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.

Hidden Nearby: The Harwinton Sign Post

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Harwinton derives its name from the fact that it was settled in 1726 by emigrants from Hartford and Windsor, and it was originally called “Hartford and Windsdor’s Town..”  Those settlers from Hartford were given land rights in the eastern part of town, while those from Windsor were given the west side of town.  A post was put on the dividing line, and that post evolved into the Harwinton’s well-known Sign Box.

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An old image of the Harwinton green, courtesy of the Harwinton Historical Society.

The sign box was designed by Lewis Smith, who served as the town’s probate judge from 1844 to 1860.  In addition to providing directions and distances to nearby towns, the sign box also provided residents a means of posting notices to their fellow townspeople in the days before other forms of communication.

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In 2006 a wayward motorist destroyed the sign box, which was soon replaced.  In May 2013, Larry Connors, a woodworker in town, constructed a more permanent structure and Amanda Surveski, a student at Lewis S. Mills High School, painted the letters, distances and directions.

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While thousands of drivers pass it every day without noticing it, the Harwinton sign box is one of those landmarks that give our New England towns their character.

Hidden Nearby: Harwinton’s Catlin Trough

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The Harwinton water trough stands a memorial to the original setllers of this part of town, and to the development of the Burlington Road/Harmony Hill Road Historic District area.  Harwinton was originally Hartford and Windsor’s Town, a tribute to the original emigrants who settled it.

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Next to the trough is this granite marker; it was once a drinking fountain.

Among those original settlers was Major Abijah Catlin (1715-1778), who was given a land grant here in 1738.  While there is considerable debate about whether the Abijah ever moved to Harwinton, his family maintained homes and businesses in this area for five generations.  His son, Abijah Jr., operated a store and an inn at the crossroads of Route 4 and Harmony Hill Road.  Here, in 1780, Catlin served refreshments to George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, and General Henry Knox.  One of his descendants, George Catlin, was educated at the Litchfield Law School and served in the United States Congress.

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Photo courtesy of Harwinton Historical Society.

The Catlins placed a trough at this location at some point in the 18th century.  It utilized a nearby spring and gravity to provide horses and oxen passing by with a source of drinking water.  It operated until the early 20th century.

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Much like the Goshen animal pound, the trough reminds us of the integral role animals played in the lives of those who lived in this area two centuries ago.