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Devil’s Hopyard Millstone

Devil’s Hopyard Millstone

Near Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, CT lies a broken millstone. Local oral tradition and new archaeological study connects this colonial-era millstone with a loyalist named Abner Beebe, who suffered abuse at the hands of his patriot neighbors:

Peter Oliver’s Origins and Progress of the American Rebellion, 1781, A Tory View (ed. Douglas Adair & John A. Schutz, Stanford University Press: 1961) provides this account of the story:

“A Parish Clerk of an Episcopal Church in East Haddum in Connecticut, a Man of 70 Years of Age, was taken out of his Ben on a Cold Night & beat against his Hearth by Men who held him by his Arms & Legs. He was then laid across his Horse without his Clothes & drove to a considerable Distance in that naked Condition. His Nephew Dr. Abner Beebe, a Physician, complained of the bad Usage of his Uncle & spoke very freely in Favor of [the royal] Government, for which he was assaulted by a Mob, stripped Naked, & hot Pitch was poured upon him, which blistered his Skin. He was then carried to a Hog Sty & rubbed over with Hog’s Dung. They threw the Hog’s Dung in his Face & rammed some of it down his throat; and in that Condition exposed him to a company of Women. His House was attacked, his Windows broke, when one of his Children was sick, & a Child of his went into Distraction upon this Treatment. His Grist-Mill was broke, and Persons prevented from grinding at it, & from having any Connections with him… All the foregoing transactions were before the Battle of Lexington, when the Rebels say that the War began.”

From a letter from Col. Joseph Spencer addressed to Gov. Jonathan Trumbull, dated September 14, 1774, we learn that “[Dr. Beebe]… has been tarred and feathered on account of his Tory views…[and] considers himself to be greatly abused.” There is no record of Trumbull replying. So, we can guess that the attack on Dr. Beebe 1) took place in September 1774; and 2) this attack was at least tacitly sanctioned by the authorities.

So, how did the millstone come to rest where it lies? The July 16, 1881 edition of Connecticut Valley Advertizer (a small paper serving the Millington region of East Haddam), provides a clue: “One Beebe owned the grist mill at the top of the fall. It is said that he was a Tory, and the revolutionists broke open the mill and rolled the principal stone down the falls, where it remains to this day.”

Land records show that the Beebe family owned property in the area, which they granted to a certain Chapman in March 1774. It was later sold back to Abner Beebe in 1792, almost ten years after the conclusion of the war.


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Equipment & Vessels

Among the earliest successful ship builders at Norwich Landing, Joshua Huntington was an established businessman by the time the American Revolution broke out in 1775.

By late 1776, the recently formed U. S. Marine Committee recommended to Congress that a mix of ships be built to include three 74-gun ships and five 36-gun Frigates, an 18-gun brig and a packet boat.  Dithering in Congress kept decisions from being made until 1777, when Governor Jonathan Trumbull wrote to John Hancock insisting that two ships be built in Connecticut, one at “Chatham” (now East Hampton on the Connecticut River) and one at Norwich under the direction of Major Joshua Huntington (1751-1821) at his shipyard below the confluence of the Thames and Yantic Rivers.

The Confederacy was a 36-gun sailing frigate launched November 8, 1778 at Norwich and towed to New London to be prepared for sea.  Dimensions and specifications were provided by Oliver Wolcott but without scale drawings or designs.  The ship builders were forced to design as they built and according to their imaginations based upon narrative descriptions.  Due to the rushed order, a great deal of green lumber went into the Confederacy, causing it to suffer extensive rot within a few years.  Its fittings came from a variety of Connecticut foundries as well as from salvaged enemy ships held in Newport, Rhode Island.

From May 1 to August 24, 1779 Confederacy cruised the Atlantic coast under the command of Captain Seth Harding. While convoying, providing armed defensive support to a fleet of merchantmen, on June 6, 1779, she and the Deane, captured three prizes, drove off two British frigates and brought the convoy safely into Philadelphia.  Deane, named for American commissioner to France, Silas Deane, of Wethersfield, was built at Nantes, France, and brought to the U.S. in May 1778.

Still under the command of Captain Harding, the Confederacy, on September 17, 1779, was commissioned to sail to France to return the French Minister, Count Gerard, and the American Minister to Spain, John Jay.  Two months into their voyage, on November 7, 1779, the ship was dismasted by a heavy wind and was nearly destroyed. Captain Harding managed to work the ship southward, forced to seek refuge on Martinique, West Indies in early December. With 6 feet of water in the hold, she remained there for several months for repairs.  From Martinique, the ship’s diplomatic passengers departed for France on the French frigate L’Aurore and after repairs, Confederacy returned to active duty.

She returned to Philadelphia on April 20, 1780 only to have the need for more extensive repairs discovered.  In October, she was damaged once again in a collision with another ship in Philadelphia harbor.  In 1781 Confederacy was forced to strike her flag to two British ships; the 44-gun HMS Roebuck and the 32-gun Orpheus off the coast of Cape Francois, West Indies.  She was subsequently taken into the British service as HMS Confederate, and sent to England with her load of American supplies and nearly 100 American prisoners.  In England, the Confederacy’s excessive hull rot was discovered.

The Turtle

The Turtle
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Equipment & Vessels

David Bushnell, a Westbrook CT native and Yale graduate, was also an inventor who is credited with creating the first combat submarine. In February 1775, Bushnell approached Gov. Jonathan Trumbull and the Council of Safety with his plans for a pedal- and pump-powered submarine called TURTLE. Apparently the Council was sufficiently impressed with his plans to allocate resources for the development of the vessel.

On September 6, 1776 Ezra Lee of Lyme, CT attempted to use the TURTLE to attach explosive “torpedoes” to the hulls of British vessels in New York Harbor. His attempt was unsuccessful, but one of the charges exploded in the East River, marking the onset of a new kind of warfare.

The TURTLE eventually sank when a sloop carrying it was sunk by the British. David Bushnell later claimed to have recovered the submarine, but if so, the original has been lost to history. Numerous models and modern working versions of the TURTLE have been created, including one at the Connecticut River Museum.