Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Joseph Plumb Martin: a common soldier’s life during the American Revolution and times in Peekskill

Washington at Valley Forge where Joseph Plumb Martin was during the American Revolution. Photo Credit: The New England Historical Society

Joseph Plumb Martin was born in Becket, Massachusetts on November 21, 1760. At the age of seven, he was sent to live with his affluent grandparents in Milford, Connecticut. He lived there until he was 15 years old. It was at that point in 1775 following the Battles of Lexington and Concord that he was eager to join the war effort.

This Sunday, beginning at 2:00 pm, at the Peekskill Museum, former Peekskill civic historian John J. Curran will discuss Joseph Plumb Martin in a program that features many of Mr. Martin’s own words. Martin’s published narrative of his experiences, re-discovered in the 1950s, has become a valuable resource for historians in understanding the conditions of a common soldier of that era, as well as the battles in which Martin participated.

In June of 1776, Joseph Martin joined the Connecticut Militia and was assigned duty in the New York City area, which was then under General George Washington’s command. After his first tour of duty ended in December 1776 he did not re-enlist. Instead, he returned home to live with his grandparents. However, after a few months Joseph Plumb Martin got back into the war and enlisted on April 12, 1777 in the 8th Connecticut Regiment where he stayed for the duration of the war.

When Joseph Plumb Martin was seventy years old, he penned Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier. In the book, Martin recounts in grim detail his harrowing experiences during the conflict—the staggering losses in human life, the agony of long marches, constant gnawing hunger, bitter cold, and the fear of battle, as well as a warts-and-all view of military leaders. Balancing these brutal wartime experiences are lively accounts of hunting, fishing, and other diversions.  The book, which also has other titles, can be found in the Field Library.

In his memoir, Martin recounts the daily ins and outs of the life of a soldier. He writes heavily about being in Peekskill, where his regiment was stationed for a period of time. Peekskill and the Hudson Valley figures large in Martin’s story as the Hudson Valley was a regional base camp and Command headquarters for much of that war. 

Martin writes about when he was promoted to sergeant and transferred to the Corps of “Sappers and Miners” in the summer of 1780. That unit, organized in August 1780 in Peekskill, comprised three companies, built fortifications, repaired roads, and constructed mines and dug saps, the approaches to enemy works during a siege. 

In his memoir, Martin also writes about many notable engagements he participated in including the Battle of White Plains, NY, being encamped at Valley Forge, and being present during the climactic Siege of Yorktown.

Martin discusses personally seeing and interacting with Benedict Arnold. He writes about Benedict Arnold stating, “I had been acquainted with Arnold from my childhood and never had too good an opinion of him…Had I possessed the power of foreknowledge, I might twice have put Arnold asleep without anyone knowing it and saved the life of, perhaps, a better man, and my country much trouble and disgrace.” 

Benedict Arnold
Photo Credit:

“The first time was at Peekskill in a barn, just before Andre came to his quarters and while their clandestine negotiation was in progress. I was upon a guard. “There are men,” says Shakespear, “who, in their sleep mutter all their conceits.’ Such a one was Arnold, and therefore afraid to sleep near any one lest he should “babble his conceits” in his sleep. He ordered me and my guard out of the barn, that he might have his bed upon the floor; I was so put out of my bias at the time, that had I known what plans he had in his head. I should have needed but little persuasion to have had a reckoning with him.”

Admission fees are $10 per ticket and free for museum members. In addition, John Curran will debut his new book.

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About the Contributor
Dave Mueller
As a Peekskill native, Dave is thrilled to be working with the Peekskill Herald showcasing featured calendar events. A 1999 graduate of PHS, he remembers reading and enjoying the original weekly print edition of the Peekskill Herald every Thursday. He especially liked the political stories, local features and sports coverage when it was written by Peekskill Runner columnist Jack Burns who always managed to weave history into the running times. An avid hiker, he enjoys exploring the local trails as well as the concrete ones in his job as a conductor for Metro North Railroad. He’s a former teacher and co-founder of the Friends of the Peekskill Dog Park, where he frequently can be found with his Koda. He’s happy to be part of the Herald’s growth as the source of local news for Peekskill and looks forward to highlighting a few of many of the events and happenings in Peekskill and the surrounding communities. Reach Dave at [email protected]