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.
Fairfield’s prominence brought many important visitors to town, including President George Washington, who recorded his October 16, 1789 visit in his journal. The newly inaugurated president of the United States likely spent the night at Samuel Penfield’s Sun Tavern on his tour surveying damage from the Revolutionary War. The destruction from the 1779 burning was so widespread that it was still evident ten years later when Washington wrote: “The destructive evidences of British cruelty are yet visible both in Norwalk and Fairfield, as there are chimneys of many burnt houses standing in them yet.”
Sun Tavern was among a handful of taverns in town that were newly built at that time, replacing structures that had been destroyed by the British. At the time, it took two days to travel from New York to Fairfield by carriage on the Boston Post Road, so travelers needed a place to stay overnight and refresh their horses. The Sun Tavern was a lively establishment where Samuel Penfield provided much needed food, drink and lodging. Sun Tavern was also a popular meeting place for lawyers and judges attending court next door. Local farmers and sea captains, along with mill and shop owners would have enjoyed a beer or cider and a plate of oysters here as well.
The Sun Tavern closed its doors by 1818. Over the next 160 years the building became a private residence to pastors of First Congregational Church, New York City businessmen and a stage actor and his family, who used it primarily as a summer getaway. By the 1970s, the structure had fallen into disrepair.
Cogswell Tavern, in the town of Washington, was built in 1756 by William Cogswell. Both the Tavern and its builder would be integral to Connecticut’s role in the Revolutionary War.
In 1774, Mr. Cogswell was appointed to the Connecticut Committee of Correspondence, which was tasked with communicating all information regarding British war movements. In December of the following year, he also served on the Committee of Inspection and Correspondence.
Having joined the Connecticut Militia as an ensign at the start of the war, William participated in the retreat from Long Island in August of 1776. He was promoted to Captain under General Washington and marched with his company to repel the invasion of New Haven July 5, 1779. In May of 1781, William was promoted to Major and served in the 13th Regiment of the Connecticut Militia.
General Washington’s diary entry of May 25, 1781 reads “Breakfasted at Squire Cogswell’s”. The General made three trips through Litchfield County, so he possibly made other stops at Cogswell Tavern, but as he didn’t keep a diary during the early trips, there is no record.
William Cogswell was married to Anna Whittlesey and they had 10 children, 9 of whom lived to adulthood. By the time of his death in 1786, he owned 2000 acres, a tavern, distillery and malt house, a country store, an iron foundry, a saw and grist mill and a potashery. Cogswell Tavern is still maintained as a private residence lived in by William’s descendents.
In April 1775 17-year-old Daniel Putnam followed his father from farm field to war, serving as Major General Israel Putnam’s principal aide. In 1790 he purchased this farm and named it Putnam Elms, after the many trees he planted.
Putnam Elms is owned by the Colonel Daniel Putnam Association, and is open to the public.
Farms such as this one were essential to the supply lines that fed and clothed Connecticut’s Revolutionary soldiers. Behind the house once stood a two-story barn that housed livestock one level, and feed and equipment on the other.
The Strong-Porter House is owned by the Coventry Historical Society, and open to the public.
The Yantic, the Shetucket, and the Quinebaug Rivers unite at Norwich to form the Thames River, making the city a Revolutionary-era center for shipbuilding, merchant trading, and manufacturing. Norwich was also a hotbed of activity for the Sons of Liberty. Benedict Arnold was born here, and the city “hosted” one of the Revolution’s other notorious traitors, Benjamin Church in its gaol.
The Norwich Historical Society interprets the history of the “Rose City.”
Franklin was once West Farms north of Norwich. The stage road was from the Norwich Town Green to Windham. In 1786 West Farms became Franklin and the following year it was voted that a town highway tax be payable in labor at 3 shilling per day for a man and 8 shilling for a man and a team of 4 good oxen and cart. In 1795the Hartford to Norwich Turnpike was chartered to connect the towns of Franklin, Lebanon, Columbia, Andover and Bolton. It was to have two toll gates. But in 1796a resoluntion was forwarded to the General Assembly that the inhabitants of Franklin
were” dissatisfied, aggrieved and injured by setting up a turnpike between Lebanon and Norwich and praying that such relief as consistent with wisdom, justice and equity be granted.”
Connecticut’s State Hero Nathan Hale was born in a previous house on this farm in 1755. The Hale family was dedicated to the cause of liberty and six of the eight sons served in the army. The homestead and farm prospered and allowed the Hales to provide food for soldiers.
Today, the Hale Homestead is part of Connecticut Landmarks.
One of four brothers who served as Revolutionary soldiers, Samuel Beaumont built a small farm house “four miles and 59 rods” from the original meeting house in Lebanon. It was moved to its current site in 1975.
The Beaumont House is owned by the Lebanon Historical Society.
Jonathan Trumbull Jr. served as the northern army’s paymaster general, and then as military secretary to General George Washington. He served with Washington at Yorktown and until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. General Washington probably stayed in his house March 4, 1781.
The Trumbull Jr. House is owned by the Town of Lebanon and open to the public.