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 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.”
Merchant Christopher Leffingwell sided with the patriot cause, serving as a colonel in the Connecticut State Militia, and as a member of the Committee of Correspondence. Built in 1675, his house was probably enlarged to serve as a tavern, and was known for many years as the “Leffingwell Inn.”
The Leffingwell House Museum is open to the public for tours.