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.

Diaries in Manuscript Form

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.

Published Diaries

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

Diary of Captain James Duncan, officer in the Moses Hazen regiment

Finney, Walter, and Joseph Lee Boyle. “The Revolutionary War Diaries of Captain Walter Finney.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 98, no. 2 (1997): 126-52. Accessed December 31, 2020.

THREE VOLUMES OF DIARIES 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 below in its entirety. Captain Finney served with Pennsylvania troops that operated under the command of Gen. Nathanael Greene during the latter.

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.

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.

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.

Serving eight years in the Continental Army, Martin’s diary is one of the most comprehensive extand diaries.  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.

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 Excapes from Captivity, with Sutitable Reflections on the Changes of Life. Bennington, Vt: Anthony Haswell, 1809.

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.

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.

Compilations of Selected writings and records

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

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

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.

Pension Records

Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Records Data base

Contains pension records and statements for over 20,000 Revolutionary War veterans of the Southern Campaigns.  The data based includes pension applications and bounty land claims.  It is highly searchable and free of charge.

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