SONS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
Founded April 2, 1889, our purpose is to keep alive the memory of
men and women who fought or gave service for Independence in the American Revolutionary War.
THE TORIES OF CONNECTICUT
By James Shepard
[Concluded from last number.]
Tombstone to Mathias Leaming
The bitter feeling against the Tories was more intense during the early stages of the war than at any other time. Those who did the least thing supposed to be favorable to the side or England were stigmatized as public enemies. On the first page of the Connecticut Courant was a list of "Persons held up to Public view as Enemies to the Country." It included names from other states as well as our own. Stephen Sears of Sharon and Lieut. Ebenezer Orvis of Farmington were so published. Sears made a confession before the committee of inspection which was accepted. In March, 1776, the Committee of Farmington voted, that Lieut. Ebenezer Orvis, Mrs. Lydia Orvis and Hannah Andruss be " advertised in ye Public Gazette as Enemies to their Country." They had persisted in using the prohibited and detested tea. Later Mr. Orvis made a confession which was voted satisfactory.
At a meeting held in Farmington on December 12, 1774, the town voted to approve the doings of the Continental Congress with only two dissenting voices, those of Nehemiah Royce and Matthias Learning. They were immediately voted to be open enemies, and all intercourse with them was ordered to be withdrawn until they retracted. It was even attempted to prevent Royce from sending his children to school; but this was voted down. In March, 1775, the committee voted " That Matthias Learning be advertised in the Public Gazette for a contumacious violation of ye whole Association of ye Continental Congress," and that the evidence against Royce was not sufficient to justify such publication. In May, 1777, however, we find Mr. Royce in the Hartford jail as an inimical person.
Mr. Julius Gay's paper on " Farmington in the Revolution" gives us the story of this Matthias Learning. He inadvertently conveyed his real estate to his brother, who absconded and the property was confiscated. This brother, Jeremiah Learning, D. D., was the Episcopal minister who went off with the British at the burning of Norwalk, and is the man before referred to who left the negro Pomp. At one time a mob took his picture, defaced it, and nailed it to a sign post head downwards. He was put in prison and there contracted a hip disease that made him a cripple for life. Matthias petitioned the General Assembly in 1783 for relief, which was denied. He finally had 80 voted him, payable in 1787, but before it became due the treasury was bankrupt. In 1788 the prominent men of Farmington petitioned the General Assembly to assist him in his old age and distress, but no action was taken on said petition, and now, in the old cemetery at Farmington we find a tombstone on which is inscribed, " In memory of Mr. Matthias Learning Who bars got Beyond the reach of parcecushion, The life of man is vanity."
Judah and David Learning of Farmington, in their petition for release from jail, said that they were provoked to imprudent utterings by injurious treatment involving " losses of clothing and wages," and the committee who examined them said that their statement was true.
The Rev. John Smalley, of New Britian, was called a Tory because he advised his hearers that they were not bound to keep the Continental Fast. He also spoke reprovingly of fighting against the king, but afterwards he became a firm adherent to the American cause.
An extract from a letter in the Courant shows the feeling against the Tories in May, 1776. " By these miscreants the British prisoners are assisted to escape. If these infernal enemies are suffered to proceed in their hellish schemes our ruin is certain, but if they are destroyed the power of Hell and Britain will never prevail against us."
Col. Joseph Barnum, whose son was captured by the British at Fort Washington and literally starved to death, was so exasperated that he took his gun and went in pursuit of Tories to revenge on them the death of his son. He soon saw an innocent Tory at work on his own land, took deliberate aim and shot him, wounding him severely but not fatally.
In July, 1775, a brig owned by Josiah Winslow a well known royalist of Boston, with some 19,000 gallons of molasses on board was forced by a storm into Stonington harbor. The people of Norwich captured it as a prize for the use of the state. It proved a great comfort and luxury to the Continental soldiers and was referred to as " tory molasses."
The Riflemen of New Milford compelled a Tory to walk before them to Litchfield and carry one of his own geese all the way in his hand. At Litchfield they tarred him, made him pluck his goose for his own coat of feathers, and then made him kneel down and thank them for their lenity.
The members of the Church of England had their full share of trouble. The most rabid of the Whigs believed that every Episcopalian was either an open or secret Tory. In 1775, Waterbury voted to have two separate schools, one for Presbyterians and one for the Church of England. In Watertown the windows of the Episcopal church were demolished and the principal members of that church were confined on their farms. In Cheshire they were prevented from building a church. In Woodbury an Episcopal clergyman was fired at from ambush. Later he went to Canada.
Rev. Samuel Seabury, a native of Connecticut and the first Episcopal Bishop in the United States, was taken by about forty armed men at his grammar school at West Chester, New York, and brought to New Haven in November 1775. He was carried in triumph about the city, escorted by a large number of armed men who arranged themselves in front of the house of Capt. Sears and there fired two cannon and made other noisy demonstrations, after which he was placed in confinement. In his petition for release he states that on the day of his arrest some forty armed men went to his house, ordered his wife to open his desk, took his papers and all his money save one English shilling and a few coppers. They insulted one of his daughters by running a bayonet through her cap while on her head and twice through the handkerchief on her neck. They also destroyed a quilt around which his family was at work by cutting it in pieces with their bayonets. He was ordered to be removed by the New York Committee of Safety.
At one period a gloom settled over the prospects of the colonists and the Church party felt almost sure of a speedy triumph, some of the most enthusiastic met together at Waterbury, says Dr. Bronson, and determined in what manner the farms of their opponents should be divided among themselves after the subjugation of the country.
In July, 1776, the Episcopal clergy, whose duty it was to pray for the king and for victory over all his enemies, met in convention and resolved that such prayers " would draw upon themselves inevitable destruction." For a time all public service was suspended and all of their churches closed save those at New-town and Redding, which were presided over by Rev. John Beach. Mr. Beach declared that "he would pray for the king till the rebels cut out his tongue." Rev. X. A. Welton says of Beach, in the history of Redding, that " a squad of soldiers marched into his church in Newtown and threatened to shoot him if he prayed for the king, but when, regardless of their threats, he went on without so much as a tremor in his voice, to offer the forbidden supplication, they were so struck with admiration for his courage that they stacked arms and remained to listen to the sermon."
A band of soldiers once took him to where an axe and block were prepared for killing him, and one of them said, " Now you old sinner say your last prayer." He knelt down and prayed, "God bless King George, and forgive all his enemies and mine for Christ's sake." They let him go.
He was once shot at when in the pulpit at Redding, and the bullet lodged in the sounding-board about a foot above his head. The congregation sprang to their feet to rush from the church, but he soon quieted them and proceeded with his discourse as if nothing had happened.
The Episcopal churches were not only closed by this order but their ministers after a time were mostly banished and the great majority of their people had removed from the state. When they again began to hold public services they generally omitted the prayer for the king or else omitted the Liturgy entirely. The Rev. Matthew Graves, of New London, refused to omit the prayer for the king and as a consequence he was driven from his church on Sunday before he had time to divest himself of his suplice.
The Rev. Abraham Jarvis, of Middletown, who presided over the Episcopal Convention of 1776, opened his church on Sundays, but an attendant says that he " only read some chapters in the Bible and preached a sermon in his own clothes, not daring to read the church service."
The northwest portion of Bristol and the adjoining portions of the town of Burlington, Harwinton and Plymouth was a stronghold of toryism, and meetings were held there of Tories from all parts of the state.
The Rev. Jame§ Nichols began his services in Bristol in 1773. He was the last Episcopal minister that went to England for ordination. He was the "designing church clergyman" before referred to in connection with seventeen prisoners from Farmington, most if not all of whom were of his congregation. It is said that he was shot at several times, also that he was taken from a cellar at East Plymouth, tarred and feathered and then dragged in a brook. By these and other acts he was banished to Litchfield. His records show that between the latter part of 1776 and 1781 he administered baptism in his cure on five different occasions. In 1782 we find him again in charge of the church at Bristol.
In the Burlington ledges, at the southwest part of the town, is a cave known as the Tory den. Stephen Graves and his bride of about nineteen lived in a log cabin in the southeast part of Hawinton, within a mile of this cave_ He was drafted, hired a substitute, and while his substitute was still in the service at Grave's expense, he was again drafted. This he considered unjust and freely expressed his opinion, thereby incurring the enmity of Capt. Wilson and his company of Sons of Liberty. Soon after this he went to visit his mother at Saybrook. He was pursued and arrested as a deserter, his captors. feasting at the taverns, making him pay all the bills. He came so peacefully that they relaxed their vigilance somewhat and he made his escape. On reaching home .he hid himself without making his presence known until after his pursuers had been there and his good wife had assured them that Mr. Graves was in Saybrook on a visit. At one time Graves was tied to a tree and severe-1y whipped. At another time it is said that he was hung to a chestnut tree near his house but let down again before he was severely injured. Many of his neighbors were Tories. For sometime he and several companions were compelled to live at the Tory den, and each night the young Mrs. Graves went through the dark and pathless woods, over rocky ledges, to carry them food. The den was often resorted to for shorter periods of refuge. When at work on their farms a band of Tories worked first one farm and then another, so that they might protect themselves. If working alone, or when an overpowering party of Sons of Liberty approached them, they would flee to the Tory den. Their faithful wives were always on the watch, and would blow a horn or a conch shell as a warning at the sight of any of Capt. Wilsons's men, or other Tory hunters. These horns were a source of great annoyance to Capt. Wilson, and he once presented his pistol to the head of a young girl that lived with Mrs. Graves and threatened to shoot her if she did not tell him where the noisy conch shell was concealed.
A Bristol Tory, by the name of Potter, was hung until nearly dead, and one, Joel Tuttle, was hung to an oak tree on Federal Hill in Bristol, and left alone to die. A Whig by the name of Hungerford cut him down, but the kind-hearted Hungerford dared not render other assistance and left the Tory lying insensible on the ground. During the night he so far recovered as to be able to make his way to the Tory den. Many efforts were made to find this hiding-place, but its location was never known to any but the Tories until after the close of the war.
Chauncey Jerome of Bristol, a very energetic and powerful man, was taken. by a crowd, his shirt pulled up over his head and then his uplifted shirt and arms, with cords around his wrists, were tied to a limb of a tree, preparatory to, whipping his bare back. The rod was raised for the first stroke when by a desperate effort the victim escaped and the blow fell upon the body of the tree. With the shirt still hanging on the tree, the bare-back man was soon in the house of his brother-in-law, Jonathan Pond, who stood at the door with gun in hand forbidding any to enter. Mr. Jerome married the widow of his brother-in-law, Moses Dunbar, (Dunbar's first wife was Jerome's sister), and while driving to Hartford one day they stopped for lunch by the roadside before entering the city. Pointing to the place of execution, Mrs. Jerome remarked, "my former husband lies buried under that tree." They removed to Nova Scotia until after the war.
There seems no room for doubt that one of the greatest obstacles the Patriots of the Revolution had to contend with was the Tory. In nearly if not every battle we find in addition to the British regulars in uniform, one or more companies of Tories in ordinary dress. The Tory, Col. John Butler, of Tryon, New York, was in command of the four hundred Tories and Indians at the horrible massacre of Wyoming, which was then a part of Connecticut.
Tory guides led the British Gen. Tryon at the burning of Danbury. He made his headquarters of the house of the Tory, Joseph Dibble. This Dibble was once taken out of his bed at night, by men in disguise, and ducked until he expected to perish. Large stores of provisions were in the Episcopal church at Danbury, and in Dibble's barn. These goods were taken into the street and burnt so as to spare said buildings. A white cross was marked on the Tory buildings to signify " that the destroying angel would pass them unharmed." The Congregational church and every house save those that had the mystic sign upon them were destroyed. " The women and children fled from the jeers of their comfortable Tory neighbors into lonely lanes, damp pastures and leafless woods." A man by the name of Jarvis was one of these Tory guides. He went to Nova Scotia for a time and returned to Danbury to live, but a crowd soon surrounded his father's house, prepared to tar and feather him. His sister concealed him in an ash oven until he could make his escape, never to again set foot in his native place. Another of the Tory guides was Eli Benedict of Danbury. He attempted to reside there again but was threatened with a ride on a wooden horse and fled. Another of the Danbury guides was Isaac W. Shelton. He joined the British on Long Island, and was at one time confined in Hartford jail. After the war he lived in Bristol and acquired a valuable property.
The Tories continually carried on an illicited trade between Connecticut and Long Island. They carried off Tory recruits for the British, and Tory families with large quantities of provisions that were sadly needed here, and much of this work was done under a British flag of truce.
Rev. Dr. Mather and his four sons, of Stamford, were taken from the parsonage at night by eight Tories and carried to New York. One Sunday a party of British troops, mostly Tories, took 48 prisoners, including Dr. Mather, from the church at Darien, while they were singing the first hymn. They stole the horses belonging to the church-goers, and robbed both men and women of their valuables.
Lieut. Barber, of Croton, while taking a walk was shot through the body, by concealed Tories, and died immediately. As to Benedict Arnold, I need only mention his name.
The British and Tories, under Gen Tryon, burned Norwalk and Fairfield in 1779, and the Episcopal clergyman of Norwalk and many Tories went off with them.
New Haven was plundered under the guidance of William Chandler, a captain of a Tory command, assisted by his brother Thomas. Besides robbery and wanton destruction of property, aged citizens, women and children were shamefully abused. The Rev. Dr. Daggett, president of Yale college, would have been murdered had it not been for the interference of the Tory guide Chandler, who was formerly one of Dr. Daggett's pupils. William and Thomas Chandler were the sons of Joshua Chandler whose property in New Haven, valued at Z30,000, was confiscated. In March, 1787, they attempted to cross the Bay of Fundy to meet the Commissioners on Loyalists' Claims at St. Johns, in hopes to obtain compensation for the confiscated property. They were shipwrecked on the way, and William, the guide, was crushed to death between the vessel and the rocks. The father landed but soon perished by a fall from a precipice and others of the party perished from exposure.
The British agents long endeavored to make the United States, rather than Great Britain, indemnify the Tories, but Dr. Franklin intimated that an equivalent would be the British indemnification for ravages by their troops, so the matter was dropped.
The many personal abuses and atrocious acts committed during the war only show what a desperate struggle our people passed through. Families were divided. Joseph Ferris of Stamford, a captain in the British army, was taken prisoner by his brother-in-law. Zerubbabel Jerome of Bristol, and his sons Robert, Thomas and Asahel, all four served in the Continental army, the latter dying in the service. His sons Chauncey and Zerubbabel, Jr., were in the Hartford jail together as Tories in 1777. His son-in-law, Moses Dunbar, was executed for high treason. Stephen Graves, the Tory, was another son-in-law, as was also Jonathan Pond, who defended Chauncey Jerome. His fourth son-in-law, Joseph Spencer, cannot be definitely placed on either side.
The father of Moses Dun-bar was a firm Patriot and they were bitterly opposed to each other, both in politics and religion. By such divisions many descendants from Tory families are eligible to the Sons of the Revolution.
The Tory Den
After the war most of the absconding Tories returned and and mingled with the people as before. An exception to this is found in a son of the Rev. James Scovil of Waterbury. After about sixty years residence in New Brunswick, the grievances of this son were as fresh and sensitive as when first inflicted, and he said that "no temptation that earth could present would ever induce him to set foot on soil where he had received such unprovoked and cruel wrongs."
The Connecticut Quarterly July, Aug., Sept., 1898 Vol.IV. No.3