First Hand Accounts Of The American Revolution And Its Causes

Causes of the American Revolution told through first hand accounts.

The American Revolution is a part of history that modern society may have difficulty relating to, however it has been a subject of total fascination in the eyes of historians and others, for over two centuries. There is no more credible documentation of this time in history, or any other for that matter, than an actual first-hand account.

George R. T. Hewes, a shoemaker in Boston during the 1770's, recounted his experiences with Colonial upheaval and his part in The Boston Tea Party with a horrifying clarity of detail. Hewes was more than ninety years old when he recalled his many interesting experiences, in an interview which was published in 1834.

Another first-hand Revolutionary account, which was also put to paper many years after the actual experiences, is the personal memoirs of a common soldier named Joseph Plumb Martin. At just sixteen years old, Martin enlisted in the army with pride in his heart and visions of absolute glory dancing through his head. He, like Hewes, was sorely disappointed by the actions and callous reactions of others.

Where Martin's disillusionment stemmed primarily from the actions of the government, Hewes' disappointments occurred primarily through his encounters with individuals. As he is describing the incident in which he and a little boy are threatened by a customs officer named Malcom, there is an unmistakable feeling of disgust on Hewes' part toward the entire situation. He not only feels insulted by the officer's condescending attitude, but he feels determined to attain retribution. He first tries to resolve the matter through the proper legal channels, but is unable to do so. This does not seem to bother Hewes, however, because Malcom is more than retaliated against for hitting Hewes in the head. This retribution is far from subtle to say the least, as can be seen from the following passage from Hewes' account:

"The people, however, soon broke open the door and took Malcom into their custody. They then took him to the place where the massacre was committed, and flogged him with thirty-nine stripes. After which, they besmeared him thoroughly with tar and feathers; they then whipped him through the town till they arrived at the gallows, on the neck where they gave him thirty-nine stripes more and then, after putting one end of a rope about his neck, and throwing the other over the gallows, told him to remember that he had come within one of being hanged."

Violence in Colonial times was not uncommon, and in fact was the usual type of retaliation exalted upon dissenters. This can be seen throughout Hewes' entire account of his experiences during the Boston Tea Party. Those caught "stuffing tea into their pockets" were thrown into icy cold water, kicked and publicly humiliated. Those caught selling tea subsequent to the Boston Tea Party were treated just as horrendously.

Interestingly enough, these violent acts that were taking place among colonists were mirrored quite remarkably with the traumas suffered by Revolutionary soldiers. Joseph Plumb Martin experienced all of the harsh realities of war, having witnessed the injury, death and capture by the enemy, of many of his cohorts. While he never experienced any of those traumas, he was subjected to the horrors of freezing temperatures, days without food, and a complete deterioration of morale. Martin complained extensively in his memoirs about the rarely kept promises towards soldiers made by the government. Yet unlike Hewes, Martin's retaliation consisted only of his written account. He served throughout almost the entire war, never once physically assaulting a government official or running away. He silently put up with all of the mistreatment until he finally released it years later in the printed form. Martin, like Hewes, had very legitimate complaints about how the actions of others were affecting not only him, but the movement towards freedom. However while Martin's suffering was plausibly more severe than Hewes', his reaction was much more passive. Take for example this excerpt from Martin's recollections, which describes just one of the many disappointments he endured at the hands of the government.

"...when those who engaged to serve during the war enlisted, they were promised a hundred acres of land each, which was to be in their own or the adjoining states. When the country had drained the last drop of service it could screw out of the poor soldier they were turned adrift like old-worn-out horses, and nothing said about the land to pasture them upon."

Martin speaks very little of the violence involved in the war, where Hewes, not even a soldier, speaks of almost nothing but violence. While colonists were known for their violent and uproarious behavior, and the government was notorious for going back on promises, both are portrayed to us in modern times almost purely as heroes.

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