Book Reviews

Autobiography of a Revolutionary Solider
by James Potter Collins

Book Reviewed by Kay Moss

Wouldn’t we each and every one like to sit by the side of a Revolutionary War veteran and listen to his remembrances of the war and of growing to adulthood in upcountry South Carolina? Well, the next best thing is to read what such a fellow wrote. Collins’ Autobiography of a Revolutionary Solider is just that narrative—ranging from hilarious to distressing to curious and back again. And, best of all, the setting for his earliest tales was York County, South Carolina and surroundings.

Besides tales of local battles and skirmishes this source lends rich insight into everyday concerns of men, women, and children of the Carolina Backcountry. This is a great book to put you into the spirit of upcoming events-especially Huck’s Defeat, Walnut Grove, and Camden. Every member of the family will enjoy reading or being read to from this memoir.

You’ll giggle as you gather bits of information about apprenticeships and clothing while reading about a suit of clothes the mischievous young Collins tailored for a cat. The grim reality of war fought on home soil is vividly felt as the old man remembers the tears he shed although victorious at King’s Mountain and the melancholy sight of wives and children of Tories searching for husband or father on the battlefield. Tales of hunting trips are recorded as are his adventures and misadventures in courting. Collins was “immoderately fond of music and dancing” and therefore reported on dancing and singing schools and frolics. I was especially pleased to read that women of more than forty years danced the night away.

While Autobiography is a fascinating source, do remember that it is often difficult to recall details of our lives, even after a few months; therefore, we cannot know to what extent Collins recollections were factual or embroidered with fantasy. If your local library does not have this book, ask the reference librarian to borrow it for you through interlibrary loan.

Sometimes catalogued simply as A Revolutionary Soldier.
New York: Arno Press, 1979.  From the 1859 edition, revised and prepared by John M. Roberts.

The Long Knife
by James Alexander Thom Book

Reviewed by Jim Daniel

There are very few primary sources on the role of the rifleman in the revolution. The riflemen and their commanders left far more impression on the minds of those who interacted with them than they did on the pages of history. The subject book is an historical novel, a genre that is deserving of much of the infamy that surrounds it. However, one would be remiss not to note that there are those historical novels, such as those by Bernard Cornwell, Alan Eckert, and others that are firmly grounded in historical research. (Eckert’s in particular have an extensive collection of footnotes.) “The Long Knife” is the story of George Rogers Clark and, in particular, his campaign in the Illinois territory during the revolution. This campaign is even less known in general than the campaign in the south. It was nearly totally a campaign of irregular American troops against British regulars and their Indian allies. In this book you’ll find the story of Clark’s winter campaign against harrowing conditions and extreme odds that somehow, unbelievably, Clark was able to win. You’ll also be exposed to Henry Hamilton, British officer known as the “scalp buyer” for the bounties he offered to Indians that brought in American scalps. And, as with many of out heroes, you’ll read of Clark’s final days, isolated and in dire straits. I found “The Long Knife” to be enjoyable reading and educational at the same time. If you’re interested in the frontiersman/rifleman in the war, this is a good book for you.

Avon. N.Y. 1979. paperback 592p.


Private Yankee Doodle
by J. P. Martin

Book Reviewed by Jim Daniel

Joseph Plumb Martin was a fifteen-year-old New Englander who served throughout most of the War of American Independence as a private soldier of the Connecticut line. Unlike most period accounts, his memoirs are written from the viewpoint of the common soldier, a fact that he felt lessened their importance. Little could he know that 225 years later, it would be the everyday things that would be most eagerly sought by historians.

His accounts of personal hardships, frustration, boredom, fear, and constant gnawing hunger provide building blocks for our own interpretation of the life of a Continental soldier. Sure, there are battles here, and bravery; but the only constant element is the drudgery.

His campaigns are not those of a North Carolina Continental, so the book is not ueful from that aspect. Rather, it’s his very readable descriptions of an American soldier’s life that led me to put this book in the number one position on my recommended reading list for Rev War reenactors.

Due to its interpretive value (and its low cost), this is a book you should own and re-read. Private Yankee Doodle can be had at the Guilford Courthouse NMP bookstore. I was unable to verify pricing, but I believe that in paperback it is currently less than $3.00.   That’s a bargain.

Eastern Acorn Press. New York, 1962 and subsequent editions. Acorn Press is the National Park Service’s publication branch.


Southern Folk Medicine 1750-1820  by Kay Moss  Book Reviewed by Jim Daniel

I’ve just finished reading a book for the fourth time. That’s not altogether unusual for me; but, in this case the book’s only been on the market for a few weeks. The truth is, I was fortunate enough to read it twice as a work in progress prior to its publication. The book I’m speaking of is Southern Folk Medicine 1750-1820 by the 6th’s own Kay Moss. It’s just been published by The University of South Carolina Press and retails for around $30.00.

Many of you have seen Kay’s portrayal of a back country herb lady, a practitioner of folk medicine. If you have, I’m sure that you were impressed with her enthusiasm and her depth of knowledge on the subject. Much of the decades of research and an equal measure of the infectious enthusiasm that have gone into Kay’s portrayal also went into this book.

While there’s a treasure trove of remedies from period Southern manuscript sources, there’s much more here. There’s a section on common ailments of the period that’s worth reading for those of us who’ve wondered about fluxes and quinseys and the other strange-sounding complaints of our forebears. Another section describes the state of medical knowledge and medical practice in the backcountry that will help the reader understand the widespread reliance on folk medicine. Several useful appendices cover such topics as the ingredients, obscure and common, found in the remedies, and pharmaceutical weights and measures. While Southern Folk Medicine is a scholarly work of the first order, it’s both readable and understandable by the lay person.

The University of South Carolina Press