Remembering Joseph Plumb Martin: Chaucer portrays historic Milford man
Milford resident Timothy Chaucer will portray an historic Milford resident next week in Hamden.
Chaucer, a member of the 6th Connecticut Regiment, will portray Milford’s Joseph Plumb Martin Tuesday, April 11, at 7 p.m. at the Parish House of the Mount Carmel Congregational Church, 3280 Whitney Avenue.
Chaucer is a local historian and preservationist, as well as a retired history teacher from Hamden High School. The 6th Connecticut Regiment is a non-profit re-enactment group that portrays the 6th Connecticut Regiment, which formed in New Haven and Middletown in January 1777.
“Joseph Plumb Martin is considered by many to be the most well-known private in the Continental Army of Gen. George Washington and was involved in most of the important events of the American Revolution from 1776 until Yorktown in 1781,” Chaucer explained. “He told his story as a 70-year-old man when he wrote his memoirs, later published as Private Yankee Doodle, in order that the public better understand the suffering privates such as he experienced during those dark and difficult days.”
Martin, often quoted in televised documentaries about the Revolutionary War, was 6 or 7 years old when he came to Milford to live with his grandparents, Joseph Plumb and Susanna Newton.
When he was 15 he signed up for a six-month enlistment with the 5th Connecticut State Militia, wrote Joseph Barnes in a document published on the Milford Hall of Fame website.
On August 27, 1776, Martin fought at the Battle of Long Island, also known as the Battle of Brooklyn or Brooklyn Heights.
“It was the first major battle after the Declaration of Independence,” Barnes wrote. “In numbers involved, it was the largest battle of the entire conflict, and the first battle for an army of the now ‘United States.’”
Many took ill in the fall of 1776, including Martin.
In Private Yankee Doodle, Martin writes: “It now began to be cool weather, especially the nights. To have to lie as I did almost every night (for our duty required it) on the cold and often wet ground without a blanket and with nothing but thin summer clothing was tedious. I have often while upon guard lain on one side until the upper side smarted with cold, then turned that side down to the place warmed by my body and let the other side take its turn at smarting, while the one on the ground warmed …”
According to Barnes, when Martin’s six-month tour of duty ended in December 1776, he returned to Milford and his grandparents. He then joined the Continental Army in April 1777, signing on for the duration of the war with the 17th Continental Regiment.
While in Danbury during the summer of 1777, Martin writes in his book, “I had ample opportunity to see the devastation caused by the British. The town had been laid in ashes, a number of the inhabitants murdered and cast into their burning houses, because they presumed to defend their persons and property, or to be avenged on a cruel, vindictive invading army. I saw the inhabitants, after the fire was out, endeavoring to find the burnt bones of their relatives amongst the rubbish of their demolished houses.”
Martin was made a Corporal of Light Infantry in 1778, and he was discharged from duty when the Continental Army disbanded in October 1783, according to Barnes.
Martin taught in New York state for a year, and became one of the founders of the town of Prospect, Maine. In 1794, when he was 33, he married Lucy Clewley, 18, and had five children.
Martin lived to be 89, dying on May 2, 1850. He is buried with his wife at the Sandy Point Cemetery, outside of Prospect, Maine. According to Barnes, he never returned to live in Milford.
When Chaucer portrays the historic Milford figure next week, he will use a script researched from Martin’s memoirs.
“I will also have a detailed map showing his movements during the war, and I will have examples of grapeshot, three-pounders and lead shot, the type he managed to avoid during his lengthy involvement with the Continental Army,” Chaucer said, adding, “Martin was a hero at Yorktown and saw George Washington on several occasions during the war.”
Chaucer said Milford is lucky to have two Revolutionary War soldiers, John Downs, a Minuteman, and Martin, a Continental soldier, both of whom wrote about their lives. Both are celebrated in the Minuteman House, also known as the Downs House, at 139 North Street.
“We are dying to find the home lot of Joseph Plumb,” Chaucer said. “So far no luck, but Martin talks about coming to live with his grandsire when he was 7 because his father was a preacher who got in trouble with various parishes; he was actually born in Beckett, Mass.”
Martin lived somewhere near the harbor with his grandparents, and local historians are still trying to find the exact lot.
He and his “grandsire,” Joseph Plumb, farmed near the Indian River, Chaucer said.
For additional information on Chaucer’s portrayal of Joseph Plumb Martin, go to the Hamden Historical Society website: Hamdenhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com.