"...that the Garrison may not be without vegetables in their Season."

A wood framed window. Long pumpkin squash, string beans, and a cabbage sit in a tidy row on the sill.
Historic (or heirloom) vegetables that would have been grown in New York State at the time of the Revolution. These include beans, cabbage, onions (more akin to green onions than modern varieties), and pumpkins shaped like squash. They were bred for ease of stacking and storage in root cellars over-winter.

National Park Service

February 23, 2022 Posted by: Ranger Kelly
Food insecurity, food scarcity, and healthy meals are hot topics during even the most prosperous of times. In times of COVID, the "supply chain issues" that affect our grocery bills and cause real issues for our families' survivals. During the American Revolution, many soldiers and their families went without regular meals while fighting for their freedom. If an army runs on it's stomach and breakfast is the "most important meal of the day," would you fight knowing that hunger is a bigger threat than the enemy? 

Before his arrival to the fort in the spring of 1777, Gansevoort sent a letter to his second in command, Lieutenant Col. Marinus Willett, ordering a garden to be planted near the fort:

“As soon as the Season will permit you will have the Garden put in Seed, that the Garrison may not be without vegetables in their Season.”

Everyday, private soldiers would have received a portion of bread, flour, or vegetables for their one daily meal, along with a portion of meat. Meat was often shipped to the fort in barrels of brine and not considered fresh by today’s standards. What little livestock they had was kept for milk production. During the Siege of 1777 a number of these animals were killed for food; a fact Gansevoort later bemoaned to Gates stating that they should have had proper supplies before an attack occurred.

Even with fresh vegetables available, portions weren’t always distributed fairly. By the next spring, orders were issued to the men that specific food items were to be sold at set prices (Example: 16 Shilling for 17 lbs. of onion and $2 per head of cabbage). This was done so that those civilians and even other soldiers with more access to the garden and livestock could not cheat others out of their fair share.

Chunks of raw red beef and bone in a pile.

One pound of beef or pork equals about four standard fast-food hamburgers before they are
cooked. Throw in the buns, a leaf or two of lettuce, and an onion slice for each and you have a modern equivalent to a Third New York soldier’s daily food ration.

Rations & Subsistence for Common NY Ranks

Privates &
Given Per Day Per 100 Rations
• Sergeant Major
• Drum /Fife Major
• Sergeant
• Corporal
• Drummer/Fifer
• Private Soldier
• 1 lb. bread or flour**
• 1 lb. beef or 3/4 lb. pork
• 1 gill 1/4 pint, or gill, of gum
• 1 quart of salt
• 2 lb. of soap
• 1 lb. of candles
**when available, fresh or dried vegetables were issued and bread ration was cut in proportion.

Once the day was done, an average soldier at this fort may have only consumed 1,500 calories or less the entire day! Compare this to the average American adult in the year 2000, who had access to three full meals or more per day, consisting of all the major food groups and nutrients. This was a total of 2,000 or more calories per day.

Today, knowing that you have secure access to food, even junk food, and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, could or would you willingly limit your diet in the face of adversity?

A wooden table with various ceramic, wooden, and metal plates, bowls, and cups strewn about the top.

National Park Service

Sources & Documentation:
  • Gansevoort, Peter. (January 26, 1777). Gansevoort Papers: Gansevoort to George Clinton. (March 12, 1778). Gansevoort Papers: Gansevoort to Horatio Gates.New York Public Library.
  • Martin, Joeseph Plumb. (1962). Private Yankee Doodle: Being a Narrative of Some the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier. Little, Brown and Company.
  • Willett, Marinus. (1777-1778). “Third New York Orderly Book,” Tomlinson Collection. New York Public Library.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2003). Agriculture Fact Book 2001-2002. Washington, DC: U.S. Goverment Printing Office.

Last updated: February 24, 2022

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