Researching the American Revolution

Your source for information on the American War of Independence

Diaries and Memoirs

Diorama in the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, PA

Revolutionary War diaries and journals are relatively rare, especially when compare to diaries compiled during the American Civil War. A good place to start is a listing of diaries kept by enlisted soldiers in the Continental Army compiled by Bob McDonald. Listed below are published diaries, journals and memoirs for Continental Army and militia officers and soldiers. Following the diaries are online sources of pension records which are increasingly available and are valuable sources.

For a specialized compilation of diaries written by women, click.

For diaries and memoirs written by British officers and soldiers, click.

For diaries and memoirs written by Hessians, click.

To the left is an example of an eighteenth-century journal which often is beautiful cursive handwriting. William Hunter, the author of the only diary or journal written by a son of a British soldier during the American Revolution, penned this account after returning to America in 1793.

More information on William Hunter is available at

Diaries in Manuscript Form

Finney, Walter, manuscript at the Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA

The physical three-volume diary kept by Walter Finney (1748-1820) of Chester County, Pennsylvania, can be found at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester. They cover part of Finney’s service in the American Army from 1776 to 1787. The second book of fifty-one pages contains Finney’s record of February 1782 to June 1783, most of which he spent in South Carolina; it is reprinted in this journal. Captain Finney served with Pennsylvania troops that operated under the command of Gen. Nathanael Greene during the latter

Frost, Samuel.  Diary, 1781, manuscript at the US Military Academy in West Point, NY.

An enlisted soldier, Frost is stationed at or near West Point.  His diary covers the defeat of a unit under the command of Col. Christopher Greene and the defection of Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold.  The diary is archived at the USMA at West Point.

Hawkins, Sergeant John H. Diary, manuscript at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Sergeant Hawkins served in the Second Canadian Regiment also known as Congress’s Own under the command of Colonel Moses Hazen. For access procedures at the library of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia , click.

Published Diaries and Memoirs

Adlum, John. Memoirs of the Life of John Adlum in the Revolutionary War. Edited by Howard H. Peckham. Chicago: The Caxton Club, 1968.

Adlum’s diary is one of the few diaries written by an enlisted soldier during the American Revolution. He joined the Pennsylvania Flying Camp Regiment in 1776 and served in the New York City campaign. The British captured Adlum during the assault on Fort Washington. Most of the diary recounts Adlum’s captivity on Manhattan Island. He interacts with several notable Rebel Colonels, such as Ethan Allen, Samuel Miles, and Robert Magaw. While not described in the published diary, Adlum became a viticulture expert and grower of the famous Catawba grape,

Angell, Israel. The Diary of Colonel Israel Angell Commanding Officer, 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, Continental Army. Edited by Edward Field.  Providence, Rhode Island:  Preston and Rounds, 1899.

A resident of Providence, Rhode Island, Israel Angell turned out to join the Rebel forces besieging Boston in 1775, While in Cambridge, he volunteered to join Benedict Arnold’s wilderness trek to attack Quebec City. After an arduous journey, the British captured Angell in the New Year’s Eve assault. After being exchanged, Angell returned to Rhode Island. He did not stay out of the army for long and signed up as the Lt. Col. of the Second Rhode Island Regiment of the Continental Army. Upon the death of the Colonel, he was promoted to lead the Regiment. The unit served in the 1777 Philadelphia campaign and participated in the Brandywine and Red Bank battles. In the winter of 1777-8, Angell resided in Valley Forge. Emerging from winter quarters, Angell led his unit during the June 1778 Monmouth battle.

George Washington ordered the Second Rhode Islanders to the Hudson Highland and then to Rhode Island to confront the British Newport garrison. When the Continental Congress combined the First and Second Rhode Island regiments, Angell resigned from his commission. He returned to Rhode Island to operate his tavern and became an active and respected community leader.

Baldwin, Thomas William, ed. The Revolutionary Journal of Col. Jeduthan Baldwin 1775-1778. Bangor, ME: The De Burians, 1906.

A veteran of the French and Indian War, Thomas Baldwin served as a military engineer in the Lake Champlain and Hudson River Valleys. His diary includes entries describing the successful defense of Fort Ticonderoga from the British invasion in 1776 and the 1777 retreat from Fort Ticonderoga. Baldwin demonstrates that the Rebel officers knew the strategic importance of Mt. Defiance to defending Fort Ticonderoga. He serves the Northern Army through the British surrender at Saratoga. While Baldwin notes that he dined with many famous generals, such as Gates, Putnam, and Heath, he does not reveal any of the conversations. The diary is most helpful in understanding the movement of military intelligence and the peripatetic nature of the army.

Bangs, Isaac. Journal of Lieutenant Isaac Bangs.  Edited by Edward Bangs.  Cambridge, MA:  John Wilson and Son, 1890.

Bloomfield, Joseph. Citizen Soldier:  The Revolutionary War Journal of Joseph Bloomfield. Edited by Mark E. Lender and James Kirby Martin. Newark:  New Jersey Historical Society, 1982.

Major Bloomfield served in the New Jersey Line from the war’s outset and participated in the 1776 defense of the Lake Champlain Valley. Upon returning to New Jersey, Bloomfield participated in the September 11, 1777, Battle of Brandywine. During this intense battle, Bloomfield received a horrific wound which prevented his further army service. However, he recovered sufficiently to become a political and community leader.

In 2018, Westholme Publishing reprinted the 1982 version adding observations that junior officers, like Bloomfield, played an under-appreciated role in winning the war and that Bloomfield should be recognized for his contributions.

Clark, John. “Memoir of Major John Clark, of the York County, Pennsylvania” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 20, No. 1 (1896):77-86.

Cresswell, Nicholas. The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1779.  New York:  Dial Press, 1824.

Before the outbreak of hostilities, Nicholas Cresswell came to North America as a visitor. He arrived in Virginia and traveled to the western frontier. After the Lexington and Concord, the Rebels suspected that he was a spy. Eventually, he gained the British lines and lived among the New York City British garrison. He recounts a dinner and visits with General Charles Lee. He describes Lee as “rash and violent in his sentiments as well as actions.”

In 1777, Cresswell returned to England. The diary recounts his initial days but becomes infrequent shortly thereafter. Other than noting his marriage in 1781, the diary ends. Cresswell’s diary is an excellent example of an Englishman’s view of America.

A copy is available from the Library of Congress Website.

Dearborn, Henry. Revolutionary War Journals of Henry Dearborn 1775-1783. Edited by Lloyd A. Brown and Howard H. Peckham. Chicago: The Caxton Club, 1939.

Col. Dearborn served in the Continental Army for almost the entire Revolutionary War. He participated in Benedict Arnold’s 1775 Quebec expedition, the 1777 Burgoyne defeat at Saratoga, John Sullivan’s Indian campaign, and the pivotal siege of Yorktown. The Caxton Club publication contains an introductory biographical essay, one of the best overviews of Dearborn’s life and contributions. In addition, readers will learn why there is a prominent Dearborn Street in Chicago.

Drinker, Elizabeth Sandwith, and Elaine Forman Crane. The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker: The Life Cycle of an Eighteenth-Century Woman. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1994

The diaries of Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker highlight the life of a Quaker woman living in Philadelphia in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Between 1758 and 1807,

A Quaker, Elizabeth Drinker’s diary recounts her Revolutionary War experiences in Philadelphia. She describes the threats and violence carried out against the neutral Quakers for not joining the Rebel cause. The sections on the British occupation of Philadelphia are particularly interesting as they describe the conflict’s complexities.

Drinker’s excellently written diary is an excellent source for the troubles facing women during the war and in the late eighteenth century.

A copy of Elizabeth Drinker’s diary is available on the Internet Archive website.

The original diary manuscript and accompanying matter are archived at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which offers a complete finding aid.

Duncan, James. Diary of Captain James Duncan, an officer in the Moses Hazen regiment in the Yorktown Campaign.

Greenman, Jeremiah. Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution 1775-1783. Edited by Robert C Bray and Paul E Bushnell. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 1978.

Jeremiah Greenman served in the Second Rhode Island Regiment. While he enlisted as a private, Greenman rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant and regimental adjutant by the war’s end. One of the unique aspects of his service is that the British captured Greenman twice – once in Canada and later in New York. Fortunately, each time he was exchanged and returned to active duty. The editors have done an excellent job making the contemporaneously written diary readable and understandable by a modern audience. Greenman’s and Angell’s diaries provide excellent comparisons of life in the Second Rhode Island Regiment.

Lee, Henry. Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States. Washington, DC: Peter Force, 1827.

McJunkin, Joseph. “Memoirs of Major Joseph McJunkin – Revolutionary Patriot.” South Carolina Tories (blog), 1837.

Martin, Joseph Plumb. A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin. New York: Signet Classics, 2010.

Expertly edited and eminently readable, Joseph Plumb Martin’s diary is the most quoted Revolutionary Era diary and is one of the most comprehensive extant diaries. As an enlisted soldier, Martin served eight years in the Continental Army and participated in most major northern and southern battles, ending with the Yorktown victory.  As a result, the diary is a good source for the trials and tribulations of the soldiers’ daily lives.  Hunger and fatigue are constant concerns interspersed with a few moments of combat. He provides incisive insights into what it was like to be a Continental Army soldier. The Signet Classics edition contains an excellent introduction by eminent historian Thomas Fleming and a new afterward by William Chad Stanley. If you have only time to read one Revolutionary Era diary, this is the one to read.

Morris, Margaret. Private Journal, kept during a portion of the Revolutionary War, for the amusement of a sister. Philadelphia: Philadelphia, private printing, 1836.

During the period, December 6, 1776 through June 14, 1777, Margaret Morris kept a diary.  A resident of Burlington, New Jersey, Morris witnessed the conflict in New Jersey. A Quaker, Morris did not take sides in the conflict but sought to have her town designated a neutral site.  This diary is a good example of how the civilian population was forced to house and feed the armies of both sides when passing through their towns.

Morris’s diary can be read care of the Hathitrust.

Roberts, Lemuel. Memoirs of Captain Lemuel Roberts Containing Adventures in Youth, Vicissitudes Experienced as a Continental Soldier, His Sufferings as a Prisoner, and Escapes from Captivity, with Suitable Reflections on the Changes of Life. Bennington, Vt: Anthony Haswell, 1809.

Lemuel Roberts begins his memoirs describing Pre-Revolutionary War life in the Champlain Valley. After hearing of the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, Roberts marched with his militia unit to Cambridge, MA. He describes an early skirmish between the forces of Gen. Israel Putnam and the British on Hog and Noodle Islands in Boston Bay. After a break from military service, Roberts enlisted in the Massachusetts line for one year and was sent to Quebec City via Fort Ticonderoga. Unfortunately, Roberts suffered from dysentery during the retreat to Crown Point. After marching to Morristown and participating in several skirmishes, the army released Roberts after completing his one-year enlistment. However, hearing about British General John Burgoyne’s invasion from Canada, Roberts re-enlisted and was sent to Northern New York. There he participated in Col. John Brown’s raid on Fort Ticonderoga. Soon afterward, Loyalist soldiers captured Roberts and sent him to Quebec City. The most unique aspect of this memoir is the three accounts of Roberts’ escapes. He certainly was brave and highly motivated to return to the Patriot lines. His last attempt was successful, and he traveled to Bennington, Vermont, for his back pay.

Showman, Richard K, Margaret Cobb, and Robert E. McCarthy, eds. The Papers of Nathanael Greene. Vol. I. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1976.

Muenchhausen, Friedrich Ernst von. At General Howe’s Side, 1776-1778: The Diary of General William Howe’s Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich Von Muenchhausen. United States: Philip Freneau Press, 1974.

Sullivan, Thomas. From Redcoat to Rebel: The Thomas Sullivan Journal. Edited by Joseph Lee Boyle. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1997.

Remarkably, Thomas Sullivan deserted the British Army to join the Rebel cause. He arrived in North America as a member of the Forty-ninth Regiment of Foot just before the Battle of Bunker Hill. He remained in Boston until the British evacuated in 1776. After spending several months in Nova Scotia, he traveled with the army to New York City, where he participated in the Battle of Brooklyn and several other battles. The next year he fought in the Philadelphia Campaign in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown. During this period, Sullivan married Sarah Stoneman from Bucks County, PA. As a result, he deserted the British Army during its transit of New Jersey to New York in 1778. Upon switching sides, Sullivan joined the staff of John Cox, an Assistant Quartermaster General in the Continental Army. Abruptly, the journal ends and little is known of his live post-1778. Sullivan journal recounts the life of an enlisted British soldier who finds America to be a better place to live. The journal demonstrates that privates were remarkably informed of military strategies and events.

Thacher, James. Military Journal of the American Revolution: From the Commencement to the Disbanding of the American Army : Comprising a Detailed Account of the Principal Events and Battles of the Revolution, with Their Exact Dates, and a Biographical Sketch of the Most Prominent Generals. Gansevoort, N.Y.: Corner House Historical Publications, 1998.

Trumbull, John, and Theodore Sizer. The Autobiography of Col. John Trumbull. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953.

Compilations of Selected Diaries, Writings and Records

Boyle, Joseph Lee. Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment of the Continental Army, December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778. 6 vols. Bowie, MD:  Heritage Books, 2003.

Joseph Boyle published a six-volume set of letters from soldiers and officers who served at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78. His work is the most comprehensive collection of Valley Forge documents. and is only available in print versions.

Dunn, John C. ed. The Revolution Remembered Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Knox, Henry, Phillip Hamilton, and Lucy Knox. The Revolutionary War Lives and Letters of Lucy and Henry Knox. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017.

While the John and Abigail Adams correspondence is well known and researched, the copious letters between General Henry and Lucy Knox are as interesting. Phillip Hamilton compiled and edited a subset of the letters in the Gilder Lehrman Collection. The Knox letters do not possess the same writing quality but portray the correspondents’ robust and loving relationship. The letters span the Revolutionary Era into the Early Republic.

Rae, Noel. The People’s War: Original Voices of the American Revolution. Guilford, Conn: Lyons Press, 2012.

Noel Rae tells the story of the American Revolution through the eyes of the participants. He quotes liberally from the diaries and memoirs of a wide range of people, emphasizing underrepresented groups. In addition, Rae provides an overview timeline as an appendix which helps understand the broad arc of events during the Revolutionary Era. While most readers don’t wade into the bibliography, I recommend that Readers of The People’s War review his source citations. He organized the bibliography by chapter, which aids readers in identifying source materials of particular interest. I recommend Rae’s book to those beginning their Revolutionary War research or looking for a fresh look at the standard war narrative. The People’s War is an engaging read.

Rankin, Hugh F., ed. Narratives of the American Revolution – As Told by a Young Sailor, a Homesick Surgeon, a French Volunteer, and a German General’s Wife. The Lakeside Classics 75. Chicago: R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1976.

The Rankin volume provides four edited journals. The first is Ebenezer Fox’s journal covering his naval service in the Penobscot expedition, his capture, and eventual imprisonment on the infamous Jersey prison hulk. Second is Albigence Waldo’s diary of his time at Valley Forge as a surgeon. Next is Chevalier de Pongibaud’s account of his visit to Valley Forge and interesting observations on the Rebel general officers. Lastly is Baroness Von Riedesel’s journal of her life during the disastrous Saratoga Campaign. The Lakeside Classic version is expertly done and can be purchased cheaply at second-hand book websites.

Raphael, Ray. A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence. A New Press People’s History. New York: New Press, 2001.

Laurens, Henry, Philip May Hamer, George C. Rogers, and David R. Chesnutt. The Papers of Henry Laurens. Vol. 12: Nov. 1, 1777 – March 15, 1778. 1. ed. Vol. XII. Columbia, S.C: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1990.

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