nabby. Tell her she must write me a Letter and inclose it in the next you send. I am charmed with your Amusement with our little Johnny. Tell him I am glad to hear he is so good a Boy as to read to his Mamma, for her Entertainment, and to keep himself out of the Company of rude Children. Tell him I hope to hear a good Account of his Accidence and Nomenclature, when I return.

    Kiss my little Charley and Tommy for me. Tell them I shall be at Home by November, but how much sooner I know not.


    Remember me to all enquiring Friends-particularly to Uncle Quincy, your Pappa and Family, and Dr. Tufts and Family. Mr. Thaxter, I hope, is a good Companion, in your Solitude. Tell him, if he devotes his Soul and Body to his Books, I hope, notwithstanding the Darkness of these Days, he will not find them unprofitable Sacrifices in future.

    I have received three very obliging Letters, from Tudor, Trumble, and Hill. They have cheared us, in our Wanderings, and done us much Service.

    My Compliments to Mr. Wibirt and Coll. Quincy, when you see them.


    Your Account of the Rain refreshed me. I hope our Husbandry is prudently and industriously managed. Frugality must be our Support. Our Expences, in this journey, will be very great-our only Reward will be the consolatory Reflection that We toil, spend our Time, and tempt Dangers for the public Good-happy indeed, if we do any good!


    The Education of our Children is never out of my Mind. Train them to Virtue, habituate them to industry, activity, and Spirit. Make them consider every Vice, as shamefull and unmanly: fire them with Ambition to be usefull-make them disdain to be destitute of any usefull, or ornamental Knowledge or Accomplishment. Fix their Ambition upon great and solid Objects, and their Contempt upon little, frivolous, and useless ones. [It] is Time, my dear, for you to begin to teach them French. Every Decency, Grace, and Honesty should be inculcated upon them.

    I have [kept] a few Minutes by Way of journal, which shall be your Entertainment when I come home, but We have had so many Persons and so various Characters to converse with, and so many Objects to view, that I have not been able to be so particular as I could wish.-I am, with the tenderest Affection and Concern, your wandering

    John Adams[2]


    Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 22 September 1774

    Boston Garison Sepbr. 22 1774


    I have just returnd from a visit to my Brother, with my Father who carried me there the day before yesterday, and call'd here in my return to see this much injured Town. I view it with much the same sensations that I should the body of a departed Friend, only put of[f] its present Glory, for to rise finally to a more happy State. I will not despair, but will believe that our cause being good we shall finally prevail. The Maxim in time of peace prepair for war, (if this may be call'd a time of peace) resounds throughout the Country. Next tuesday they are warned at Braintree all above 15 and under 60 to attend with their arms, and to train once a fortnight from that time, is a Scheme which lays much at heart with many.


    Scot has arrived, and brings news that he expected to find all peace and Quietness here as he left them at home. You will have more particuliars than I am able to send you, from much better hands. There has been in Town a conspiracy of the Negroes. At present it is kept pretty private and was discoverd by one who endeavourd to diswaid them from it-he being threatned with his life, applied to justice Quincy for protection. They conducted in this way-got an Irishman to draw up a petition letting to the Govener telling him they would fight for him provided he would arm them and engage to liberate them if he conquerd, and it is said that he attended so much to it as to consult Pircy upon it, and one [Lieut.?] Small has been very buisy and active. There is but little said, and what Steps they will take in consequence of it I know not. I wish most sincerely there was not a Slave in the province. It allways appeard a most iniquitious Scheme to me-fight ourselfs for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this Subject.


    I left all our little ones well, and shall return to them to night. I hope to hear from you by the return of the bearer of this and by Revere. I long for the Day of your return, yet look upon you much safer where you are, but know it will not do for you. Not one action has been brought to this court, no buisness of any sort in your way. All law ceases, and the Gosple will soon follow, for they are supporters of each other. Adieu. My Father hurries me. Yours most sincerely,

    Abigail Adams[3]





    Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March - 5 April 1776

    Braintree March 31, 1776


    I wish you would ever write me a Letter half as long as I write you; and tell me if you may where your Fleet are gone? What sort of Defence Virginia can make against our common Enemy? Whether it is so situated as to make an able Defence? Are not the Gentery Lords and the common people vassals, are they not like the uncivilized Natives Brittain represents us to be? I hope their Riffel Men who have shewen themselves very savage and even Blood thirsty; are not a specimen of the Generality of the people.


    I  [illegible]  am willing to allow the Colony great merrit for having produced a Washington but they have been shamefully duped by a Dunmore.


    I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for Liberty cannot be Eaquelly Strong in the Breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain that it is not founded upon that generous and christian principal of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us.


    Do not you want to see Boston; I am fearfull of the small pox, or I should have been in before this time. I got Mr. Crane to go to our House and see what state it was in. I find it has been occupied by one of the Doctors of a Regiment, very dirty, but no other damage has been done to it. The few things which were left in it are all gone. Cranch has the key which he never deliverd up. I have wrote to him for it and am determined to get it cleand as soon as possible and shut it up. I look upon it a new acquisition of property, a property which one month ago I did not value at a single Shilling, and could with pleasure have seen it in flames.


    The Town in General is left in a better state than we expected, more oweing to a percipitate flight than any Regard to the inhabitants, tho some individuals discoverd a sense of honour and justice and have left the rent of the Houses in which they were, for the owners and the furniture unhurt, or if damaged sufficent to make it good.


    Others have committed abominable Ravages. The Mansion House of your President is safe and the furniture unhurt whilst both the House and Furniture of the Solisiter General have fallen a prey to their own merciless party. Surely the very Fiends feel a Reverential awe for Virtue and patriotism, whilst they Detest the paricide and traitor.


    I feel very differently at the approach of spring to what I did a month ago. We knew not then whether we could plant or sow with safety, whether when we had toild we could reap the fruits of our own industery, whether we could rest in our own Cottages, or whether we should not be driven from the sea coasts to seek shelter in the wilderness, but now we feel as if we might sit under our own vine and eat the good of the land.


    I feel a gaieti de Coar to which before I was a stranger. I think the Sun looks brighter, the Birds sing more melodiously, and Nature puts on a more chearfull countanance. We feel a temporary peace, and the poor fugitives are returning to their deserted habitations.


    Tho we felicitate ourselves, we sympathize with those who are trembling least the Lot of Boston should be theirs. But they cannot be in similar circumstances unless pusilanimity and cowardise should take possession of them. They have time and warning given them to see the Evil and shun it. -- I long to hear that you have declared an independency -- and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.


    That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness. 


    April 5

    Not having an opportunity of sending this I shall add a few lines more; tho not with a heart so gay. I have been attending the sick chamber of our Neighbour Trot whose affliction I most sensibly feel but cannot discribe, striped of two lovely children in one week. Gorge the Eldest died on wedensday and Billy the youngest on fryday, with the Canker fever, a terible disorder so much like the throat distemper, that it differs but little from it. Betsy Cranch has been very bad, but upon the recovery. Becky Peck they do not expect will live out the day. Many grown persons are now sick with it, in this street 5. It rages much in other Towns. The Mumps too are very frequent. Isaac is now confined with it. Our own little flock are yet well. My Heart trembles with anxiety for them. God preserve them.


    I want to hear much oftener from you than I do. March 8 [John to Abigail, 08 March 1776] was the last date of any that I have yet had. -- You inquire of whether I am making Salt peter. I have not yet attempted it, but after Soap making believe I shall make the experiment. I find as much as I can do to manufacture cloathing for my family who which would else be Naked. I know of but one person in this part of the Town who has made any, that is Mr. Tertias Bass as he is calld who has got very near an hundred weight which has been found to be very good. I have heard of some others in the other parishes. Mr. Reed of Weymouth has been applied to, to go to Andover to the mills which are now at work, and has gone. I have lately seen a small Manuscrip describing the proportions for the various sorts of powder, such as fit for cannon, small arms and pistols  [illegible]  . If it would be of any Service your way I will get it transcribed and send it to you. -- Every one of your Friends send their Regards, and all the little ones. Your Brothers youngest child lies bad with convulsion fitts. Adieu. I need not say how much I am Your ever faithfull Friend.[4]


    Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 14 April 1776

    Ap. 14, 1776


    You justly complain of my short Letters, but the critical State of Things and the Multiplicity of Avocations must plead my Excuse. You ask where the Fleet is. The inclosed Papers will inform you. You ask what Sort of Defence Virginia can make. I believe they will make an able Defence. Their Militia and minute Men have been some time employed in training them selves, and they have Nine Battallions of regulars as they call them, maintained among them, under good Officers, at the Continental Expence. They have set up a Number of Manufactories of Fire Arms, which are busily employed. They are tolerably supplied with Powder, and are successfull and assiduous, in making Salt Petre. Their neighbouring Sister or rather Daughter Colony of North Carolina, which is a warlike Colony, and has several Battallions at the Continental Expence, as well as a pretty good Militia, are ready to assist them, and they are in very good Spirits, and seem determined to make a brave Resistance. -- The Gentry are very rich, and the common People very poor.


    This Inequality of Property, gives an Aristocratical Turn to all their Proceedings, and occasions a strong Aversion in their Patricians, to Common Sense. But the Spirit of these Barons, is coming down, and it must submit.


    It is very true, as you observe they have been duped by Dunmore. But this is a Common Case. All the Colonies are duped, more or less, at one Time and another. A more egregious Bubble was never blown up, than the Story of Commissioners coming to treat with the Congress. Yet it has gained Credit like a Charm, not only without but against the clearest Evidence. I never shall forget the Delusion, which seized our best and most sagacious Friends the dear Inhabitants of Boston, the Winter before last. Credulity and the Want of Foresight, are Imperfections in the human Character, that no Politician can sufficiently guard against.


    You have given me some Pleasure, by your Account of a certain House in Queen Street. I had burned it, long ago, in Imagination. It rises now to my View like a Phoenix. -- What shall I say of the Solicitor General? I pity his pretty Children, I pity his Father, and his sisters. I wish I could be clear that it is no moral Evil to pity him and his Lady. Upon Repentance they will certainly have a large Share in the Compassions of many. But  [illegible]  let Us take Warning and give it to our Children. Whenever Vanity, and Gaiety, a Love of Pomp and Dress, Furniture, Equipage, Buildings, great Company, expensive Diversions, and elegant Entertainments get the better of the Principles and Judgments of Men or Women there is no knowing where they will stop, nor into what Evils, natural, moral, or political, they will lead us.


    Your Description of your own Gaiety de Coeur, charms me. Thanks be to God you have just Cause to rejoice -- and may the bright Prospect be obscured by no Cloud.


    As to Declarations of Independency, be patient. Read our Privateering Laws, and our Commercial Laws. What signifies a Word.


    As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our Struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient -- that schools and Colledges were grown turbulent -- that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters.


    But your Letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerfull than all the rest were grown discontented. -- This is rather too coarse a Compliment but you are so saucy, I wont blot it out.


    Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems. Altho they are in full Force, you know they are little more than Theory. We dare not exert our Power in its full Latitude. We are obliged to go fair, and softly, and in Practice you know We are the subjects. We have only the Name of Masters, and rather than give up this, which would compleatly subject Us to the Despotism of the Peticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave Heroes would fight. I am sure every good Politician would plot, as long as he would against Despotism, Empire, Monarchy, Aristocracy, Oligarchy, or Ochlocracy. -- A fine Story indeed. I begin to think the Ministry as deep as they are wicked. After stirring up Tories, Landjobbers, Trimmers, Bigots, Canadians, Indians, Negroes, Hanoverians, Hessians, Russians, Irish Roman Catholicks, Scotch Renegadoes, at last they have stimulated the to demand new Priviledges and threaten to rebell.[5]


    Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 14 August 1776

    August 14 1776


    I wrote you to day by Mr. Smith but as I suppose this will reach you sooner, I omitted mentioning any thing of my family in it.


    Nabby has enough of the small Pox for all the family beside. She is pretty well coverd, not a spot but what is so soar that she can neither walk sit stand or lye lay with any comfort. She is as patient as one can expect, but they are a very soar sort. If it was a disorder to which we could be subject more than once I would go as far as it was possible to avoid it. She is sweld a good deal. You will receive a perticuliar account before this reaches you of the uncommon manner in which the small Pox acts, it bafels the skill of the most Experience'd here. Billy Cranch is now out with about 40, and so well as not to be detaind at Home an hour for it. Charlly remains in the same state he did.


    Your Letter of August 3 [John to Abigail, 03 August 1776] came by this days Post. I find it very conveniant to be so handy. I can receive a Letter at Night, sit down and reply to it, and send it of in the morning.


    You remark upon the deficiency  [illegible]  of Education in your Countrymen. It never I believe was in a worse state, at least for many years. I believe The Colledge is not in the state one could wish, the Schollars complain that their professer in Philosophy is taken of by publick Buisness to their great detriment. In this Town I never saw so great a neglect of Education. The poorer sort of children are wholly neglected, and left to range the Streets without Schools, without Buisness, given up to all Evil. The Town is not as formerly divided into Wards. There is either too much Buisness left upon the hands of a few, or too little care to do it. We daily see the Necessity of a regular Goverment.You speak of our Worthy Brother. I often lament it that a Man so peculiarly formed for the Education of youth, and so well qualified as he is in many Branches of Litrature, excelling in Philosiphy and the Mathematicks, should not be imployd in some publick Station. I know not the person who would make half so good a Successor to Dr. Winthrope. He has a peculiar easy manner of communicating his Ideas to Youth, and the Goodness of his Heart, and the purity of his morrals without an affected austerity must have a happy Effect upon the minds of Pupils.


    If you complain of neglect of Education in sons, What shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it. With regard to the Education of my own children, I find myself soon out of my debth, and destitute and deficient in every part of Education.

    I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the Benefit of the rising Generation, and that our new constitution may be distinguished for Learning and Virtue. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, But you I know have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the Sentiment. If much depends as is allowed upon the early Education of youth and the first principals which are instilld take the deepest root, great benifit must arise from litirary accomplishments in women.


    Excuse me my pen has run away with me. I have no thoughts of comeing to [Philadelphia]. The length of time I have [and] shall be detaind here would have prevented me, even if you had no thoughts of returning till December, but I live in daily Expectation of seeing you here. Your Health I think requires your immediate return. I expected Mr. Gerry would have set off before now, but he finds it perhaps very hard to leave his Mistress -- I wont say harder than some do to leave their wives. Mr. Gerry stood very high in my Esteem -- what is meat for one is not for an other -- no accounting for fancy. She is a queer dame and leads people wild dances.

    But hush -- Post, dont betray your trust and loose my Letter.


    Nabby is poorly this morning. The pock are near the turn, 6 or 7 hundred boils are no agreable feeling. You and I know not what a feeling it is. Miss Katy can tell. I had but 3 they were very clever and fill'd nicely. The Town instead of being clear of this distemper are now in the height of it, hundreds having it in the natural way through the deceitfulness of innoculation.


    Adieu ever yours. Breakfast waits.





    Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 29 June 1777

    Philadelphia June 29 1777


    My dearest Friend

    The enclosed Newspapers will communicate to you, all the News I know.

    The Weather here begins to be very hot. Poor Mortals pant and sweat, under the burning Skies. Faint and feeble as children, We seem as if We were dissolving away. Yet We live along.

    The two Armies are now playing off their Arts. Each acts with great Caution. Howe is as much afraid of putting any Thing to Hazard as Washington. What would Britain do, surrounded with formidable Powers in Europe just ready to strike her if Howes Army should meet a Disaster? Where would she find another Army?


    How are you? -- I hope very well. -- Let Mr. Thaxter write, let the Children write, when you cannot. I am very anxious, but Anxiety at 400 Miles distance can do you no more good, than me. I long to hear a certain Piece of News from Home, which will give me great joy. Thank Mr. John for his kind Letter. I will answer him and all my little Correspondents as soon as I can.

    Tell Mr. John, that I am under no Apprehensions about his Proficiency in Learning. With his Capacity, and Opportunities, he can not fail to acquire Knowledge. But let him know, that the moral Sentiments of his Heart, are more important than the Furniture of his Head. Let him be sure that he possesses the great Virtues of Temperance, Justice, Magnanimity, Honour and Generosity, and with these added to his Parts he cannot fail to become a wise and great Man.

    Does he read the Newspapers? The Events of this War, should not pass unobserved by him at his Years.


    As he reads History you should ask him, what Events strike him most? What Characters he esteems and admires? which he hates and abhors? which he despises?

    No doubt he makes some Observations, young as he is.


    Treachery, Perfidy, Cruelty, Hypocrisy, Avarice, &c. &c. should be pointed out to him for his Contempt as well as Detestation.


    My dear Daughters Education is near my Heart. She will suffer by this War as well as her Brothers. But she is a modest, and discreet Child. Has an excellent Disposition, as well as Understanding. Yet I wish it was in my Power, to give her the Advantages of several Accomplishments, which it is not.[7]







    [1] See Citations with Each Letter. All primary sources believed to be in the public domain.


    [2] Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 28 August 1774 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.


    Source of transcription: Butterfield, L.H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Vol. 1. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963.


    [3] Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 22 September 1774 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Source of transcription: Butterfield, L.H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Vol. 1. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963.


    [4] Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March - 5 April 1776 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Source of transcription: Butterfield, L.H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Vol. 1. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963.


    [5] Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 14 April 1776 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Source of transcription: Butterfield, L.H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Vol. 1. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963.


    [6] Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 14 August 1776 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Source of transcription: Butterfield, L.H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963.


    [7] Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 29 June 1777 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Source of transcription: Butterfield, L.H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963.



    A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier (published 1830), Joseph Plumb Martin

    A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier (published 1830)

    Joseph Plumb Martin



    Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]


    The memory began like a fairytale or Greek myth.  A young soldier walked along a forest road in the Highlands in the summer of 1780, the fifth year of the war.  Turning a corner, about forty yards off, he saw a young woman who had “divested herself of some of her outside garments” in the heat of the day.  As the soldier later recalled, she quickly slipped on her clothes and continued towards him, at first “seemingly quite unconcerned.”  She quickly changed her mind – clearly concluding “it would not be quite safe to encounter a solider in such a place” – and ran off through the underbrush.  The soldier called after her – but she only ran faster.  “She seemed,” he thought, “in a violent panic” (A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier172).

    The young woman’s fear was well-founded.  In the War for Independence, King George’s Regulars and George Washington’s Continentals alike robbed houses and barns, drove off livestock, and smashed up fences for firewood.  Rogue soldiers assaulted women – a crime that propagandists either played up or covered up, depending on the predator’s uniform.  Despite deep-seated mistrust, under the right circumstances, soldiers and civilians could get on.  But when?  How?

    One answer lay with the soldiers themselves.  As soldiers, young Continentals were outsiders, strangers.  If, however, civilians saw these soldiers as youths – as the overwhelming majority of soldiers were youths – they could fit them into a familiar place in their communities.  Soldiers could win kindness from wary civilians and a warm spot by the fire when they reminded inhabitants of their own sons, when they hired themselves out as labor, and when they courted local girls.

    The inhabitants’ existing relationship with soldiers mattered immensely:  had they suffered at soldiers’ hands or did they miss their own lads who had gone for soldiers?  Private Joseph Plumb Martin recalled the kindness of a “good old housewife” who “lamented that we had no mothers nor sisters to take care of us.”  Because her own sons had suffered hunger, cold, and filth in the army, she fed the teenaged soldiers “with as much ease and familiarity as though we had belonged to the family” (A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier217).  Emotional connection helped some civilians see the familiar youth within the soldier on their doorstep.

    For their part, young soldiers could ease their relationships with civilians by presenting themselves as helpful and subordinate.  When his Pennsylvania regiment traveled south to Yorktown, Samuel Dewees – who was little more than a boy – was left behind with some fellow musicians, invalids, and raw recruits.  Billeted at a public house run by the Zeiglers, he became an accepted member of the household.  “I drew my rations and handed them to the family,” he recalled.  “I lived here (I may state) at home, for I ate at the table with the family, and was treated as one of the family.”  When he wasn’t practicing his fife, Dewees undertook “many little jobs of work for the family” (A History233).  He lived with the Zeiglers for half a year.  The boy soldier made himself no different from a hired hand or apprentice.

    John Robert Shaw, a young British deserter who had joined the Continental army, showed how young soldiers could slip into civilian communities while still serving in the army.  Garrisoned at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Shaw was doubly an outsider as a soldier and an Englishman.  This proved to matter little in the ethnically diverse crossroads town.  Indeed, after “a considerable time” in town, Shaw “began to grow weary of the single life” and “paid addresses to a certain young woman,” Mary O’Hara, an Irish immigrant who worked for an inn-keeper.  After a short courtship, Shaw reported they “were married at the home of Mr. Robert Johnson, a respectable citizen, who gave us a good dinner, and in the evening, I was conducted to the barracks, with my new bride, by a number of soldiers of the first respectability.”  Shaw had to bridge military and civilian spheres to support his wife, getting permission from his officers to work in the town and then scoring employment with a merchant in town “by the recommendation and interest of one Robert Gibson,” a prominent townsman (Autobiography, 57-58).  Work and marriage brought Shaw into the community’s embrace.

    Courtship proved fear and fascination could go hand in hand.  As a song from 1778 put it, “Hark! the distant Drum, / Lasses all look frighted; / But, when Soldiers come, / Girls how you’re delighted.”  Sally Wister, a Quaker teenager in Pennsylvania demonstrated exactly these feelings in October 1777.  Her first encounters with Continental soldiers began with the terrifying appearance of dragoons at her father’s door seeking to buy horses.  Though bristling with weapons, they proved polite.  The Wisters were fortunate an American general chose their well-appointed house for his headquarters – “which,” Sally wrote to a friend, “secur’d us from straggling soldiers.”  With no predators to fear, the girls of the household turned hunters:  “our dress and lips were put in order for conquest and the hopes of adventures gave brightness to each.”  With the girls stalking so many young officers, it was not surprising when one “fell violently in love with Liddy at first sight,” while Sally herself swooned over a major from Maryland.  “How new is our situation,” she exclaimed, “I am going to my chamber to dream I suppose of bayonets and swords, sashes, guns, and epaulets” (Journal and Occasional Writings, 43-50).  A surgeon at West Point wryly noted the military side of the battle of the sexes, describing how one young officer had been “mortally wounded – with one of Cupid’s arrows, I mean, shot from the small blue eyes of a minister’s daughter…” (Samuel Adams to Sally Preston Adams, 11 August 1779).

    During the Revolution, civilians might see the familiar form of a young man under the threatening guise of a soldier if he presented himself as a potential member of their community.  These positive encounters stand out as exceptions, however.  Historically, civilians suffer at the hands of soldiers – whether they be eighteenth century foraging parties searching for food or twenty-first century sentries at dusty checkpoints searching for insurgents.  And yet non-combatants tend to fade into the background of war stories.  Similarly, in the United States today soldier-civilian tensions are usually beyond our view, either far over the horizon or deep in the past.  For the revolutionary generation, however, the demands of armies on inhabitants – and the burdens of occupation – were fresh memories.  Rather than rely on young soldiers’ interest in work or women, citizens of the new republic insisted on the Constitution’s now-unremarkable Third Amendment, in which their consent and the due process of law would protect them from their soldiers.


    Questions to Consider:


    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  Why is the author so concerned about land?
    3.  What does the author say about the provisions during the war?  Significance?
    4. What is his reaction to the fact that soldiers are often vilified?  Does he make a good argument?  Why/Why Not?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



    Primary Source[2]


    When those who engaged to serve during the war enlisted, they were promised a hundred acres of land, each, which was to be in their or the adjoining states. When the country had drained the last drop of service it could screw out of the poor soldiers, they were turned adrift like old worn-out horses, and nothing said about land to pasture them upon. Congress did, indeed, appropriate lands under the denomination of "Soldier's Lands," in Ohio state, or some state, or a future state, but no care was taken that the soldiers should get them. No agents were appointed to see that the poor fellows ever got possession of their lands; no one ever took the least care about it, except a pack of speculators, who were driving about the country like so many evil spirits, endeavoring to pluck the last feather from the soldiers. The soldiers were ignorant of the ways and means to obtain their bounty lands, and there was no one appointed to inform them. The truth was, none cared for them; the country was served, and faithfully served, and that was all that was deemed necessary. It was, soldiers, look to yourselves; we want no more of you. I hope I shall one day find land enough to lay my bones in. If I chance to die in a civilized country, none will deny me that. A dead body never begs a grave;—thanks for that.

    They were likewise promised the following articles of clothing per year. One uniform coat, a woolen and a linen waistcoat, four shirts, four pair of shoes, four pair of stockings, a pair of woolen and a pair of linen overalls, a hat or a leather cap, a stock for the neck, a hunting shirt, a pair of shoe buckles, and a blanket. Ample clothing says the reader; and ample clothing says I. But what did we ever realize of all this ample store—why, perhaps a coat (we generally did get that) and one or two shirts, the same of shoes and stockings, and, indeed, the same may be said of every other article of clothing—a few dribbled out in a regiment, two or three times a year, never getting a whole suit at a time, and all of the poorest quality, and blankets of thin baize [woolen], thin enough to have straws shot through without discommoding the threads. How often have I had to lie whole stormy, cold nights in a wood, on a field, or a bleak hill, with such blankets and other clothing like them, with nothing but the canopy of the heavens to cover me. All this too in the heart of winter, when a New England farmer, if his cattle had been in my situation, would not have slept a wink from the sheer anxiety for them. And if I stepped into a house to warm me, when passing, wet to the skin and almost dead with cold, hunger, and fatigue, what scornful looks and hard words have I experienced.

    Almost every one has heard of the soldiers of the Revolution being tracked by the blood of their feet on the frozen ground. This is literally true, and the thousandth part of their sufferings has not, nor ever will be told. That the country was young and poor, at that time, I am willing to allow, but young people are generally modest, especially females. Now, I think the country (although of the feminine gender, for we say "she" and "her" of it) showed but little modesty at the time alluded to, for she appeared to think her soldiers had no private parts. For on our march from the Valley Forge, through the Jerseys, and at the boasted Battle of Monmouth, a fourth part of the troops had not a scrap of anything but their ragged shirt flaps to cover their nakedness, and were obliged to remain so long after. I had picked up a few articles of light clothing during the past winter, while among the Pennsylvanian farmers, or I should have been in the same predicament. "Rub and go" was always the Revolutionary soldiers motto.

    As to provision of victuals, I have said a great deal already, but ten times as much might be said and not get to the end of the chapter. When we engaged in the service we were promised the following articles for a ration: one pound of good and wholesome fresh or salt beef, or three quarters of a pound of good salt pork, a pound of good flour, soft or hard bread, a quart of salt to every hundred pounds of fresh beef, a quart of vinegar to a hundred rations, a gill [a quarter of a pint] of rum, brandy, or whiskey per day, some little soap and candles, I have forgot how much, for I had so little of these two articles that I never knew the quantity. And as to the article of vinegar, I do not recollect of ever having any except a spoonful at the famous rice and vinegar Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania, in the year 1777. But we never received what was allowed us. Oftentimes have I gone one, two, three, and even four days without a morsel, unless the fields or forests might chance to afford enough to prevent absolute starvation. Often, when I have picked the last grain from the bones of my scanty morsel, have I eat the very bones, as much of them as possibly could be eaten, and then have had to perform some hard and fatiguing duty, when my stomach has been as craving as it was before I had eaten anything at all.

    If we had got our full allowance regularly, what was it? A bare pound of fresh beef and a bare pound of bread or flour. The beef, when it had gone through all its divisions and subdivisions, would not be much over three quarters of a pound, and that nearly or quite half bones. The beef that we got in the army was, generally, not many degrees above carrion; it was much like the old Negro's rabbit, it had not much fat upon it and very little lean. When we drew flour, which was much of the time we were in the field or on marches, it was of small value, being eaten half-cooked, besides a deal of it being unavoidably wasted in the cookery.

    When in the field, and often while in winter quarters, our usual mode of drawing our provisions, when we did draw any, was as follows: a return being made out for all the officers and men, for seven days, we drew four days of meat and the whole seven days of flour. At the expiration of the four days, the other three days allowance of beef. Now, dear reader, pray consider a moment, how were five men in a mess, five hearty, hungry young men, to subsist four days on twenty pounds of fresh beef (and I might say twelve or fifteen pounds) without any vegetables or any other kind of sauce to eke it out. In the hottest season of the year it was the same. Though there was not much danger of our provisions putrefying, we had none on hand long enough for that, if it did, we obliged to eat it, or go without anything. When General Washington told Congress, "the soldiers eat every kind of horse fodder but hay" he might have gone a little farther and told them that they eat considerable hog's fodder and not a trifle of dogs—when they could get it to eat.

    We were, also, promised six dollars and two thirds a month, to be paid us monthly, and how did we fare in this particular? Why, as we did in every other. I received the dollars and two thirds, till (if I remember rightly) the month of August, 1777, when paying ceased. And what was six dollars and sixty-seven cents of this "Continental currency," as it was called, worth? It was scarcely enough to procure a man a dinner. Government was ashamed to tantalize the soldiers any longer with such trash, and wisely gave it up of its own credit. I received one months pay in specie [in kind] while on the march to Virginia, in the year 1781, and except that, I never received any pay worth the name while I belonged to the army. Had I been paid as I was promised to be at my engaging in the service, I needed not to have suffered as I did, nor would I have done it; there was enough in the country and money would have procured it if I had had it. It is provoking to think of it. The country was rigorous in exacting my compliance to my engagements to a punctilio, but equally careless in performing her contracts with me, and why so? One reason was because she had all the power in her own hands and I had none. Such things ought not to be.

    The poor soldiers had hardships enough to endure without having to starve; the least that could be done was to give them something to eat. "The laborer is worthy of his meat" at least, and he ought to have it for his interest, if nothing more. How many times have I had to lie down like a dumb animal in the field, and bear "the pelting of the pitiless storm," cruel enough in warm weather, but how much more so in the heart of winter. Could I have had the benefit of a little fire, it would have been deemed a luxury. But, when snow or rain would fall so heavy that it was impossible to keep a spark of fire alive, to have to weather out a long, wet, cold, tedious night in the depth of winter, with scarcely clothes enough to keep one from freezing instantly, how discouraging it must be, I leave to my reader to judge.

    It is fatiguing, almost beyond belief, to those that never experienced it, to be obliged to march twenty-four or forty-eight hours (as very many times I have had to) and often more, night and day without rest or sleep, wishing and hoping that some wood or village I could see ahead might prove a short resting place, when, alas, I came to it, almost tired off my legs, it proved no resting place for me. How often have I envied the very swine their happiness, when I have heard them quarreling in their warm dry sties, when I was wet to the skin and wished in vain for that indulgence. And even in dry warm weather, I have often been so beat out with long and tedious marching that I have fallen asleep and not been sensible of it till I have jostled against someone in the same situation; and when permitted to stop and have the superlative happiness to roll myself in my blanket and drop down on the ground in the bushes, briars, thorns, or thistles, and get an hour or two's sleep, O! how exhilarating....

    Many murmur now at the apparent good fortune of the poor soldiers. Many I have myself seen, vile enough to say that they never deserved such favor from the country. The only wish I would bestow upon such hardhearted wretches is that they might be compelled to go through just such sufferings and privations as that army did, and then if they did not sing a different tune, I should miss my guess.

    But I really hope these people will not go beside themselves. Those men whom they wish to die on a dunghill, men, who, if they had not ventured their lives in battle and faced poverty, disease, and death for their country to gain and maintain that Independence and Liberty, in the sunny beams of which, they, like reptiles, are basking, they would, many or the most of them, be this minute in as much need of help and succor as ever the most indigent soldier was before he experienced his county's beneficence.

    The soldiers consider it cruel to be thus vilified, and it is cruel as the grave to any man, when he knows his own rectitude of conduct, to have his hard services not only debased and underrated, but scandalized and vilified. But the Revolutionary soldiers are not the only people that endure obloquy; others, as meritorious and perhaps more deserving than they, are forced to submit to ungenerous treatment.



    [1] "Fear and Love in a Revolutionary War" by Jake Ruddiman is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0


    [2]Joseph Plumb Martin, A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier (1830). First printed in Hallowell, Maine, by Glazier, Masters, and Co. in 1830. pp. 205-212.

    A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier by Joseph Plumb Martin is in the Public Domain.