Hidden Nearby: John Brown’s Torrington Birthplace

These ruins are all that remain of the birthplace of one of the transformative figures in American history, John Brown.  The house was built in 1785 and was purchased by Brown’s father, Owen Brown, in 1799.

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John Brown in 1856

John Brown was named for his grandfather, who died when Owen Brown – one of eleven children – was five.  With the family in dire financial straits, Owen was sent to live with various relatives and friends; ultimately, Owen Brown was sent to work at a young age.  He was trained as a cobbler and worked farming local fields in the summer and making shoes over the winter.

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John Brown’s birthplace, in a colorized postcard.

As a teenager he met and married Ruth Mills.  Their first child died before turning two.  They soon after moved to this saltbox-style home in the rocky countryside of Litchfield County.  Here, on May 9th, 1800, John Brown was born.   Of the child’s birth, Owen wrote that there was “nothing very uncommon.”

It doesn’t require too much imagination to speculate that Brown received his military spirit from his namesake grandfather, a Revolutionary War officer.  His religious fervor was likely acquired from his maternal grandfather, a preacher.  The combination of these inherited traits would set Brown on the path to his raid on Harper’s Ferry.

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Connecticut’s Western Reserve

 The Browns left the rocky soil of Connecticut for the more fertile fields of Ohio when John was five.  The Browns were joined in this migration to Ohio by thousands of other families.  Known as Connecticut’s Western Reserve – or even New Connecticut – much of the land of Northeastern Ohio was owned by the Connecticut Land Company.  So many Connecticut residents moved to Ohio that the Hartford Courant published an article wondering who would care for the cemeteries of Litchfield County when all the residents had left.  The Browns would have been familiar with the names of many of the places in their new home state – nearby were Litchfield and Kent, Ohio.  The Browns settled in the small community of Hudson.

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The James Morris School, site of the Morris Academy. Sounds like a future post!

Even with the move, success continued to elude the Browns.  Owen opened a tannery in Ohio, which prospered for a time.  He thrived enough to send Brown back to Connecticut to be educated – at the Morris Academy, in Litchfield.  He hoped to be a Congregational minister, but money ran out and he returned to Ohio and the family tannery.  Here he developed his abolitionist ideals.

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“John Brown’s Fort” in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

 John Brown would move often in his life, and often struggled financially.  By the 1850s, his abolitionist ideals became militant and he gained notoriety for his actions in “Bleeding Kansas.”  On October 16, 1859, Brown led 18 men in an attack on the federal arsenal and armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia).  In Brown’s mind, this was the opening action of a campaign to free the nation’s slaves and create an independent slave republic.  Two days later, U.S. Marines under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee stormed the town’s engine house, which Brown had commandeered as a fort.  Most of Brown’s men were killed or captured.  Brown was wounded in the assault, captured, tried for treason and convicted.  On December 2, 1859, Brown was executed in Charles Town, Virginia (today West Virginia).

His birthplace, meanwhile, was restored in 1901 and opened as a historic house museum, one of the first in Connecticut.  In 1918, however, the house was destroyed by fire.  Still, the forest has been kept from swallowing up the ruins, and in 1932 a granite monument was erected.  In 1997 the site became a part of the Connecticut African American Freedom Trail, and in 2000 the site was acquired by the Torrington Historical Society.

Plans are in the works to improve the visitor experience at the site and to construct interpretive trails on the property.  While these seem to be appropriate actions to commemorate the birthplace of the man whom Herman Melville called the “meteor” of the Civil War, it is certainly a challenge to present the story of a man whom some consider a martyr for a great moral crusade and others a terrorist.

Anson Dickinson: Milton’s Miniature Portraitist

Marker for the site of the Dickinson home, along Sawmill Road in Milton.

Litchfield’s borough of Milton, located in the northern part of town, derives its name from the several small mills located there along the Shepaug River.  One of those mills was the corn mill of brothers Benjamin and Oliver Dickinson.  Oliver was a master carpenter who counted among his constructions the Trinity Episcopal Church in Milton.  Around 1778, Oliver married Anna Landon, and their son Anson was born in 1779.

Tools of a silversmith

Around 1796, when he was 17, Anson became the apprentice of Isaac Thompson, a Litchfield silversmith.  Of his apprenticeship, it was written:

He was frequently observed to steal away to a retired chamber and spend hours of solitude, intent upon some deep and self-imposed task.  Some of the family finally discovered that he had been intently engaged in painting

Elizabeth Canfield Tallmadge, painted by Anson Dickinson. Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society.

Dickinson’s work was evidently of such beauty that he was released from the terms of his apprenticeship, and he embarked on a career as a miniature portraitist.  In 1802, the following advertisement appeared in the Connecticut Journal:

Anson Dickinson has taken a room directly opposite the Episcopal Church, he he offers his services to the Ladies and Gentlemen of New Haven, in the line of MINIATURE PAINTING.

Dr. Daniel Sheldon of Litchfield, painted by Dickinson in 1831. Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society.

The earliest known portrait by Dickinson is of his uncle, Abel Dickinson, which was painted on New Year’s Day, 1803, and is signed by the artists on the reverse side.  Litchfield, with several well-to-do residents and the students of the Sarah Pierce Academy and Tapping Reeve Law School provided a steady source of commissions when Dickinson’s practice was starting out.

Attorney Charles Perkins, painted by Anson Dickinson, likely when Perkins was a student at Tapping Reeve’s law school. Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society.

A particular challenge for all miniature portraitists of the time period was obtaining the necessary equipment for the craft.  In addition to the pigments needed to ground into watercolors and the glycerins and gum arabic that were utilized to achieve consistency, Dickinson required magnifying and reducing glasses.  The reducing glass was used to secure the correct proportion for his subject, and the magnifying glass allowed for the fine detail work in his paintings.  Both of these required stands so that the artist’s hands were free to paint.

New York City, 1830

Soon, Dickinson exhausted the potential commissions of Litchfield, and embarked on a being an itinerant artist.  He traveled to New York, Albany, Montreal, and even Charleston, South Carolina between 1805 and 1812.  In 1812, Dickinson married Sarah Brown of New York City.  The couple settled in New York City, and in 1824 adopted two children.

“Colonel McIntyre” painted by Anson Dickinson around 1810.

Dickinson would spend the next eight years operating a New York studio, and became so well established that he no longer needed to seek out commissions.  In this eight year period, he painted almost three hundred portraits, including some of the most famous residents of the city.

Portrait of Asa Bacon by Anson Dickinson. Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society.

In 1819, however, financial panic struck the city and the country, and Dickinson relocated his operations to Montreal and Quebec, and in 1822 moved to Boston.  A few years later, he had relocated to Washington, D.C.  He was unable, however, to rediscover the success he enjoyed before the panic, and returned to Connecticut in the early 1830s.

Again, we are left to ask: who erected this monument?

Dickinson died in Milton on March 9, 1852, at the age of 73.  He had spent over forty years traveling the United States and Canada to execute what many considered to be the finest American miniature portraits.  His tally of portraits exceeded 1500, an average of about one a week over the length of his career.  Celebrated in his own time, Dickinson has been largely forgotten in ours.  His works, however, grace the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alain and May White Memorial Boulder

Here is among the most hidden in plain sight of Litchfield’s many monuments and markers.  How many hundreds, if not thousands, of hikers and bikers pass by this engraved boulder near the intersection of White Memorial’s Mattatuck and Beaver Pond trails without seeing it?

The boulder honors two of Litchfield’s most distinguished residents, Alain (1880-1951) and Margaret “May” (1869-1941) White.  Together they 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.

The Whites were the children of John Jay White, a New York City real estate magnate who built Whitehall, a Victorian summer estate in Litchfield that today is the main building of the White Memorial Foundation.  Alain was educated as a botanist at Harvard in the era of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, a combination that may have led to his first impulses of conservation.  (It is interesting to note that White was a champion chess player, who is credited in some circles with breaking the German code in World War I, which was based upon a pattern of chess moves.)

Fishing the Bantam River with his friend William Mitchell Van Winkle in 1908, Alain commented “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to preserve this river, lake and countryside as we see it now?”  With his sister May he would devote nearly the next half century to acquiring additional lands for a preserve dedicated to the memory of their parents, including the Babbit farm along today’s Route 63, on which this boulder stands.

Their goal was not simply to allow nature to run its course on these lands, however; rather, they hoped to “make shoreline available for youth camps, simple vacation home and convalescent retreats” (Rachel Carley, Litchfield, p. 225).  This, then, was practical conservationism.  Nor were their philanthropic impulses limited to nature; Alain was deeply involved in the establishment of the Connecticut Junior Republic, and in fact collaborated with Cass Gilbert, the architect of New York’s famed Woolworth Building, on its design.  He also wrote a detailed history of Litchfield in 1920.

May was a Sunday school teacher and avid theater aficionado who began a series of children’s performances at Whitehall, and who worked to turn the Lakeside Hotel into a summer getaway for children from New York City, a forerunner of the Fresh Air Fund.


Still, they are rightly best remembered today for their remarkable contribution of a 4,000-acre backyard for Litchfield, a refuge not only for animals but for hikers, bikers and kayakers.  As real estate development infringes upon more and more open spaces, the words carved on the boulder are increasingly appropriate:

In most grateful memory of

ALAIN AND MAY WHITE

brother & sister who loved

the quiet and beauty of the

forest and who saved these

thousands of acres for us.

To find the monument, park in the small parking area near the intersections of Routes 63 and 61.  Walk east on the Beaver Pond Trail (white blazes) until the trail intersects with the Mattatuck Trail (blue blazes).  Follow the fork to the left, the Mattatuck Trail.  The monument will soon appear, set in the woods on your left.

One Hundred Fifty Years Ago This Month …

Marker identifying the location of the recruiting tent for the 19th Connecticut Infantry on the Litchfield Green.

On April 15, 1861 – within days of learning of the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter – President Abraham Lincoln issued issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve for 90 days in order to put down the rebellion.  Much has been made of this as evidence that Lincoln perhaps had his head in the sand or was ignorant about the realities of the manpower needed to win the Civil War; however, under the existing Militia Act, the 75,000 men were all that Lincoln was legally allowed to call out.  Regardless of the technicalities of the law, Northern enlistment offices were overrun by volunteers – in fact, some men were actually sent home.

The battles at Bull Run, Shiloh, and on the Virginia peninsula made it clear that significantly more Union troops would be necessary to vanquish the Confederacy.  Therefore, in July 1862, Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 additional volunteers to serve for three years.


Lincoln’s call inspired James Sloan Gibbons to write the war hymn, “We are Coming, Father Abraham”:

We are coming, Father Abraham, 300,000 more

From Mississippi’s winding stream and from New England’s shore.

We leave our plows and workshops, our wives and children dear,

With hearts too full for utterance, with but a silent tear,

We dare not look behind us but steadfastly before.

We are coming, Father Abraham, 300,000 more!

 

We are coming, we are coming, our Union to restore,

We are coming Father Abraham, 300,000 more!

As patriotic songs alone did not ensure the volunteers the Union army needed, the Lincoln Administration assigned each state a quota for the number of volunteers to be raised.   Connecticut was thus required to raise 7,153 men for the Union cause.  The state in turn assigned quotas to each town based upon population and number of men already in the service; if these quotas weren’t met, a state draft would follow.  Based upon the calculations, Litchfield needed to raise 48 men in August 1862.

A “grand convention” of citizens from all over Litchfield County met on July 22nd at the Litchfield court house to discuss how to best meet the quotas, at which it was decided to raise a County Regiment comprised of volunteers from across Litchfield County.  Leverett Wessels, “one of the best and most popular men of the county”, was selected to be the colonel of the regiment.  The convention also recommended that each town offer its volunteers a bounty of $100 for enlisting, a sizeable increase over the $7 bounty that 1861 volunteers received! A town meeting in Litchfield ratified this recommendation on July 25th, and it was reported that “the utmost enthusiasm and good feeling prevailed.”  (All told, the town of Litchfield would award more than $50,000 in bounties over the course of the war; a dollar in 1860 would be worth more than $25 today. And these bounties were in addition to bounties offered by the state and federal governments.)

A recruiting tent in New York’s City Hall Park.

Almost immediately, a recruiting tent appeared on the Litchfield green, with A. B. Shumway supervising the operation from an office at the Litchfield Enquirer.  By July 25th, Shumway could state that he had “already enlisted several men, and expects to enlist many more before the regiment goes into camp.”  The newspaper reported on August 7th that “Litchfield will fill up its quota during this week.  The work goes bravely on, and the Regiment will be full, we trust, before the 20th of August.”  Another article stated that “recruiting is going on briskly in Litchfield.  Our people are becoming aroused to the true appreciation of their duty in these times.  The prospect of an early draft creates excitement.  (Draftees received no bonus)  We shall take our full town quota in the regiment into camp as soon as it is formed.”  The paper went a step further, predicting that Litchfield and Goshen alone would fill an entire company of 100 men.

The enlistees from Litchfield and across the county reported to Camp Dutton on Litchfield’s Chestnut Hill (a site that will be explored in a later post).  Whether its citizens were motivated by patriotism, financial incentive, or fear of being drafted, Litchfield exceeded its quota, sending nearly 70 men off to war in the summer of 1862, nearly all of them in the 19th Connecticut Infantry, which would gain fame on fields including Cold Harbor as the Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

Questions remain about this marker.  It appears that at one time something was attached to the top of this marker.  What was it?  When was this marker erected?  Who put it up – the Village Improvement Society?  The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery Veterans’ Association?  More research is needed/  Stay tuned!

Litchfield’s Water Monument

Litchfield enjoyed a so-called “Golden Age” from 1784 to 1834.  In these fifty years the small town was a center of education -with both Tapping Reeve’s law school and the Sarah Pierce Academy bringing young, intelligent and often well-to-do men and women to town – and of commerce.  In 1810, the population of the town was approximately 4,600, making it, according to the Litchfield Historical Society (http://litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org/history/index.php), the fourth largest settlement in the state.

Litchfield, 1836

However, beginning with the United States’ Fourth Census in 1820, the number of residents in Litchfield began a steady decline, with the overall population dropping in nine of the next ten censuses.  By 1910, the town’s population stood at 3,005, a staggering drop of 35%.  There were many reasons for the exodus of Litchfield residents.  Across New England, populations fell in the aftermath of the American Revolution as farmers gave up their rocky lands for the promise of new lands in the west; the migration was so severe that editorials appeared in the Hartford Courant asking who would tend to the graveyards of Litchfield County in the aftermath of the departure of so many residents.  The drop in Litchfield’s population was due to perhaps a simpler cause – it was very difficult for those who lived in town to obtain an adequate supply of water.

Litchfield was first laid out along elevated lands, initially along the ridge marked by present-day North and South Streets, then spreading to the Chestnut Hill area. While this allowed for plots away from swamps and wetlands, it made for great difficulty in digging wells.  A solution to the town’s water problem would be arrived at only with great difficulty and after decades of planning and work.

Fox Brook, Goshen

After discussions of how to solve the water crisis – and the continued decline in the town’s population – the Litchfield Water Company was established in 1891.  The company proposed damming Fox Brook in Goshen to create a reservoir.  While water was brought to Litchfield in 1891, within a few years the source was proven to be inadequate, for it was later written that Fox Brook “could not properly be called a brook, as it practically dried up soon after a rainfall.”

Professor Henry S. Munroe, of Columbia University’s Department of Mining was brought in to solve the problem.  Munroe, whose other contributions to the Litchfield County landscape included the tower on Mount Tom, oversaw the construction of a new pumping plan in the valley below the reservoir, with wells 90 feet deep.  These wells, as Alain White wrote in his history of Litchfield,

“have provided an unfailing supply of pure water ever since, so that however dry the season or how near a water famine many of the surrounding towns were, Litchfield people … had no cause for worry.”

The Litchfield Water Company soon after purchased 500 acres of the surrounding watershed of the reservoir, which they allowed to return to a natural forested state – excepting, that is, the fences they erected to keep out cattle.  Filters were added to the pumps in 1914 to help ensure the purity of the water supply.

Apparently the mere prospect of a clean and secure source of drinking water excited the commemorative spirit of the town.  In 1890, a year before the water system was activated, a small monument appeared on the western end of the town green bearing the inscription:

Erected by the

VIS

to commemorate the

introduction of water

October 1890.

The Litchfield Village Improvement Company (later the Village Improvement Society, or VIS) was incorporated in 1875 to oversee improvements to the town’s streets, parks, and public structures.  In erecting this particular marker, however, the organization perhaps did more than improve the appearance of their town; they may have commemorated its very survival.

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.

Horace Bushnell’s Birthplace

At the southwest corner of the intersection of Routes 202 and 209 in the borough of Bantam lies a small marker noting the birthplace of one of the most important theologians in American history.

Horace Bushnell was born at this site on April 14, 1802. He was raised on the family farm – some accounts say he grew up in New Preston – and lived the difficult life of a farmer in early America, often working from sunup to sundown. While his family lacked both wealth and social status, they had always hoped he would become a minister, and he therefore enrolled at Yale University. Bushnell would spend ten years at the New Haven school, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Following graduation, he served as the editor of a literary magazine in New York City, and studied law and was admitted to the bar.

Yale Divinity School

Bushnell maintained religious doubts during his adolescence. These doubts, however, dissipated and in 1833 he returned to Yale and earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree, was ordained as a Congregational minister, and was named the pastor of Hartford’s North Congregational Church. He would remain at this post for more than twenty years, until poor health forced his retirement.

He became Hartford’s most respected citizen, and was one of the leading American theologians of the nineteenth century. The author of twelve books, Bushnell was a transitional figure in American religious history, standing between the conservative traditions of American Puritans, and the more emotional or romantic views being put forth by Ralph Waldo Emerson and others. Bushnell’s centrist views were laid out in his 1839 work, A Discourse on the Slavery Question, in which he put forth a moderate approach to the controversy that was beginning to rip the nation in two.

Bushnell’s moderate approach still managed to draw critics; this was especially so following the publication of God in Christ (1849) which argued that the lack of historical context for the language of the Bible prevented its readers from truly understanding the work. Conservative preachers saw the threat posed by Bushnell’s ideology, and responded with savage criticism. Bushnell answered his critics in Christ in Theology (1851).

The Civil War posed an additional challenge to the moderate Bushnell; however, when the firing began, he was a vehement supporter of the Union cause. He was also among the first to ascribe larger purposes to the war, writing three months after Appomattox: “It is the ammunition spent that gains the battle, not the ammunition brought off from the field. These dead are the spent ammunition of the war, and theirs above all is the victory. … Here it is that the dead of our war have done a work for us so precious, which is all their own – they have bled for us; and by this simple sacrifice of blood they have opened for us a new great chapter of life.”

Bushnell married Mary Apthorp in 1833 and together they raised three children. Declining health forced him to give up his pastorate in 1859. He never again held a formal position, but continued to preach and write until his death in 1876.

Horace Bushnell Memorial Hall

Today, Bushnell is likely best known as the namesake for Bushnell Park or the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. Reverend Bushnell was a determined advocate for the creation of urban parks. Speaking to the Hartford City Council in 1853, he said, “an opening in the heart of the city itself, to which citizens will naturally flow in their walks. A place where children will play and the invalid go to breathe the freshness of nature. A place for holiday scenes and celebrations; a green carpet of ground, where high and low, rich and poor will exchange looks; an outdoor parlor opened for the cultivation of good manners and a right social feeling. A place of life and motion that will make us more conscious of being one people.” The Council responded by allocating $105,000 for the purchase of the park that today bears the minister’s name. The Bushnell Memorial Hall opened in 1930, built as a living memorial by Dotha Bushnell Hillyer to her father.

Bushnell Park

These institutions remain as tributes to one of the preeminent figures in American theological history, who traveled a long road from the difficult life of a Bantam farmer to the nation’s leading philosophical parlors.

The Colvocoresses Oak

A small marker sits beneath a stately oak tree on the western portion of the Litchfield Green.  It is located in close proximity to the post office, restaurants, and the historical society, yet one wonders how many people stop to read its simple text:  “The Colvocoresses Oak.  A memorial of the Battle of Manila Bay.” Upon examination, the curious passerby asks why this small monument to a largely forgotten event of American history stands in the center of a small Connecticut town.

George Partridge Colvocoresses was born in Norwich, Vermont in 1847.  His father, also George Colvocoresses, was the son of a prominent Greek businessman.  At the age of six, he, along with other members of his family, was kidnapped by Turks.  While six of his his brothers were killed, George was sold into slavery.  His father was able to purchase his freedom, and the son was sent to America.  He was adopted by Alden Patridge, who founded the Norwich Military Academy in Vermont, from which George graduated in 1831.

The U.S.S. Supply, in left background.

The elder Colvocoresses enjoyed a distinguished career in the United States Navy, achieving some fame for his exploits on blockading duty during the Civil War.  While in command of the U.S.S. Supply, Colvocoresses was joined in the service by his son, George Patridge, named for the family’s American benefactor.  Following the war, the elder Colvocoresses was made captain and retired from the service, moving to Litchfield.  He was murdered in Bridgeport in 1872.

George Patridge returned to Norwich and graduated from the school in 1866.  He embarked on a distinguished naval career of his own, serving in many foreign ports, at the Naval Hydrographic Office, and as an instructor of drawing at the United States Naval Academy.  In that capacity he designed the monument to the crew of the U.S.S. Jeanette that stands in the Academy’s cemetery.

Colvocoresses’ crowded hour came at Manila Bay on May 1st, 1898.  While Congress declared the Spanish-American War on April 25th of that year, two months earlier Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt had sent a coded telegram to US Asiatic Fleet commander Commodore George Dewey to attack the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay should war be declared.  In seven hours of fighting, Dewey (who had opened the battle with the famous phrase, “You may fire when ready, Gridley!”), had secured the surrender of the Spanish fleet and Manila Bay, at the cost of ten American casualties and one damaged ship.  When the war ended, the Philippines became an American colony, which they remained until granted independence in 1946.

At the battle Colvocoresses served as the executive officer aboard the U.S.S. Concord, which sank the Spanish vessel Mindanao.  His actions were noted by a superior, who wrote, “Each and every one of my subordinates did his whole duty with an enthusiasm and zeal beyond all praise. I am particularly indebted to the executive officer, Lieut. Commander George P. Colvocoresses, for the cool, deliberate, and efficient manner with which he met each phase of the action, and for his hearty cooperation in my plans.” He was later transferred to the Olympia, Dewey’s flagship. For his service in the battle, Colvocoresses was awarded the Dewey medal.

The Dewey Medal

There is nothing on the small marker to indicate when it was erected.  However, the following appeared in the New York Times on November 11, 1899:

Alain White’s history of Litchfield indicates that Colvocoresses himself planted the tree using a silver trowel ordered for the occasion by Mary Quincy.  Perhaps the maker was erected in connection with this event as well.

Following the war, Colvocoresses served as the commandant of the United States Naval Academy.  He retired to Litchfield.  His children and grandchildren continued the family legacy of attending Norwich and serving in the United States military.  George Partridge Colvocoresses died on September 10, 1932, and is buried in Litchfield’s East Cemetery.  His services at Manila Bay live on, however, commemorated by a small marker and a stately oak tree on the Litchfield Green.