"Troops Not Paid..."

February 23, 2022 Posted by: Ranger Kelly
Have you ever had to pinch pennies to survive? Has your paycheck ever been affected by inflation? Have you ever done it while fighting? Soldiers in the Continental Army nearly always went short or without supplies. On top of that, they often had to go without real pay as well. What would you do if you were in their shoes?

A young soldier, Joseph Plumb Martin (who spent most of the American Revolutionary War in General Washington’s main army), summed up many soldiers’ frustrations about the pay system and Continental currency in a few sentences of his journal:

“We were, also, promised six dollars and two thirds a month, to be paid to us monthly, and how did we fare in this particular? Why, as we did in every other. I received the six dollars and two thirds, till (if I remember rightly) the month of August, 1777, when the paying ceased. And what was...this ‘Continental currency’...worth? It was scarcely enough to procure a man a dinner.”

These sentiments were echoed by Colonel Peter Gansevoort to Governor George Clinton of New York State in January 1777:

“You have inclosed a Return of Cloathing wanting for my Regiment. I hope our Legislature will turn their Attention towards their Troops... Troops not paid and half naked can be but little expected from. This is our Case in the northern... Department.”

Gansevoort was tasked with creating what would become known as the Third New York Regiment of Fort Schuyler (Stanwix), and already these men were suffering for lack of supply.

As illustrated by Martin and Gansevoorts’ complaints, the pay did not always get to where it was supposed to be and when it did it was often worthless. The over arching issue: currency inflation in a new nation with little financial backing.

Though the Continental Congress tried to pass several laws between 1777 and 1780 setting prices for household commodities (e.g. rum, barley, tea), this did little good for soldiers on the move. In many areas it became easier to barter or trade for needed items. But, for soldiers across the nation, army life meant the only goods you had were supplies you had issued to you; and it was a punishable off ense to sell objects like your weaponry or uniform.

Pay Per Month for Common NY Ranks in 1777*

Sergeant Major $9.00 $450.00
Drum /Fife Major $8.33 $416.50
Sergeant $8.00 $416.50
Corporal $7.33 $366.50
Drummer/Fifer $7.33 $366.50
Private Soldier $6.66 $333.00
1 time
enlistment bonus
*pay scale as recorded January 1, 1777
An aged piece of paper. It says

The above image is of one of many styles and denominations of Continental Currency issued by Congress and the states during the American Revolution.


In the year 2000, a soldier enlisting as a U.S. Army Private for the first time expected to make at least $1,127.40 per month. No American war until recent times has lasted as long as the American Revolution. With all things considered, do you think our first soldiers were given their just due?

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.
  • U.S. Departpment of Defense. “Basic Military Pay Tables - Eff ective January 1, 2000.” Defense Finance and Accounting Service.
    (accessed January 2011).
  • U.S. Department of Labor and Jonathan Grossman.(1977) “Inflation Was As Vicious As Valley
    Forge” 200 Years of American Worklife. Washington, DC: U.S. Goverment Printing Office.

Last updated: February 23, 2022

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