“We fix on our Standards and Drums the Colony arms, with the motto, Qui Transtulit Sustinet, round it in letters of gold, which we construe thus: God, who transplanted us hither, will support us.” – A letter regarding the Lexington Alarm dated Wethersfield, CT., April 23, 1775 Record of Connecticut Men in the War of the Revolution 1775-1783, Adj. Gen., Hartford, 1889
Historical Series, Number Six, September 1998
The Educational Outreach of the General Israel Putnam Branch No. 4
of the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution
COL. JOHN DURKEE, NORWICHTOWN’S FORGOTTEN HERO
Durkee and his “Irregulars” – The Story of the Connecticut Sons of Liberty
The story of the Connecticut Sons of Liberty begins with passage of the hated Stamp Act by the English Parliament on March 22, 1765. Secret colonial societies, known as the Sons of Liberty, were formed in the Colonies to oppose this Act. In Connecticut, The Sons of Liberty were organized at Durkee’s Tavern in Norwich and were led by Colonel Israel Putnam of Pomfret, Captain Hugh Ledlie of Windham, and Captain John Durkee of Norwich; this story deals with the latter.
The Crown appointed Stamp Master for Connecticut was New Haven resident Jared Ingersoll. During the next few months Ingersoll became the most hated man in the Colony. He was hung in effigy by the Sons of Liberty in Norwich August 21, New London August 22, Windham and Lebanon on August 26, and Lyme August 29. In several towns including Lyme, the Sons of Liberty held mock trials of Ingersoll. He was tried in absentia in Lebanon where it was argued that Ingersoll was “virtually represented” and thus was denied none of the sacred rights of Englishmen. He was burned in Effigy in Windham and reminded that his initials were those of Judas Iscariot. The Sons pressured local Governments to use no stamps. No deeds, probate, or property records could be filed, thereby closing the courts
Jared Ingersoll hung in effigy
On September 17, 1765 the citizens of New Haven asked Ingersoll to resign his appointment as Stamp Master. Ingersoll stated that he would put this matter before the General Assembly which was scheduled to meet in Hartford in a few days. The Sons of Liberty decided that Ingersoll must be made to resign. A group of 500 mounted men set out from Norwich and area towns determined to prevent Ingersoll from reaching Hartford. Near Wethersfield they were joined by the men from New London which brought their number up to around 1000 mounted men. Dressed in full military uniforms, Durkee and his two aides led these men. Three trumpeters also accompanied them as they rode through the villages four abreast. Each man wore a red sash across his chest and carried a white stave to resemble a Constable. This group would come to be called, “Durkee’s Irregulars”.
The Irregulars caught up with Ingersoll and escorted him to the house of Colonel Chester in Wethersfield. Durkee demanded Ingersoll’s resignation, but he refused. Durkee’s irregulars began to threaten Ingersoll, at which time he was taken to a nearby tavern where he was confined for three hours. finally, after being threatened with either jail in Windham or death by hanging, he reluctantly resigned stating, “The cause is not worth dying for.” Ingersoll signed his resignation in Wethersfield on September 19, 1765. Before being released he was made to shout “Liberty and Property” three times. Durkee and his men then escorted Ingersoll to the Hartford assembly where he was heard to say, “Death on a pale horse and hell following”. At Government House in Hartford, the resignation was read followed by Durkee and his Irregulars riding around the building with trumpets blowing, ending with three shouts of huzzah! before returning for home.
News that the resignation of Ingersoll had been overturned by the General Assembly in Hartford caused much alarm, particularly to Col. Israel Putnam who rode to Hartford to meet with Governor Fitch. Putnam told the Governor that all stamps were to be locked up with keys turned over to the Sons of Liberty. The Governor asked, what if I refuse? Putnam stated, “your house will be levelled to the ground.”
Sons of Liberty Flag
“The Rebellious Stripes”
The Liberty Tree
Members of the Connecticut Sons of Liberty included ministers, merchants, and magistrates such as the Huntingtons of Norwich and Windham, Dyer of Windham, Griswold of Lyme, and Trumbull and Williams of Lebanon. The list also included the Rev. Stephen Johnson of Lyme who spoke of the stamp act as a, “dangerous lethargy that had lulled the judges to sleep and had taken strong hold of the Council.” His opposition to the stamp act was published in the New London Gazette in six essays during 1765 under the name, “A Freeman of the Colony of Connecticut.” The clergy and the sons of liberty stood at the forefront of opposition to the stamp act in the Colony of Connecticut. Except for Georgia, where the Stamp Act was put into effect to a limited degree, and Rhode Island, where the Governor refused to implement the Stamp Act, the Sons of Liberty brought about the resignation of the stamp masters before the Stamp Act was to become effective on November 1, 1765. In the Autumn of 1765, a “Liberty Pole”was erected on the green at Norwichtown, with suitable inscriptions and a Liberty Cap on top. The Stamp Act was repealed by Parliament in March 1766, but the next election in Connecticut strongly favored the Sons of Liberty and the initiatives taken by the leadership of Jonathan Trumbull, John Durkee and Israel Putnam. The Sons of Liberty would continue to defy the tyranny of the Crown by organizing “Committees of Correspondence”, “Committees of Inspection”, and as war with England became imminent, “Committees of Safety”.
The Regiment annually raises a Liberty Pole on Norwichtown Green in remembrance of Colonel John Durkee and his Irregulars.
The term “Sons of Liberty” was taken from a speech by Col. Isaac Barre in Parliament, “They nourished up by your indulgence! They grew up by your neglect of them. As soon as you begin to care about them, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule them in one department and another, . . . men whose behavior on many occasions has caused the blood of those Sons of Liberty to recoil within them.” For his efforts in Parliament on behalf of the Colonies, Colonel Barre was sent to the Tower of London. The City of Wilkes-Barre, PA honors his name along with John Wilkes, another member of Parliament who was sent to the Tower for courageously defending the “Rights of Englishmen”