Notes to Readers

© 2001, Bob McDonald

The diaries listed within the accompanying index relate only to a narrow segment of writings related to the Revolutionary War. They are, firstly, constrained to contemporary “in the field” diaries (or “journals”), thereby eliminating from inclusion all memoirs, reminiscences, autobiographical sketches, pension application affidavits, and even what appear to have once been contemporary diaries but which were, at a later time, rewritten and substantively revised via the infusion of “memory.”

Second, to qualify for inclusion, the contemporary diary had to have been kept by an enlisted man, a member, that is, of the “rank and file” of the period. This, then, would require that, at least for some period during which the diary was kept, the man was a private, corporal, sergeant, drummer, fifer, artillery matross or artificer. If the diary was initiated while the author was an enlisted man, but during the period of its coverage he was promoted to become a commissioned officer, the entire content has been included.

Lastly, the index is intended to focus only on such “rank and file” serving as members of the “regular” Continental Army. Militia service, that is, is intended to be specifically excluded. This criterion is, in some instances, not as clear-cut as it may first seem. The colonies’ initial armies “of observation” all became, by act of Congress in June 1775, part of the “army of the United Colonies.” Clearly, however, many of these early-war units were, at least to some extent, very much “militia-like” in terms of organization, command structure, and, in particular, training and discipline. Having no reasonable and valid criteria for exclusion, all diaries relating to such initial units of 1775 have been qualified for presentation.

As of January 1, 1776, the basis for distinction becomes clearer. For example, a diary with content relating to that year would qualify if kept by a rank-and-file member of one of the twenty-seven numbered Continental infantry regiments or a parallel artillery or mounted unit. In addition, however, state regiments “in Continental service” have also been regarded to qualify for inclusion. Examples of such units would be Elmore’s, Burrall’s or Ward’s Connecticut state regiments and Church’s, Richmond’s and Lippitt’s Rhode Island state regiments, each of which was “adopted” and integrated by Congress as part of the Continental Army. Finally, after January 1, 1777, little amount of question arises in qualifying “Continental” service.

A final issue given consideration has been the length of a particular enlistment. Although during 1777 (and thereafter) the conceptual model was of enlistment periods of three years or “for the war”, manpower requirements often outpaced enlistment ardor such that shorter terms were by no means rare, particularly in later years. Thus, in order to meet their enlistment quotas, some states in, for example, 1780, found it necessary to accept one-year or even six-month enlistment periods. While such short-term Continental enlistment periods require a more careful focus to discriminate a given diary from that of a militia tour of duty, the former have been considered to fully qualify for inclusion.

In order to assist the user of the index, the following lists those diary entries from White and Lesser’s Fighters For Independence which, given the more focused goal of this index, have been omitted and the reason for omission when such reason is not evident in their description of a given entry. (The number preceding each listing is the cataloging number used in White and Lesser.)

#345. Allen, Thomas militia
#359. Avery, Rufus memoir
#370. Bates, Ambrose militia
#395. Boardman, Oliver militia
#424. Carpenter, Jonathan militia
#428. Chandler, Abiel militia
#434. Clap, Daniel officer
#441. Cleaves, Nathan officer
#445. Colbrath, William officer
#461. Curtin, Daniel M. duplication of #665.
#479. “A Diary of... duplication of #445.
#482. “The Doughboy of 1780” officer
#493. Emerson, William chaplain
#535. Gerrish, Jacob officer
#549. Graves, Daniel militia
#599. “Itinerary of... officer
#612. “Journal of... duplication of #611.
#652. Lunt, Paul officer
#663. McCready, Robert militia
#674. Martin, Joseph Plumb memoir
#686. Moody, Moses militia
#695. Mudge, Simon militia
#704. Norton, George militia officer
#706. Nutting, George militia
#734. Porter, Jonathan militia
#763. Sawyer, Ebenezer militia
#765. Scudder, William officer
#767. Sellers, Nathan militia
#770. Seymour, William memoir
#773. Shaw, Thomas memoir
#804. Stone, Stephen memoir
#821. Town, Zaccheus officer
#856. Weston, Abner militia

With no question whatsoever, Private Yankee Doodle, the republished and re-titled memoirs of Joseph Plumb Martin, is the most widely-read, informative, entertaining and best-loved classic writing of a Continental soldier. On the basis of all criteria, it is an absolute “must read”, with it’s remarkable appeal being proven by its currently being required reading in many high school American history classes. Since, however, it is a post-war memoir, it does not qualify for inclusion in the index presented here. That, of course, is in no way a suggestion of any perception that Private Yankee Doodle is less than the truly great work which it is. Given this index’s focus being exclusively on “pure” in-the-field contemporary diaries, Martin’s retrospective reminiscences clearly do not qualify for inclusion in this index. In summary, perhaps the true greatness of Private Yankee Doodle is demonstrated by these additional comments regarding its absence from the index being felt to be required. Anyone having the slightest interest in the life of the Continental soldier should surely place Martin atop his or her reading list.


Martin, Joseph Plumb. Private Yankee Doodle, Being a Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier. Edited by George F. Scheer. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1962 (Many reprints, under alternative titles, are available.)

White, J. Todd & Charles H. Lesser, eds. Fighters for Independence: A Guide to Sources of Biographical Information on Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

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