Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Jeffery, or, the Solder’s Progress

Lur’d by some Captain’s smooth address,
His scarlet coat and roguish face,
One Half-A-Joe on drum-head laid,
A tavern-treat—and reckoning paid;
See yonder simple lad consign’d
To slavery of the basest kind.

With only skill to drive a plough
a musquet he must handle now;
Must twirl there and twirl it there
Now on the ground, no in the air:
Its every motion by some rule
Of practice, taught in Frederick’s school, *
Must be directed—nicely true—
Or he be beaten black—and blue.

A sergeant, rais’d from cleaning shoes
May now this country lad abuse:—
On meager fare grown poor and lean,
He treats him like a mere machine,
Directs his look, directs his step,
And kicks him into decent shape,
From aukward habit frees the clown,
Erects his head—or knocks him down,

Last Friday week to Battery-Green
The sergeant came with this Machine—
One motion of the firelock miss’d—
The Tutor thump’d him with his fist:
I saw him lift his hickory cane,
I heard poor Jeffery’s head complain!—
Yet this—and more—’s forc’d to bear;
And this goes on from year to year,
’Till desperate grown at such a lot,
He drinks—deserts—and so is shot!

 

°The Prussian manual exercise.

Credit


This poem is in the public domain.

About this Poem


Freneau recounts a story of a young farmer forced into the British army, beaten during training and considered to be "a mere machine" until he is shot for desertion.

Author


Philip Freneau

Born in New York City and raised in Monmouth Country, New Jersey, Philip Morin Freneau graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) in 1771; at the college commencement, his friend Hugh Henry Breckenridge read The Rising Glory of America, a poem on which the two had collaborated. While working for a short time as a schoolteacher in Long Island, Freneau published anti-British satirical verses. He spent two years as secretary to a planter on St. Croix. Having volunteered for military service in 1778, he was captured by a British man-of-war in the Caribbean and imprisoned, later recounting his ordeal in The British Prison-Ship (1781).

During the 1780s, Freneau worked as a postal clerk in Philadelphia; from 1784 to 1790, he captained a merchant ship in the Caribbean. He published The Poems of Philip Freneau, Written Chiefly dying the Late War in 1786, and The Miscellaneous Works of Mr. Philip Freneau in 1788. Settling briefly in Middleton Point, New Jersey, where he married, in 1791 Freneau was offered a government clerkship by Thomas Jefferson and moved to Philadelphia where he founded and edited the anti-Federalist National Gazette. George Washington referred to him as “that rascal Freneau.”

Returning to New Jersey in 1793 after Jefferson lost his position as secretary of state, Freneau edited small New York and New Jersey newspapers and until 1804 occasionally worked as a caption of merchant vessels. His Poems Written between the Years 1768 & 1794 was published in 1795; Poems Written and Published during the American Revolutionary War appears in 1809.

Date Published: 1795-02-02

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/jeffery-or-solders-progress