Hidden Nearby: Tory’s Cave and the Other Side of the Fourth of July

Tory’s Cave in New Milford

The Fourth of July brings to mind a famous statement by John Adams, in writing to his wife Abigail about the adoption of the Declaration of Independence: “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” (That Adams was talking about July 2nd is a fun fact, but not important to our story.)

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John Adams

Another Adams observation is relevant as well. Adams is often quoted as saying that in the American Revolution, one-third of Americans were patriots, one-third were lukewarm to revolution, and one-third continued to support the king. This is a misquote; Adams was referring to hostilities that arose between Britain and France during his presidency. This does not, however, change the fact that substantial numbers of Americans were hostile to the cause of independence.

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A Revolutionary-era propaganda print depicting a tar and feathering, in this case over opposition to the Tea Act.

One study has estimated that 6% of Connecticut’s population were Loyalists (also known as Tories). These were concentrated in the western part of the state. Litchfield County’s Tories continued to support the king largely for religious reasons; for example, St. Michael’s Church (now Episcopal but during the war part of the King’s Church of England) repeatedly had its windows broken out of contempt for its Loyalist members. Occasionally, hostile feelings toward Litchfield County’s Loyalists turned violent. Parts of Harwinton and Plymouth were hotbeds for Toryism, and one Plymouth Tory was “hung up till almost dead” on the town green. New Milford, which still contains the topographical feature called Tory’s Cave, witnessed the sentencing of a Loyalist to having to carry a goose to Litchfield for his own tar and feathering.

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William Franklin, loyalist governor of New Jersey

The town of Litchfield, relatively safe from British incursions, was used to jail prominent Loyalists, including New Jersey governor William Franklin (son of the decidedly anti-Loyalist Benjamin) and David Matthews, mayor of New York City. Ultimately, most of Litchfield County’s Loyalists abandoned their property and fled to Canada. While our celebrations of the Fourth of July continue to make Adams’s prophecy about “bonfires and illuminations” come true, it is important to remember that American independence was neither guaranteed nor unanimously supported.

July 4, 1876: Litchfield Celebrates the Centennial

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The town of Litchfield celebrated the nation’s centennial in grand style.  A committee had been formed “to arrange for the commemoration of the Centennial Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.”  The festivities began on the evening of July 3, when the village bells were “rung from 8 to 10 o’clock P. M., and houses in the village illuminated.”

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An 1869 issue of Harper’s Weekly depicted Fourth of July fireworks.

At sunrise on Independence Day, the town’s bells rang for another hour, and all townspeople were asked to display the American flag.  The formal public ceremonies began at 10:00 am with church services and a reading of the Declaration of Independence by Truman Smith, the 94 year-old former senator and congressman.  In the afternoon, a display of Revolutionary War artifacts was opened in the Court House.  The day concluded with another illumination and with fireworks over the center of town.

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George Catlin Woodruff

The driving force behind the festivities was George Catlin Woodruff, who that day delivered a 44-page address on the town’s history.  Woodruff was born in 1805, and was described by a fellow townsman as “erect in figure, and singularly robust; always of the finest health; always at work and never seemingly fatigued; nothing in nature so typified him as an oak which has withstood every vicissitude of storm a century of time.”

An 1825 graduate of the Litchfield Law School, Woodruff served several terms in the state legislature, and one term in the United States Congress.  He was best known for his 1845 history of the town, which was marked by the precision of his research.  The same year he wrote a Geneaological Register of the Inhabitants of Litchfield from 1720 to 1800.  In his address that day, Woodruff discussed the town’s history between 1776 and 1876, but was “concerned chiefly with the share our town had taken in the Revolution.”

DSC_0035Woodruff would go on to be the first vice president of the county historical society before his death in 1885.  It is not difficult to imagine that it was with great pride in his role in honoring the nation’s centennial that Woodruff had that memorable date carved into a stepping stone outside his home on South Street, opposite Saint Anthony of Padua’s Church.

Hidden Nearby: Goshen’s Liberty Pole

Note: Occasionally Hidden in Plain Sight will leave the environs of Litchfield in search of the historical landscape of the area.

On this Fourth of July, a marker on East Street North in nearby Goshen, Connecticut, allows us a window on to past celebrations of American freedoms and liberties.

John Adams famously believed that the signing of the Declaration of Independence “ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” He was not far from the mark; he erred only in believing that the celebrations would be held on July 2nd, the day the Continental Congress approved the document.

Raising a Liberty Pole in New York City, 1765

In Adams’ time, American patriots expressed their desire for freedom with liberty poles. Liberty poles were a common sight in the years before and during the American Revolution. These were tall, wooden poles, planted in the ground; they were different from regular flag poles in that they were usually topped by either a banner emblazoned with patriotic phrases or a liberty cap. (Liberty caps were conical-shaped hats, often made out of felt or other soft material; they were associated with the quest of Roman slaves for freedom.)

Liberty poles were often seen flying a red ensign; this was a signal for patriots to assemble to discuss the latest acts of British oppression. Naturally, British authorities objected to this means of communication between rebels, and the poles were destroyed. Just as quickly, however, they were rebuilt by Americans – especially the Sons of Liberty.

A French liberty pole

Liberty poles became symbolic of liberty, freedom and independence, and their use caught on in France during the French Revolution. They were also used as symbols of protest by farmers in western Pennsylvania during the period of the Whiskey Rebellion, from 1791 to 1794. As a symbol of liberty and freedom, the liberty pole was a popular image on 19th century American coins. In this 1857 “half dime,” the seated figure of Liberty holds a liberty pole topped with a liberty (or Phyrgian cap) in her left hand:

One wonders about Goshen’s liberty pole; it seems unlikely that there were many people in the area to gather around it in 1776. Why was it erected at this site, and not in the center of town? Was it, perhaps, simply a patriotic statement by an individual? Has there been a dramatic shift in the population center of Goshen? (There are other remnants of colonial Goshen further north on East Street.) Still, the town was proud of its patriotic activity in the Revolutionary Era and chose to commemorate it for the nation’s bicentennial. The town’s history records the events of July 4, 1876:

“In the early morning a company had assembled at the spot where a liberty pole had stood during the Revolution, and with appropriate ceremonies the stars and stripes were raised and flung to the breeze.”

One hundred years later, Goshen’s liberty pole was rededicated, as part of the official celebration of the nation’s bicentennial. A stone marker was dedicated, bearing the official seal of the Bicentennial, a flag pole erected behind it, and a time capsule buried.

We will celebrate the 236th anniversary of the nation’s independence in the style predicted by Adams – with pomp, parades, sports, and illuminations. Still, it is worth a trip to Goshen to be reminded of how freedom and liberty were celebrated in a simpler time.