“How to find Onepenny: Re-telling Connecticut’s Native History through Wongunk Genealogy”

On May 25, 2018 Prof. Katherine Hermes, J.D., Ph.D. and Prof. Alexandra Maravel, J.D.  of Central Connecticut State University, New Britain sat down with Ronna Stuller on the public access television show, “Thinking Green,” to discuss their genealogical research on the Wongunk (Wangunk), the Native people who lived (and in some cases still do) along the Connecticut River from Hartford (Suckiog) in the South Meadows, Wethersfield (Pyquag), South Glastonbury (Nayaug), Middletown, Portland (Wongunk Meadows), Haddam and Thirty Mile Island, East Hampton, Killingly and other towns.  The Wongunk were connected to the Tunxis of Farmington as neighbors and relatives. Beginning with Alterbaenhuit, the first Wongunk sachem encountered by the Dutch in 1614, and his son, Sowheag (aka Sequin),  Hermes and Maravel  have reconstructed the family trees of the Wongunk who appear in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts records. They became especially interested in the family of Sarah Onepenny. This is the story of their research.


RelationshipTree of Native Wills by the Onepenny family

The Descendants of Sowheag

Recommended Reading:

  • Katherine Hermes and Alexandra Maravel, “Finding the Onepennys Among the Wongunk,” Special Issue of the Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut, 2017, edited by Lucianne Lavin.
  • Lucianne Lavin, Ph.D., “Pre-colonial History of the Wangunk,” Institute for American Indian Studies

  • Katherine Hermes, “Law of Native Americans, to 1815,” in Cambridge History of Law in America, eds. Christopher Tomlins and Michael Grossberg, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
  • Katherine Hermes and Alexandra Maravel, “‘I, Pampenum’: Native American Women’s Use of Connecticut’s Colonial Courts,” in Communities of Women, eds. Barbara Brooks and Dorothy Page, (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2002).
  • Katherine Hermes, “‘Justice Will Be Done Us’: Algonquian Demands for Reciprocity in the Courts of European Settlers,” in The Many Legalities of Early America, eds. Christopher L. Tomlins and Bruce H. Mann, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture, 2001).
  • Katherine Hermes, “‘By Their desire recorded: Native American Wills and Estate Administrations in Colonial Connecticut,” Connecticut History38, no. 2 (1999).

Irish Immigration to Avon – A Forerunner To An Incidence of Cultural Prejudice at the Pine Grove School House In West Avon, 1876 (Part 2)

Author: Janet M. Conner,  Avon Historical Society     (Part 1 was previously published on March 1.)

History of the Pine Grove School House, Harris Road and West Avon Road, Avon, Connecticut

The little, white painted school house, built in 1865, sits on its original foundation on the corner of Harris Road and West Avon Road in Avon, Connecticut.  The word ‘quaint’ is all-encompassing when looking at this well-preserved historic relic.  Other adjectives come to mind like ‘picturesque’, ‘charming’ and ‘bucolic’ to describe this gingerbread trimmed, one-room school that functioned until 1949.

Fig. 6: Pine Grove School House, map

It is located in the former District #7, one of the divisions Avon was divided into to locate schools depending on population to educate children.  Alice Holmes Thompson wrote that in the May 1865 session of the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut, a resolution was passed as follows: “Upon the petition of O. L. Woodford and others, inhabitants of the towns of Avon and Farmington, in the county of Hartford, praying for the incorporation of a School District from portions of the third and fourth districts of Avon, and of the Unionville school district of Farmington, be it resolved that such a district shall be created.” Since Avon began as a farming community, with three working farms even today, the students were the sons and daughters of local farm families.

The exterior of the building exhibits some Victorian features with its high peaked roof line and hand-cut wood detailing.  There is a single-entry door in the front but, once inside the entryway, there is one door to the right for the boys and one to the left for the girls.  The pupils were also seated on separate sides in the classroom.  There is an original iron sink with a hand pump where children washed their hands.  Potable water was drawn from the neighboring farm’s spring in a bucket and children drank water ladled into a tin cup, according to Thompson.

The interior of the school, though simple, was the newest and most modern of the buildings in the seven school districts with two outhouses.  The original high ceiling is curved and covered with tin painted white.  As the heat from the stove rose, it was reflected back to warm the students.  The wood burning bench stove in the center is an excellent match to the original and is vented to the outside via a large stove pipe.  There are four chalkboards.  One is an original ‘blackboard’ made of boards painted with Japan black.  The others are made of slate and known as slate boards.  There are neat rows of desks that represent changing styles of numerous decades of different sizes.  Some have adjustable legs to accommodate growing children.  At one time the school used double desks and one is on display.  The teacher’s desk is a reproduction of one found in a photograph taken in the school in 1912.  It was built in Riverton, CT by the Hitchcock Chair Factory. Many of the artifacts within the schoolhouse such as books, teacher’s hand bell, and globe vary in time periods.  “The school was constructed and equipped at a cost of $1,538,” according to Frances L. Mackie.

The Pine Grove School House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and is a part of a designated Historic District.  This includes the school house and five neighboring farms that are still extant.  These farms and farmhouses include Sunrise Farm, the former Marcus Thompson farm, the former Ephraim Woodford farmstead, David Rood farm and Isaac Woodford farm.

The Pine Grove School House has withstood the march of time with restoration and preservation undertaken by the Avon Historical Society.  Many former students of the school have very fond memories of attending there and some of the old-timers came for the 150th year birthday celebration of the school house in 2015.  We, at the Society, consider the school house a treasured gem.  The instance of cultural prejudice against the Irish immigrants was a regrettable episode in this school’s complex and remarkable history.  Many one-room school houses have fallen into disrepair and have disappeared from our historic towns. They exist only in the collective memories of their eldest citizens.  We, at the Society, invite you to step back in time to immerse yourself in the bygone days of early education in Avon.  The Pine Grove School House is open for tours from June through early September on Sundays from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. with a Society docent to answer questions.


Mackie, Frances L. Avon, Connecticut: An Historical Story. Canaan, NH: Phoenix Publishing, 1988.

Thompson, Alice Holmes. “Pine Grove School, Seventh District, Avon, Conn.,” The Lure of the Litchfield Hills, December 1953.

Recommended for Further Reading:

Howard, Nora O. Avon (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing Co. 2000.

Wright, Peter. Avon (Then and Now). Intro. Nora O.Howard. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.


Irish Immigration to Avon – A Forerunner to An Incidence of Cultural Prejudice at the Pine Grove School House in West Avon, 1876 (Part 1)

Author: Janet M. Conner,  Avon Historical Society

No matter when, in the course of our nation’s history, instances of racial or cultural discrimination or prejudice have occurred, the result is always the same…feelings get hurt, people become disenfranchised, the wrongs done continue to be perpetrated and people are less connected with those who are “different.”  Such was an instance of prejudice that occurred long ago at the lovely, one-room Pine Grove School House in West Avon, Connecticut. (Fig. 1)

Fig. 1: Pine Grove School House

On the surface, the incident would appear merely as children being mean to other children but, in fact, the issue ran much deeper.  So deep in fact that it was reported to and published by the Bristol Press, June 1, 1876 from Unionville News section as follows:

 In the South School District of Avon, the cup from which the children drank water during school hours having become much dilapidated from long exposure to air and water, was considered unfit for longer use, and the school was furnished with a new one to replace the old.  When the new cup was produced, the pupils being all descendants of Yankee stock, with the exception of one family who were of Irish descent, the Yankee children appropriated the bright new cup to their own special use and behoof and in passing the cooling draught the old rusty cup was passed to the Irish children, who were tauntingly told that it was the “paddy cup” by the water bearer in attendance.  This insult and change of cups is said to have been noticed by the teacher, which caused a smile upon her countenance rather than a reprimand.  That smile of approval sank deep into the hearts of the lone Irish children.  They went home depressed in spirit, and in tears made complaint to their father, who upon diligent inquire, found that the story of his heart-stricken children was true and that the committee man of the district was the father of the teacher who let the indignity pass without a rebuke to the perpetrator.

The Irish first came to the Farmington Valley in the first quarter of the nineteenth century seeking to build railroads and the Farmington canal. (Fig. 2)  “Four hundred pick and shovel laborers, chosen for their strong backs, came from the ‘loughs and dells’ of Ireland in 1826 and 1827 to become the labor force,” according to Frances L. Mackie (64-65).  After the canal was completed, many Irish moved on following the work but there were some “…who worked on the canal and stayed in the valley to share their rich heritage with the Yankee farmers (Mackie, 159).”  “The Shanachie,” the newsletter of the Connecticut Irish American Historical Society, recalls that a priest from Massachusetts, Father Woodley, kept a log of canal workers’ births and baptisms in the Hartford area and this “log confirms that many canal workers were family men with Irish wives willing to share whatever hardships were necessary to build a new life in America (2).”

Fig. 2: Farmington Canal, Mount Carmel

The Irish population began to increase incrementally in Avon.  According to the 1850 census for the Town of Avon, there were “only nine Irish families with ‘farmer’ or ‘laborer’ shown as the occupation for the household-head (Mackie, 170-171).” By the 1860 census, “thirty-four Irish families are recorded (Mackie, 173-174).” Professor John F. Sutherland of Manchester Community College notes in his article “Immigration to Connecticut” that “They [the Irish] were the single largest foreign-born group in the state…(269).”

Connecticut’s Governor William T. Minor (Fig. 3) was staunchly anti-Irish and was elected to office in 1855 on the American Party ticket that became the Know Nothings. At his inaugural parade, Irish immigrants and anti-immigrant nativists came close to violence when there was an attempt to break up the Irish militia lines.  As Christopher Hoffman wrote in a 2014 article in the Hartford Courant, “The ugly incident typified the prejudice, demonization and outright hatred the Irish faced during the 1840s and 1850s when they began arriving in Connecticut in large numbers.” A historian for the Connecticut Irish American Historical Society told Hoffman, “The people of Connecticut felt very threatened…They felt [the Irish] were dirty. They were Catholics, which was a bad mark against them.” The Irish, in great numbers, joined the Democratic party as a means of upward mobility both socially and economically. The Ethnic Heritage Center explains, “This political move frightened many Yankees who worried that radicals and Catholics would join forces to take political control of Connecticut (8).” It was not until 1883 when a Governor of Irish descent was elected, a man by the name of Thomas M. Waller (Fig. 4) of New London, that tensions eased.  He was the son of Irish immigrant parents named Armstrong and was adopted into the Waller family.

Fig. 3: Gov. William T. Minor

Fig. 4: Gov. Thomas M. Waller

Irish women began working as domestic servants and shop girls and men as mechanics, farm hands, and laborers. New Irish families came to seek work in Avon, some being employed at the Climax Fuse Company.  (Fig. 5) An industrial accident happened there in 1905 with a major explosion and fire that killed nineteen people, some with Irish surnames. “The rapid influx of ‘new’ immigrants after 1900 was greeted by a few Avon people with dismay.  Straight off the boat, the immigrants were ‘different;’ they did not speak English, their ‘ways’ were strange, and in a small New England farming town where the vast majority were [sic] of Yankee stock, the dissimilarity was a fearsome thing,” wrote Frances Mackie.

Fig. 5: Climax Fuse Co.

Fig. 6: US Census sample of Workers at Fuse Factory

With anti-Irish sentiment at home, it is not surprising that the Irish children attending school at the one-room school house were treated with disrespect at that time in our town’s earlier days.  The Connecticut Historical Commission opined, “The Irish experience in Connecticut was painful, but the Irish at home had endured poverty, famine, and English rule; they were not easily discouraged by the prejudice they encountered in Connecticut.”

To be continued…

Sources and Recommended Reading:

The Ethnic Heritage Center, An Ethnic History of New Haven, p. 8, available at http://connecticuthistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/AnEthnicHistoryofNewHaven2.pdf

Hoffman, Christopher, “19th-Century Irish Catholic Immigrants Faced Unabashed Hostility-State’s First Major Wave Of Foreigners Widely Seen As A Threat,” The Hartford Courant, June 22, 2014.

Mackie, Frances L. Avon, Connecticut: An Historical Story. Canaan, NH: Phoenix Publishing, 1988.

“The Coming of the Irish,” Celebrate Connecticut 350 Years 1635-1985-Connecticut History and Culture,  Hartford: The Connecticut Historical Commission, 1985, page 141.

“The Shanachie,” Connecticut Irish American Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. XXV, No. 1 (2013): 2. http://digitalcommons.sacredheart.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1039&context=shanachie

Sutherland, John. “Immigration to Connecticut.” Celebrate Connecticut 350 Years 1635-1985-Connecticut History and Culture. Hartford: The Connecticut Historical Commission, 1985, 269.

Thompson, Alice Holmes. “Pine Grove School, Seventh District, Avon, Conn.,” The Lure of the Litchfield Hills, December 1953.




Slavery, Liberty, and Revolutionary Connecticut

Author: Ryan Paolino

An enslaved man refused to work further and upon his master’s inspection lashed out with a knife. The slave killed his former master and wounded the master’s son in the cheek. Both the son and mistress escaped without further harm. The Connecticut Journal, as well as the New-Haven Post-Boy, reported that the captive stole the knife and an ax as he escaped into the woods. In 1767 the colony was eight years away from the beginning of the Revolutionary War. During the war, some slaves were offered a chance to fight for their freedom. Others seized the opportunity to runaway and join the British. What this article from 1767 provides is confirmation that the idea of freedom did not begin with the Revolution. The Revolution simply offered  a venue that did not make obtaining freedom a crime. Moreover, runaway slaves were not restricted to the southern colonies; many in the North attempted their escape as well.

The American Revolution became the fight for liberty and independence yet served as an ambiguous symbol for who received such benefits. Slaves in the revolution generally fought for the side of the their owners. While approximately 12,000 slaves defended the British Parliament with their loyalist masters in return for freedom, a large number resisted such “tyranny” fighting for the Patriot cause in the place of their owners. Connecticut struggled to meet its supply of soldiers for the quota of the Continental Army and filled the gap with black soldiers. Masters, on both sides, commonly promised their servants freedom after the revolution’s victory, yet such a promise never saw fulfillment.  Slaves challenged British rule for the hope that the liberty they fought for might include them, yet many others resisted their masters despite the possible reward, or for some, lack of an offer.

Slaves who fought in the revolution were betrayed by both sides. The patriots gained their liberty that was applied to only white males while the British and loyalists lost with little opportunity to compromise at the Treaty of Paris. Those captives who fought and survived for self-betterment received nothing. Often those who fought in place of their master’s went back to work and continued their lives as they did prior to the American Revolution.  Even men like Sharp Liberty, who was formerly enslaved in Wallingford and manumitted after the war, had trouble collecting wages that allowed them to live securely after the war. Connecticut struggled with the ways that slaves were handled as many white citizens disagreed about to whom liberty applied. Connecticut was far from abolishing slavery and the betrayed black soldiers and servants did not have another opportunity such as the revolution and the discussions about liberty. Many attempted an escape either stealthily or with violence although success was unlikely.

Simeon Olcott was a graduate of Yale law school and judge of Hartford County Court. Col. Sam A. Joley asked for his opinion about the law’s relationship to a runaway slave in the State of New Hampshire in 1788. Olcott looked to a similar case in New York where another slave deserted his master’s service. Upon capture he was prevented return by citizens who believed he was free. It was ruled the slave was freed based on the Constitution and a unanimous decision by the court. Yet, Olcott believed, according to State law and the Constitution, slaves were not liberated by the Constitution and disagreed with such results. His response was reflective of the divisions that existed in Connecticut even in the immediate aftermath of the revolution. Independence and liberty were achieved, yet several people disagreed about who was eligible to receive such liberties. Olcott’s letter currently remains in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society.

The betrayal of allied slaves from the Revolutionary War was not absolute. Many freed slaves enlisted in the war, such as Liverpool Wadsworth, from Farmington, Connecticut, who took the name of his former owner, Thomas Wadsworth, after Liverpool was freed in his owner’s will. A Connecticut slave named Jack was owned by a patriot clergyman and asked his master about the hypocrisy of the language of liberty while he was a slave. His owner agreed that Jack also deserved liberty and after an additional year of service granted his freedom.

Connecticut was not in agreement about slaves and the concept of liberty. Some owners accepted that liberty was not for white men alone and granted their slaves freedom after the American Revolution. Freed slaves were uncommon due to the fact that the law did not state slaves had such liberties. While few were lucky to escape the lives of servitude an overwhelming majority were betrayed by the patriots and loyalists alike.

For Further Information:

Cooper, William Neil. The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution. Boston: Robert F. Wallcut, 1885.

Orcott, Samuel. Opinion on Freedom of African Americans in New Hampshire, 1788. Connecticut Historical Society. Hartford, Connecticut.

A Deeper Look at Loyalists in Newgate Prison

Author: Morgan Bengel

On May 12, 1781, one woman was permitted to visit her prisoner husband in the mine shaft of New-gate Prison. Upon entering, the door was unlatched and roughly twenty men rushed through in an attempt to escape their living “hell.” Killing six guards on their way, Ebenezer Hathaway and Thomas Smith led the group of prisoners to freedom. As Loyalists, these men were considered enemies of the state. Their escape on May 12 was the largest in New-gate’s history and although the details are intriguing and exhilarating the escape did not happen as a solitary event. Understanding the laws and events that took place months before the escape is crucial to the history of Loyalists in Connecticut and specifically New-gate Prison during the American Revolution. The laws instituted against Loyalists were put in place to assert Patriot dominance in America. The Loyalist’s actions against the United States were their assertion that the rebels did not govern them. 

When the United Colonies  declared war on the King of Great Britain they passed laws to punish anyone who treasonously aided the enemy. Individuals loyal to the King were persecuted, imprisoned, and sentenced to death for their beliefs and actions. New-gate Prison, in Simsbury, Connecticut, was the most notorious prison used to contain Tories. Prisoners were confined in an abandoned copper mine, 40 yards below the surface. Referred to as the “catacomb of loyalism,”  New-gate was a dark, damp hole. The repression of Loyalists was not constricted to poor treatment at New-gate. Prisoners were put in New-gate because of laws instituted to punish anyone opposed to the United States America.

In February 1781, the Governor of Connecticut and council of representatives issued, “An Act For Punishment Of High Treason And Other Atrocious Crimes Against The State.” In the midst of the war, this act sought to enhance punishment for those loyal to Great Britain. The law outlined that citizens or subjects of the United States who declared allegiance to the King of Great Britain, persuaded inhabitants to renounce their allegiance to the State, or aided the enemy would be guilty of high treason and sentenced to death or imprisoned at New-gate. In addition, those persons who joined the enemy, robbed, or plundered would not be considered prisoners of war, but convicted before the superior court and either sentenced to death, whipped, or imprisoned at New-gate. Loyalists were not considered prisoners of war, in order to prevent them from being exchanged and released. In 1781, the Patriots were cracking down on the Loyalists amongst them. Two months later, Ebenezer Hathaway and Thomas Smith were imprisoned at New-gate Prison, for “joining the enemy,” just as the law had demanded.

Hathaway and Smith were captured in Huntington Bay off Long Island on April 7th, 1781, while aboard their “Privateer Boat Adventure.” After their capture the men were tried before the Superior Court, where they were urged to plead guilty. Hathaway and Smith, however, claimed they were British subjects and refused to plead guilty or not guilty, because they rejected the United States legislative system. In an attempt to get them to plead guilty, their sentence at New-gate was “sentenced until pleads indictment.” They were imprisoned at New-gate, without bail until they recognized the Superior Court as law and pled guilty or non-guilty. The policy on Loyalists in America was another issue of independence for the Patriots. The Act for Punishment of High Crimes in 1781 was an attempt for Patriots to control Loyalists in America and judge them with their laws. Hathaway and Smith did not recognize the United States’ laws and therefore refused to identify as guilty or not guilty.

In only three weeks, Hathaway and Smith made their escape with twenty other Loyalist prisoners. The other men who participated in the escape were imprisoned for illicit trade, being a Tory, joining the enemy, or attempt to join the enemy; all crimes recognized in the February 1781 Act for Punishment of High Crimes. Their escape was the largest in New-gate history, and their joint effort to escape, demonstrated their resolve to join together in a common cause. Hathaway and Smith did not recognize the United States law, so escaping from New-gate Prison was not only about escaping the poor conditions of the prison. It was about fighting against their repression and unjust imprisonment.

Suggested Reading:

Calhoon, Robert McCluer. The Loyalist in Revolutionary America 1760-1781. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1965.

Connecticut Journal

Crary, Catherine S. The Price of Loyalty: Tory Writings from the Revolutionary Era. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1973.

Phelps, Richard H.  Newgate of Connecticut: A History of the Prison, its Insurrections, Massacres, & C. Imprisonment of the Tories, In the Revolution. Hartford: Elihu Geer, 1844.

State of Connecticut. Primary Sources Archives, Hartford, CT.

Taylor, Alan. American Revolutions: A Continental History 1750-1804. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.

The First Official Pistol-maker of the United States during the Revolutionary Era

Author: Allen Kozloski

The American Revolution and war with England resulted in the need for firearms. Individual artisans rushed to meet this demand. The colonial assembly passed legislation that reflected this demand: “A bounty of 5 shillings will be paid for each stand of arms ‘with a good lock’ made in the colony.” –Connecticut General Assembly 1775. (North, 1916, 174).

One artisan, Simeon North of Berlin, Connecticut, responded to this opportunity, seeing it as his patriotic obligation. In 1781, sixteen-year-old Simeon, soldiering a rifle, marched from Berlin to Old Saybrook hoping to enlist in the Continental Army. Upon his arrival, he discovered peace negotiations were underway and was not mustered into the ranks of the Continentals (North, 1913, 25). Although he did not serve as a soldier, Simeon North would make it his life’s mission to arm the military of the United States in case it came under threat in a future armed conflict.

North was born to an affluent family, a descendent of one of the original five founders of Berlin, whose wealth came from the production of farm equipment. Using his family’s money, Simeon purchased a sawmill and convert it to manufacture pistols. On March 9, 1799, Simeon secured his first government contract to produce 500 pistols within a year. This order secured North’s place as the first official pistol maker of the United States. Since the North family had no previous experience in gunsmiting, he used the 1777 Charleville Flintlock Pistol as a model for his guns. While Simeon was not a revolutionary inventor of a new type of gun, his importance lies in the shift from the handicraft era of manufacturing to large-scale production. The production of 500 pistols within a year is a monumental task to be undertaken by any skilled artisan, much less a newcomer to the industry.

In the handicraft era of manufacturing, firearms were produced in smaller quantities by blacksmiths, while contracts were sealed by handshakes and the personal assurance to fulfill a quota. This business model will guide North during the transitional era of manufacturing. By compartmentalizing jobs, employees such as fillers, fitters, and woodworkers will each be assigned to construct individual parts of the pistol. Through repetition, early models of North’s pistols achieved a high degree of precision and were a reliable sidearm for military forces.

By 1813, the demand created by another war, surpassed North’s means of production forcing him to build a larger factory in Middletown, Connecticut with a greater waterpower supply that the Berlin factory had from Spruce Brook. When the factory was constructed in 1816, North began work on a contract for 20,000 pistols marking a key shift in handicraft to industrialized mass production.

Figure 1: Personal Collection of Allen Kozloski

Around 1816, he invented the mode of milling iron and turning gun barrels. The milling machine was believed to be first utilized in the Middletown factory. While the milling machine revolutionized firearm production and was insurmountably valuable in the field of precision and interchangeability, North would not initially receive credit for this invention. This is due to two reasons: the first being the first rifle to achieve true intangibility is the 1848 Halls rifle of Harpers Ferry, while the second is the fact Simeon North never filed a patent for one of his firearms or the milling machine used in production.

North’s contributions were overlooked until recent works, such as From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States by David Hounshell recognized North’s importance to the field of manufacturing as a pivotal figure influencing the introduction and advancement of machining tools and the concept of interchangeable parts.

In a letter to the war department North states. “Sir, I believe it is the duty of every American citizen to unite and assist the government at this time in repelling the unjustifiable, tyrannical and imperial orders and decrees heaped upon us by the war powers of Europe, and you may depend that nothing shall be waiting on my part to support the rights of the Union: every branch of this business shall be crowded to the greatest extremities.”(Jeska, 1993,5 ).

North’s letter shows both his devotion to arming the military and the sacrifice of personal gain over the new nation’s collective security. By not filling a patent, he would aid other manufacturers to meet the firearm demands of the military.

While North was late to fulfill several of the deadlines of the enormous arms contracts, the apologetic tone of his assurance that he is taking all possible measures to hasten production proved invaluable in securing future contracts from the military. North success is also due to the demand for firearms and the limited manufacturers capable of fulfilling large orders. Simeon North’s success as an early pioneer of interchangeability of parts and his precise large-scale production is the result of the necessity of the United States to arm itself to resist European powers during the revolutionary period.

Recommended for further reading:

Gordon, Robert B. “Simeon North, John Hall, and Mechanized Manufacturing.” Technology and Culture 30, no. 1 (1989): 179-88. doi:10.2307/3105469.

Hounshell, David. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States. No. 4. JHU Press, 1985.

North, Catherine. History of Berlin Connecticut. New Haven: The Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Company, 1916.

Simeon North, Robert Jeska. Early Simeon North Pistol correspondence with comments by Robert Jeska. Plainwell MI. 1993.

S.N.D. North, LL.D. and Ralph H. North. Simeon North, First Official Pistol Maker of the United States: a Memoir. Concord: The Rumford Press, 1913.

“Newgate: Connecticut’s First State Prison”

Author: Jessica Dabkowski

In 1773, Connecticut’s General Assembly chose the copper mines in Simsbury to be the state’s first prison, renaming it Newgate Prison. During the Revolutionary Era, Newgate Prison housed not only political prisoners criminals, such as loyalists. The goal was to create a prison where escape was impossible. However, the overseers soon found out that Newgate was far from inescapable.

At the time, corporal punishments were common for those convicted of crimes. Punishments could include branding with a hot iron, cropping of ears, or whipping. With views on corporal punishment starting to shift, Connecticut started to look for different ways to punish criminals. The isolation at the copper mines in Simsbury seemed like a perfect alternative.

John Hinson, sentenced to ten years for burglary, became Newgate’s first prisoner on December 22, 1773. Eighteen days later, he escaped. It is believed that a woman assisted his escape by dropping a rope down the sixty-seven foot eastern shaft. The first prison keeper, Captain John Viets, set a ten dollar reward for the return of John Hinson (Connecticut Courant, January 10, 1774). The advertisement was unsuccessful.   

This apparent security breach did not stop Connecticut from sending more prisoners to Newgate. The first half of 1774 saw five new prisoners at Newgate, John Roberts, William Johnson Crawford, and Zephaniah Ramsdale, David Humphrey, and James Williams. Crawford and Humphrey attempted escape by moving rocks in an abandoned ore shaft. Unfortunately, the rocks caved in and they were allegedly buried alive. This did not stop Viets from issuing a reward, in case they had somehow escaped (Connecticut Courant, April 12, 1774). Ramsdale, Williams, and Roberts later made successful escape attempts.

Newgate also housed Tories during the American Revolution. Even though Newgate had a number of escapes, it was thought to be secure. In fact, General Washington even sent prisoners to Newgate, believing it to be impossible for them to escape. Unfortunately, the treatment of Tories at Newgate was inhumane. Some historians believe that the poor treatment of Tories at Newgate led to the mistreatment of Patriots on prison ships by the British.

In 1776, a fire destroyed a blockhouse at Newgate. It was designed to help prisoners escape, however, none managed to do so. Due to the problematic situation of housing a large number of Tories at the prison, the Governor and Council of Safety sent a committee to Newgate. After an investigation the committee requested stationing a guard, after learning of the unease felt by the people. This request was later granted with two men, more if necessary, who watched the prison every night to prevent escape attempts.

Newgate saw one of its largest escapes in 1781. Earlier that year, it was reported that the General Assembly declared that those who acknowledged allegiance to the King of Great Britain during the course of the war would be imprisoned at Newgate (Connecticut Courant, March 20, 1781). On May 18, 1781, twenty-one prisoners managed to kill one of the guards and wound several others while they successfully escaped Newgate. Many of the twenty-one men were Tories. Not long after, sixteen of the twenty-one prisoners were recaptured and sent back to Newgate (Connecticut Courant, May 29, 1781).

Newgate had another fire in 1782, which allowed many prisoners to escape. Although most were recaptured in the surrounding area. However, after the fire Newgate was not repaired until 1790. After which, Newgate continued to operate as a prison until 1827. Even with all of the successful escape attempts, Newgate retained a reputation as the strongest prison in the newly formed United States.

 In 1968 the State of Connecticut purchased Newgate to serve as a museum and tourist attraction. Currently closed for restoration. Newgate has only opened for the public four times this year.

Newgate Prison and Copper Mines

Recommended Readings

Domonell, William G. Newgate: From Copper Mine to State Prison. Simsbury, The Simsbury Historical Society, Inc, 1998.

Phelps, Noah A. History of Simsbury, Granby, and Canton: From 1642-1845. Hartford: Press of Case, Tiffany, and Burnham, 1845.

Phelps, Richard Harvey. Newgate of Connecticut: A History of the Prison, Its Insurrections, Massacres, &c., Imprisonment of the Tories, in the Revolution. Press of E. Geer, 1844.


Sodomy Laws in Connecticut

Author: Nicole Fontaine

It is hard to imagine that the “Blue” state of Connecticut once utilized the death penalty for homosexual behavior. In the era of Puritan law, colonial Connecticut and New Haven used England’s 1533 statute against homosexuality as an example. With this statute, homosexual acts became a capital crime (Crompton 277). It was not until the post-revolutionary period that Connecticut and the other colonies loosened their sodomy laws.

The colony of Connecticut followed its English predecessors by making sodomy a capital crime in 1642 (Gay/Lesbian Almanac 85). The General Court of Connecticut had twelve capital crimes in this era.  Homosexuality was equated with crimes such as murder, rape, kidnapping, and treason (The Book of General Laws). The colony of New Haven even went a step further to include not only men, but also made women liable for committing such an “abomination”(True Blue Laws of Connecticut and New Haven). As a result of the Connecticut 1642 statute, four men were hanged: George Spencer on April 1, 1642, two unknown in 1655, and William Potter on June 6, 1662 (deathpenalityinfo.org). Connecticut law followed British laws’ synonymous language for sodomy or buggery as bestiality. These four men were charged with not only sodomy, but also with bestiality. Equating the “crime” of homosexuality with murder, rape, and other higher crimes exemplifies the religious nature of this law.

William Potter was the last to be executed for sodomy in Connecticut, but the laws continued to make homosexuality a capital crime (deathpenalty.org). In 1672, the General Court of Connecticut clearly defined sodomy in their list of capital crimes. At this time, Puritanism consumed Connecticut. Laws were religious to protect the community’s salvation. However, the laws were beginning to loosen as exceptions were beginning to be considered. The famous 1677 trial of Nicholas Sension proved how lenient the General Court of Connecticut was when it came to men of prestige. Sension was a married man and one of the wealthiest men in Windsor, Connecticut (Gay/Lesbian Almanac 117). After his servant, Daniel Sexton, accused Sension of attempted sodomy, more eyewitness testimony followed.  Although sodomy was deemed a capital offense, Sension was let go on “good behavior,” most likely due to his place in society (“Crimes and Misdemeanors”).

Britain wanted the colonists to intensify their sodomy laws to include not only death, but other extreme measures. By 1718, death was not typically the sentence for sodomy in the colonies (Cromption 283). For an example, the last death for sodomy in Connecticut was in 1662, but that’s not to say homosexuals were free from punishment. Sodomy laws in the colonies became more lenient because of the Quakers in Pennsylvania. When England used stoning, whipping, and castration for those convicted of sodomy, the colonists were supposed to follow their lead. Yet on January 12, 1705, Quakers dropped “castration” from its Pennsylvania sodomy law (Crompton 283). Thus, this began the elimination of inhumane sodomy laws throughout the colonies.

By 1791, the original thirteen colonies made sodomy a criminal offense and limited sentencing (religioustolerence.org). Although, homosexuals were still considered “criminals” in early America, this could be seen as somewhat progressive. The American Revolution paved the way for the break in English law which helped many people who were accused of sodomy. If the colonists did not break from England, sodomy would have been a capital offense until Britain’s passing of the 1861 Person Act (legislation.gov.uk). In 2017, Connecticut celebrates advancements in LGBTQ+ law. Marriage equality was passed in 2008 and, thereafter, political leadership has advocated for an inclusive society. It is important for Connecticut residents to acknowledge its darker history to reveal the true path towards equality.

Recommended for Further Reading:

Benenmann, William. Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships. Binghamton: Harrington Park Press, 2006.

Connecticut. General Court. The Book of General Laws, for the People within the Jurisdiction of Connecticut. Published by Samuel Green. Hartford: Connecticut State Library, 1673.

Connecticut State Archives. “Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1662/1663-1789.” Published by Effie Mae Pricket. Hartford: Connecticut State Library, 1913. See pages 365,366, 388.

Crompton, Louis. “Homosexuals and the Death Penalty in Colonial America.” Journal of Homosexuality 3, no. 1 (1976) : 277-293.

Dynes, Wayne R. and Stephen Donaldson, ed. History of Homosexuality in Europe and America. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992.

Foster, Thomas A., ed. Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

Katz, Jonathan Ned. Gay American History: Lesbians & Gay Men in the U.S.A. New York: The Penguin Group, 1976.

Katz, Jonathan Ned. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary. New York, Harper & Row Publishers, 1983.

Trumbull, J. Hammond 1821-1897. The True-blue Laws of Connecticut And New Haven And the False Blue-laws Invented by the Rev. Samuel Peters. Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company, 1876.


“Colonial America: The Age of Sodomitical Sin.” Out history.org. accessed October 7, 2017. http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/the-age-of-sodomitical-sin/1670s/sodomy-law-connecticut-october

“Criminalizing Same-Sex Behavior.” Religious Tolerance.org. accessed October 7, 2017. http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_laws1.htm.

“Executions by State.” Death penaltyinfo.org. accessed October 7, 2017. https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/ESPYstate.pdf.

“Offences Against the Person Act 1861.” Legislation.gov.uk. accessed October 7, 2017. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/24-25/100/section/61/enacted.


The 1776 Election of Hartford’s Black Governor

Author: Chris Menapace

Monument to Black Governors located in the Ancient Burying Grounds in Hartford.

From 1749 to 1855, Black communities around Connecticut elected leaders, named “Black Governors.” Little information is available on the men who held the title of Black Governor, but there is evidence of at least 27 individuals from 11 different towns, including Farmington.  This position of leadership among free and enslaved black people was not unique to Connecticut.  Black Governors, sometimes referred to as Black Kings, were elected in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire; yet Connecticut had the longest and most robust tradition lasting 106 years.  How the position began is still a mystery; the office modeled white politics, but the election itself was a merger of both European and African traditions with grand parades and celebrations.  On election nights, food and drinks would be provided for all those in attendance and the community would celebrate, often times well into the night.  As Black Governor a black man had the power to dole out punishments, act as a mediator between white and black communities, and appoint lieutenant governors and deputies to carry out these duties.

Although there is no evidence of how and why the tradition of Black Governors was created, whites attempted to use the position to control the black population.  By having black individuals carry out the punishments on their own communities, whites hoped to diminish the appeal of resistance to the slave institution.  A similar method was used by southern plantation owners when they employed slaves as overseers, known as drivers. Most Black Governors elected in the eighteenth-century were enslaved by prominent men such as John Anderson’s owner, Philip Skene, who was a wealthy British officer.  Although the institution of the Black Governors was used by whites as a method of controlling the black population, the black community was able to use the tradition to organize and give a voice for black people in Connecticut especially during the 1776 election of John Anderson.

Artist depiction of Black Governor’s Election Day parade..

On May 8th, 1776, white men in Connecticut elected Jonathan Trumbull as governor, and soon after, black men recognized John Anderson as their governor.  The installation of John Anderson became a controversial subject for two reasons, one of which was the fact that no election had been held.  A passage from the journal  of Major French, a prominent Connecticut man, dated May 11, showed that Cuff had resigned as governor and appointed John Anderson, therefore subverting the election process.  This discovery upset the black population because the office of the Black Governor commanded respect in the community.  Black people had been denied a right to vote for their representatives in the state and colony of Connecticut, and now, in 1776, they had been denied the opportunity to select their own community leader.  The white population of Connecticut had attempted to use the Black Governor tradition to control the black population, but in 1776 the choice of the governor had caused considerable turmoil.  Whites around the colonies had always been fearful of black revolts, especially during the Revolutionary War.  The British government had used the threat of arming the enslave population in the colonies to keep control of the colonists.  Once the Revolutionary War began, the British acted upon this threat, freeing and arming thousands of enslaved people throughout the colonies.  With the controversy of the election for Black Governor, whites in Connecticut became afraid of violence from the angered communities.  Yet the subversion of the election was only the first layer to this controversy.

When John Anderson took over the Black Governorship, there were concerns among both the white and black populations because John Anderson’s owner, Philip Skene, had previously been imprisoned for suspicion of being a Tory.  The people of Hartford were alarmed, thinking that Skene had designs to use John Anderson’s position as the Black Governor to bring the black population of the state to the British cause.  The white governor and council of the colony appointed a committee to investigate the matter.  Through their enquiry they determined that Skene had attempted to bribe people to elect John Anderson, but there were a number of blacks who refused to vote for a Tory as governor; they assumed that if John Anderson’s owner was a Tory that he would be one as well.  Since the black population would not vote for John Anderson, Cuff decided to appoint him.  Skene was able to convince the committee that he did this for sport and had no malevolent intentions.  Fear of the power of black communities and the Black Governor had created fear among the whites in Connecticut, and had launched an intensive investigation from the government.  The Black Governors were used to oppress the black population, but the tradition had evolved into a more complex system that gave black communities symbolic power that whites did not take for granted.

Map of Main Street in Hartford showing African American presence during the American Revolution

Further Reading.

Greene, Lorenzo J. The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776. New York: Columbia University Press, 1942.

Harris, Katherine. “In Remembrance of Their Kings of Guinea: The Black Governors and the Negro Election, 1749 to 1800.” In African American Connecticut Explored, edited by Elizabeth J. Normen, 35-44. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2013.

Piascik, Andy. “Connecticut’s Black Governors.” Connecticut History.org, accessed October 3, 2017. https://connecticuthistory.org/connecticuts-black-governors/.

Daggett’s Charge: The Revolution in New Haven

Author: Ian Long

On the morning of July 5th British ships with troops under the command of Major General William Tryon sailed into New Haven’s harbor, bringing the Revolutionary War to the Connecticut college town. A great deal of local legend has grown up around the events of that unusually hot summer day and no small figure in these stories is that of Dr. Naphtali Daggett. This Yale College professor, like a number of New Haven residents, took up arms against the British in an attempt to defend their homes against Tyron’s raid. The small resistance, numbering no more than a few hundred, had little chance against the 2,500 British regulars that advanced on their homes.  The stories surrounding Naphtali Daggett ring of both bravery and academic wit. Like so many local legends the veracity of the tale is questionable but it seems there is some truth to the legend.

Naphtali Daggett was born on September 8, 1727 in Attleboro, Massachusetts. He was a Yale graduate, Presbyterian minister and divinity professor at Yale. In 1766, following the resignation of Thomas Clap, Dr. Daggett was appointed President pro tempore. Dr. Daggett remained in the role for nine years, until Ezra Stiles took his place in 1777.

During the summer of 1779 there were rumors circulating in New Haven of a planned British attack coming from occupied New York. Many in New Haven hoped the British would simply pass by in favor of more tempting targets further up the coast. Stiles recorded in his diary some of the events of July 5th and from his vantage point in a steeple drew a map detailing the British invasion. A small group of fighting men were organized under Captain Hillhouse, Yale students making up a large number of the volunteers. Whether Dr. Daggett was among these volunteers is unclear, but what is clear is that he went out to fight.

The legend surrounding Daggett comes from a report of his actions given by, a then Yale senior, Elizur Goodrich. At eighty-nine years old Goodrich dictated a letter to his son describing “Old Daggett” as riding past the Yale volunteers on his black mare, with his fowling piece in hand, ready to put his principles into action in a gallant and manly fashion.

Goodrich related that he heard the rest only after the events. He claimed that Daggett took a position on a hill and gave battle to the whole column of British troops singlehandedly and was very efficient with his gun. The soldiers were shocked to find only a single man under cover of bushes and demanded to know why he was firing on them. He retorted with his quick wit that he was “exercising the right of war.” They asked him if they let him go if he would fire at them again, Daggett defiantly proclaimed, “nothing more likely”. This being too much for the soldiers they dragged him to the head of the column and compelled him with bayonets to show the way to New Haven. Only when he reached the green of New Haven, nearly dead from their blows and exhaustion, did they let him go.


The story written down in 1849 by Goodrich’s son is compelling and others have taken it up and added their own embellishments. Osterweis, in his Three sentries of New Haven, has it that Daggett was seventy-two. Charles H. Townshed in his account says that Daggett told the soldiers that he was a minister and that he made the sincerest prayers of his life against the British. It seems unlikely that soldiers would let a man who spoke to them like that live. So, what is the truth?

While some confusion does remain, Daggett swore an affidavit that was published in local newspapers just after the attack. In it he detailed the events as he experienced them. Daggett claimed that the British repeatedly shot at him and captured him after firing only one shot from his musket. He was taken, beaten badly and cut to the bone on his head and stabbed, though not deeply, by bayonets. All the while he pleaded for his life. They then stole his shoes, buckles and a few other items. The soldiers then took Daggett to an officer who questioned him and he again pleaded for his life. The soldiers then marched him at the front of a column of troops forcing Daggett to show them the way into New Haven. Beating him with a stick and insulting him saying the whole time that they would kill him on the spot. He collapsed from exhaustion and blood loss once they reached the New Haven Green. He was taken into a nearby home where he remained in bed for the next day and night. While Daggett would recover from the immediate wounds he never seemed to fully recover his health. He returned to preaching for a short time but died sixteen months later at the age of fifty-four.

The story of Dr. Daggett as told by Goodrich and others is romantic and says a great deal of how people would like to remember the events of July 5th 1779.  A valiant professor fighting the good fight and using his rapier wit when violence failed. The truth tells us more about the real experience of the Revolution and those who experienced it, a harsh and violent war and not the romantic war that it is so often seen as.

Recommended Reading:

Osterweis, Rollin G. Three Centuries of New Haven. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953

Townshend, C. Hervey. The British Invasion of New Haven, Connecticut: Together with Some Account of Their Landing and Burning the Towns of Fairfield and Norwalk, July, 1779. publisher not identified, 1879.

Sprague, William Buell. Annals of the American Pulpit; or, Commemorative Notices of Distinguished American Clergymen of Various Denominations, from the Early Settlement of the Country to the Close of the Year Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-Five. Vol. 1. New York: R. Carter and Brothers, 1866.

Bell, J. L. “Naphtali Daggett: Professor with a Gun.” http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2006/08/naphtali-daggett-professor-with-gun.html. accessed November 14, 2017 http://archives.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/2006_07/old_yale.html