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History Corner: It Had to be a Nightmare

History Corner: It Had to be a Nightmare

By Ginny Reinhard

I don’t suppose anyone would doubt how cold January 1st could be, but to 200 ragged, ill and hungry colonial soldiers, that day had to be a nightmare.  It was 1777 and the colonies were at war with England, each side taking prisoners during battles raging throughout the winter.  In the late afternoon of the 1st of January, some Milford residents sighted a British man-of-war, flying a flag of truce having come from New York after a tedious passage of several days.  The men were obviously ill treated, as most were not only sick and dying but also ill clothed.

The ship had put into the harbor in the vicinity of Fort Trumbull beach and with a heavy fog, the ship was soon obscured from view but not before it left its cargo behind.  Cargo indeed.  These were men who fought valiantly for the freedom of the colonies only to contract smallpox, a dreaded disease of the time.  Captain Isaac Miles, who lived near the shore, heard many voices coming from the area where these gallant men struggled to get on their feet to find shelter.

With no thought of his own safety, Miles made arrangement to shelter the men from the intense cold and to give what medical attention he could, finding private residences to care for them until larger quarters could be made available.  Twenty had already died during the passage to Milford and 20 more upon arrival, on the desolate shore.  Capt. Stephen Stowe, knowing of the dangers, offered to nurse these sick men along with Dr. Elias Carrington and Joseph Treat who resided in North Milford (Orange).  Joseph had survived smallpox as a young man and was thus immune and could help these men as they worked their way back to health in the home that now partially stands on Turkey Hill Road, just beyond exit 56.

Within a month, Capt. Stowe and forty-six of the men succumbed to the dreaded disease.  These courageous soldiers, who sacrificed their lives in the struggle for independence, have their names inscribed on a monument in the Milford Cemetery, behind the DAR building on Prospect Street.  Both the General Assembly and the people of Milford made it possible to remember them in 1852.  Those who died were buried in a common grave and there is some doubt as to where that might be.  Some historians believe it was around Peter Prudden’s homestead near the cemetery.  Former town historian Richard Platt believes it could be found off of Wheeler’s Farm Road near East Rutland Road where a “pest house” was located.  This house was set-aside for contagious diseased people and would most likely be the place to bury those who did not survive.

Looking at the list of 46 in comparison to a partial list of those that were named a few days after their arrival, it would appear that the majority of them were inducted somewhere in the northern part of the Connecticut Colony or even into Massachusetts, as their hometown was also listed.  As we know, from historical accounts, that soldiers throughout the colonies, who thought themselves well enough, attempted to reach home but some died along the way and were buried where they fell.  It has been reported that Herman Baker of Tolland is buried in East Hartford on the grounds of Pratt & Whitney which is as far as he could go.  Two brothers, named Doan from Chatham, (Portland), did reach home with one of them literally dying on the parents’ doorstep.  How tragic those times were.  I don’t think any family today, who has lost a son or daughter in war, would think any differently about war being tragic no matter when.

In reading an article from the New London Gazette dated New Haven, January 8, 1777, Nathan Whitney, Jonathan Whither II, and John Snow are listed from Chatham.  However, the listing of those who passed away shows John Snow did not make it home either.  He would be one of the many who were buried in that common grave, somewhere in Milford and memorialized on the stone monument in the old section of the Milford Cemetery.  What is interesting about the list of the sick, in the newspaper, Herman Baker, from Tolland, is noted as being one of the sick but another account, mentioned above, says he died and is buried in East Hartford.

Question?  Did Herman feel well enough to make the trip home, only to succumb to his illness?  There are many questions surrounding the Revolutionary War as note taking was not a common occurrence and the future, other than fighting for freedom was not considered as men and women, yes women fought a giant enemy without regard to awards or posterity.  They were fighting for their lives, not glory for the future generations to read.

Again, comparing the two documents the following were listed as arriving in Milford sick and are now listed on the monument.  Thomas Maddison (Madison), New London, Samuel Fuller, Norwich, Ebenezer Upham, Killingly and John Snow, Chatham.  The thought behind this article is to give more attention to those soldiers, who are listed in the New London Gazette but not on the monument.  The Treat house, as mentioned on Turkey Hill Road, is being dismantled and its pieces and parts are being sold to various restoration contractors throughout New England.  I would like to believe that the house, that sheltered so many of these 200 men, is not being lost but going home.  Where?  Well, we don’t know exactly if all of the men listed below actually got home but I would like to believe that the house and its structural parts is like the men…they’ve all gone home.

George White, Toland, Elijah Boardman, Wethersfield, Aaron Drake, East Windsor, Isaac Roads, Preston, Jacob Sterling, Lyme, James Starr and Edward Parker Groton, Erastus Humphry, Simsbury, John Atwood, Wethersfield, Peter Edwards, Norwich, Lucas Long Tolland, Benjamin Hills, Glastenbury, Nathan Whitney, Chatham, Levi Loveland, Glastenbury, Samuel Bates Chatham, Jonathan Whitherll, Chatham, David Whitford, Volentown, George Foster, Killingly, Ebenezer Keys, Killingly, Elizar Loveland, Wethersfield, John Fletcher, Simsbury, Hezekiah Lee, Harwinton, Daniel Fotham Windham,  Daniel Yearington, Preston and  a James ________ from  Harwinton, his last name being obliterated when an old copy was created.  A further thought for this article is to give you names of soldiers that you might recognize as your own ancestors, names you have heard but did not know who they were, names that were locked in a book somewhere but coming to light with the help of Milford’s former Town Historian, Dick Platt and former Milford Historical Society, president, Ardienne Damicis.  At the very least, all the men and all of the parts of the house on Turkey Hill road have gone home.

Note:  Any spelling that appears to be wrong is the spelling in the documents used for this article.

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