This is the first of three stories about Joseph Plumb Martin, Revolutionary War Soldier.
Joseph Plumb Martin was born in 1760 in Beckham, a small western Massachusetts town. He joined the Continental Army at the age of 15 and served in the Revolutionary War, seeing frequent action for eight years. He started as a Private and rose to Sergeant.
Despite being in the lowest rank, “Plumb” was educated and kept a diary. His detailed descriptions of the life of a Continental soldier and the battles in which he fought provide us with a rich source of eye witness testimony. His accounts have been used for several television and film productions of the period.
Rather than rehash what has already been portrayed, I will tell three lesser-known stories about him. They tell of his ingenuity and the ingenuity of his fellow soldiers that typify the American spirit. The first: Valley Forge.
Plumb’s descriptions of the conditions at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777 match those of many others. He tells about the starvation, disease and lack of clothing and shelter. He verifies the reports of bloody footprints in the snow and widespread suffering.
We wonder how the troops survived. The truth is that many didn’t. Plumb suffered just as did the others until an opportunity came his way.
Plumb heard about a detachment being formed to take wagons into the countryside to bargain with farmers for whatever supplies they could spare. Plumb’s fellow soldiers wanted nothing to do with the assignment, but the ingenious Plumb thought he could make something of it, so he volunteered.
Even though most farmers didn’t have much that could make a dent in the needs at Valley Forge, they had enough to feed themselves and, of course, they had farmhouses.
At the last farm of each day, whether the farmer had provisions to fill the wagons or not, Plumb persuaded them, at least, to invite him and his detachment to the table and put them up for the night. Plumb reports that he was never turned down and he spent the rest of the Valley Forge winter quite warm and well-fed.
Plumb’s ingenuity and willingness to take a risk showed how our forefathers could turn bad situations to their advantage with bold thinking and determination.