Joseph Plumb Martin, Soldier-Author


September 17, 2015
by Robert Carver Brooks Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

Glazier, Masters & Co.[1] of Hallowell, Maine, in 1830 published A narrative of some of the adventures, dangers and sufferings of a Revolutionary soldier; interspersed with anecdotes of incidents that occurred within his own observation.  Written by himself.  Authored anonymously by an impoverished Maine farmer and relic of the Revolution, its author has since been identified as Joseph Plumb Martin whose identity was traced through the book’s copyright holder, his son James Sullivan Martin (1807-1850).[2]  As one of the very few common soldiers’ wartime memoirs, Martin’s narrative would be rescued from some one hundred and thirty years of obscurity by George F. Scheer, whose edited edition of Martin’s narrative was first republished in 1962 under the title Private Yankee Doodle.[3]  With national fame coming posthumously, Joseph Plumb Martin has also been included in three TV documentaries and dramas: The American Revolution (1994), Liberty! The American Revolution (1997), and Liberty’s Kids: Est. 1776 (2002-03).  The 8.7 mile “Joseph Plumb Martin Trail” encircles Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania.

This article looks at the man and not his military career.  As any veteran of combat knows, war comprises a few good times as well as the bad times.  Joseph Plumb Martin adroitly recollects his memories of the “adventures” as well as his “dangers and sufferings,” recollections which will not be revisited here.

So who was Joseph Plumb Martin?

Title page of Joseph Plumb Martin's narrative, published 1830
Title page of Joseph Plumb Martin’s narrative,
published 1830.

In Chapter 1 of his narrative, “Introductory,” he gives a short genealogical sketch and states that his father was “a gospel minister of the Congregational order; in which county of Berkshire I, the redoubtable hero of this Narrative, first made my appearance in this crooked, fretful world, upon the twenty-first day of November, in the year 1760.”  He lived with his grandsire Joseph Plumb (for whom he had been named) from about age seven, and along the way the recall of his year of birth changed by one year.  According to the Congregational Church records of Township Number Four, now Becket, Massachusetts,[4] he was born November 21, 1759, and baptized on the 25th;[5] consequently, he was actually one year older than he would write.

Other than making “a few short observations” stating some political opinions, Joseph Plumb Martin’s narrative chronologically ends with his teaching school on the New York “Highlands” during the winter of 1783-1784, after which:

When the spring opened I bid my Dutch friends adieu and set my face to the eastward, and made no material halt till I arrived in the, now, state of Maine, in the year 1784, where I have remained ever since, and where I expect to remain so long as I remain in existence, and here at last to rest my warworn weary limbs.

One can only speculate on what drew Joseph P. Martin (as he signed) to the portion of the eastern frontier in Maine then known by the name of the failed settlement of Frankfort Township and at the time of his death known as Prospect, Maine.[6]  In 1766 the so-called “Waldo Heirs” granted a portion of the Waldo Patent by indenture conditional on the settlement of the new township to Colonel Thomas Goldthwait, resident commander of Fort Pownall, and his business partner Massachusetts Governor Sir Francis Bernard.[7]  The indenture was for an undivided forty percent ownership of 24,000 acres (land which lay inland of 2,700 acres previous acquired by Goldthwait & Bernard in 1764) with ownership contingent upon Goldthwait & Bernard erecting a church, settling a minister and sixty families, with each settler building dwellings of specified dimensions and clearing five acres within six years.  The terms of settlement were never met and it was an additional seventeen years until the area was incorporated in 1789 as a portion of a new, large town also named Frankfort.  In 1794 Frankfort was subdivided into three separate townships, Prospect, Frankfort and Hampden, with old Frankfort Township lying completely within the bounds of Prospect.  In 1857 South Prospect was set off as Stockton and in 1889 was renamed Stockton Springs.  This is where Joseph P. Martin resided for the last sixty-six years of his life.

The undeeded lands which later comprised Prospect were Loyalist lands.  Not formally confiscated by Massachusetts, the ownership was in question at the cessation of the war.  Robert Hichborn of Boston acquired the undeeded portions of the Goldthwait & Barnard 2,700 acre purchase and Brigadier Henry Knox, whose wife was a Waldo granddaughter, acquired the undeeded portion of all the remaining land of the Waldo heirs including the undeeded portions of the 24,000 acres in Prospect.[8]  As this was unincorporated territory; save deeds and court records, there is little record of the early settlement. One can only speculate as to the area’s attraction for Joseph P. Martin.  There is circumstantial evidence in the fact that some two dozen or so families migrated a few years later to Prospect from the Bearcamp River valley in New Hampshire, doubtlessly believing that the Loyalist lands were available for the taking. This may have been the “siren’s song” which drew Martin to Prospect.

In 1765 the new proprietors, Goldthwait & Bernard, had fourteen lots on the mainland surveyed as settlers’ lots, but the proprietors maintained possession of all of Cape Jellison (about 1,500 acres) where several farms would be established on Fort Point before 1772 when the British surveyed the region.[9]  Robert Hichborn, who in 1789 acquired the Goldthwait & Bernard purchase of 1764, would have a portion of Cape Jellison laid out in another ten settlers’ lots, selling the same by mortgage deeds in June 1791, whilst reserving about six hundred acres for himself.  The listing of names in the 1790 federal census follow the layout of these lots and “Joseph Marten” [sic] in a household of one male over age sixteen and one female is named following the household of William Hichborn, the son of proprietor Robert Hichborn, in a household of two males over age sixteen.[10]  The sequence of the census listing places Joseph P. Martin on the Hichborn six hundred acre reserve.  The female listed in the Martin household cannot be identified but no evidence was found of a marriage prior to 1794.  Twentieth century accounts suggest Joseph P. Martin originally built a log cabin there but it is more likely that he merely occupied one of the former Goldthwait farmhouses on Fort Point.

Marriage bans of Joseph Plumb Martin, Stockton Springs (Maine) Historical Society. Photo by the author.
Marriage bans of Joseph Plumb Martin,
Stockton Springs (Maine) Historical Society. Photo by the author.

On April 23, 1794, “Mr. Joseph P. Martin and Miss Lucy Clewly both of this town” entered their marriage intentions with the Prospect town clerk and on May 22, 1794, were married by Benjamin Shute, Justice of the Peace.[11]  Lucy Clewley, born February 24, 1776, was the youngest daughter of Isaac Clewley (1729-1800) and his second wife née Sarah Stimson.[12]  At the time of their marriage, Joseph was age thirty-four; Lucy was eighteen and pregnant with their first born, son William Clewley Martin, born September 9, 1794.

From the 1800 federal census, the Joseph P. Martin dwelling cannot be located precisely but he was no longer on Cape Jellison and probably resided a mile or so northeast of his father-in-law’s dwelling located on the shore of Fort Point Cove east of the narrowest part of the neck of Cape Jellison.  In 1800 the Martin family included one son and two daughters.  The daughters, Susanna (named for her grandmother) was born August 8, 1795, and Lucy (named for her mother) was born June 3, 1798.  Sadly both girls died in September 1800, a day apart, Lucy on the 27th and Susanna on the 28th.

Here one must introduce the lady known as “Miss Polly,” sometimes called “Miss Farley.”  Mary (Goldthwait) Archbald (b. 1753), a daughter of proprietor Colonel Thomas Goldthwait, had married Serjeant Francis Archbald, Jr. (1750-1785), a Fort Pownall soldier and secretary to her father.  Archbald severely cut his foot with a misguided axe from which injury he bled to death on October 8, 1785,[13] shortly before his daughter Catherine was born.  Miss Polly was insane after the birth of this daughter.[14]  Presumably Joseph P. Martin had reached Maine by this time and had firsthand knowledge of the accident as he later became custodian of Miss Polly.

The birthright of any citizen born in the town was the responsibility of that town for maintenance of paupers and infirm whereas the practice for transients and settlers without real or personal assets was to “warn them out of town.”[15]  The town meeting and tax records of Prospect were lost to fire in 1896 so any details of the arrangement for the management of the affairs of Miss Polly are now lost.   The practice of “selling paupers” used in abutting Belfast was “to dispose of said paupers at auction to such as will keep them for the least sum per week.”[16]

By 1790 Miss Polly occupied lot number eight of the proprietors’ 1765 survey of settlers’ lots, a fifty acre lot originally laid out for Stephen Littlefield, a soldier of the Fort Pownall garrison.[17]  In 1773, Littlefield sold his improvements to Thomas Goldthwait, Jr., who gifted the lot in 1786 to his widowed sister, Miss Polly.[18]

William Farley, like Joseph P. Martin, was a long-serving veteran of the Revolution, a trader who pursued his fortune on the eastern frontier only to end up managing the affairs of Miss Polly.  In 1790, the Farley household comprised Farley and two females: Miss Polly and daughter Catherine.  In 1800, the Farley household comprised just Farley, over age forty-five and a single female, recorded as between the ages of twenty-six and forty-four, inclusive, who is believed to be Miss Polly, then forty-six.  Daughter Catherine had gone to Boston to be adopted by her childless aunt Catherine (Goldthwait) (Gardiner) Powell.

By a Massachusetts legislative act dated June 22, 1803, “Catherine Powell Archbald, of Boston, daughter of Francis Archbald, of Penobscot,” legally changed her name to “Catherine Goldthwait Powell.”[19]  At Boston on March 16, 1804, Catherine G. Powell married Stephen Caldwell after which the young couple moved to Gardiner, Maine.[20]  The only deed transferring land to or from Joseph P. Martin found recorded in the Lincoln, Hancock or Waldo county registries of deeds[21] was dated February 26, 1808, when Stephen and Catherine G. Caldwell, “forever quit claim all our right and title” in her mother’s lot eight property for five dollars paid by Joseph P. Martin.[22]

When the 1810 federal census was taken, William Farley was dead or gone and Joseph P. Martin now headed a household which included Miss Polly.  This change may have happened as early as 1802 when Joseph and Lucy named a son after the father of Miss Polly.  Alas, the tribulations of parenthood continued to try Joseph and Lucy.  Son and namesake Joseph Plumb was born September 12, 1801, “an Idiot from berth.”[23] Next came son Thomas Goldthwait, who was born September 20, 1802, but lived just a year before dying on October 18, 1803.  Then came the twins, born a day apart, Thomas Goldthwait (again), born April 7, 1805, and Nathan Nettleton, born on April 8, “the two Last was twines.”[24]  The final child born in this decade was James Sullivan, born February 2, 1807, who became the copyright-holder of his father’s book.

Miss Polly died between 1810 and 1820 but her death is not recorded.  Parenthood still tested the Martin household as Susanna P. was born on November 1, 1812, but died nine days later.  Presumably named for Susannah Plumb, the grandmother who raised Joseph P. Martin, the name was reused when their youngest child Susannah P. was born June 14, 1814.

Prospect town meetings were held in the spring of the year.  In 1799, Joseph P. Martin was elected First Selectman.  From 1802 to 1810, 1812 to 1814, and in 1816, he was elected Second Selectman, then in 1817 he was elected First Selectman again.  In March 1818, Joseph P. Martin became the Prospect town clerk, a position he would hold for twenty-five years until March 1843.[25]

Joseph P. Martin certainly was aware of government’s actions on benefits for the nation’s first freedom fighters.  On April 7, 1818, a mere three weeks after the government enacted the service-pension act of March 18, 1818, which granted lifetime pensions to soldiers without disabilities but in need of assistance, Joseph P. Martin deposed before Judge William Crosby, one of the judges of the Third Eastern Circuit of the Court of Common Pleas.  Martin’s certificate of pension No. 9,881 was issued on April 26, 1819, in the amount of $135.43 comprising arrears at $8.00 per month from April 7, 1818, through the semi-annual payment-period ending September 4, 1819.

As numerous fraudulent claims of need had been deposed under the 1818 pension act, Congress enacted remedial legislation on May 1, 1820, requiring pensioners to certify their need.  On July 7, 1820, Joseph P. Martin was back before Judge Crosby where he deposed:

(Schedule) I Joseph P. Martin on oath say and declare that I have no real or personal Estate nor any income whatever, my necessary bedding & wearing apparel excepted — Except – two cows – six Sheep – one pig — I am a Labourer but by reason of age and infirmity I am unable to work – My wife is Sickly & rheumatic — I have five Children, viz —

                                    Joseph aged 19.  An Idiot from berth

                                    Thomas & Nathan  15 twins

                                    James Sullivan  8

                                    Susan  6 —

Without my pension I am unable to support myself & family — [signed Joseph P. Martin].

The old Patriot would be recognized locally following publication of his narrative.  During a three day exercise in September 1836, the militia battalion comprising the Belfast Light Infantry, Bucksport Light Infantry and Bangor Volunteers rendezvoused and encamped near Bucksport.  On September 14 during their return march to Belfast, the Belfast Light Infantry Company fired a salute in his honor.  The local newspaper reported: “In passing through Prospect the company fired a salute in front of Mr. Joseph P. Martin’s house, a hero of ‘76.  The old gentleman appeared gratified and affected to tears.  No doubt it recalled to his patriotic heart the feelings of his younger days––those days that tried men’s souls!”[26]

Martin’s letter of gratitude to the editor was published:

The gentlemen officers, non-commissioned officers, musicians and soldiers of the Belfast Company of Light Infantry, are respectfully requested to accept the sincere unfeigned thanks of an old revolutionary soldier, for the special and unexpected honour they were pleased to confer on him on their passage through the town of Prospect on the fourteenth instant.  He asks the Company, in general, to be assured of his best wishes for their prosperity, happiness and success in all their lawful engagements, whether at their country’s call, if that should happen, or in their social intercourse with their fellow-citizens, or their private parties of pleasure; still hoping that the present peace and tranquility of our beloved country may be so continued that no severer tour of duty may ever be required of them than their late excursion to Bucksport.[27]

Of Joseph’s and Lucy’s ten children, Susannah P. Martin (1814-1873) was the only one of their four daughters to survive to maturity.  Of the six boys, one died young; Joseph Plumb Martin (Jr., 1801-1835) was born mentally deficient; and the eldest, William Clewley Martin (b. 1794), apparently left home upon reaching adulthood.  The youngest, James Sullivan Martin (1807-1850), got “gold fever” and, having left his family behind, “drowned in California” on July 3, 1850.[28]  One can speculate that son Thomas Goldthwait Martin (1805-1878) also went to California but failed to find his fortune as he died unmarried in the Massachusetts State Almshouse in Tewksbury on October 21, 1878.  Called a “Seaman” in his death record, he is called a “Shipping Master” in the 1860 census for Boston.  The remaining son, Nathan Nettleton Martin (1805-1867), a much-beloved school teacher for forty-seven years, was a lifelong resident of Prospect, living in the village in the portion set off as Stockton in 1857.

Joseph Plumb Martin died on May 2, 1850, at the age of ninety years and six months.  Lucy (Clewley) Martin survived him by seven years, dying on April 30, 1857, at age eighty-one. A modern cemetery monument in the Sandy Point cemetery honors both Joseph and Lucy but they (and the children who died young) may have been interred in a family burial plot on his home lot as was the general practice in Prospect at that time.

Though much fatigue and many dangers past,

                                          The warworn soldier’s braved his way at last.

–– Joseph Plumb Martin

One enigma today is the mystery of when, and using what documents, Joseph P. Martin prepared his manuscript.  George Fabian Scheer Jr. (1917-1996), the editor of Private Yankee Doodle, contacted descendants of Joseph P. Martin and although he located Martin’s father’s diaries for 1794 and 1795, he was unable to locate any diaries or manuscripts for the book kept by Martin. Scheer did locate some sketches, verses and hymns penned by Martin, some of which were dated.  Many historians today doubt that Joseph Plumb Martin could have written his Narrative without some type of reference material, albeit lost today.


[1].      A leading, if not the largest, book publisher in Maine at the time.

[2].      George F. Scheer, ed., Private Yankee Doodle (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962), “Editor’s Introduction.” This writer holds the Eastern National 2006 edition.

[3].      Some other titles published since 1962 and their editors include: Yankee Doodle Boy, A Young Soldier’s adventures in the American Revolution, told by himself , George F. Scheer, ed.; Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin, James Kirby Martin, ed.; The Diary of Joseph Plumb Martin: A Revolutionary War Soldier, Connie & Peter Roop, eds.; Narrative of some of the adventures, dangers, and sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier, Thomas Fleming, ed.  Most have numerous editions and some have had multiple publishers.

[4].      When Vital Records of Becket, Massachusetts, to the Year 1850 (Boston: New-England Historic Genealogical Society, 1903) viii, [9]-98, was compiled, church records were not incorporated.  Becket was established May 21, 1765, and prior to that time was a newly settled plantation or township called “Number Four.”

[5].      Among the records of the Becket Congregational Church is “A true Record of all the times and names of the persons Baptized by the pastor of the Church in No. 4” which includes an entry on page 31 dated Nov. 25, 1759 for “Joseph Plumbe child of Rev. Ebenezer Martin” and on page 60 “Joseph Plumbe Martin was Born in No. 4, the 21st Day of November, 1759; Recorded and tested Per Me Ebenezer Martin Pastor.”

[6].      Now Stockton Springs, Maine.

[7].      In 1629 the Council of Plymouth (Devonshire) granted Letters Patent to Thomas Leverett of London and John Beauchamp of Boston (Lincolnshire) for trading rights and lands lying in Maine between the Muscongus and Penobscot rivers, extending ten leagues inland and all islands within a league of the shore.  Known variously as “Leverett’s Patent,” “Leverett & Beaucamp Patent,” “Muscongus Patent,” and after the mid-1700s as the “Waldo Patent” following control being acquired by Brigadier Samuel Waldo (1696-1759).

[8].      Prior to 1776 only about 2,400 of the 24,000 acres in old Frankfort Township had been sold or were under terms of settlement or mortgage.

[9].      A 1772 detailed,  large scale British survey map drawn by Charles Blaskowitz and James Grant of the head of Penobscot Bay shows Fort Pownall and its outbuildings, a windmill, and seven farms.  When engraved in 1776 as the “Upper Penobscot Bay” sheets for J. F. W. DesBarres’s Atlantic Neptune, the eastern portion of Fort Point was truncated, leaving only the westernmost two farms visible.  The original, detailed map is in the British Crown Collection but the Library of Congress Map Division has black and white sectional photographs.

[10].    Baptized in Boston September 17, 1769, he was the second son and third child of proprietor Robert Hichborn.  The Robert Hichborn house reportedly was located near the intersection of Lighthouse Road and Cape Jellison Road in Stockton Springs.

[11].    The manuscript first book of Prospect intentions and marriages, recording intentions and marriages 1789-1832, was lost for many decades until discovered about 1970 hidden on a rafter in an old barn in North Searsport.  The other extant early vital record books for Prospect disappeared circa 1956 but had been microfilmed by the Mormons in July 1955.  Elizabeth M. Mosher, ed., The Vital Records of Prospect Maine, Prior to 1892 (Rockport, ME: Picton Press, 1998), iii, 471, is an annotated transcription of all the vital records.

[12].    Prospect, manuscript first book of intentions and marriages , intentions, page 9, and marriages, page 14.  Also see Mrs. Royce E. Lord, “Isaac Clewley, Father and Son,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. CXIV October 1960, Whole No. 459, 297-304.

[13].    David E. Maas, ed., Divided Hearts, Massachusetts Loyalists 1765–1790, A Biographical Directory (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1980), 4.

[14].    Alice V. Ellis, The Story of Stockton Springs, Maine (Belfast, ME: Kelly Press for the Historical Committee of Stockton Springs, 1955), 10.

[15].    This was not a formal eviction notice but merely a legal declaration by the town stating that the town accepted no responsibility for the welfare of the person or family cited.

[16].    Joseph Williamson, History of the City of Belfast in the State of Maine. . . . (Portland, ME: Loring, Short and Harmon, 1877), 148.

[17].    This lot was laid out as twenty-one rods in width, running back N22°W from the shore until it made up fifty acres (almost one and one-quarter miles).  Today this lot can be identified as principally comprising lots 101, 148, and 149 on Map R4, available on line at:  Local tradition is that the original Joseph P. Martin house now comprises the back one-story ell on the present, now-unoccupied, two-story dwelling house on lot 101 abutting the old highway; however, there is no chimney in the ell.

[18].    William D. Patterson, “Some Transactions of Colonel Thomas Goldthwait at Fort Pownal, 1764 to 1786,” The Maine Historical Magazine (formerly The Bangor Historical Magazine), Vol. IX , Nos. 1, 2, 3 (January, February, March 1894),  23-30, citing Lincoln County Deeds, volumes 9 & 20.

[19].    Private and Special Statutes of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, from the year 1780, to . . . the last Wednesday in May, A.D. 1805, in three volumes (Boston: Printed for the State, 1805), 3:249.

[20].    John H. Sheppard, Reminiscences of Lucius Manlius Sargent. . . . (Boston: David Clapp & Son, 1871), 27.  Lucius Manlius Sargent (1786-1867) was a first cousin to Catherine (Goldthwait) (Gardiner) Powell (1747-1830) of whom he wrote “. . . She then m. William Powell, Esq., a man of fortune, living in Boston . . . at the corner of Court and Tremont Streets.  Madam Powell adopted a pretty girl named Archibald [sic], who took her name Catherine Powell.  This girl, at the age of sixteen or seventeen, formed an unhappy connection with the valet, Stephen Caldwell, married him, lived in Gardiner, Me., and had several children.  Mrs. Powell used to assist them.”

[21].    From 1760 to 1789, Prospect (and its predecessor settlements) was within Lincoln County; from 1789 to 1827, within Hancock County, and after 1827 within Waldo County.

[22].    Hancock County Deeds, book 24, 287-88.

[23].    Joseph P. Martin’s pension file W.1629, declaration dated July 7, 1820, wherein age nineteen suggests the year of birth was 1800 versus 1801 as recorded in the Prospect birth records; he lived until March 20, 1835.

[24].    Prospect, first manuscript book of births and deaths, opened in 1789 and closed circa 1855, births, 36.

[25].    The Town Register: Searsport, Stockton Springs and Prospect, 1907 (Brunswick ME: H. E Mitchell Co., 1907), “Historical,” 115-116.

[26].    Republican Journal (Belfast, ME), September 22, 1836.

[27].    Ibid.

[28].    Prospect, first manuscript book of births and deaths, deaths, 15.


  • Nice summary of Martin’s post-Revolutionary War life. I really appreciated Martin’s wit and humor in his memoir, even as he describes the tribulations he suffered.

    By the way, you have a typo:

    >having left his family behind, “drowned in California” on July 3, 1750

    should be 1850 for the year, no?

  • Robert Carver Brooks has done a wonderful job of documenting Joseph Plumb Martin’s life in Maine and thereby giving more depth to the character of this most beloved Revolutionary War soldier. Without Martin’s 1830 heart wrenching account, the American Revolution would become a memory of events and portraits of the men of means. Joseph Plumb Martin’s life in Maine was filled with the same trials and tribulations that were experienced by our greatest American heroes. Thank you Bob Brooks for shining an even brighter light on Joseph Plumb Martin and the state of Maine. Carol B. Smith Fisher

  • What a great publication and the article was very well written.
    Only one thing bothers me (very slightly though), and perhaps I’m wrong, the marriage banns are not of his wedding but appear to be signed by JPM, as the town Clerk of Prospect, ME.

    Thanks very much,

    Perk Bingham (:>)
    Camano Island, WA

  • Known locally as “Certificates” these were issued by a Maine Town Clerk to the parties 14 days after their banns had been published and are of similar purpose to a modern “Marriage License.” The intent behind their selection as an illustration was to show the fine penmanship of JPM.

  • A very nice bio. For over 20 years I have been doing a living history presentation of Mr. Martin as the old vet looking back. I still suit up once in a while. If you would like a copy of his obituary I will be happy to send it to you. It is quite a tribute as you might expect. My prized possession is his original 1830 edition of his book with the wood boards still intact. One last thing, I had some cups made with part of the inscription on it from his obit. I will be happy to send you one of those.

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