By Erick Wadsworth
Saturday, July 17, 2004, is a day I will never forget. I stood on the battlefield where Jonathan Wadsworth was mortally wounded September 19, 1777. The battlefield is located in Saratoga, New York, a small town approximately 30 miles north of Albany. The battle fought at Saratoga is considered by many to be the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Prior to the battle fought at Saratoga, the war for independence was going poorly for the Americans, and the British were looking at making short work against the poorly equipped and poorly trained American forces. Following this battle, which was fought on two separate occasions, once in September and again in October of 1777, the colonial forces found new confidence because they had defeated the strongest military force in the world.
Standing on the battlefield that hot July day, I felt an overwhelming appreciation for Jonathan Wadsworth, and his sacrifice. I could almost see the battle taking place, and I walked the sight for several hours wondering where he might have fallen and died. Jonathan left a wife and eight children in Hartford, Connecticut, to fight for a cause he perhaps didn’t understand. What caused him to leave all he held dear to fight for something called freedom-when no clear definition of freedom existed? When I finished my tour of the battlefield, I knew I must write about Jonathan. I must write about Jonathan to honor his sacrifice, to allow his descendants to remember him, and to bring the Wadsworth family closer together through knowledge of his sacrifice.
To write about Jonathan, I will share brief accounts of his ancestors, where Jonathan was born, what early colonial life was like, and a short description of the Battle of Saratoga. This narrative will also include a look at what Jonathan might have felt the day he was killed. Jonathan’s ancestors, his birth place, and a little convincing from a relative were all part of the decision making process that led Jonathan to Saratoga. These few lines will not honor Jonathan’s sacrifice properly; however, with this paper, his memory will live for hundreds of years in the hearts of his family and any who may read this tribute.
William Wadsworth – One of the Founders of Hartford, Connecticut (1594 – 1675)
William Wadsworth was Jonathan’s great grandfather and was one of the original settlers of Hartford, Connecticut. William was born in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire, England. Some discrepancy exists concerning his exact time of birth, however he was most likely christened February 26, 1594.1 William married his first wife, Sarah Talcott, in 1625 at Braintree, Essex, England.2 Braintree, a cloth manufacturing village suffered from two economic depressions; one in 1622 and another in 1629.3 Unemployment was so bad the village leaders enacted a “no growth” policy in 1624.4
Concurrently, Thomas Hooker arrived at Braintree in the later part of 1625, or early 1626. Hooker was trained at Emmanuel College, and was connected with the Puritan movement prevalent in England during this time. The turmoil between the Church of England and the Puritans reached a boiling point, leading to the immigration to New England by many followers of the Puritan doctrine. William Wadsworth, his wife, and four children were among those who fled England for the colonies in 1632.5
Economic conditions, the turmoil within the church, or a combination of the two probably caused William to immigrate to New England. The journey to the new world was difficult. Imagine stepping on a small 100′ sailing ship with your family, and venturing into the unknown. Perhaps as William and his family boarded the vessel, where they spent the next twelve weeks, all turned for one last look at the land of their birth. Certainly, they knew they would never return to their home. All they held dear was left behind to find a better life.
The Wadsworth family settled in Newtown (Cambridge) Massachusetts, where they resided for four years. In 1636 William and his family left Cambridge with Thomas Hooker and Samuel Stone for a 100 mile journey to the banks of the Connecticut River where the town of Hartford, Connecticut, was founded.6 For the second time in four years William had uprooted his family to find a better life. He was searching for a place to worship as he desired, and a site where he could raise his children and participate in the local government.
William’s first wife Elizabeth (Talcott) died sometime between 1636 and 1644. William married his second wife, Elizabeth Stone, July 2, 1644, in Hartford, Connecticut.7 To this union six children were born, including Jonathan’s grand father Joseph Wadsworth. William died sometime between May 16 and October 16, 1675.8 William served many positions in local government during his 39 years in Hartford. William held the position of deputy of Hartford, Indian Commissioner, militia committee, and War committee at different times during his life. He was serving as a deputy of Hartford the day he died. William Wadsworth served his family and his community, and his service influenced his children and grand children in a very positive manor. Surely, the independence he was enjoying, his service in the community, and his service in the church introduced feelings of independence to his family. Freedom began to take hold.
Joseph Wadsworth of Charter Oak Fame (1647 – 1729)
Joseph Wadsworth was the third child of William and Elizabeth (Stone) Wadsworth. Joseph was born in 1647 at Harford, Connecticut. Even though his father was 52 years old when Joseph was born, Joseph and his father had 28 years together before William died. Certainly, during the time spent with his father weeding the family crops, putting improvements on the family lands, and the myriad of other duties performed together Joseph took the opportunity to learn from his father the merits of worshiping God, living honestly, and the need to serve in the community.
Joseph married Elizabeth Talcott at Hartford, Connecticut. Elizabeth was the daughter of John and Dorothy Talcott who had traveled with William Wadsworth from Braintree, England, to Massachusetts, on the ship Lyon in 1632.9 Six children were born to Joseph and Elizabeth. Jonathan’s father (who was also named Jonathan) was born in 1686/7 at Hartford, Connecticut.10 An important event took place on October 31, 1687 that is still taught in the schools of Connecticut today.
Fact mixed with fiction, history combined with legend, the story of the Charter Oak is a part of Connecticut history. Circumstances leading up to the charter incident began in 1662. Connecticut received from Charles II, King of England, a charter of government. The charter contained the rights to self-govern within the existing geographic area of Connecticut. The charter decreed that two general assemblies should be held annually; and that the assembly would consist of a governor, deputy governor, twelve assistants, and other officers as needed. The officers were chosen by the “freemen” of the colony, which allowed for a form of self-government. Additionally, the people born under the charter were granted all the privileges of a person born in England.11
Unfortunately a new king in England (James II) appointed Sir Edmond Andrus as governor over all New England, and the King instructed Andrus to retrieve the charter from the citizens of Hartford. Following the King’s directive Andros came to Hartford the night of October 31, 1687, to meet with the local leaders. His mission was to retrieve the charter from the people of Connecticut, and enforce his rule as governor over the entire New England area.
Sir Edmond Andrus entered the town of Hartford, on Monday, October 31, 1687. Two trumpeters preceded Mr. Andrus, the sounds of their horns piercing the silence of the cold autumn air. The townspeople knew the reason for Andrus’ visit, and they were not happy with his intent. He was coming to take their government charter away, and enforce his own rule. The streets were lined with members of the train-band (the local militia) who watched as Andrus passed by, and rode to the front of the Moses Butler tavern to meet the local leaders. Joseph Wadsworth was a lieutenant in the train-band, and was present at the meeting house when Andrus arrived.
The appointed hour for the meeting came, and all the invited guests had arrived, so the meeting began. Andrus demanded the charter, and followed that with an order that Connecticut would be annexed to his (Mr. Andrus’) government.12
The local leadership, including Governor Treat, responded with impassioned pleas to allow the charter and government to remain intact. Andrus was not convinced. His duty was to collect that charter, take control of the government, and he would not be deterred. The meeting was held in the evening, and darkness enveloped the area except for the candles that provided light for the room. During a moment of confusion the candles were extinguished, and the room was pitch black. The charter (which was placed on the table) was grabbed by Captain Joseph Wadsworth, and he fled the room. Joseph ran out of the tavern to the home of Samuel Wyllys, then one of the magistrates of the colony. A large oak tree stood in front of the home of Mr. Wyllys where Joseph secreted the charter.13
Newspapers, TV cameras, reporters, or direct quotes from participants in this history altering event did not exist, so what is fact or what is fiction cannot be completely known. However, Joseph did receive money from the colonial assembly in 1715, for “securing the duplicate charter of this Colony in a very troublesome season when our constitution was struck at, and in safely keeping and preserving the same ever since to this day.”14 Taking the charter and the resulting backlash may have been the first act of civil disobedience against the Crown by the Colonies.
Jonathan Wadsworth and his Life before Saratoga
Into this freedom loving family Jonathan Wadsworth was born May 9, 1729, at Hartford, Connecticut, to Jonathan Wadsworth and Abigail (Camp) Wadsworth.15 His early years were spent with a family of nine brothers and sisters, although five of Jonathan’s siblings were the children of his father’s first wife, Hephzibah Marsh, who died in 1724.16 Jonathan’s father died on July 23, 1739, leaving him without the guidance of the man he surely admired. According to the Reverend Daniel Wadsworth the death occurred “in a very sudden manor in y woods.”17 Jonathan’s mother married Jacob Kellogg January 27, 1741/42, and Jacob helped raise the children.18
Little is known of Jonathan’s early years, although some insights into the challenges of early colonial life are described as follows:
Boys learned by helping men with chores on the farm. They cleared land, built fences, butchered animals, and split wood. They also planted, cared for and harvested crops like flax, corn, oats, and barley. Most boys grew up to farm land and work at skills like weaving and shoe making.19
Jonathan married Abigail Flagg in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 17, 1763. Into this union nine children were born. Of the nine children born to Jonathan and Abigail, two died before reaching adulthood; and the last child, Mary, was probably born after Jonathan’s death at Saratoga. Abigail died in 1814 at the age of 76.20
Jonathan was a sea captain in his early years, and his love of the ocean transferred to his children, as three of his sons worked on ocean going vessels. Unfortunately, the ocean claimed the lives of two of his sons, Samuel and Jared, who had followed Jonathan into this profession. Both sons’ deaths occurred after Jonathan was killed at Saratoga. A third son, Charles, was aided by Colonel James Wadsworth early in his life, and became a purser in the U.S. Navy.21 Life changed, for this little family, during the summer of 1777.
The Battle of Saratoga
Jonathan Wadsworth was pressed into military service in the summer of 1777. The Connecticut Legislature held an emergency session ordering two battalions of 728 men for two months service to join the northern army at once.22 The legislature did offer a ten-pound incentive to join, but also issued a blunt directive that came very close to compulsion.23 The commanders of the two legions were Colonel Jonathan Latimer of New London, and Colonel Thaddeus Cook of Wallingford.24 Jonathan served as a captain under the command of Colonel Cook. Jonathan’s company consisted of 69 men.25 On August 26, 1777, the militia began their march to Saratoga. The distance from Hartford, Connecticut, to Saratoga, New York, is about 140 miles, and can be covered today in about three hours over beautifully landscaped highways. However, the march in 1777 was over rough trails winding through the mountains of western Connecticut and eastern New York. The journey took several days to complete and ended with Colonel Cook’s regiment arriving at the battlefield during the first part of September.
The Battle of Saratoga pitted the British army of General John Burgoyne against the American forces of General Horatio Gates. General Burgoyne was moving his army of over 9,000 men from Canada with the intent of reaching Albany, New York, by the early fall of 1777. Meanwhile, the American forces were “digging in” at Saratoga, New York, to stop the advance of the British. If the British were to reach Albany, the war could be all but over. The seriousness of the situation weighed heavily on the minds of the leaders of both opposing forces.
Jonathan and his company of men spent their time during the first part of September preparing to meet the British Army. The American encampment was located on Bemis Heights. A line of entrenchments was established, running from west to east about half a mile in length.26 The site of the battlefield is bordered on the east by the Hudson River and on the west by a line of mountains. The men built up the fortifications for one reason-stop the advance of the British troops. Saratoga, New York, was the location chosen by General Gates to stop the British advance.
General Burgoyne’s army was encamped approximately three miles north of the American forces, and the General had two choices: avoid an engagement by trying to get to the road that ran between the river and the entrenchments, or go to battle against the Americans. He chose the latter. The first battle took place on September 19, 1777.
September 19 was an unusually warm fall day, and the sun must have felt good on Jonathan’s face. He and his men had prepared for this day, and they were ready to meet the enemy. A fog hung over the Hudson that morning, and perhaps the lush beauty of the area reminded Jonathan of the beauty of his home. Unfortunately, he must have seen the mustering of the British troops in the distance and known a battle was looming.
The battle began around 12:30 p.m. when Colonel Daniel Morgan’s riflemen surprised the British in a clearing known as the Freeman farm. Jonathan’s company, under the command of General Benedict Arnold’s division engaged the enemy in an area known as the Middle Ravine. The battle swayed back and forth throughout the afternoon, and except for a timely arrival of German reinforcements and the lack of ammunition for the Americans, Burgoyne might have been defeated that day.27 Jonathan Wadsworth was killed sometime in the afternoon of September 19, 1777.
Jonathan’s body was buried somewhere on the battlefield, perhaps beside a person he had just been fighting. The two armies did not exchange bodies, and the men from both armies were simply buried in common graves. Approximately 350 Americans and 600 British were killed or wounded during this first day of battle.28
Following the first battle, General Burgoyne expected reinforcements for his beleaguered army, so he decided to wait for assistance before engaging the Americans again. However supplies began to run low, hunger stalked the soldiers, and his army became weaker each day. The General determined to engage the Americans or see his situation worsen. The second Battle of Saratoga took place October 7, 1777 with the American forces inflicting heavy casualties on the British causing General Burgoyne to withdraw his troops. The British had suffered 1,000 casualties during the three weeks of fighting, and hunger was now an obsticle. A Hessian officer wrote a letter about the events, while a prisoner, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, November 15, 1777. A portion of his letter reads as follows:
On the 8th of October we danced a minuet backward, and merely showed the enemy our teeth and claws. In the night we began our retreat, and arrived at Saratoga in the evening. . . During the 11th, 12th, and 13th the cannonading never ceased, while the fire of musketry between the outposts of the army was incessant. Hunger stared us in the face. . . . We therefore preferred an honorable capitulation to an ignominious death. On the evening of the 16th both Generals agreed on the articles of capitulation.29
The terms of the Convention of Saratoga allowed General Burgoyne and his army of 6,000 men to march out of their camp “with the honors of war.”30
The Meaning of Jonathan Wadsworth’s Sacrifice
Jonathan Wadsworth gave the ultimate sacrifice for his family, his country, and his associates-his life. He was killed on a battlefield, at the age of 48, far from his wife and family. Never again would he feel the caress of his children’s hugs. Never again could he hold his dear wife, and tell her he loved her. Never again would he feel the spray of the ocean on his face. The warmth of a beautiful summer day could never be enjoyed by him. Jonathan was a husband, father, bread winner, and friend to those around him. Jonathan had something in common with so many others who have given their lives. He was an ordinary man. He wasn’t known beyond his community. He hasn’t had a book written about his life. The location of his burial place isn’t even known. Nevertheless, he lived and died with dignity and, by his example, taught us how to live.
On that fateful day over 225 years ago, orders were given for Jonathan to march to the battle site, with his company of men. What thoughts passed through his mind? As he marched forward toward the cannon and gunfire, he must have contemplated about how his wife and children were faring. Concern for the welfare of his brothers and sisters, his house, the beautiful Hartford area, and the ocean ships he so dearly loved must have entered his thoughts.
He is marching to the front line and is close to the battle-now terror starts to creep in. Perhaps he thinks to himself, “What am I doing here? Why did I leave everything I love to come to this spot?” Jonathan marches to within 300 yards of the front line, he breaks out in a cold sweat and his hands begin shaking. Fear overwhelms him. He looks around and sees men falling from cannon and musket fire. He trudges forward, toward the front lines, saying the most sincere prayer of his life. The noise is deafening, with cannons exploding and the screams of the wounded and dying piercing the afternoon air.
Jonathan finds himself in the midst of the battle, and fear is replaced by determination. Thoughts race through his mind. Didn’t his ancestors come to the colonies seeking a better life? His own grandfather committed one of the first acts of civil disobedience against the crown, by taking the charter. Surely, he can find the determination to fight. Yes, his mind says. Fight! Fight with courage and determination! Do not retreat for this cause is just! He will fight alongside other brave men. Volley after volley of musket fire surrounds Jonathan and his men. He is now marching forward, firing his musket, encouraging his men, and his resolve is firm. Suddenly, and without warning Jonathan finds himself on the ground writhing in pain. He is awake, but can’t move. People are running all around him. He wants to cry for help, but nothing comes out of his mouth. He looks up at the afternoon sky and realizes-he is dying.
Without eyewitness accounts, exactly how Jonathan’s last few hours transpired can’t be known. Nonetheless, he is a true hero in every sense of the word. He lived an honorable life. He had a worthy profession. He married and raised a family. He was true to the call of his country’s cause. In short, Jonathan Wadsworth is an example to follow. He showed how to live, with purpose, a meaningful life. A meaningful life is living the best one can, and facing life’s challenges with courage.
Death is life’s most challenging event, and Jonathan’s untimely death brought pain and heartache for his family. How many tears did his wife and children cry? How many months did his family feel the overwhelming emptiness that the death of a loved one brings? He left on a hot August afternoon never to return. However, through Jonathan’s death a new nation was forged. The blood of all who died in the Revolutionary War bought our freedom. Jonathan was one small part of that great effort. One ordinary man from Hartford, Connecticut, left home and gave his life that others might live in freedom.
The title of this paper contains the word legacy. Legacy is defined as “something handed down by a predecessor.” Jonathan Wadsworth passed on a legacy of valor in the face of death, and the legacy of resolve in how he lived his life. He chose to engage in a cause. He chose to look beyond his life for the benefit of others. His choices are a model to follow. What legacy will we leave? Will someone look back at our life, two hundred years from now, and acknowledge our legacy? Our lot in life may not be to die on a battlefield; however, we can so live that others may look at our example, and recognize our legacy. The choice is ours.
1The Parish Register of Long Buckby, Northamptonshire, 1558-1689, (FHL BRITISH Film, 883910 Items 32).
2Mary Jane (Fry) Wadsworth, the Wadsworth Family in America, (Mary Jane (Fry) Wadsworth, 1978), p. 6.
3 F.C. Emmison, Early Essex Town Meetings, (Phillmore & Co. LTD Shopwyke Hall, Chichester, Sussex, 1970), p. v-xii.
5 English-America, the Voyage, Vessels, People, and Places [accessed 30 December 2004]
6 Alden Hatch, the Wadsworth’s of the Genesee, (Coward-McCann, Inc. New York, 1959), p. 16.
7 NEHG Register, Volume 13, January 1859, New England Historic Genealogical Society & Broderbund Software, Inc., Banner Blue Division, June 12, 2005.
8Family Tree Maker, CD515 Local and Family Histories: CT, 1600s-1800s, Disk 2, Families of Early Hartford, CT, Surnames, V-Z, November 15, 2005.
9English-America, the Voyage, Vessels, People, and Places, [accessed 30 December 2004]
10 Mary Jane (Fry) Wadsworth, the Wadsworth Family in America, (Mary Jane (Fry) Wadsworth, 1978), p. 14.
11History of the Colonies, available at http://www.constitution.org/js/js_107.htm [accessed 2 October 2005].
12W. H. Gocher, Wadsworth and the Charter Oak, (W. H. Gocher, Hartford, Connecticut, 1904) p. 314-320.
13 (ibid) p. 321-337
14 Colonial Connecticut Records, available from http://www.colonialct.uconn.edu [accessed 12 November 2005]
15Family Tree Maker, CD515 Local Family Histories: CT, 1600s-1800s, Disk 2, Families of Early Hartford, CT, Surnames, V-Z, November 15, 2005
16Mary Jane (Fry) Wadsworth, the Wadsworth Family in America, (Mary Jane (Fry) Wadsworth, 1978), p. 15-16.
17 Daniel Wadsworth, 1737-1747 Diary of Rev. Daniel Wadsworth Seventh Pastor of the First Church of Christ in Hartford, (Hartford, Connecticut: Press of the Case, Lockwood and Brainard Company, 1894), p. 40.
18Mary Jane (Fry) Wadsworth, the Wadsworth Family in America, (Mary Jane (Fry) Wadsworth, 1978), p. 16.
19 Connecticut Life in the 1770s, available from http://www.noahwebsterhouse.org/lifein1770.html [accessed 25 December 2004]
20 Family Tree Maker, CD515 Local and Family Histories: CT, 1600s-1800s, Disk 2, Families of Early Hartford, CT, Surnames, V-Z, November 15, 2005.
21Catalogue of Names of First Puritan Settlers of Connecticut, (R.R. Hinman, 1846), 328-329
22Richard Buel, Dear Liberty: Connecticut’s mobilization for the Revolutionary War, (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan Press, 1980), p. 127
25Henry P. Johnson, the Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Navel Service during the War of the Revolution 1775-1783, US/Can 974.6 M2CA FHL, (Hartford, 1889)p. 511.
26An Original, compiled and corrected account of Burgoyne’s campaign, (Albany, New York: J. Munsell, 1844), 4 microfiches (1926 reprint), FHL US/CAN , p. 251.
27The Battle of Saratoga, available from http://www.saratoga.org/battle1777/history.html [accessed 29 December 2005].
28 An Original, compiled and corrected account of Burgoyne’s campaign, (Albany, New York: J. Munsell, 1844), 4 microfiches (1926 reprint), FHL US/CAN . P. 251.
29Ellen Hardin Wallworth, Battle of Saratoga, 1777; the Saratoga Monument Association, (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms, 1987), FHL US/CAN .