Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution

Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution

Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution

Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution


Between 1819 and 1845, as veterans of the Revolutionary War were filing applications to receive pensions for their service, the government was surprised to learn that many of the soldiers were not men, but boys, many of whom were under the age of sixteen, and some even as young as nine. In Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution, Caroline Cox reconstructs the lives and stories of this young subset of early American soldiers, focusing on how these boys came to join the army and what they actually did in service. Giving us a rich and unique glimpse into colonial childhood, Cox traces the evolution of youth in American culture in the late eighteenth century, as the accepted age for children to participate meaningfully in society--not only in the military--was rising dramatically. Drawing creatively on sources, such as diaries, letters, and memoirs, Caroline Cox offers a vivid account of what life was like for these boys both on and off the battlefield, telling the story of a generation of soldiers caught between old and new notions of boyhood.


In the years following the American Revolution, there has been a broad range of perspectives, sources, and subjects included in the books telling its history. The Revolution has been described as a forecast of the French Revolution with radical beginnings and a conservative ending, a work of God in this world or a sinful triumph of the Antichrist, a rising of the people or the work of a wealthy elite. These broad strokes of its champions and its enemies have not discouraged moderate interpreters. Several of such historians have even denied that what took place in America between 1775 and 1783 constituted a revolution. There has also been a multitude of interpreters who focused on the Revolution’s ideas; some have concentrated on what they took to be its origins in economic grievances—and not surprisingly analyzed its politics in terms of a conflict of social classes. Others build their versions on actions of British officials and describe the whole affair as a crisis of the empire, an interpretation that can be made to accommodate the popular ideology and discontent of the “people,” as well as the policies of imperial officials.

Just about every group that had a part in the Revolution has been studied and written about many times. Soldiers, Indians, blacks, women, merchants, lawyers, religious ministers, to list a few, have had their historians. And broader studies have tied together a number of these groups. In the last fifty years scholarly attention has shifted somewhat from a political emphasis to the social character of such groups and peoples. How the people involved actually lived—that is, acted in the Revolutionary crisis or were affected by it—has seemed as important as what they actually did.

This brief sketch of interpretations and their creators is only a sample of the immense variety and number of attempts to come to terms with the Revolution. Whatever one thinks of such efforts, historians’ resourcefulness in finding “original” sources on which to base their arguments has been impressive. But as Caroline Cox’s study demonstrates, there still remains opportunity for fresh questions and original work in untapped sources of the American Revolution.

To be sure there are aspects of it that seem so remote or elusive as to resist systematic study. One example of such elusiveness has been . . .

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