CHAPTER 5. The British Raid on New London and Groton

 

Joshua Hempsted House
11 Hempsted Street (I-95 Exit 75 to Route 1), New London, CT (Open Tues-Sun 1-5, May 15-Oct 15)

Robert Hempsted received a grant for the land here in 1645. In 1678 he built a home on the property. He had three children. On the death of the father and mother the house came into possession of their son, Joshua. In 1678 he built in 1678 the present house that stands on the property. Upon his death in 1687, the house went to his son Joshua (1678-1758). This second Joshua was simultaneously a farmer, surveyor, stonecutter, shipwright, cobbler, cooper, and joiner. He was also justice of the peace, judge of probate, and representative to the General Assembly. He kept a diary for the last forty-seven years of his life. In 1698 he married Abigail Bailey of Southold, Long Island, and together they had nine children. She died in 1716 during childbirth.

Between 1726 and 1728 Joshua's son Nathaniel (born in 1700) made additions to the house for his growing family (which is now the eastern portion of the present structure). Nathaniel had a wife and two children at this time. In 1729 Nathaniel died just before his wife gave birth to another child. His father, Joshua, became the legal guardian of Nathaniel's two sons, Joshua ( b. 1724) and Nathaniel (b. 1725), while widow Mary remarried and raised her daughter.

Joshua's (1678-1758) son Stephen lived in the house, along with Joshua's grandson, Joshua (b. 1724). Stephen had a son, also named Stephen, who was a close associate of Nathan Hale. Indeed, Stephen accompanied Hale to the Long Island ferry on Hale's famous spying mission.

The house here is the oldest surviving house in New London. It has a rare example of a seventeenth century porch. The hall was a multi-usage room with a summer beam. Here they have an adjustable candle holder and a posset pot. They also have many chargers (pewter serving plates). Upstairs is the chamber over the hall. The house has a Murphy bed and a walker. Next door is the Huguenot House, so named because the French Huguenots helped build it.

Nathaniel Hempsted House

Nathaniel (b. 1725), whose father was the Nathaniel who added onto the Joshua Hempsted house, was a rope-maker. In 1749 he married Hannah Booth from Southold, Long Island. They had nine children. He built the present house in 1759, a year after his grandfather died. Nathaniel served in the alarm company in 1781, when Benedict Arnold set New London afire. In 1788 his wife died, and he followed her in 1794.

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Sir Henry Clinton in New York City wanted to seize the stores at New London and destroy this important supply base. In September 1781 Benedict Arnold led a force of some 1,700 men in an attack on New London and Groton. Fort Trumbull in New London was immediately abandoned, the men stationed there rowing across the Thames river to reinforce Fort Griswold in Groton. Occupying New London, the British set fire to much of the town. After Benedict Arnold dined with his sister, the British also burned her home.

While Arnold was busy burning New London, Lieutenant Colonel Eyre and his men tried to take Fort Griswold from 300 stubborn Americans under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William Ledyard. Eyre was mortally wounded for his efforts. Major Montgomery then took command, but he too fell. The British surrounded the fort and finally succeeded in opening the fort gates.

Seeing that further resistance was useless, Ledyard offered his sword as a sign of surrender to a British officer. This officer took the sword and stabbed Ledyard with it. British troops then bayoneted the American commander to death. A melee followed in which the British dispatched many of the remaining American defenders.

Fort Griswold State Park
Monument Street and Park Avenue, Groton, CT (Open daily 9-5, Memorial Day-Labor Day; weekends 9-5, Labor Day-Memorial Day)

Around the perimeter of the fort are the remains of the fort's breastworks. Inside the fort by the gate is a fenced-in stone with an inscription: "On this pot Colonel William Ledyard fell by his own sword in the hands of a British officer to whom he had surrendered in the massacre of Fort Griswold, September 6, 1781." The star-shaped fort, constructed between 1775 and 1778, had walls ten or twelve feet high. Also here is a nineteenth-century stone house used for ammunition and weapons storage and a brick hot shot house from 1812 where cannonballs were heated before firing.

Nearby the fort is an obelisk which is open during the summer for a climb to the top. From here one can see the river and harbor. Be sure to visit the Revolutionary War Museum next-door to learn more about the battle for Fort Griswold. The museum has various display cases dealing with not only the Revolutionary War period (including Colonel Ledyard's sword), but also with whaling, nineteenth century Groton, and the Civil War.

Ebenezer Avery House
Nearby Fort Griswold, Groton, CT (Open Fri-Sun 2-4, June-Aug; or by appointment)

This 1750 house served as a temporary hospital for the wounded from the battle for Fort Griswold.

Shaw Mansion
11 Blinman Street, New London, CT (Open Tues-Sat 1-4, all year)

Sea captain Nathaniel Shaw, a merchant involved in the West Indies trade, built this house of Georgian design about 1756. Acadian builders used granite stone from the ledge in the back of the property. One room is set up in Victorian style with later owner Perkins' chairs. Another is set up in the style of Thomas Shaw, the bachelor son. Three sons died at sea and Nathaniel, Jr. (whom Nathan Hale visited) died in a hunting accident. During the Revolutionary War the mansion served as Connecticut's Naval Office. The fires of the New London Raid damaged the kitchen of the house.

Washington met here with the first commander-in-chief of the Continental Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, in April 1776. Washington's room has been preserved as a memorial to him. Lafayette and Nathan Hale also came here for strategy meetings.

The building now houses the New London County Historical Society. The Society has many Shaw family belongings along with a collection of Revolutionary War items. One such is a broken sword once belonging to Benedict Arnold.

Nathan Hale School House
Captain's Walk, downtown New London, CT (Open Mon-Fri 10-3, mid- June-Aug 31)

Nathan Hale ("I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country") taught here in this one-room school house prior to his enlistment in the army in July 1775. There are a few displays on Hale's life.

Other Sites

Read the chapter on Eugene O'Neill and the one on whaling in New London for more sites to see in New London. Mystic Seaport Museum is not far northeast of Groton and you may want to combine a visit to New London with one to Mystic.

 

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