LHRR Series: The Sixth Mile: The West Cemetery

Microwave Mile (Courtesy of Janet Serra)

Entering the sixth mile of the Litchfield Hills Road Race, runners encounter what is known as the “Microwave Mile.” Here the shade of White Memorial forests is left behind, and in the open the sun of a hot June afternoon is brought fully to bear. The scene becomes more ominous to those runners who take note of the West Cemetery alongside the course.

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Here, some of the town’s earliest settlers were buried. Current burials continue in the adjacent Saint Anthony’s Cemetery (an annex is across the street). The historian, however, is drawn to effigy markers, gravestones without accompanying bodies. One of these is a memorial to Joseph Harris, the first original settler of the town to die. In 1723, Harris was killed by  a group of Native Americans while tending to his fields. Shot dead and scalped, his body was found by neighbors the next day, sitting on the ground with his head resting against a tree. This was in the area of town where Litchfield Ford now stands. That area became known as Harris Plains.

Harris’s burial location is no longer known, but in 1830, Litchfield residents erected a monument to their ancestor in the West Cemetery. It reads:

In Memory of Joseph Harris who was murdered by the Indians in the year 1721. While plowing in his Field in the vicinity of the Alms House, he was shot by the Indians concealed in Ambush. He was found dead Sitting on the Ground, his Head and Body reclining against the Trunk of a Tree. To record the first Death among the original Settlers of this Town & to perpetuate the Memory of a worthy but unfortunate Citizen this Monument is erected 1830 by the voluntary Benefactions of individual Subscribers

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Effigy graves in the West Cemetery

A second example of effigy graves is in the area of the cemetery reserved for Civil War veterans. Initially, this land was donated as a potters field for those soldiers who could not afford a grave plot. Over time, it became a place for families to erect markers to their sons and husbands whose bodies did not return home from the war. In Victorian America, the idea of a “good death,” in which the stricken died at home, in their bed, surrounded by loved ones, gave comfort in times of grief. The Civil War, with young men dying in brutal fashion in unfamiliar surroundings posed an obvious but serious threat to this notion. A solution was the effigy grave, a place on which where families could focus their grief and prayers.

For more information on the history of the Litchfield Hills Road Race, see Lou Pellegrino’s book A History of the Litchfield Hills Road Race: In Smallness there is Beauty (now available at the Litchfield Historical Society).

 

 

 

LHRR Series: The Fifth Mile, Whitehall and the Chickadee Bridge

As runners pass through the gates of Whitehall, the estate of the White family, they will soon enter the race’s fifth mile. The slight downhill grade provides a respite for these runners, who will soon enter the Microwave Mile and face Gallows Lane. This wooded environment was the heart of the estate.

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The Windmill Hill windmill (From Rachel Carley, Litchfield: The Making of a New England Town

There are many vestiges of the past splendor of these grounds. The shingled building to the right was the family’s carriage house. From here, they traversed the miles of carriage roads that crossed their thousands of acres. The hill behind the carriage house is Windmill Hill, so named for the wind-powered pump that filled a cistern to provide water to the home. This hill was also the site of exotic tree plantings by the family, who planted over one million trees on their estate.

Whitehall (Courtesy of White Memorial Foundation)

The current visitor’s center was Whitehall, the seat of the estate. John Jay White moved his family here following the New York City draft riots in 1863. Alain went on to study botany at Harvard, and became a master chess player, a skill that led to his recruitment as a cryptographer during World War I. May’s philanthropic spirit centered on bringing children from New York City to Litchfield for summers. The family home was designed in quintessential Victorian style, with garrets, a tower, and many chimneys. The structure underwent extensive renovations when it became the center of the White Memorial Foundation.

Note the tree stump on the right side of the image. (Courtesy of the White Memorial Foundation)

Across the street from the visitor center is a concrete tree stump, a reminder of earlier days when this area was the scene of picnics and even duck pin bowling, on an alley painstakingly leveled by Alain White for the use of the Sanctum club.

Chickadee Bridge (Courtesy of White Memorial Foundation)

A notable feature of the race for runners is crossing the Bantam River on the Chickadee Bridge. This bridge allowed the Whites to access their carriage roads on the east side of the river. The shoreline is now covered with trees, rendering this view impossible. The Whites often called this Silver Bridge, and noted that it was the farthest up the river that motorboats could venture; today, the presence of beaver dams makes this also impossible. The Chickadee Bridge stands as a reminder to runners that while they here turn back toward Litchfield, their journey is going to get much more difficult.

For more information on the history of the Litchfield Hills Road Race, see Lou Pellegrino’s book A History of the Litchfield Hills Road Race: In Smallness there is Beauty (now available).

LHRR Series: The Fourth Mile, into White Memorial

 

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The  gates to Whitehall, the estate of Alain and May White. The four mile mark of the Litchfield Hills Road Race is just beyond these gates.

Passing the third mile marker, runners enter into the forests of the White Memorial Foundation. This was the brainchild of Alain and May White, siblings and children of John Jay White, a New York real estate tycoon who relocated his family to Litchfield following the New York City Draft Riots in the Civil War. The next post in this series will focus on the Whites and their home. As runners enjoy the solitude of the woods along Bissell and Whitehall Roads, let’s focus on their philanthropic endeavors.

An early 20th century view of a scene across from the current White Memorial Visitor Center.

Together Alain and May preserved nearly 9,000 acres of land that today comprise the White Memorial Foundation, Mohawk State Forest and Mohawk Mountain State Park, Kent Falls State Park, Macedonia Brook State Park, the People’s State Forest, Campbell Falls State Park, and portions of the Steep Rock Preserve.

White family holdings along Bantam Lake

 

It began simply when Alain was fishing in the Bantam River with his friend William Mitchell Van Winkle in 1908. White commented, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to preserve this river, lake and countryside as we see it now?” With May, he would devote nearly the next half century to acquiring additional lands for a preserve dedicated to the memory of their parents. The Whites’ goal was not simply to allow nature to run its course on these lands. Rather, as historian Rachel Carley notes, they hoped to “make shoreline available for youth camps, simple vacation home and convalescent retreats” This, then, was practical conservationism.

A LHRR runner in the White Memorial section of the race. (Courtesy scottlivingston.wordpress.com)

Runners rightly best remember them today for their remarkable contribution of a 4,000-acre backyard for Litchfield, a refuge not only for runners and animals but for hikers, bikers, birders, and kayakers.

For more information on the history of the Litchfield Road Race, see Lou Pellegrino’s forthcoming book A History of the Litchfield Hills Road Race: In Smallness there is Beauty. (Available May 2016)

LHRR Series: The Third Mile, Modern Architecture

John Johansen, 1916-2012

For many, the thought of a road race through Litchfield conjures images of colonial homes, painted white with black shutters. While the center of the town is dominated by colonial – and colonial revival – architecture, runners entering the third mile of the Litchfield Hills Road Race course become aware that the town also has important examples of modern architecture.

Litchfield Intermediate School (the orange and yellow sections are later additions)

To the left just as runners pass the two-mile mark to enter the race’s third mile is the Litchfield Intermediate School, designed as a junior high school in 1965 by John Johansen. Johansen – who along with Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and Eliot Noyes was one of the “Harvard Five,” students of the noted Walter Gropius – had earlier designed the Huvelle House on Litchfield’s Beecher Lane. Noted for his individualist style, Johansen built the school into the side of Plumb Hill, and designed it with four main sections, an administrative heart along with a gym, auditorium, and classrooms. The school is particularly notable for its courtyards.

Litchfield High School, designed by Walter Gropius in 1954-56. 

Over the right shoulder of runners entering the third mile is Litchfield High School, designed a decade earlier by Marcel Breuer (another of the Harvard Five), and containing a striking gymnasium inspired by Walter Gropius, Johansen’s teacher and father-in-law and one-time director of the Bauhaus school. Additions have obstructed the dramatic side view of the gym as originally designed, but the wall of glass remains striking.

Marcel Breuer’s Gagarin I, built on Gallows Lane between 1956 and 1957.

Eliot Noyes’s addition to the Oliver Wolcott Library.

While runners grappling with Gallows Lane and the race’s final mile aren’t necessarily looking for modern architecture, two outstanding examples await. Breuer’s Gagarin I and II, while scarcely visible from the road, offer sweeping vistas to the west.  Eliot Noyes, yet another member of the Harvard Five, offered a modern addition to the Oliver Wolcott Library that complements the original 1799 structure.

For more on Litchfield’s architectural history, see Rachel Carley’s outstanding book, Litchfield: The Making of a New England Town.

For more information on the history of the Litchfield Road Race, see Lou Pellegrino’s forthcoming book A History of the Litchfield Hills Road Race: In Smallness there is Beauty. (Available May 2016)

LHRR Series: The First Mile, The Litchfield Artillery

This is the first post in a series looking at the mile-by-mile history that took place along the course of the 7.1 mile Litchfield Hills Road Race. The 40th running of the LHRR takes place on June 12th. Look for a new post each week leading up to race day.

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Photo courtesy of panoramio.com

It is a race that begins, metaphorically and literally, with a bang.

While runners enjoy the quick start to the race provided by the downhill slope of West Street, it is the firing of a reproduction of an 1841 six-pound cannon by the First Litchfield Artillery that sends the 1,500 runners on their way.

While the First Litchfield Artillery registered itself with the Secretary of the State in 1964, they are the heirs to a long tradition of militia organizations in Litchfield. As late as 1851, all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 were required to serve in the militia.

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A modern reconstruction of a palisade.

The militia played an essential role in the town’s earliest days. From 1720 to 1730, five palisades – fences or walls made from wooden stakes that formed a secure enclosure –  offered defense for the town. These were located north, south, and east of the town, with a fourth in South Farms, the area of Litchfield that is now the town of Morris. The fifth palisade was at the site of the current courthouse, which runners pass immediately after the cannon fires. Legend holds that the widow Mercy Allen, one of the earliest settlers of town and the grandmother of Ethan Allen, helped build one of the palisades and manned it during threats of attack from Native Americans. Regardless of the veracity of the accounts of Mercy’s participation, members of the militia manned the palisades while townspeople worked in the fields and attended Sunday church services.

The defenses weren’t always successful. In May of 1722, Jacob Griswold was working alone in a field one mile west of the current court house when two Native Americans tackled him and carried him off to what is now North Canaan. Griswold, however, managed to steal a rifle from his captors while they slept, and made his way back to Litchfield. A mile or so north of town, he fired off the weapon, which warned the defenders in the nearby palisade of his plight. They helped ensure his safe return to town.

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Oliver Wolcott, Jr. Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society.

Fifty-five years later, the presence of the British army in Danbury set off another alarm in Litchfield. The town’s militia was called out and sent south to drive out the king’s troops. Among those who participated was Oliver Wolcott, Jr., who was home from Yale. (Runners pass his home in the seventh mile.) His mother, Laura, sent him off with a blanket, a knapsack full of food, and an admonition to “conduct like a good soldier.” The Litchfield men encountered the British in a skirmish in Wilton, and helped force them to retreat.

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The modern-day artillery company is comprised of veterans who are United States citizens. Additionally, members are expected to be knowledgeable about Connecticut history. They work to preserve the traditions of horse-drawn artillery, participate in Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day observances, participate in ceremonies at the request of the governor or the Connecticut Historical Commission, and help the governor uphold the laws.

Despite these lofty objectives, the artillery company is probably best known for sending nearly 1,500 runners through the streets of Litchfield.

For more information on the history of the Litchfield Road Race, see Lou Pellegrino’s forthcoming book A History of the Litchfield Hills Road Race: In Smallness there is Beauty. (Available May 2016)

 

 

Land Conservation in Litchfield County

There were more trees in Connecticut in 2010 than there were at any time since 1850. This, of course, reflects different land use patterns that have emerged as the state’s economy has evolved. In Litchfield County this is also a result of the willingness of residents to conserve rather than develop their land.

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The Orzech Family Preserve, 112 acres near Route 67 and the Shepaug River in Roxbury.

The celebrities and artists who have long been attracted to the area have also been prominent supporters of land conservation, and nearly every town in the county has a land trust.  Some of these trusts are extraordinarily active; the Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust, for example, has preserved over 4,000 acres of land, mostly in Litchfield County.  The results of this movement have been profound. Perhaps the best example comes from George Black’s book, The Trout Pool Paradox, in which he laments the Naugatuck River south of Torrington as a “chemical sewer,” while the Shepaug River is the “Platonic ideal of a trout stream.”

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This carving on a boulder in the White Memorial Foundation honors Alain and May White.

Alain and May White were among the most extraordinary conservationists in the county. In addition to their own 4,000 acre preserve (what is now the White Memorial Foundation), the siblings additionally donated nearly 6,000 acres to fourteen Connecticut state parks, mostly in Litchfield County.

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The Macricostas Preserve of Steep Rock, along Route 202 in Washington.

A similar operation to the Whites was taking place in Washington, where noted architect Ehrick Kensett Rossiter made the Steep Rock Land Trust his most lasting legacy to the town.  Rossiter began with a 100-acre purchase in 1881 – what would become the heart of the preserve – and continued to add land to the trust he established. Additional donations from the Van Sinderen and Macricostas families have brought Steep Rock’s holdings to nearly 3,000 acres.

 

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The Morosani Preserve in Northfield.

The examples of the Whites and Rossiter are matched in spirit if not in size by dozens of more conservationists who have helped to preserve the county’s landscape.  Among these are the Morosanis, whose Laurel Ridge Foundation is noted for its daffodils every spring, Edith Morton Chase, daughter of a brass magnate whose home became Topsmead State Forest, and S. Dillon and Mary Livingstone Ripley, whose Kilvarock estate became the Livingstone Ripley Waterfowl Conservancy.

 

 

 

 

 

West Cemetery: Joseph Harris Memorial

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Encounters – and violence – between the earliest settlers of Litchfield and Native Americans was not uncommon. In 1722, Jacob Griswold of the town was kidnapped by a tribe and brought to present-day Canaan. His daring escape became the stuff of legends. Joseph Harris, one of Litchfield’s original settlers, was not as lucky.

The following year, Harris, known as a “respectable inhabitant” was attacked by a group of Native Americans while tending to his fields. When Harris attempted to escape, he was shot dead and scalped. Residents searched the area when Harris did not return to town that afternoon, but darkness put an end to their efforts. The next morning his body was found, sitting on the ground, his head resting against a tree near what is now Litchfield Ford. The area became known as Harris Plains.

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The Harris memorial in West Cemetery, when the inscription was legible. (From Litchfield and Morris Inscriptions, 1905)

Harris was the first of Litchfield’s original settler to die. His burial spot was long forgotten, but in 1830 a memorial was erected to Harris in the town’s West Cemetery. The memorial still stands, but its inscription has become too difficult to read. It says:

In Memory of Joseph Harris who was murdered by the Indians in the year 1721.* While plowing in his Field in the vicinity of the Alms House, he was shot by the Indians concealed in Ambush. He was found dead Sitting on the Ground, his Head and Body reclining against the Trunk of a Tree. To record the first Death among the original Settlers of this Town & to perpetuate the Memory of a worthy but unfortunate Citizen this Monument is erected 1830 by the voluntary Benefactions of individual Subscribers

* While both Alain White and Rachel Carley’s histories of Litchfield say that Harris was killed in 1723, the monument states 1721.

The Girl Scouts’ Camp Townshend

 

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One of the remnants of Camp Townshend cabins

Beyond the White Memorial Foundation, Alain and May White contributed money and land to dozens of other ventures that have greatly impacted the Litchfield County landscape.   Among these are the Connecticut State Police barracks in Litchfield, Community Field, the land for Litchfield Intermediate and High Schools, Wamogo Regional High School, and the Bantam Civic Association.  They also donated 5,745 acres to 14 Connecticut state parks, most in northwestern Connecticut.

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A latrine

The Foundation supported the Boy Scouts by leasing Camp Boyd, adjacent to Sandy Beach (the cabin burned in the 1970s) and the Girl Scouts through Camp Townshend, located along Alain White Road in Morris. Townshend opened in 1940, and by the end of that decade over 700 campers visited the property. The property could house 100 campers and 28 staff members for each two-week camp session, which began in late June.   In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mrs. Barbara Cutler served as camp director, and the facility was overseen by a 22-member Budget, Planning, and Maintenance Committee.

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The interior of a cabin. The writing on the wall says “Cloud, Lightning, Sun, Moon, Star, Rainbow, Rainbow, Bean Sprout, Corn, Blossom, Warrior Mark, Mark of Some Offices”

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Remnants of old telephones?

While Camp Townshend closed in the mid-1970s, and was utlized by the Morris and Litchfield fire departments for  training exercises, a walk through the remains of Camp Townshend has the feel of visiting a Wild West ghost town. Even in the darkest days of fall and winter, it is easy to imagine the sounds of summer coming from the lake.

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The Camp Townshend shore line

Frederick Bacon and the United States Exploring Expedition

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Tucked into a tree in Litchfield’s East Cemetery is a marker commemorating the life of Frederick Asa Bacon, who was born in Litchfield in 1812. His father attended the Litchfield Law School, and he, his mother and two brothers attended the Litchfield Female Academy. A voyage to England in 1829 sparked an interest in a life at sea, and he joined the United States Navy as a midshipman in 1832. In 1838, while serving as a passed midshipman – one who has passed the examination to be a lieutenant but is waiting for a vacancy at that rank – Bacon was one of two officers named to command the U.S.S. Sea Gull, a schooner that was part of the United States Exploring Expedition (known as the US Ex Ex).

The U.S.S. Sea Gull, in distress of Cape Horn

The U.S.S. Sea Gull, in distress of Cape Horn. A drawing by Alfred Thomas Agate, a member of the U.S. Ex Ex

The US Ex Ex was one of several 19th century voyages of discovery sponsored by the United States government. Under the command of Charles Wilkes, this expedition was sent circumnavigate the globe in order to search for the magnetic south pole, map the western coast of North America, and explore the islands of the south Pacific. Bacon’s Sea Gull was formerly a New York harbor pilot boat called the New Jersey. Wilkes included two schooners in his six-ship squadron because he believed the agility would be highly prized in the ice around the South Pole.

Deception Island

Deception Island

The ships left Norfolk, Virginia, on August 18, 1838, bound for the tip of South America. There they would survey and collect specimens before making a February (summer in the southern hemisphere) exploration of the Antarctic. Enormous icebergs – some reportedly as big as the United States Capitol – and huge waves caused Wilkes to order the Sea Gull out of danger in search of scientific equipment left behind on Deception Island by an earlier British expedition. The crew did not find the thermometer, but did determine that Deception Island was an active volcano.

Memorial to the men who died during the U.S. Ex Ex in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA. Courtesy of findagrave.com

Memorial to the men who died during the U.S. Ex Ex in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA. Courtesy of findagrave.com

By mid-April, Wilkes ordered part of the squadron to sail for Valparaiso, Chile, while the Sea Gull and her sister schooner Flying Fish waited for a supply ship. While the latter vessel arrived in Chile by mid-May, there was no sign of the Sea Gull, which was last seen waiting out strong winds at Staten Island off the coast of South America’s Cape Horn. When after a month the Sea Gull still had not arrived, the officers of the Ex Ex assumed that she was lost; Wilkes later speculated that in the gales off Cape Horn, the schooner might have tripped her foremast, which would have ripped up the foredeck and made her unseaworthy. A collection for a monument in memory of the ship’s crew was taken up by the expedition’s officers; the monument still stands in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution

The Ex Ex continued on its voyage, achieving the first sighting of the Antarctic continent, making invaluable maps of the South Pacific islands and the currents off the American Pacific coast, and gathering enormous numbers – in excess of 60,000 – specimens of birds, fish, plants, and shells. These specimens would later form the backbone of the Smithsonian Institution. At least five books were published on the scientific and maritime discoveries of the expedition.

Captain Charles Wilkes, commander of the United States Exploring Expedition

Captain Charles Wilkes, commander of the United States Exploring Expedition

Captain Charles Wilkes would become embroiled in controversy for his actions during the expedition, and in fact when Lieutenant Robert Pinkney brought court martial proceedings against Wilkes, the commander criticized his accuser by contrasting “the intelligence, attention to duty, and untiring activity of the lamented Reid and Bacon with all that is opposite in the character of Lieutenant Pinkney.”

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Bacon was remembered by Wilkes as “among the most promising young officers in the squadron.” Lieutenant Reynolds of the expedition highlighted the Bacon’s personal tragedy by remembering,“Poor, poor fellows, what a terrible lot. The two officers were young men of my age, one if he indeed be gone, leaving a wife more youthful than himself and a child that he has never seen.”

For more information on the Sea Gull and the U.S. Ex Ex, see Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, Sea of Glory.

The 4th of July: Benjamin Tallmadge’s Grave

Major Benjamin Tallmadge

Major Benjamin Tallmadge

While associated with Litchfield, Benjamin Tallmadge was born in Setauket, on Long Island, in 1754. A Yale graduate and classmate of Nathan Hale, Tallmadge was serving as superintendent of schools in Wethersfield, Connecticut, when the Revolutionary War broke out. Tallmadge was initially a major in the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, but gained his fame as the organizer of the famed Culper spy ring, gathering information in the New York City area for relay to George Washington.

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Tallmadge led several small unit actions during the Revolution, which later generations might term “commando raids.” Perhaps the most famous of these was a raid on Manor St. George on Long Island which was followed by the destruction of a stockpile of hay intended as winter fodder for British horses. This earned Tallmadge a commendation from General Washington, who wrote “I have received with much pleasure the report of your successful enterprise upon fort St. George, and was pleased with the destruction of the hay at Coram, which must be severely felt by the enemy at this time. I beg you to accept my thanks for your spirited execution of this business.” Tallmadge concluded his service as Washington’s chief of intelligence, which earned him the rank of colonel. In this role, Tallmadge was present for Washington’s famed 1783 farewell to his army at Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan.

Tallmadge's home on Litchfield's North Street.

Tallmadge’s home on Litchfield’s North Street.

During the war, Tallmadge and his brother had begun a mercantile business in Litchfield, and it was in this town that the Colonel settled when the war was over. As a businessman, investor, banker and member of Congress and associate of Washington, Tallmadge was certainly among the town’s most respected citizens. Tallmadge’s wife, Mary, was also a prominent resident, and her father William Floyd was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

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Tallmadge died in Litchfield in 1835 and is buried in the East Cemetery, where a ceremony commemorates his contributions to American independence every July 4th.

Seth Numrich as Benjamin Tallmadge on AMC's Turn.

Seth Numrich as Benjamin Tallmadge on AMC’s Turn.

Tallmadge has recently come to the public’s attention through the AMC Revolutionary War spy drama “Turn,” which features his exploits. A tip of the hat to reader C.S. Moore for reminding me of this!