The Proud and the Free

The Proud and the Free is a historical novel by Howard Fast that was published in 1950. It tells the story of the Pennsylvania Line Mutiny from the enlisted men's point of view.[1]

Pennsylvania Line Mutiny

The so-called Pennsylvania Line Mutiny began January 1, 1781, and ended with negotiated settlement on January 8, 1781. The mutiny was the most successful and consequential insurrection by Continental Army soldiers during the American Revolutionary War. When negotiations with the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania promised satisfactory resolution, many of the soldiers returned to arms for the Continental Army and participated in future campaigns.

Novel

The narrative is told by Jamie Stuart, an elderly man who, at that time, was a 22-year-old orphaned son of indentured servants from York, Pennsylvania. He was a member of the Foreign Brigade of Pennsylvania which consisted of mostly immigrants but also has some native-born Americans in its ranks.

The enlisted men live in slum-like housing near Morristown, New Jersey. They have very little food, clothing or money. The officers, led by the Continental Army's General Anthony Wayne, aka Mad Anthony Wayne, in contrast live in comfortable housing, have gourmet-quality food, fine wine, and well-tailored clothes.

The novel describes how a wide range of men, not just the dominant Protestants but also Jews, Blacks, Irish, atheists, and Romans, i.e., Roman Catholics, who normally would be at each others throats have formed into a cohesive unit with their officers, the gentry, and especially the British as their common enemy.

The novel depicts most officers as excessively strict and uncaring. One incident too many triggers the soldiers' decision to revolt. One man cites the Declaration of Independence's guidance, "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it and to institute new Government." [2]

Led by a Committee of Sergeants the brigades, via surprise and organization, present a fait accompli to their officers who are powerless to stop them. The men follow military procedures to form as a new, free fighting force. On the way to Princeton, New Jersey, folks along the countryside feed and cheer the men on.

The soldiers agree to return to General Wayne's army as long as (1) there is no direct reprisal against any soldier, (2) that those due a bounty be paid, and (3) those whose three-year terms of enlistment had expired are discharged but may reenlist.

Stuart, who enlisted when he was 17, departs for Philadelphia and then York, Pa. to return to the girl he left behind, Molly Bracken. Restless, Stuart rejoins the brigade which is headed to Virginia to participate in one of the last battles of the Revolutionary War.

References

  1. Fast, Howard The Proud and the Free (1950) ISBN 0-7434-5842-7
  2. USHistory.org
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