Extracts from a Private Journal.
By Ellen D. Earned
Very unlike the chronicle of our Yale student are the jottings of his contemporary —a farmer’s son from the northeast corner of Connecticut. In place of the neat, prim, leather-covered little volume we have only yellow and crumpled leaflets, and the contents are even more dissimilar. Our Joe starts out for service,. March 4, 1777. Two older brothers have already served their country in regular fashion. Joe, with a little more snap and spring in him, elects a different calling. Apparently he knows and cares very little about the causes and progress of the war, but he likes to be about horses and enjoys the fun of hunting Tories, and so he has enlisted as a Continental teamster. The initial page of the diary is missing. Our record finds him trudging over the hills on his way back from furlough — a stout lad eighteen years of age.
” Dec. 3, 1777. I sat out from Killingly and went through Pomfret, Ashford, Mansfield, Coventry, and put up at a very good !tavern ; then through Bolton,, East Hartford, and Farmington to old Capt. Coles’. 5. A stormy day; through Southington and Errintown and Litchfield to one John Clemmons. 6. Through New Milford and Newbury and got to Danbury about dark. 6-1o. Busy going round to various places for supplies and taking care of cattle — oxen and horses ; living very poor ; have no cook and no time for cooking. ’15. Go to Bethel. 16 Go to Stamford through Norwalk, stay at a bad place — the man clever but a. Divil for a wife. 18. Thanksgiving Day but no rest for me. Bad dreams trouble use. 21. Went over a dreadful bad mountain into Duchess County to. Col. Vandeborough’s and loaded seven barrels of flour : passed through Oblong—”
Very much discontented for several days ; dreams fifteen nights a-going about one place—Home — occasionally sleeps in a bed. Gets a cook and feels better.
” Jan. 1, 1778—
And now to let you know
How we live, says Joe,
We live like a king to what we did, For Mrs. Peck cooks for us.
And so, my lad, it is not so bad,
But yet it is not the thing, you know.’
” One thing more, New Year’s day Mother Peck baked rye and injun bread for us Continentals, but the brandy is almost gone, and what shall we do ?’ Good New Year’s supper—rice pudding and baked beef. 20. Mad to see so many Tories about. 22. Went for hay to Hanford’s barn—a Tory that has gone to the Regulars. Bought twelve sheets of paper and an almanac for a dollar. Saw a lady with a roll upon her head at least seven inches high. It looked big enough for a horse : wool enough in it to make a pair of stockings. Feb. 2. Saw two of my countrymen and heard from home. 8. Went to Fairfield and saw brother john ; got a good dinner of scallops, pork-sides, and bread—have the chicken-pox. Like boarding at Capt. Hoyt’s, but Peck’s folks were diabolical Tories. March 4. Just such a day as when I entered service one year ago ; ate a little Continental pork to give it a farewell ; delivered over my oxen and am a free man. Went to dressing flax with Herrick ; live well, have good cider and a bed to lie on ; feel like a free person. Nobody shall say when I shall drive team. 8. First Sabbath day I have had my liberty for above a year. Snipes whistle, frogs peep, and Joe whistles, too. Went to Danbury to sell my flax ; ordered by constable to take a prisoner and keep him, who had helped him-self to some rum ; was ordered to make restitution or take ten or twelve lashes ; chose the whipping; stript down to his shirt and then stood down to his knees to take it, and then Colman did freely forgive him, and would not strike him a blow. Herrick and I were paid 145. for expense and trouble.”
The sweets of liberty were soon exhausted. Joe is now in great trouble, could not get his pay for service, or sell his flax. His breeches are giving out ; living on cost and earning nothing; bargains away his old horse for 8.00, and he but eight years old ; lies on the floor again; wishes he was at home, poor boy. Sees blue-birds, robins, and black-birds, and tries to fly home after them, gets light-headed, almost crazy, and after a hard struggle agrees to drive team again for Capt. Morgan. Still the times are not much better; has bad pork and beef, and pities Continental oxen.
“April 5. Heard of a Tory and seven of us went and took him in his own house. He had been to the Regulars. 18. Went after some cloth to make some trousers and could not get any and mine are just good-for-nothing ; borrow a petticoat of Mother Ointed for the itch and stood ninety minutes, felt very poorly. 20. Another misfortune, Capt. Hoyt’s house burnt and I have lost my knapsack ; contents, one inkhorn, a snuff-box of wafers, a gimlet, a pair of shoes, a case bottle of West India rum, forty-seven pounds flax, one frock. 22. Fast throughout Continental army ; did no work and drew butter for the whole month. Went to the meeting-house and heard a band of music.” (Probably the trousers had been patched up in honor of the occasion. ” My Breeches, 0 my Breeches,” is still his mournful wail.)
“April 24. Eat victuals now at schoolhouse and lie at Major Taylor’s on a feather bed. 25. Bought cloth for breeches, gay ; straddled two horses at once and run them till I fell through and hurt myself. 29. 0, I have got no breeches, and to-day boiled or washed cloth to make some to-morrow. 30. Got my breeches; take care of sixteen horses. May r. Went with Herrick and others to ketch Isaac Read, a Tory, that had broke from guard at Fishkill], and I stood sentry and as Hannah Frost was to make a sign I was to muster Hoyt and send him for men, and so I did, and just after the moon did rise they came, and we searched the house but could not find him, and then we came to Joseph Dibbel’s and took him and Daniel and searched two more houses and found nobody and then we came back to Ezra Dibbel’s and had some West India, and then I with five others did search Glover’s house and Dibbel’s Mill. This Tory had been taken for forgery. June 1. Took $66.00 of Capt. Morgan for three months’ wages. 3. Set out for Killingly. Herrick on horseback carrying the packs, I came a-foot, through Woodbury and Waterbury, over the mountain ; through Southington and Farmington to Hartford, Bolton, and Coventry to old Father Simeon’s, where I staid all night ; then through Ashford and Pomfret to Cargill’s Bridge and Esq. Dresser’s, and got home sun two hours high. Next day went to training at the meeting-house.”
Though this boyish record may seem very puerile, it has its value in depicting one phase of Revolutionary service and in showing us something of the make-up of the American forces. This boyish, flighty Joe was but a type of hundreds of farmers’ boys, engaging in service in the same careless spirit. “Thirty days’ soldiering” in Sullivan’s Rhode Island campaign (August, 1778), closed our friend’s military career, but he lived to appreciate the wonderful results of the war, and rejoice that he had taken even so small a part in it. The record begun by him in 1777 was continued nearly seventy years.