CT’s RevWar Heritage
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.
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.
Peter Burr, chief justice of the Superior Court of colonial Connecticut, built the Burr Homestead around 1732. He passed it on to his grandson Thaddeus Burr and his wife Eunice Dennie Burr after their marriage in 1759. In 1775, the Homestead sheltered Dorothy Quincy, fiancée of patriot leader John Hancock, after she fled from the Battle of Lexington, where on April 19th the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired. She remained in town until Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, joined her.
On August 23, 1775 Reverend Andrew Elliot of First Congregational Church married the Boston couple at the Burr residence. Local lore tells that, before the wedding, a young Aaron Burr came to visit his second cousin Thaddeus and pay his respects to Miss Quincy.
On July 7, 1779, the American Revolution came to Fairfield. British troops led by General Tryon came ashore from ships on Long Island Sound. Many of the town’s men, including Thaddeus Burr, were away fighting or working on behalf of the patriot cause when Fairfield was attacked and set ablaze.
Families fled inland, but Eunice Burr remained at home. General Tryon, who had visited with the Burrs, sent a guard to protect Eunice. Despite his assurances, Eunice wrote in her diary, British soldiers ransacked her house, destroyed furniture, stripped the silver buckles from her shoes, then set the Homestead ablaze.
Not to be defeated, in 1790 the Burrs hired Daniel Dimon, a Fairfield architect and carpenter, to build a new house based on plans sent to them by John Hancock of his own Boston residence.
The present house was built on the original foundation.
In the mid 1800s the Burr Homestead was enlarged and remodeled into a 15-room Greek Revival mansion with a stately colonnaded porch and classical details.
Today the mansion is owned by the Town of Fairfield and managed by the Fairfield Museum; it can be rented for events.
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.
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.
Elizabeth Alden ran a tavern that served military and political advisers visiting Governor Trumbull and the Council of Safety, as well as many soldiers, merchants, and citizens traveling the busy highway crossroads in Lebanon’s center.