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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 accessed October 7, 2017.

“Criminalizing Same-Sex Behavior.” Religious accessed October 7, 2017.

“Executions by State.” Death accessed October 7, 2017.

“Offences Against the Person Act 1861.” accessed October 7, 2017.


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, accessed October 3, 2017.

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.” accessed November 14, 2017

Paper and Provisions: Christopher Leffingwell and Connecticut during the American Revolution

Author: Amirah Neely

Connecticut is often referred to as “the Provision State” and the nickname comes from the era of the American Revolution. During this time, Connecticut, the third smallest state, provided more food and cannons for Washington’s army than any other state. Its location between Boston and New York City was ideal for collecting, storing, and transporting goods. The pathways that were used by early traders in Connecticut became the trade routes during the war. When the British gained control of New York City, the Patriots lost their traditional trade routes, creating a need to reroute them through Connecticut.

Connecticut was relatively untouched by the Revolution, with only a few major battles occurring within state lines. This allowed for manufacturers and farmers to keep producing as they had been. Many of Connecticut’s residents were farmers and their towns had communal meadowlands, crop lands and pastures. The number of livestock was reduced to a manageable number during the winter months and wool was used to produce clothing. There was a surplus of production in Connecticut, and when much of what was produced could no longer be sold to Great Britain and the Caribbean, Connecticut turned towards supplying for the war effort. The Revolution inspired an increase in manufacturing. One of the manufacturing hubs was located in Norwich. Christopher Leffingwell’s manufacturing is the reason for its expansion.

Christopher Leffingwell was a well-known businessman in Connecticut, and not only that, he was an outspoken Patriot. He was connected throughout the war and commanded the 20th Regiment of the State Militia, where he was a Colonel. He was highly skilled at war strategy and became an advisor to Governor Trumbull. He was seen as such an asset to the effort that he developed a relationship with General Washington who would often reach out for counsel. Washington, who made several stops in Connecticut during the war, would stay in Norwich and Leffingwell would provide him with provisions. Connecticut provided the best prices and supplies on goods such that even John Hancock would often write to Leffingwell about goods.

Christopher Leffingwell erected the first paper mill in Connecticut in 1766. It was located on the Yantic River in Norwich. The mill was erected to meet economic necessity, but it was not financially successful at the start and only proceeded to get worse. It required government aid to keep it running, which eventually ran out, causing the mill to close. In the short period that it was open (1766-1772), the mill produced paper for wrapping, writing, printing, and sheathing and it was able to turn out 1300 reams per year. It employed ten to twelve people. Papermaking started early on in Connecticut, because the area had easy access to waterpower and had a publishing industry. Hartford was a regional center for printing, and the fourth largest in the country. The New London Gazette published on December 10, 1766 stated, “The paper on which this Gazette is printed was manufactured at Norwich…proof that this Colony can furnish itself with one very considerable article which has heretofore carried thousand of pounds out of it,” and a 1775 edition of The Connecticut Gazette about the battle of Lexington and Concord was printed using paper that came from the mill. Along with running the paper mill, Leffingwell also had a chocolate factory, a felt-manufacturing plant, several fulling mills, a comb-making mill, a nail factory, a bookbindery, and a clock factory, all started between 1766 and 1774 and continuing through the Revolution.

Leffingwell encouraged and aided several artisans and mechanics to start new businesses. He inspired and supported the creation of a pottery kiln for making stone and earthen ware. Soon after that, iron works were beginning to be established and mechanics, carpenters, joiners, blacksmiths, silversmiths, shoemakers and tailors were all over town. This continued after the Revolution and led to Connecticut becoming an industrial state. While parts of Connecticut are presently struggling due to their loss of manufacturing, the legacy of Connecticut during the Revolution lives on through its nickname of “the Provision State.”

Map of Norwich and the Leffingwell House Museum

Recommended Reading:

Caulkins, F. M. History of Norwich, Connecticut: From Its Settlement in 1660, to January 1845. Norwich: Thomas Robinson, 1845.

Marshall, Benjamin Tinkham. A Modern History of New London County, Connecticut, Volume 1. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1922.

Connecticut in the American Revolution: An Exhibition from the Library and Museum Collections of The Society of the Cincinnati. Washington D.C.: Anderson House, October 27, 2001-May 11, 2002.

Republican Motherhood and Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy

Author: Emily McAdam

Before the American Revolution, New Englanders considered learning to be masculine and education for girls unnecessary. However, women’s contributions to the political revolution as protesters, spies, nurses, camp followers, and household and business managers led to a social revolution that not many anticipated. Americans believed that a republic depended on a virtuous and informed citizenry, which gave mothers new importance in the home and justified the existence of educational institutions for girls. Litchfield, Connecticut embodied this revolution for women in the decades following the American Revolution.

Although women were not voters and had no place in the public sphere, they were tasked with developing the nation politically and intellectually from their homes or in comparable domestic institutions, particularly schools. In order to achieve such lofty outcomes, they demonstrated a new kind of social independence. Daughters who witnessed their mothers handling wartime hardships on their own grew up to choose their own spouses, participate in more egalitarian marriages, or never marry. Sarah Pierce of Litchfield built a career for herself instead of marrying, founding the Litchfield Female Academy in 1792 (See Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Sarah Pierce

Tapping Reeve, founder of the first law school in the United States in Litchfield, indicated that men encouraged a kind of independence for women; he wrote a letter to Maria Tallmadge supporting her decision to break off an engagement with one of his law students. Daughters of the Revolution also grew up to believe that their sphere, though different and separate, was equally important to men’s. Two paintings of Litchfield residents Mary Floyd Tallmadge and Benjamin Tallmadge commissioned simultaneously reflect this perfectly. Benjamin is depicted with an older son in one painting with papers and books, suggesting a public career (See Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Benjamin Tallmadge and son

Mary is shown in another with her younger children, bathed in light, with a church steeple seen through the window, indicating her moral significance to their development (See Figure 3).

Fig. 3: Mary Floyd Tallmadge and her other children

Their children were educated at the Litchfield Law School and Litchfield Female Academy. Motherhood took on a political function after the American Revolution. “Republican Mothers” like Mary Floyd Tallmadge were responsible for raising their sons to be full citizens, future voters, and statesmen and for raising their daughters to be self-reliant, virtuous, domestic professionals who would best serve the nation by raising the next competent generation. In order to be the Republican Mothers that the nation needed, an old-fashioned education for women in basic literacy, work habits, needlework, and dancing would not suffice.

Sarah Pierce was one of the new nation’s pioneers in female education. Prior to the American Revolution, the best education that girls might have received typically involved no more than rudimentary literacy and ornamental crafts. After the Revolution, Pierce and others opened schools – actual institutions – that offered much more in order to develop ideal Republican Mothers. The emphasis on domesticity and behavior kept the institutions from being too radical; Pierce advertised the prospects of suitable marriages to law school students, and she did not eliminate the more traditional subjects that upper class women were still expected to master. Many examples of her students’ artwork survive (See Figure 4).

Fig. 4: Student artwork

However, an expanded curriculum reflected Pierce’s goals of self-improvement and intellectual development for the good of the nation. Benjamin Tallmadge promoted the Litchfield Female Academy in a letter in 1823 to an acquaintance who was considering enrolling his daughter. He shared that tuition was $5 per quarter for “art Geography, Grammar, ancient & modern history, Composition, Philosophy, Chemistry, Logic, reading, writing, spelling and needle work.” Pierce was so much on the cutting edge in offering these subjects of study to girls that she could not find a suitable history textbook; therefore, she wrote one herself. The influential author Harriet Beecher Stowe, a native of Litchfield and former student of Pierce, commended her on this textbook years later and asked to purchase a copy to use to instruct her own children (See Figure 5).

Fig. 5: Letter, Harriet Beecher Stowe

Although societal expectations still kept women and girls from the public sphere, expanded educational opportunities like those offered by Sarah Pierce prepared them to make valued contributions to their families and the nation.

As many as two thousand girls from across the nation and abroad attended the Litchfield Female Academy in its forty years. Some went on to raise their children quietly as good Republican Mothers; some married Litchfield Law School students and supported their husbands’ public careers; and some became educators, authors, and leaders of reform movements, pushing the boundaries of the domestic sphere. Litchfield was one of the catalysts of these large and small revolutions.

Recommended for Further Reading:

Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Vanderpoel, Emily Noyes. Chronicles of a Pioneer School from 1792 to 1833, Being the History of Miss Sarah Pierce and Her Litchfield School. Cambridge, MA: The University Press, 1903.

The Service of Africans from Connecticut in the American Revolution

Author: Kenneth Neal

The American Revolutionary War era is consistently at the forefront of the consciousness of Americans, whether in touting the contributions of the founding fathers, or boldly asserting rights promised by the Constitution. The present day development of American Revolutionary War consciousness has been shaped by a selective use of the historical written record from the American Revolution that has devoted considerable attention to the subjects of the ‘Founding Fathers’ and ‘Rights’.  A recent collaboration of a number of scholars in African American Connecticut Explored provides a local Connecticut focus that expands upon the work of  Lorenzo Johnston Greene, The Negro in Colonial New England, and David O. White, Connecticut’s Black Soldiers 1775 – 1783, and confronts the Consensus consciousness of the American Revolution that neglects the contributions of Africans in the Revolution. African American Connecticut Explored also stands in contrast to the first Connecticut-centered histories that devoted specific attention to the experiences and contributions of Africans in during the Revolutionary War era. In  an age of increased digital access, what is available on the internet often determines popular historical consciousness and not research-based efforts intended to correct the historic record. And, if access influences popular historic consciousness, it is necessary to provide context to historic records with the use of the same medium. The study here will focus on digitized records of Africans serving in the Revolutionary War from Connecticut that have obscured the historic record.

Two digitized works available through the Internet Archive that have misrepresented the service of Africans from Connecticut in the American Revolutionary War are The Historical Status of the Negro in Connecticut by William Chauncey Fowler, and History of Slavery in Connecticut by Bernard C. Steiner. In a paper read before the New Haven Colony Historical Society Fowler noted the “imitative” nature of the “Negro” race that prompted their service in the military during the Revolutionary war along the side of whites, and further along in an anecdote about the service of Africans asserted their willingness to be made a fool of. He praised their skills as musicians. Steiner provides evidence of the service of Africans in the American Revolution in a misleading chapter entitled, “Slaves in the Revolution” and relies solely on a quotation from J.H Trumbull that suggests all Africans that served were slaves and impugns the evidence of service by implying they were motivated by personal gain in applications for pensions. The representations provided by Fowler and Steiner that disregard the service of Africans in the American Revolution are disputed by William C. Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution.

William C. Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, established the historiographical framework in which Fowler and Steiner later considered the actions of Africans in the American Revolution. Yet, Nell’s work cites numerous accounts of courageous and patriotic Africans from Connecticut that served in the American Revolution. Specifically, Nell cites a primary account of two veterans of the Battle of Groton Heights. The veterans provide reference of the bravery of two Africans, Lambert (Sambo) Latham, and Jordan Freeman.

Latham is recognized with avenging the death of Col. Ledyard who was killed after surrendering to the British. The Continental Army soldiers that died at the Battle of Groton Heights including Latham, and Freeman were recognized and memorialized for their patriotic service in 1825 with the dedication of a monument at the battle site. The monument itself lists the names of all those who died
at the battle, along with an inscription that states in part, “In Memory of the Brave Patriots.” The evidenced cited by Nell, and the inscription on the Battle of Groton Heights Monument severely undermines the arguments later presented by Fowler, and Steiner and still each digitized account is cited as documentation of the service of Africans from Connecticut in the Revolutionary War.

Historians and public historians widely acknowledge the impact historical interpretation can have on the public consciousness of a historical event and also recognize their role in providing context to better understand those events. Furthermore historians have also considered and observed the wide influence of digitized history but have yet to consider their ethical role in the mediation of digitized archived material, specifically for Fowler’s The Historical Status of the Negro in Connecticut and Steiner’s History of Slavery in Connecticut. The works of Fowler and Steiner have provided a false foundation to the historiographical record of the service of Africans from Connecticut in the Revolutionary War and has had an impact on our present day consciousness. The initial exclusion of Lena Ferguson, an African American woman from Plainville, Connecticut, from admission as a member into the Daughters of the American Revolution, a non-profit organization devoted to preserving the memory of those who fought in the Revolutionary War, is a worrisome reminder of the impact of a public consciousness that disregards African contributions in the American Revolution.

Hometowns of African Americans Who Served in in Revolutionary War

Recommended for further reading:

Burrows, Edwin G. Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners during the Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

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

Nell, William C. The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution. Boston: Robert F Wallcut, 1855.

Normen, Elizabeth J. African American Connecticut Explored. Wesleyan University Press, 2014.

White, David O. Connecticut’s Black Soldiers. Chester, CT: Pequot Press, 1973.

Other sources:

Caulkins, Frances Manwaring. The Stone Records of Groton,. Norwich, Conn., 1903.

Fowler, William Chauncey. The Historical Status of the Negro in Connecticut. Charleston, S.C., 1901. 

“Interchange: The Promise of Digital History.” Journal of American History 95, no. 2 (September 1, 2008): 452–91.

Steiner, Bernard Christian. History of Slavery in Connecticut; Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins press, 1893.


(Dave Pelland, Fort Griswold Battle Monument, 2011, Groton)

(Dave Pelland, Fort Griswold Battle Monument – Plaque, 2011, Groton)