Hidden Nearby: Rochambeau’s March through Southbury

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Following the great American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, Benjamin Franklin negotiated an alliance between the fledgling American nation and France. Motivated by a desire to weaken their British adversaries, and convinced that the Americans could not defeat the British with only foreign financial aid, in January 1780 France reversed its policy to not send ground troops to assist the Americans. In July 1780, General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, arrived at Newport, Rhode Island, with and army of approximately 6,000 men. Two months later, Rochambeau traveled to Hartford to meet with Washington, who desperately wanted to French to aid him in his plan to assault New York City. However, even Washington was forced to admit that it was too late in the year to carry out such an operation.

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau (1725-1807)

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau

 

In May of 1781, the two generals met again, this time in Wethersfield. (Note: It was for these two meetings that Washington traveled through Litchfield County, likely crossing Bull’s Bridge in Kent, resting under the Washington Oak in Gaylordsville, and spending the night in Litchfield.) Here, they decided that Rochambeau would indeed move his army to Westchester County, to cooperate with Washington in an attack on the British garrison of New York City. The line of march would bring them across Connecticut, a route known today as the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, administered by the National Park Service.

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Rochambeau’s forces began their march out of Rhode Island on June 18th. The general’s plan called for the men to march 12 to 15 miles a day. To avoid the heat of mid-day, the troops awoke at 2:00 am, and were on the march by 4:00 am. Marching was typically completed between 8:00 am and noon, at which time the men pitched their tents. The French army were treated as heroes by the Connecticut populace, who greeted them with music and dancing, and French soldiers long remembered the “beautiful maidens” they met on the march. Around June 30th, Rochambeau’s marched through Southbury, an event commemorated by the above marker. While this marker is situated between Route 6 and Mansion Hill Road, a National Park Service map indicates that Rochambeau’s forces did not take this route, instead picking up Route 6 further south.

Jonathan Trumbull’s Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. Rochambeau is the 12th (final) figure on the left side. The British general Charles O’Hara, tasked by Cornwallis with surrendering the army, initially offered his sword to Rochambeau, who refused in deference to Washington. Washington also refused, and directed O’Hara to surrender his sword to Benjamin Lincoln (on the horse at center), who had previously been humiliated by the British at Charleston.

 

Washington personally reviewed the French force after their arrival in Westchester on July 6th. After considerable discussion about how best to attack the British in New York City, the arrival of a French fleet off the Virginia coast compelled the two generals to change their plans and focus on the British force under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Within a few months, Cornwallis had surrendered, the world was turned upside down, and the Americans were on their way to independence. It was thus a victorious French army that marched back through Southbury in 1782, having done much to ensure American independence.

For more information on Rochambeau’s march, check out the National Park Service’s excellent brochure: https://www.nps.gov/waro/learn/news/upload/WARO-brochure-both-sides-2.pdf

 

 

 

DAR’s Memorial Window at Litchfield Historical Society

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One of Litchfield’s newest markers (along with the War on Terror monument on the green) was dedicated in September 2016. It commemorates the dedication of a stained glass window in the north side of the Litchfield Historical Society.

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The window was dedicated in 1907 by the Mary Floyd Tallmadge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a memorial to the more than 3,000 men from Litchfield County who served in the War for Independence. For more on the service of these men, click here.

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Frederic Crowninshield (1845-1918)

 

The Mary Floyd Tallmadge Chapter was founded as an independent branch of the DAR in 1899. Prior to that, it had existed as an adjunct of the Judea (Washington) Chapter. Elizabeth Barney Buel, the first regent of the chapter, spearheaded the effort to place a memorial stained glass window in the Noyes Memorial Building, which at the time housed both the historical society and the town’s library. It required considerable fund raising, both for the execution and installation and for the services of artist Frederic Crowninshield, who was president of the Fine Arts Federation and former instructor at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts School of Drawing and Painting. Crowninshield is perhaps best known for his stained glass window Emmanuel’s Land , depicting a scene from Pilgrim’s Progress, in Boston’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

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Crowninshield’s design for Litchfield depicts a young man with a sword in his right hand and a laurel branch in his left, symbolic of victory in the war. The full beauty of the artist’s design is visible when the window is illuminated at night.

 

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The Noyes Memorial Building, Litchfield Historical Society. The Revolutionary War Soldiers Memorial Window is at the far right of this picture.

 

In 1964, the library moved from the Noyes Memorial Building (named for Julia Tallmadge Noyes, a granddaughter of Mary Floyd Tallmadge) to its current location in the former home of Oliver Wolcott, Jr. This allowed for the Litchfield Historical Society to occupy the entire building on the corner of South and East Streets, where the young man with drawn sword in the window can guard the town’s history.

Hidden Nearby: The Old Waterbury River Turnpike in Winchester Center

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With the end of the American Revolution, Connecticut needed to reframe its transportation infrastructure from one dependent upon the British fleet to one that utilizes roadways to connect the state to major markets. The challenge faced by the fledgling state was that because it was heavily in debt from the war effort it lacked the funds to build roads, and in the wake of the revolution, it didn’t dare tax its citizens to pay for them. The answer to this transportation and economic dilemma was privately built turnpikes.

Map from Frederic Woods’s The Turnpikes of New England (1919)

The last two decades of the 18th and first decades of the 19th saw dozens of state-chartered but privately built turnpikes criss-cross the state. Turnpike corporations undertook the high costs of building the roads – clearing forests, grading the roads, building bridges if needed – in exchange for the rights to operate two tolls along their route. (Paths around these tolls, known as shunpikes, soon dotted the landscape.) Profits were limited to 12% return on investment; anything more was taken by the state. The most successful of the turnpikes, including the Greenwoods Turnpike between Norfolk and Winsted, reinvested their excess profits in their road, continuously improving conditions.

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The Waterbury River Turnpike Company ran one such road that began at the Massachusetts border, ran through Colebrook and Winchester to Torrington and ultimately Waterbury. (The Waterbury River refers to what we know as the Naugatuck River.) There is, perhaps, no better place to see what these turnpikes looked like than in Winchester Center. Designed in a French style, turnpike engineers looked to minimize curves. They also desired broad roadbeds; the section of the Waterbury River Turnpike pictured above, however, demonstrates that this was not always achieved.

 

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The turnpikes were at the heart of the nation’s market revolution in the early 19th century, providing the means for increasing numbers of Americans to access the goods being produced in a booming economy.  Testimony to this stands in the interpretative marker (seen above) that stands in Winchester Center. The fees charged indicate that these roads were used to transport livestock, goods, and people. By the 1850s, most of these turnpikes had their charters revoked and became property of the state, but their importance in helping to build the nation’s economy cannot be understated.

 

East Cemetery: The Grave of Jeph Africa

Rev. Judah Champion (Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society)

Rev. Judah Champion (Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society)

Judah Champion was minister of Litchfield’s Congregational Church from 1753 to 1798. This was a prominent position, one that came with a commensurate salary. For Champion, moving to Litchfield came with a 2,000 pound bonus, an 800 pound salary, and 20 acres of land. Alain White, in his history of Litchfield, describes how only the most prominent of Litchfield were in a financial position to own slaves. This clearly included Champion who owned several slaves, including Samson, Kate, and Jeph.

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Jeph’s grave in the East Cemetery indicates he was a Revolutionary War veteran, but his name does not appear in the Roll of Honor of Litchfield County Revolutionary Soldiers. Jeph’s grave is interesting at several levels. It is an impressive stone, inscribed “Here lies the body of Jeph Africa servant of the Rev. Judah Champion, who died June the 5th 1793.” The text as well as the magnitude of the headstone suggest that it was paid for by the Champion family.

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Also interesting is the carving at the top of the stone. The modern explorer might associate it with a pinwheel, but pinwheels didn’t appear until the next century. The whirligig was a medieval predecessor of the pinwheel, but it seems unlikely that a toy would be carved on to an 18th century gravestone. Is it perhaps a representation of the rising sun, which carries both religious connotation and harkens to the continent of Africa? Or could it be a wheel, representative of divine power, prominently featured in Ezekiel 1: “Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The grave is also notable as the inspiration for an 1838 writing of Nathaniel Hawthorne. In his American Notebooks, the author shared his observations of Litchfield, which include his reflections on Africa’s grave (although he incorrectly cites it as the grave of Julia Africa):

“In Connecticut, and also sometimes in Berkshire, the villages
are situated on the most elevated ground that can be found, so that
they are visible for miles around. Litchfield is a remarkable instance,
occupying a high plain, without the least shelter from the winds,
and with almost as wide an expanse of view as from a mountain-
top. The streets are very wide, two or three hundred feet, at
least, with wide, green margins, and sometimes there is a wide
green space between the two road tracks. Nothing can be neater
than the churches and houses. The graveyard is on the slope, and at
the foot of a swell, filled with old and new gravestones, some of
red freestone, some of grey granite, most of them of white marble,
and one of cast-iron with an inscription of raised letters. There
was one of the date of about 1776, on which was represented the
third-length, bas-relief portrait of a gentleman in a wig and other
costume of that day; and as a framework about this portrait was
wreathed a garland of vine-leaves and heavy clusters of grapes.
The deceased should have been a jolly bottleman; but the epitaph
indicated nothing of the kind.

“In a remote part of the graveyard, remote from the main body
of dead people, I noticed a humble, mossy stone, on which I traced
out ‘To the memory of Julia Africa, servant of Rev.’ somebody.
There were also the half obliterated traces of other graves, without
any monuments, in the vicinity of this one. Doubtless the slaves
here mingled their dark clay with the earth.” 

Revolutionary War Soldiers’ Tree

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This small marker stands at the southeast corner of the eastern section of the Litchfield Green.

The first Arbor Day was held on April 10, 1872 and became an international event eleven years later when Birdsley Northrup of Kent, Connecticut, introduced the event to Japan.  However, Theodore Roosevelt’s ascendency to the presidency in 1901 and his emphasis on conservation issues sparked a nationwide surge of interest in Arbor Day.

In 1902 the Mary Floyd Tallmadge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution celebrated the first Arbor Day of Roosevelt’s presidency by planting a tree on the Litchfield Green to commemorate the services of the town’s Revolutionary War soldiers.

Revolutionary War Soldiers

In all, 507 men from Litchfield served the Patriot cause between 1775 and 1783.  The first to serve were the men of the company led by David Welch of Milton, who were called up soon after news of Lexington and Concord arrived.  A second company enlisted in January 1776 to serve for the defense of New York City.  They drafted a contract specifying the terms of their service under Major General Charles Lee, stating that they were convinced of “the Necessity of a body of Forces to defend against certain Wicked Purposes formed by the instruments of Ministerial Tyranny.”  They specified, however, that they would not serve for more than eight weeks, and stated that General Lee had “given his Word and Honor” to uphold these terms.

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The Battle of Fort Washington

In November 1776 another company of Litchfield men under Captain Bezaleel Beebe set off for New York.  Thirty-six handpicked men of the company under Captain Beebe were sent to reinforce the American garrison at Fort Washington (today the Manhattan end of the George Washington Bridge).  The men marched into a trap, and were forced to surrender with the entire 2,600 man garrison of the fort.  Although the men were exchanged about a month later, only 11 of these men made it home to Litchfield.

In March 1777 a new call for troops went out, and Litchfield was tasked with enlisting 92 of its men.  The town voted to pay 12 pounds per year to each soldier and to supply “necessaries” to each soldier’s family.  A final call for troops reached town in 1781, and a “selective draft” took place, in which the town was divided into three classes and each class was expected to raise a certain number of men.

Interior of the Old Jersey Prison Ship

Interior of a British prison ship

In addition to those men who were killed and wounded in battle, twenty Litchfield men died while on the dreaded British prison ships.

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Today, a small stone marker stands at the foot of the tree dedicated to these soldiers.  Its faded inscription reads:

Planted in Memory of

Litchfield’s Revolutionary Soldiers

by the

Mary Floyd Tallmadge Chapter

DAR

Arbor Day 1902

Hidden Nearby: The Morris Academy

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This small marker and the remnants of the foundation mark the location of the Morris Academy, a landmark co-educational institution.

James Morris

The Academy was the brainchild of James Morris III, who was born on January 19, 1752 in South Farms (which, in 1859 was renamed Morris in his honor).  Morris’ father James was a deacon, and the son harbored hopes of entering the ministry.  An enthusiastic reader, young James routinely traveled to Bethlehem to borrow books from that town’s library.  His education, which began with these library books, was guided by three remarkable teachers.

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At eighteen, Morris began studies under Bethlehem’s Dr. Joseph Bellamy, one of the leading theologians of the late 18th century.  It is reported that Morris also studied under Nathan Hale, before enrolling at Yale.  While at Yale, Timothy Dwight, later president of the university and one of the leading figures in American educational history, served as Morris’ tutor.

The Battle of Yorktown

Following his graduation, Morris returned home to help on the family farm, teach students in Litchfield, and ponder a future in the ministry.  The Revolutionary War, however, got in the way.  He served first in the Connecticut Militia, then in the Continental Army, fighting on Long Island, at White Plains, and at Germantown, Pennsylvania, where he was captured.  Upon receiving parole, he hurried to Yorktown, Virginia, where he served Alexander Hamilton during that climactic battle of the Revolution.

After the war he returned home and married Elizabeth Hubbard, with whom he raised five children.  His fellow townspeople elected him both justice of the peace and a selectman.  By 1790, however, when children began regularly showing up at his door, Morris put aside his ideas about the ministry and looked instead for a career in education.

A typical scene in an early co-educational school

Rare for his time, Morris accepted both boys and girls as students.  This sparked significant discussion, as many believed that education would cause women to lose sight of their more traditional roles.  In 1794, a town hearing was held about the situation, and any charges against Morris were dismissed.

The foundation of the Morris Academy

The foundation of the Morris Academy

By 1800, Morris’ school had grown so large that a formal structure was needed.  Wealthy subscribers were enlisted from the area to subsidize the $1,200 cost of the building, which opened on November 28, 1803.  (The building stood on the property where the James Morris School stands today)  By that time, Morris had educated students from all of the New England states except Rhode Island, as well as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and the West Indies.  He averaged between 50 and 75 students a year.

While Morris died in Goshen in 1820 (he is buried in East Morris), the school remained open until 1888.  As Barbara Nolen Strong wrote in her 1976 book on the Morris Academy, “The Morris Academy is entitled to be called a pioneer institution because of its ‘open door’ policy in coeducation. It was not the first in the United States, not even in Connecticut, but none of the other early academies opened their doors as wide and kept them open as long. No other coeducational academy spread its influence so far.” In a fitting gesture to the impact of James Morris on the community, the town of South Farms changed its name to Morris in 1859.

Gallows Lane and the Execution of Barnett Davenport

Street names are often guides to a town’s past.  In Litchfield’s case, this is perhaps most graphically illustrated with Gallows Lane.

Most town residents have heard the story that the street got its name because executions once took place there.  The historian – trained to be a skeptic – questions this piece of lore.

But it’s true.  And the story reveals crimes of a bloody nature we don’t often associate with our forefathers.

Barnett Davenport was born in the Merryall section of New Milford in 1760.  At 16 he joined the Continental Army to fight in the American Revolution.  He served under George Washington, and was at Valley Forge, Fort Ticonderoga, and Monmouth Court House.  He had always been a troubled youth and was a convicted horse thief.  Perhaps because of his demons, or because he had simply had enough of war, Davenport deserted and returned home.

Early American grist mill

He took a job with Caleb Mallory, a farmer who operated a grist mill along what is now Route 109 in Washington.  Mallory and his wife Jane had two daughters who lived in the area.  One of the daughters had three children – a daughter Charlotte, 9, and sons John and Sherman, 6 and 4.  In February 1780, Davenport convinced Caleb’s two daughters to go on a trip.  With the two away from the house, Davenport entered the home on the night of February 3rd, and beat Caleb, Jane and Charlotte to death.  Looting the house of its valuables, he set it ablaze as he left, killing John and Sherman.

Reverend Judah Champion

Davenport escaped on foot and hid out in a cave in Cornwall for six days.  Captured, he was brought to Litchfield where he was arraigned and gave a full confession, likely to Reverend Judah Champion of Litchfield’s Congregational Church.  The confession remains in the archives at the University of Virginia.

Roger Sherman

He was put on trial, which was presided over by Roger Sherman, who previously had served on the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence.  Sherman sentenced Davenport to forty lashes and then to be hanged.  The execution took place at Gallows Hill on May 8, 1780.  In 1768, a Native American named John Jacob had been hanged there for the murder of another American Indian.  In 1785, Thomas Goss of Barkhamsted was also hanged on the hill, for the murder of his wife.

Davenport would likely have been led in a procession from the Litchfield jail to the site of the gallows.  It was quite common in early America for large crowds to turn out for an execution, as it was considered an opportunity for moral instruction for children.  The sheriff would read the sentence to the condemned, who would be hooded and mounted on the stand.  A minister would give a sermon.  With the noose placed around Davenport’s head, the trap door was sprung.  The body would be left hanging for some time, a reminder to passersby of the dangers of immorality.

Gallows Hill, frightening now only to Litchfield runners, was once a site terrifying to the condemned.

Gallows Lane was once called Middle Street and at 28 rods (154 feet) was the widest in Litchfield.  Like many other streets, its name speaks to a dramatic past.

For more information on Barnett Davenport, see a Danbury News-Times article on the excellent work of a New Milford historian:  http://www.newstimes.com/local/article/New-Milford-historian-unearths-account-of-984284.php