Histories of Hunger in the American Revolution

Today’s post accompanies “The American Revolution in North America,” episode 163 of Ben Franklin’s World and part of the Doing History 2: To the Revolution! series. You can find supplementary materials for the episode on the OI Reader app, available through iTunes or Google Play. By Rachel B. Herrmann Poor Joseph Plumb Martin. The Connecticut private had been at it again—eating something a bit iffy to deal with his hunger. This time, it was “an old ox’s liver” that Martin had procured from camp butchers before chucking it into his kettle. The more he boiled it, “the harder it grew,” he recalled, but he ate it anyway. The next morning, Martin’s stomachache drove him to the doctor, who gave him “a large dose of tartar emetic.” After taking the medicine and exercising to encourage it to do its work, Martin promptly “discharged the hard junks of liver like grapeshot from a fieldpiece.”[1] Martin ate a fair amount of offal throughout his service. He sampled “A sheep’s head which” he “begged of the butchers,” and an ox’s milt, or spleen—which also made him vomit.[2] Not all soldiers shared Martin’s predilection for what chefs today refer to fondly as “the nasty bits,” but during the Revolutionary War, British and American soldiers suffered from the curse of bad army food. Read More

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