By J. Moss Ives.
COMPARISONS are sometimes odious; but when they act as incentives to historical re-search, when they are comparisons of patriotic effort, they are not to be discouraged. It is not the purpose of this article, however, to show the record of Connecticut in the War of the Revolution merely for comparison with the records of other states, but to vindicate the claim that this commonwealth played a paramount role in the struggle for national liberty. The full extent of Connecticut’s share in maintaining the war and making final victory possible has generally been underestimated, and in some cases entirely overlooked by historians; but it has been recorded in the archives of the state, the indelible proof of its supreme patriotism, and the constant source of inspiration to its sons and daughters. Each of the original American colonies has a story of patriotism to tell, better than all the traditions of martial and knightly chivalry, a story which may well be made the theme of historical investigation and the occasion of friendly rivalry.
The great principle fought for in the Revolution may be traced straight back to the primitive union of three little settlements on the banks of the Connecticut River, Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield. The residents of these settlements migrated from Massachusetts. The great purpose of this migration was to secure popular control of legislation. There was a constant struggle in the Massachusetts colony between the forces of aristocracy and those of democracy. The better blood of the colony was determined to establish a privileged class, as in the old country. Finding it difficult to resist the power of blood and wealth, many of the freemen, under the leadership of Thomas Hooker, came into the wilderness of Northern Connecticut to establish a more democratic form of government for them-selves. Alexander Johnston, in his “Study of a Commonwealth Democracy,” says, “It is not difficult to show that the settlement of Connecticut was itself merely a secession of the democratic element from Massachusetts, and that the Massachusetts freemen owed their final emancipation from a theocracy to the example given them by the eldest daughter of the old common-wealth.”
The planters of these three settlements met in convention at Hartford, a few years after their departure from Massachusetts, and there adopted the first recorded pledge of civil liberty in America, the Connecticut constitution of 1638-9. This constitution was, in a very real sense, the foundation of America’s great political structure. It embodied the principle of a government by and for the people. It was the prophecy of the Declaration of Independence. It first gave utterance to the war cry of the Revolution, “No taxation without representation !” and the sentiment of which it was the expression made the Revolution possible.
The Revolutionary War
The compact made in the cabin of the Mayflower, generally acknowledged to be the first intimation of democracy in America, began with a formal recognition of the king as the source of all authority. It was the power of the crown “by virtue” of which “equal laws” were to be en-acted. On the other hand, there is no mention or hint of royal or parliamentary authority in any part of the Connecticut constitution. It sets out with the practical recognition of the doctrine that all ultimate power is lodged with the people. It made the body of the people the body politic. The governor and other magistrates and the deputies them-selves were made a kind of committee, delegated with powers to act for the planters. The state officers were elected by the people by popular vote out of their own number, to spend a short official term in the discharge of their trust, and then to return to the ranks of citizen voters. Each deputy who was elected to the Legislature went from his own town, and was a free planter of that town. There was to be no taxation without representation in Connecticut.
The towns, too, were recognized as independent municipalities.Here the idea of civil liberty first took shape in the actual form of government; and here was the embodiment of the principle fought for in the seven years’ struggle against the mother country.
Putnam Hill, Greenwich Connecticut
The Scene of Putnam’s Famous Ride
Bancroft says of the Connecticut constitution, in one of his most celebrated passages: “Kings have been dethroned, re-called, dethroned again, and so many constitutions framed or formed, stifled or subverted, that memory may despair of a complete catalogue; but the people of Connecticut have found no reason to deviate essentially from the government established by their fathers. History has ever celebrated the commanders of armies on which victory has been entailed, the heroes who have won laurels in scenes of carnage and rapine.
Has it no place for the founders of states, the wise legislators who struck the rock in the wilderness, and the waters of liberty gushed forth in copious and perennial fountains?”
To give legal authority to this form of government, a charter more democratic than any other document ever handed down from king to people was granted in 1662.
This was an invaluable and sacred grant, gained by the good fortune of Winthrop. It defined the rights of the colony, already drafted in the constitution, and placed them far beyond the grasp of the royal prerogative.
Fireplace from Putnam’s Headquarters at Redding, Connecticut
Now in the possession of George F. Ives, Danbury, Connecticut.
Connecticut showed the spirit of the Boston Tea Party when Governor Andros
came to Hartford in 1687, and demanded the charter. The authorities of the colony could not fail to be alarmed at the treatening aspect of affairs, but they had resolutely determined to keep inviolate their sacred right of civil liberty, come what might. Every reader of history knows that Andros failed to obtain the charter, how the lights in the legislative chamber were extinguished, and how when they were relighted the charter had disappeared. This was the first lesson given to a royal officer showing him that there was a sharp difference between an English populace and a body of American freemen. It was a forerunner of the Revolution. The colonists could well submit to the tyranny of Andros for a short time, with the knowledge that their charter was still in existence. After the abdication of James, the precious document was brought forth from its hiding place, and charter government was resumed.
Tavern sign of General Putnam
These democratic institutions enabled the people of Connecticut “to maintain throughout their colonial history a form of government so free from crown control that it became the exemplar of the rights at which all the colonists aimed” in the Revolution. The close of the French and Indian war marks the period when Connecticut’s democratic spirit began to influence the other commonwealths. Their demands upon the crown caused a steady approximation toward the establishment of a local democracy such as Connecticut had maintained for one hundred and fifty years. So when the war broke out, no state was more fully prepared to act a worthy and heroic part.
The first re-corded evidence of action on the part of Connecticut that indicated the impending struggle was a proclamation by Governor Trumbull, in May, 1774, which re-cited the dangers with which the colonists were menaced. The proclamation was soon followed by an order to all t h e towns to double the quantity of their powder and balls, and also by a set of resolutions denouncing the measures of the British Parliament as usurpations which placed life, liberty and property in hazard in all the American colonies, and proclaimed it as the duty of the people of Connecticut “to maintain and transmit their rights entire and inviolate to the latest generation.”
How strong was the feeling of the Connecticut colonists against the measures of the mother country at this time is shown by the treatment that was accorded to several persons who denounced the doings of the Continental Congress. Dr. Beebe, an obnoxious tory of East Haddam, was given a coat of tar and feathers. Two tory inhabitants of Ridgefield used language in a public house at Wethersfield which was derogatory of the Continental Congress. They were put astride a rail and escorted out of the town amidst the groans and hisses of the people, who followed them beating a dead march with drums. Certain persons were appointed to conduct these offenders further on their journey and to acquaint “the inhabitants of the other towns with their behavior, and leave them to their further transportation as by law is provided in the cases of strolling idiots and lunatics.”
The Patriot Painter
When hostilities began, Connecticut was the first colony to take her stand beside Massachusetts. In September, 1774, upon a bare re-port that British ships were cannonading Boston and British soldiers killing its inhabitants, a large body of men from Connecticut started forth to render their aid to the sister colony; and when, on April 19 of the following year, “the shot heard round the world” was fired at Lexington, Connecticut sprang to arms. Thousands of men upon the first reception of the news started from every part of the colony for the scene of action. Many a plough besides that of General Putnam was suddenly forsaken for the battlefield. One quarter of the militia of the colony, consisting of six regiments, was prepared for immediate service. Four of these regiments, commanded by Putnam, Spencer, Hinman and Par-sons, were ordered to be in readiness to march on to Boston, and were soon sent to the front.
It is a noteworthy testimony of Connecticut’s readiness to aid Massachusetts that, while the latter was de-fending herself, the first measure for her relief and the relief of all the colonies, the capture of Ticonderoga, was undertaken by Connecticut. Those who first projected the scheme borrowed funds from the treasury of Connecticut for the purpose, consulted with Governor Trumbull, and received his hearty cooperation.
Monument to Putnam at Hartford
Ethan Allen’s ringing command to surrender inspired new confidence in the power of American arms. During the same month, Governor Trumbull ordered Colonel Hinman to march to the defence of Ticonderoga and West Point, and applied money from the treasury of the colony to pay for strengthening the fortresses and for the support of the troops. Governor Trumbull was also the prime mover for the invasion of Canada, the latter part of the same year, which resulted in the capture of the strong fortress of St. John and the taking of Montreal. For a time, as Johnston well says, “almost the entire burden of the struggle lay on Connecticut, and the unflinching manner in which it was sustained made it the more conspicuous by the fact that the colony was not individually men-aced,” as were the other colonies. In 1775, the Department of the North had 2,800 men in the field ; of these, 2,500 were from Connecticut.
Lexington had aroused Connecticut cut to great activity in providing for the relief of Boston. This relief it continued to afford. To the troops already in camp under Putnam and Spencer was soon added another regiment, together with a fresh supply of ammunition from the colony stores. As to Connecticut’s share in the battle of Bunker Hill, I will but refer the reader to the “Life of Israel Putnam,” by Rev. Increase Tarbox, the greater part of which is taken up by the argument that Putnam was the real commander of the day, and that it was the troops of Connecticut who bore the brunt of the fighting and kept up the deadly fire of small arms which twice totally broke the British ranks. Mr. Tarbox further claims that it was the militia-men of Connecticut who, with the New Hampshire troops, covered the retreat of the Massachusetts militia and prevented a disgraceful and panic-stricken rout. This claim seems rather bold, but it appears all the more bold when it is considered that the author was, at the time the book was published, a minister in the city of Boston. It is a contention that is certainly worth careful investigation and study. It will doubtless always be a mooted question as to who, in the general confusion, was the real commander-in-chief at Bunker Hill ; but the irrepressible Putnam certainly conducted himself in a manner that gives his native state cause for laying claim to the distinction.
|Oliver Ellsworth||David Wooster|
At the close of the war General Washington wrote a letter to General Putnam, from Newburgh, in which he approved in generous terms the services of the old Connecticut hero. He said in the course of the letter:
“I can assure you that among the many worthy and meritorious officers with whom I have had happiness to be connected in service through the course of this war, and from whose cheerful assistance in the various and trying vicissitudes of a complicated contest, the name of a Putnam is not forgotten ; nor will be but with that stroke of time which shall obliterate from my mind the remembrance of all those toils and fatigues through which we have struggled for the preservation and establishment of the Rights, Liberties, and Independence of our Country.
“Your congratulations on the happy prospects of peace and independent security, with their attendant blessings to theUnited States, I receive with great satisfaction ; and beg that you will accept a return of my gratulations to you on this auspicious event—an event, in which, great as it is in it-self, and glorious as it will probably be in its consequences, you have a right to participate largely from the distinguished part you have contributed towards its attainment. “But while I contemplate the greatness of the object for which we have con-tended, and felicitate you on the happy issue of our toils and labors, which have terminated with such general satisfaction, I lament that you should feel the ungrateful returns of a country, in whose service you have exhausted your bodily strength, and expended the vigor of a youthful constitution. I wish, however, that your expectations of returning liberality may be verified. I have a hope they may but should they not, your case will not be a singular one. Ingratitude has been experienced in all ages, and republics, in particular, have ever been famed for the exercise of that unnatural and sordid vice.”
|This letter, together with portraits of Washington and Putnam, was en-graved on a handsome memorial tablet, which has been placed in the armory of the Putnam Phalanx at Hartford. The Phalanx is the oldest military organization in Connecticut and one of the oldest in the country. It uses the regulation buff and blue Continental uniform and marches in the old Continental step.
Soon after the battle of Bunker Hill, 1,700 men under Wooster, which force had already been raised for the defence of Connecticut, were sent to Harlem, at the request of New York. A part of these troops, with Wooster in person, passed over to Long Island, and there, while guarding the exposed points from the cruisers of the enemy, assisted the defenceless inhabitants in removing their goods and cattle to places of safety.
Provisions of every kind, on account of the demands that were being made by the army, were at this time very scarce, and by order of the General Assembly an embargo was proclaimed on all provisions raised in the state.
The Old War Office
At the beginning of the war, preparations were made by the towns, in the traditional Connecticut fashion; but the General Assembly soon began to direct operations. In May, 1775, a Committee of Safety was appointed to aid the governor in directing the marches and stations of troops and in supplying them with “every matter and thing that should be needful.” Under the direction of the governor, this council made such
great efforts in behalf of the American cause, and accomplished such eminent good, that Connecticut be-came known, throughout the Revolution, as emphatically the “Provision State.” In October of the same year, Governor Trumbull was appointed by the Continental Congress one of a special committee for ascertaining “the most effectual method of continuing, sup-porting and regulating a Continental army.” Benjamin Franklin was one of the other members of this committee. So zealous was Governor Trumbull in his actions that he became a special object of the enemy’s vengeance, and early in the war a price was set upon his head.
||Although the main theatre of the war remained outside of Connecticut, her troops shared in all its dangerous hardships. But while the state was sending its bravest sons and its best provisions to the relief of the other colonies, it was kept constantly active in defence of itself. The long extent of seacost was in constant danger of attack, and the incursions of the enemy were frequent and demanded the utmost vigilance. Consequently a system of naval warfare was kept up, meeting with wonderful success. Besides this, the state, by reason of a general confidence in the superior watchfulness and loyalty of its inhabitants, had charge of more prisoners during the war than any other colony. Conspicuous among these were many dangerous tories and important prisoners of war.|
Monument to General Wooster at Danbury, CT
When the year 1776 opened, it found Connecticut conspicuous among the colonies in the cause of liberty. Thousands of troops with arms, ammunition and provisions were being sent to the army around Boston, to the Department of the North, and to General Lee to aid in the defence of New York. All this Connecticut did under straitened circumstances, for its treasury was exhausted. Nevertheless the urgent solicitations of Washington and Congress were met with heroic effort. Besides the great amount of provisions that was raised, iron ore and lead were obtained from the mines of Salisbury, and moulded into cannon and shot.
|Governor Trumbull’s store adjacent to his house was the point from which nearly all the soldiers and pro-visions were sent. It was familiarly known as the “War Office,” and all through the Revolution it was one of the centres of action.* Many important councils of war were held within its walls, and many distinguished personages crossed its threshold. This building is now standing, and is one of the historic landmarks of the state, a monument of its patriotism.
John Trumbull, the great painter of the men and scenes of the Revolution, was a son of the governor ; and he cannot be forgotten when we consider Connecticut’s share in the Revolution. It is from his brush and pencil that we have many of the most authentic records and revelations of that historic period.
Oliver Wolcott, The Elder
In the letters of Washington are found frequent allusions to the loyal support he was receiving from Connecticut. In a letter to Governor Trumbull, under (late of September 9, 1776, he writes: “I cannot sufficiently express my thanks, not only for your constant and ready compliance with any request of mine, but for your own strenuous exertions and prudent fore-cast in ordering matters, so that your force has been collected and put in motion as soon as it has been demanded. . . . The exertions of Connecticut upon all occasions do her great honor.”
The Avery House at Groton
When it became known that General Clinton and Lord Cornwallis were to make an attack upon New York, after the evacuation of Boston, Governor Trumbull issued a spirited “exhortation” to the people of the colony to form companies and march on to the new seat of war. The appeal was irresistible. Men rushed to supply the army, and of the twenty-five Connecticut regiments, all but two were soon collected at New York, together with many companies of volunteers. After New York was taken, more regiments were sent to Long Island, leaving the state almost without any defence whatever.
Fort Griswold, Showing the spot where colonel Ledyard Fell
When in the dark and gloomy December, just previous to the flashing of the light at Trenton and Princeton, Washington had but the shadow of an army, destitute of cavalry save a single troop from Connecticut, with his soldiers almost naked in the piercing cold of winter, Connecticut lighted up anew the torches of effort by sending reenforcements and provisions, making possible the victories that followed. When Burgoyne began his march southward from Canada, Connecticut was foremost in sending regiments and volunteers to check his progress. In the victorious battle of Saratoga, one of the turning points of the war, it was a brave son of Connecticut who rallied the disheartened troops and led them on to victory a deed which did his country more service than all his later acts of treason did it harm. The glory of Saratoga soon gave way to gloom, when winter found the American patriots starving in their winter quarters at Valley Forge.
|Washington in his distress again appealed to Connecticut for aid. In response, nearly all the live cattle in the state were driven in one vast herd to the distant camp of Washington. This relief, which was said to be impossible to furnish by the other states, was thus generously given by the already famed “Provision State of Connecticut.” The demands from Washington and Congress upon the state at this time were almost incessant. But Connecticut did not once falter in her duty. Every demand was met in some degree. Every response seemed the result of super-human effort.|
Connecticut bore her full share of suffering. Two of the most horrible massacres of the war were perpetrated upon her territory. The massacre of Wyoming laid eight beautiful towns belonging to Connecticut in ashes, and the greater part of one thousand families fell victims to the tomahawk. For several years the whole surface of Long Island Sound had been vexed with every species of conflict known to unrestrained human passions in time of war; but the burning of New London and the butchery that followed were by far the most revolting. The traitor Arnold was a native of Norwich, and was of course acquainted with the whole neighborhood and knew the very steps to take to insure success. Colonel William Ledyard, to whom the command of the two forts and the towns in which they were situated had been in-trusted, exerted himself to the utmost to put the coast in a state of defence. After he had made such arrangements as his scanty means would allow, he crossed the ferry to Fort Griswold, where he had determined to make his last stand. As he stepped into the boat, his friends gathered to wish him success; and his voice had the triumphant tone of prophecy when he said to them: “If I must lose to-day honor or life, you who know me can tell which it will be.” Within twelve hours after he had spoken these words, he was standing with a few survivors in the inside of the fort, after a resistance unsurpassed in the history of freedom’s battles, waiting to present his sword to the British officer in command. The brute took the proffered weapon, and instantly plunged it to the hilt into the breast of the unsuspecting patriot. The little band of militiamen saw that they were contending with savages, and, knowing it would be vain to look for quarter, rallied around the corpse of their commander and fought till they fell pierced, some of them with more than twenty wounds. Then followed a scene of carnage too brutal to recite. One of the British officers, sickened with the protracted butchery, ran from room to room of the fort with his drawn sword in his hand, crying: “Stop! stop! In the name of Heaven I say stop! My soul can-not bear it!” After a while the carnage was checked, but not until eighty-five men lay dead in the fort and sixty more wounded, only a few of whom survived the horrors of that day.
Gateway of the Old Newgate Prison
|To those massacres were added the frequent depredations of the British along the coast. But the incursions of the British troops upon Connecticut soil were necessarily brief and lively. The state militia was too active to permit of protracted visits. The most serious of these ravages was the burning of Danbury, and the battle of Ridgefield which followed. In this battle the brave Wooster received a mortal wound while rallying his troops for a last attack upon the retreating British lines.
It is well to note here that Yale in College in New Haven was, all through the Revolution, a veritable furnace of patriotism. Of the small number of its alumni, two hundred and thirty-four rendered conspicuous service. Of this number was the martyr, Nathan Hale, whose only regret was that he had but one life to lay down in defence of his country. Yale’s record in the Revolution is found complete in Johnston’s “Yale and her Honor-roll in the Revolution”; and from its pages the sons of Yale to-day can find added inspiration for college pride. In 1781 a memorable conference was held at Hart-ford, between General Washing-ton, Governor Trumbull and others. The result of this was the campaign which ended with the surrender at Yorktown and the final triumph of American arms. The Connecticut delegates in the Constitutional Convention held a position of great
The Statue of Nathan Hale by Macmonnies
The first state house at Hartford
Their democratic government had given them a training which enabled them to mould the form of the national constitution into a corresponding shape. In number of men furnished during the war, Connecticut stood second. According to the figures in Johnston’s “Connecticut,” it had 31,-939, Massachusetts being first, with 67,907. Considering the difference in population, Connecticut’s quota stands out prominently with the 25,678 of Pennsylvania, the 17,176 of New York, the 6,417 of South Carolina, and the 2,679 of Georgia.
|Connecticut’s authorities were indefatigable in raising and provisioning troops, and the people equally earnest in offering their services. In general orders of June 16, 1782, Washington spoke of the Connecticut brigade as “composed of as fine a body of men as any in the army,” and he expressed a wish for a general review of the men to decide the relative proficiency of the Connecticut men.|
The first New Haven Schoolhouse