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History Corner: They Were Here

History Corner: They Were Here

 

Well, not exactly here, here but here in Connecticut. It’s little known that one of the heroes of the Revolutionary War visited our state. His name was the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat and military officer who came to the colonies to help George Washington. The French saw that we were able to fight successfully and a treaty of alliance was signed n 1778. With the alliance came 4000 soldiers including several able generals among them Count De Rochambeau. Lafayette had arrived in America previously and made arrangements for the Count and General Washington to meet briefly as neither could leave their regiments for long.

Washington left his headquarters in New Jersey following a route through Ridgefield, through Woodbury and Farmington to Hartford, a midway point for the conference. General Knox, commander of the artillery accompanied them and they were cheered on the journey by the crowds that gathered. There was a thirteen cannon salute, honoring the retinue including the colorful group of officers accompanying Rochambeau. Washington left the conference with a hopeful heart that additional French troops would be secured. This was not the first time Washington visited Connecticut. In 1775 he reviewed a company of Yale militia on the Green spending the night with Isaac Beers whose house stood on the site of the Hotel Taft.

The Clark Tavern in Milford boasts the arrival of Washington on one of his many trips through Connecticut. As the story goes, General George Washington described Milford in his diary on October 17, 1789 with “In this place there is but one Church or in other words but one steeple, but there are Grist and Saw Mills and there is a handsome Cascade over the tumbling dams.” On the occasion of his visit in November, 1789 President Washington asked for a bowl of milk and some bread at Andrew Clark’s Inn.* The serving maid brought the order and with it a broken pewter spoon. This was not satisfactory to the distinguished guest who required a silver spoon. The president gave his host two shillings the serving maid was sent to get a silver spoon from the Reverend William Lockwood who lived next door. A set of three steps are located on the property of the Milford Historical Society.

Benedict Arnold’s story is one of great interest and often accompanied with expletives for the part he played in the Revolutionary War and his treasonous acts. Arnold was born in Norwich in 1741 and as a youth ran away from home to join the army. He was caught up in the French and Indian War and at its end returned to Norwich learning the druggist business. At the age of 21, he moved to New Haven and opened a drug store and bookstore on Water Street. He soon became a wealthy man, owning several ships bound for the West Indies becoming a progressive leader in New Haven affairs.

Seeing the lack of resistance to England, a few years before the Revolution, Arnold became angry and hearing of the 1775 Battle of Lexington he gathered the Governor’s Foot Guard and other patriots to meet on the New Haven Green. Asking for ammunition for his troops and being denied, Arnold marched his men to a place where General Wooster was encamped and demanded the keys to the powder house, bluntly saying if the keys were not surrendered, he would break open the doors. General Wooster pleaded for Arnold to wait for further orders but his answer was in the packing of the soldiers’ knapsacks and filling their powder horns.

Benedict Arnold was a fine soldier and responsible for many well-planned attacks against the British, but he was held down by General Horatio Gates and not allowed to take part in them. Arnold was disenchanted with the revolution and with the lack of being given a higher rank while others succeeded him, he went into British territory and the rest of the story, we know.

King George III was once in Connecticut in the form of a, well shall I say, a portion. In 1770, a lead statue, made in England, was erected in the New York colony to express loyalty and gratitude for the repeal of the Stamp Act. George atop his horse was richly gilded. With the news that the Declaration of Independence was signed, bonfires were lit and King George and his charger were pulled down and his head was cut off! For safety, most of the statue was sent, by ox-cart to the home of General Oliver Wolcott in Litchfield where it was buried in Wolcott’s orchard, under an apple tree.

Loyalists, in New York, sent the head back to England BUT sometime later the rest of the statue was dug up and melted into bullets. A shed was built in Wolcott’s orchard and his son assisted him in chopping it into fragments where the bullets were made and fired, repulsing a British invasion of Connecticut. Some 42,088 cartridges were made as written in a memorandum by General Wolcott. A ladle, said to have been used in pouring the lead into molds, is now in the museum in Litchfield.

Benjamin Franklin was a frequent visitor to the Connecticut colony through his friendship with David Humphreys of Derby. Humphreys was a soldier and statesman and a military member of General George Washington’s regiment. In 1789, he was appointed aide-de-camp to Washington and through the association, he and Franklin met at the tavern just north of the Colonel’s home in Derby, now Ansonia. It is said that it was his recommendation to the General that he not wear a white uniform that off-white or beige would show less wear and less need of cleaning.

The resistance to the British was noteworthy in Connecticut with man after man joining regiment after regiment to quell the invasion. It did not have to be a soldier for bravery as told in the West Haven history where Reverend Noah Williston, with arms full of church documents, ran out the back door of the First Congregational Church only to break his leg while attempting to scale a stone wall. Soldiers were taunting and threatening him when British Adjutant William Campbell, hearing the commotion, put an end to it saying, “we make war on soldiers, not civilians.” He reportedly ordered the men to assist the minister back to the parsonage and Campbell summoned a regimental surgeon to set the leg.

Campbell was a career soldier and a veteran of war, first arriving in the colonies in 1776. His military background in the most elite unit of the British army was witnessed by his being a member of the king’s personal bodyguards, the Foot Guards representing the best and the brightest of his majesty’s troops. War was in West Haven with the Battle of Allingtown with the colonists bearing down on the British invaders. As the fight ensued, an officer slumped to the ground and was carried to the nearest homestead where he lay dying.

Having endeared himself to the local family, his final wish was to have his plume, sash and watch sent to his wife. His body was wrapped in a blanket and buried in a shallow grave where he had first fallen. His personal effects were stolen by his aide and some were sold to a local man, John Townshend. His uniform was taken by a Milford militiaman, thus depriving the solider of any dignity which he had shown the reverend earlier in the day. This dead officer’s name was William Campbell.

For his act of kindness, the main road through town was named Campbell Ave. in 1874 with a monument erected in 1891. The memorial, located on Prudden Street bears the inscription from Matthew 5:1-12 1: Blessed Are The Merciful.”

  • Clark’s Inn was located in the area where the Parson Complex stands today.

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