North Milford, which was the founding town for Orange, appears to have some strong connections to the Revolutionary War. I say seems as the information gathered is from sources other than what was generated within the town itself with letters or diaries, except for one such diary from Robert Treat. His handwritten notes are significant for the Battle of Saratoga, which shows the distance our ancestors traveled in defense of their country.
The journal of Robert Treat is dated 1777, but at that time the War had not gone too well for the Americans. After their stunning displays of intentions for freedom, they lost most of the encounters with the British forces. Fort Ticonderoga had been taken by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, but the battle of Quebec was a miserable failure. After Congress declared independence from Great Britain in July of 1776, British regulars swept in and succeeded in dislodging the Americans in the lower Hudson Valley capturing New York City and the surrounding area.
Upper New York was the area that the British focused their plan to conquer the rebel colonials with General John Burgoyne advancing with 9000 men, which included 4200 British regulars, and 4000 Hessians recruited from the New York City encounter. In Connecticut, militia units were recruited every day to go north to the Albany/Saratoga area to help the newly appointed General Horatio Gates. You might remember from previous articles that it was Gates who consistently ignored Benedict Arnold’s military advice that led to Arnold’s defection to Britain.
Answering the call was Captain Isaac Treat’s Company with men from Milford/West Farms, consisting of 20 men with horses from what is now Milford/Orange/West Haven. One of these men was our journalist, Corporal Robert Treat, who with friends, started their trek north on August 19, 1777. Another stab at the Americans, General Burgoyne headed south commanding with a force of 800 Hessians, Indians and Canadians with the intent on raiding Bennington, Vermont. They were met by 1500 New Hampshire militiamen, losing 10% of the men along with cannon, muskets, Hessians and almost all of his Indians.
News of this 4-day battle rallied the Colonials and they continued to pour into their respective battalions to face Burgoyne. Among the duties of Robert Treat and his company would be to guard the recently captured prisoners. On the 18th of September, a number of British soldiers were foraging for food when surprised in a potato field by a scouting party led by General Arnold and Robert Treat. Treat wrote that with a skirmish that ensued, only 3 British were killed, 4 taken prisoner but the British account listed almost 30 casualties.
The following is Treat’s own words AND spelling of the event. “We was alarmd in the moring about day that party of Regment of Light hors to prosed to headquater and orders was for a offiser and ten men to go out into the bush with Generl Arnel and his Devishon and march about three miels where we Came a thight of a parte of British Tropth and we firded upon them and Cilled three and took fore and Card theme into headQourtere and delevered them and then Returned to the aemy and the enemy Came in Sight but however we did not ingag them that day.”
On the 19th Burgoyne continued attacking to the south with a battle ensuing at a clearing known as Freeman’s Farm. The battle waged back and forth with Treat in the thick of it. With the Hessians bearing down and the Americans out of ammunition the group retreated to camp with 65 killed, 218 wounded, 38 missing to the British 200 killed, 80 wounded and 647 missing. Please understand, these battles were still located in the Hudson River area near what is now Schuylerville, then known as Saratoga.
For the next two weeks Burgoyne would retreat to wait for reinforcements from the south which never came. Meanwhile, the American militia numbered 13,000 as recorded by Treat on September 24th. His entry, in part, follows: “The indians took saven tores and Broght them to hedQurters and the Genrl Delevered them up to the Indians to do what they would with them the Same Day I went a Bout 2 miels down the River to Git Sum apels and wen I come Back our Company was goen to hedQr and I went up to them and thir was 13,000 that Dewe Pervisons that day.”
Treat came down with what he called colic and a cold which persisted for sometime and on the 28th of September, with a bad cough and purging his captain said he could be discharged but he did not, saying, “I don’t like to Go till the rest are discarg.”
On October 2nd, there were orders to discharge one third of the Regiment and the in his words, “the Solgers derw Cuts and they Staid til the Next day and they sat out for home and we weighted upon the Gen’l that day—when I sat out hum I Spent for quart of Sider.02.0.”
Robert Treat was born in Milford in 1758, the first son of Robert and Mary Clark Treat. He was the great, great grandson of Governor Robert Treat, one of the first Treats (Trots) emigrating from England in the mid 17th century. Robert’s family had a significant impact on the communities throughout Connecticut with the governor receiving land grants known as King’s Grants for his services to the crown some lying in the area of Grassy Hill Road and Turkey Hill Road. It was on part of this land that another Treat, Joseph, built the house which was outlined in the last issue of the Orange Town News ca 1730 at the end of Turkey Hill at exit 56.
At some point in 1777, young Robert enlisted in his Uncle Isaac Treat’s militia Company of Light Horse, with the main duty being to patrol the 17 miles of coast from New Haven to Stratford to look out for possible landings by the British. Each man had to furnish his own horse, tackle, blanket, firearms and other accouterments. It is unknown if they wore any particular uniform but it is said that their hats were probably decorated to identify them. Robert was made a Corporal and appointed Company Clerk, keeping the official roll of the Company and his journal of the Saratoga campaign.
After his discharge, Treat continued to serve with the Light Horse Company for another year or so, patrolling the coast when not needed on his father’s farm. Some say it is likely that he was the one who spread the alarm when 20 British Transports appeared off the Milford shore. This brings back my story of Mistress Merwin who is given credit for spotting the men from the British ships as they trudged up the hill at Pond Point. She donned her red cape, took her baby under one arm, a copper pot in the other and mounting her horse rode like the wind to the center of town banging her pot with a wooden spoon. The menfolk had just recently taken all of the livestock from the area, hiding them closer to town in an area known in Milford as Calf Pen.
Seeing the Mistress as she left, the soldiers ransacked her home, taking what food they could, but not before pulling her pillows apart and dousing them with Molasses.
Certainly Robert Treat could have been part of this story, perhaps in another part of town along the river where he was patrolling. This is not the end of the story of Robert Treat, the journalist nor is it the end of our “look” into local Revolutionary heroes and heroines. Stay tuned.