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.
Born Sept. 5, 1755 in Newington, Connecticut, Elijah Churchill (who shares a common ancestor with Sir Winston Churchill), was one of three known recipients of the Badge of Military Merit established by George Washington.
In the “General Orders” for August 7th, 1782, General Washington ordered: “The General, ever desirous to cherish a virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military Merit, directs that whenever any singular meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, edged with a narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with due reward.”The orders then specified a very strict reporting system that required the Commander-in-Chief’s final approval. Finally, the order stated: “Men who have merited this last distinction to be suffered to pass all guards and sentinels which officers are permitted to do . . . “
Sgt. Churchill was a member of the 2nd CT Light Dragoons. Under the command of Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Nathan Hale’s classmate and intimate friend), he and others rowed eight whaleboats from Connecticut across Long Island Sound to raid a British supply depot at Mastic, NY. They captured 300 prisoners, and burned supply vessels and more than 300 tons of hay to disrupt the enemy supply lines.
Apparently, Sgt. Churchill was good at this kind of urban warfare, since on Oct. 2, 1781 he led a group of 100 Light Dragoons and infantry from the 5th Connecticut of the Continental Line in another daring raid. They rowed from Westport, CT to Long Island (again in whaleboats, each of which will seat approximately 8 men, so there had to be about 10 in all), to attack Ft. Slongo near present-day Northport. In addition to destroying the fort, they captured 21 prisoners, and destroyed a quantity of military stores and hay.
The order conferring the Badge of Military Merit to Sergeant Elijah Churchill reads in part:
General George Washington, Esquire
General and Commander-in-Chief of
the Forces of the United States of America, Etc.
That Sergeant Elijah Churchill of the 2nd Regiment of Light Dragoons, in the several enterprises against Fort George and Fort Slongo on Long Island, acted in a very conspicuous and singularly meritorious part; that at the head of each body of attack he not only acquitted himself with great gallantry, firmness and address; but that the surprise in one instance, and the success of the attack in the other, proceeded in a considerable degree from his conduct and management.
Now therefore Know Ye, that the aforesaid Sergeant Elijah Churchill, hath fully and truly deserved, and has been properly invested with the Honorary Badge of Military Merit, and is authorized to pass and repass all guards and military posts as fully and amply as any Commissioned Officer whatever; and is hereby recommended to that favorable notice which a Brave and Faithful Soldier deserves from his Countrymen.
After the war, Elijah Churchill and his family moved to Massachusetts. He died there on April 11th, 1841 and is buried in the Bell Cemetery at Middlefield, Massachusetts.
Jabez Huntington was born in Norwich, CT on August 17, 1719. After his graduation from Yale in 1741, he entered the West Indies trade and became wealthy. In 1742, he married Elizabeth Backus and they had two children. She died in 1745 and he married Hannah Williams in 1746. The couple had six children.
Jabez was elected as a representative to the General Assembly from 1750 to 1764. He served as the assembly’s clerk from 1757 to 1760 and as speaker from 1760 to 1764. He was appointed to the Governor’s Council in 1764. The following year he was one of seven council members that refused to take an oath to enforce the
Stamp Act. Starting in 1754, he held various ranks in the 3rd and 5th Regiments of Connecticut Militia. He was promoted to the rank of Major-General of all Connecticut Militia in 1776. He was one of the original members of the Council of Safety in 1775 and served until 1779. His business suffered during the war due to the capture of his vessels. As a result of overwork, he suffered a stroke in 1779 and remained in poor health until he died in Norwich on October 5, 1786.
In 1775, Connecticut’s General Assembly was even more part-time than it is today, usually meeting only two or three times from May through September. After the Lexington Alarm in April, the Assembly recognized that Gov. Jonathan Trumbull would need to be able to act far more quickly in war time, and authorized the formation of a special committee of advisers handpicked by the governor to assist him. The Council of Safety, as it was called, held its first meeting on June 7, 1775, in Governor Trumbull’s storehouse in Lebanon, soon dubbed the War Office. Attending were Governor Trumbull, Deputy Governor Matthew Griswold, the Honorable Jabez Huntington, along with William Williams (serving as clerk), Nathaniel Wales, Jedediah Elderkin, Joshua West, and Benjamin Huntington (Esquires). At the first meeting they decided to send fifty barrels of gunpowder to brigadier generals Spencer and Putnam, leading the Connecticut troops at Boston. The powder would come from Connecticut’s public stores at Norwich, Windham, and Lebanon. Thus began the important role of Trumbull and the Council as a source of logistical support to Washington and the Continental army throughout the Revolutionary War.
In all, forty-seven men served on the Council from June 1775-November 1783. Here are their names, copied from a calligraphied list in the collection of the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, dated 1843:
Hon. Gov. Jonathan Trumbull
Nathaniel Wales, Jr.
Richard Law (1776)
Titus Hosmer (1776)
William Hillhouse (1776)
William Pitkin (1777)
Benjamin Payne (1777)
Daniel Sherman (1777)
Andrew Adams (1777)
Abraham Davenport (1777)
Jeremiah Wadsworth (1777)
Thaddeus Burr (1777)
James Wadsworth Jr.
Roger Sherman (1777)
Joseph Platt Cook(e)
Samuel Mott (1779)
Samuel Bishop Jr.
Joseph Spencer (1780)
Joshua Porter (1783)
Col. John Chester
James Hillhouse (1782)
Ezekiel Williams, a successful merchant in Wethersfield, was born in Lebanon, the son of prominent First Church minister Solomon Williams and the brother of Declaration of Independence signer and Council of Safety member William Williams. Ezekiel Williams moved to Wethersfield in 1752, built a large house on the Broad Street Green in 1759 and, a year later, married Prudence Stoddard. In 1761 he joined the militia as a captain and in 1767 he was appointed Hartford County sheriff, a position he held for 22 years.
Strong support for the cause of independence seemed to run in this branch of the Williams family. In 1774, Williams led Wethersfield’s effort to provide supplies for blockaded Boston and was elected to the Committee of Correspondence. He also served on the Committee of Inspection seeking out Loyalist sympathizers and the Committee of the Pay-Table which audited Connecticut war accounts.
In May 1775, Williams was one of eleven men appointed to take charge of prisoners of war in the state and in 1777 he took full charge of such prisoners when he was appointed Commissary of Prisoners. This involved far more that being a jail warden, since most imprisoned officers and gentlemen were housed in private homes and were allowed (on the promise of good behavior or parole) to mingle freely within the community. Williams found safe housing, authorized travel permits, and carried out prisoner exchanges. He also managed the prison ships on which British and
Tory enlisted men were kept.
Eliphalet Dyer was born in Windham, CT and graduated from Yale in 1740. He then studied law in Windham. Around 1745 he married Huldah Bowen. They had five sons and a daughter who married Joseph Trumbull.
In 1746 Dyer became a lawyer and a Justice of the Peace. He was a founder and active member of the Susquehannah Company including making an unsuccessful trip to England in 1763 to try and have the company’s title to land in Pennsylvania confirmed. He defended the company in the Connecticut legislature during his terms as deputy from 1742 to1762 and in the upper house from 1762 to 1784. In 1765, Dyer was one of the governor’s council who refused to witness the signing of the Stamp Tax oath.
Dyer was first sent to the Continental Congress in 1774 and continued to serve until 1783, except for 1776 and 1779. He was also appointed to the Council of Safety in 1775 and served until it was disbanded in 1783. Because of his militia experience during the French and Indian War, Dyer was offered a commission as brigadier general in the Continental Army but declined in order to continue his work in Congress and on the Council of Safety.
Born in Stamford, Davenport graduated from Yale in 1732.His first wife was Elizabeth Huntington (daughter of Jabez
Huntington of Windham) whom he married in 1750. Elizabeth had five children before her death in 1773. In 1776 Davenport married Mrs. Martha Fitch.
Davenport served as a Stamford selectman from 1746 until 1777 and then served as town treasurer for two years as well as serving as a deacon in the First Congregational Church of Stamford from 1759 until 1789.
Davenport served as a representative in the General Assembly from 1747 to 1766 and was then elected to the upper house where he served until 1784. He served on the Council of Safety from 1777 until 1783. During the New York campaign, Davenport cared for sick soldiers returning home. He housed many in his own house and found housing and care for many more.
Trumbull was born in Lebanon on October 10, 1710, the younger son of Joseph and Hannah (Higley) Trumbull. He graduated from Harvard with a B.A. in 1727 and after three years of study with the Reverend Solomon Williams of Lebanon, he was licensed to preach. By 1731 he was in business as a merchant with his father and older brother who died at sea in 1732. In 1735, he married Faith Robinson (1718-1780) of Duxbury, MA with whom he had six children.
A committed public servant, Trumbull served in local government, supported the local Congregational church, and helped established both a library and a school. In 1733 Lebanon elected Trumbull as delegate to the General Assembly and in 1740 the colony appointed him as an Assistant in the upper house.
Trumbull strongly opposed the Stamp Act and, in 1765 with other Assistants, walked out of a meeting of the Governor’s Council when Governor Thomas Fitch took the oath to support the act. In 1766 Trumbull was elected deputy governor and in 1769 when William Pitkin died in office, Trumbull became governor. He served in this capacity until 1784, the only colonial governor to serve through the American Revolution.
During the War, Trumbull devoted himself to managing the state, commanding the state militia and navy, and providing support for the Continental and French armies. Having lost his wife, eldest son, and one daughter during the war years, Trumbull resigned his office in 1785 and died in Lebanon August 17, 1785.
Major Benjamin Tallmadge, classmate of Nathan Hale, commands a crew of 2nd CT Light Dragoons who row eight whaleboats across Long Island Sound to raid a British supply depot at Ft. George, Mastic, Long Island NY. Sgt. Elijah Churchill, from Newington CT leads one of three groups of men, who capture 300 prisoners and burn several supply vessels and more than 300 tons of hay. Thereafter, the British are forced to rely on fodder shipped from England.