PART TWO: THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

This part follows the events of the Revolutionary War from the time of the meeting of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 to the end of the war. With a few exceptions, the battles and winter quarters are arranged chronologically.

Before and during the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia functioned as the unofficial capital of the thirteen colonies. In September 1774 the First Continental Congress met in Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia. The reason for convening was to support the efforts of Massachusetts to resist the British punishment of that colony for the Boston Tea Party (December 1773). Virginia took the lead when she instructed her committees of correspondence to poll their counterparts in the other colonies as to the calling of a continental congress. The Congress accomplished the following: supported the Massachusetts declaration that the Coercive Acts were unconstitutional and void; issued a Declaration of Rights; adopted the Articles of Association (a forerunner of the later Articles of Confederation); and agreed to cut off imports from Britain.

This First Continental Congress lasted for almost two months. Before departing, the members agreed to meet again in May of 1775, if their efforts did not meet with a satisfactory British response. Events ran ahead of them, however, for the war began with the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. This action took Congress by surprise. The Second Continental Congress did not meet until May 1775. And when it did assemble, the delegates were still very cautious about promoting actual independence for the colonies. Fourteen more months would pass before Congress officially declared independence.

The steps toward freedom were delayed for over a year as three middle colonies--New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania-- plus Maryland refused to support the move to independence. The Congress appointed General George Washington commander-in-chief and sent Colonel Benedict Arnold to Canada to make it the fourteenth colony. Washington made his way to Boston to counteract the British thrust there, but did not arrive before the Americans won a strategic victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 1775), which naturally aroused great enthusiasm in the nation. The American thrust at Canada collapsed in December 1775 at Quebec. This disappointment was partially balanced by the British abandonment of Boston in March of the following year.

On June 11, 1776 Congress appointed a committee of five to prepare a Declaration of Independence. The committee members were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson wrote most of the document, with Adams and Franklin making a few changes. On July 8, Colonel John Nixon, a member of the Committee of Safety, read the document in the yard of Independence Hall.

If the mid-Atlantic colonies were highly uncertain about wanting independence from Great Britain, the people of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts were very much less so. The ownership of much of the land in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York by large land owners made these men very cautious lest the rebellious spirit be transferred to their own tenants. The system of land ownership was much different in Connecticut and Massachusetts and hence the leadership, especially that of eastern Massachusetts and eastern Connecticut, was not as conservative vis-a-vis independence.

In Sheffield, Massachusetts in 1773 the citizens drew up a set of "resolves" that much resembled the later Declaration of Independence. The next year prominent men of the area met at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and called for a boycott of all commerce from England. Many towns in the upper Housatonic River Valley then adopted their own declarations of independence. When word of Lexington and Concord reached the area, the local militia marched eastward at once. Approximately one-half of all the able-bodied men of the region served in the armed forces.

Connecticut's primary role in the Revolutionary War was in providing troops and supplies for battles fought elsewhere. In fact, Connecticut provided so many supplies that it became known as the bread basket of the Revolution.

Perhaps the most famous person from Connecticut to serve during the Revolution was Nathan Hale, whom the British hung for espionage in September 1776. There are a number of places in the state where you can follow this young man's career and we will visit these sites. Connecticut has the distinction of being the only colony to have its Royal Governor support the Revolution. Governor Jonathan Trumbull's home is available for tours in Lebanon. Since Connecticut was the source of so many supplies for the Revolutionary cause, it became the target for British raids designed to destroy these supply bases. One such raid occurred at Danbury in 1777, and we follow the consequences of the raid by touring the Danbury area.

During the war, 6,000 British troops occupied the city of Newport, Rhode Island for three years (beginning in December 1776). When the British left the French, now American allies, bivouacked in the city. Chapter ten tours this city, which has a fantastic array of colonial houses. The last battle of the Revolutionary War was at Yorktown in Virginia. General Washington and the French commander General Rochambeau met in Wethersfield, Connecticut to plan this final showdown. The house where the conference was held still stands to this day and is awaiting you in Wethersfield. Another British raid of a Connecticut supply base was the New London raid of 1781 led by the traitor Benedict Arnold. Remnants of the breastworks of Fort Griswold, the site of a massacre of Americans, are still available for viewing.

Chapter 2. Nathan Hale of Coventry

Nathan Hale Homestead
South Street, Coventry, CT

Richard Hale, Nathan Hale's father, built this frame house for the family but by the time he finished it his son had been dead for about a month--hanged by the British as a spy on September 22, 1776. The family ran a farm here until 1832. The house's ten rooms have Hale family memorabilia, including some objects owned by Nathan.

Nathan was born in Coventry in 1755. He was the sixth child in a family of twelve children. In April 1767, when Nathan was twelve years old, he lost his mother.

Nathan came from an educated family and so it was natural that he was sent to Yale for his higher education. He entered Yale College at New Haven in 1769. At the time the college was a town academy, consisting of just three buildings. One of these buildings, still standing at Yale, was "Connecticut Hall," which served as a dormitory. Hale roomed in its south entry during one or more of his four years at the college. He had two roommates, one of which was his brother Enoch. His class, the class of 1773, had thirty-six graduates. Among the tutors were such famous men as John Trumbull, the painter, and Timothy Dwight (later the President of Yale).

Hale did well at Yale, proving to be one of the better scholars and also one of the most popular men of his class. He became good friends with Benjamin Tallmadge, who was later involved in the secret service under Washington.

Hale soon got an appointment as a school teacher in East Haddam sixteen miles north of the mouth of the Connecticut River. Hales's school was located near the landing. The school has been moved to a scenic site. On East Granby's Main Street is the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse where Nathan taught for four or five months, dating from October or November, 1773, to the middle of March, 1774. His pupils were of different ages. Due to a shortage of books, the entire school frequently studied aloud.

Hale found the town to be very isolating, and it is, therefore, not surprising that we find him already corresponding about another job by December of 1773. He traveled to the Union School at New London and began teaching about the middle of March 1774. Hale seems to have enjoyed teaching and the students also seemed to like him. He even thought of devoting his life to the profession. He lived in the home of a friend, a Mr. Richards. He also became friends with Gilbert Saltonstall, son of Colonel Gurdon Saltonstall.

Along the pedestrian mall, known as Captain's Walk, in downtown New London is another Nathan Hale Schoolhouse, squeezed in between the Municipal Building and the First Church of Christ Congregational. This schoolhouse is where he taught prior to his enlistment in the army in July, 1775. Its original location was on the southeast corner of Union Street, just opposite its present site.

When living in Coventry Nathan had formed a special attachment to a young lady by the name of Alice Adams. While Nathan was half way through his senior year at Yale college, Alice's mother and sister pushed her into marrying Elijah Ripley, a neighbor considerably older than herself. Mr. Ripley died on the day after Christmas 1774. Nathan renewed his acquaintance with the widow, who now had a young child, and the two became engaged sometime in 1775 or early 1776.

Once the war began, Nathan enlisted and became a first lieutenant of Connecticut's Seventh Regiment, which was intended for coastal defense. Nathan was soon busy recruiting others for his company. Washington called for the new Connecticut regiments and Hale found himself in Cambridge, Massachusetts where the Americans had the British under siege. On St. Patrick's Day 1776 the British evacuated Boston. Anticipating a British strike against New York City, Washington moved troops to New York, Nathan's regiment among them. Hale landed at Turtle Bay on Manhattan at the foot of present Forty-fifth Street on March 30. Above him was the handsome mansion of James Beekman. (Ironically, it was from this mansion that Hale would be condemned to death.)

The British arrived June 28. On August 27 Washington lost the battle of Long Island when Lord William Howe flanked the American troops. Hale's regiment did not participate in the battle. At this depressing point, Washington desperately needed information about Howe's plans.

Hale had been temporarily transferred to a small body, known as "Knowlton's Rangers,"organized for special light and scouting services. Knowlton, as other commanders, had been asked by Washington to find outstanding men for espionage. Knowlton turned to Hale for the job. Hale sought advice from college associate and fellow-captain, William Hull. The friend responded by saying Hale was too honest and open for such service and would end his career by being executed. Hale replied that he realized what he was getting into and that he was tired of serving in the armed forces without rendering any real material service.

Hale traveled through Westchester County to Norwalk, Connecticut. There he took an armed sloop under the command of Captain Pond and landed on the Long Island shore at Huntington on either the day or night of the loss of the Americans at the battle of Harlem Heights (September 15 or 16, 1776). Assuming the identity of a Dutch schoolmaster, Hale had changed into a plain suit of brown clothes with a round, broad brimmed hat. He carried only his college diploma. Doubtlessly, Hale made his way across Long Island to Manhattan. There he found the British lines and probably sketched the fortifications. While only one mile south of the American lines, British forces arrested him on the night of September 21. Lord Howe conducted an interrogation of Hale at the Beekman Mansion. Hale provided his name, rank, and stated his object in coming within the British lines. His interrogators search his clothing and found sketches of fortifications along with military notes. Howe immediately ordered the execution of the American spy. Held prisoner that night in the greenhouse of the Beekman gardens, the next morning Hale wrote a letter to his mother and another to a brother officer. The British escorted Hale to his place of execution, near present City Hall Park on Manhattan. Just before his death at eleven in the morning of September 22, his last words were the famous saying: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

 

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