Sunday, May 28, 2017

Jonathan Trumbull, The Rebel Governor of Connecticut.

Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr.
The Rebel Governor of Connecticut

This study will focus on my ancestral uncle, Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., the last colonial Governor of the Colony of Connecticut, and the first Governor of the State of Connecticut. We will explore the use of the term "Rebel Governor," a term the British called Governor Jonathan Trumbull. He was the rebel governor whose proclamation dated, March 22, 1775, providentially picked April 19, 1775, the day they "fired the shot heard round the world,"[1] the start of the American Revolution, as a "Day of publick Fasting and Prayer, throughout this Colony, by all Christian Churches and Societies in it; . ."[2] He was the rebel governor who penned Connecticut's own "Declaration of Independence", June 18, 1776, and he was the rebel governor, a friend and supporter of the rebel general George Washington. A Governor whom the British would have hanged, as they would any signer of our nation's Declaration of Independence, as a traitor to their King. Lastly, we will take a look at the steps taken to protect the rebel governor, the "Sentry Box" in the Gov. Trumbull House, and the "secret tunnel," that legend states connected the house to the War Office.

Henry C. Robinson, LL.D., in his address to the advanced scholars of the public schools at Hartford, CT, in 1897, states, "Trumbull had become the special hate of the British. Halters were waiting for him and his sons. But no threats moved nor fear deflected him from the straight line of patriotic duty. There were thirteen colonial governors; only he was loyal to the cause. Thirteen governors entrusted with the interests of the colonists from Georgia to Maine! Where were the twelve? Tories all. But he had no fear to walk alone, supported by his love of country and his unbounded faith in God. It required more "sand" to be, and continue to be, that solitary rebel governor than to play left tackle in the Hartford Public High School eleven."[3] Benson J. Lossing, LL.D., goes on to say that, "Trumbull was the only Colonial governor who espoused the cause of the people in their struggle for justice and freedom."[4] And that, "Washington always placed implicit reliance upon his patriotism and energy for support."[5] It is no wonder, upon hearing of Governor Jonathan Trumbull's death, George Washington wrote in a letter to Col. Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., the governor's son, "A long and well spent life in the service of his country, justly entitled him to the first place among patriots."[6]

In Rev. Orlo D. Hine's historical address on "Historic Lebanon," he states, "In the earliest part of the controversy between Great Britain and the American Colonies, Gov. Trumbull had ever been conspicuous for his steadfast zeal and patriotism in the cause of American Liberty, and when the war broke out, this son of Lebanon, among all the Governors of the then thirteen Colonies, was the only one who stood staunch to the American cause."[7] And that, "The bold and firm position of Gov. Trumbull brought down upon him the especial wrath of the British government. He was denounced as "the Rebel Governor," and a price set upon his head."[8]

There is an interesting account in Col. John Trumbull's autobiography. A conversation between Sir Guy Carleton, the British commander, and General Waterbury, who commanded the ship, the Lady Washington,[9] and who was recently captured at the Battle of Valcour Island, October 11, 1776. This conversation took place aboard Carleton's ship, the Royal Charlotte, "General Waterbury, I am happy to take you by the hand, now that I see that you are not serving under a commission and orders of the rebel Congress, but of Governor Trumbull. You are acting under a legitimate and acknowledged authority. He is responsible for the abuse he has made of that authority. That which is a high crime in him, is but an error in you; it was your duty to obey him, your legitimate superior."[10] It is also worth noting that one of the American ships which took part in the Battle of Valcour Island was named, the Trumbull.

An early usage of the term "Rebel Governor" appears in several articles published in "The Political Magazine and Parliamentary, Naval, Military, and Literary Journal," published in London in 1780 and 1781. The second of the three articles, the "History of Jonathan Trumbull, the present Rebel Governor of Connecticut, from his Birth, early in this Century, to the present Day," would today be referred to as a, "hit piece," an article written specifically to discredit the character of Jonathan Trumbull. The article was written by a Connecticut Tory, the Rev. Samuel Peters (1735-1826) of Hebron, an Anglican minister. He personally knew Jonathan Trumbull, and he knew the people and local history of Eastern Connecticut, specifically Lebanon. Due to rising tensions and his Tory views, he left the colonies for England in late 1774. He wrote in 1781, from a Royalist perspective, "A General History of Connecticut, from its First Settlement under George Fenwick, Esq., to its Latest Period of Amity with Great Britain: . . .,"[11] which was published in London.

Keep in mind, these articles were written and published during the American Revolution.

The first is an article from November 1780 titled, "Examination and Commitment of JOHN TRUMBULL, Esq; for High Treason," where John Trumbull (Col. John Trumbull, the Artist of the American Revolution) is listed as the "son of the rebel Governor Trumbull, of the Province of Connecticut in America, . . ."[12] This article is in regard to the arrest of John Trumbull, who was accused of being an American spy, and who was imprisoned in England for "seven months."[13] You can read more about this episode in "The Autobiography of Colonel John Trumbull," Chapter Three, "The Rebel at London and His Enforced Return to America 1780-83."[14] In that autobiography there is a great line by Col. Trumbull, during an examination by three police magistrates, stating who he was, "I am an American -- my name is Trumbull; I am a son of him whom you call the rebel governor of Connecticut; I have served in the rebel American army; I have had the honor of being an aid-du-camp to him whom you call the rebel General Washington."[15] 

The second is an article from January 1781 titled, "History of Jonathan Trumbull, the present Rebel Governor of Connecticut, from his Birth, early in this Century, to the present Day."[16] As stated previously, this article does its best to defame Governor Trumbull, it questions everything from his legal parentage, his character, his person, and his actions. Peters' description of "Jonathan Trumbull, the rebel governor of Connecticut, a man of desperate fortune, with an abundant share of cunning, is about five feet, seven inches high, has dark eyes, a Roman nose, sallow countenance, long chin, prominent forehead, high and broad cheek bones, hollow cheeks and short neck. He is, in person, of handsome figure, and very active."[17]

The one saving grace of this article is, there is a lot of early Connecticut history here, "The spirit of independence appeared in this colony from its first settlement in 1636. Even then they formed two dominions, Hartford and New Haven, choosing Jesus their King, and the Bible their Code of Laws, . . ."[18] This is true, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were inspired by a sermon of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, preached at Hartford. The article goes on to say regarding Connecticut, ". . . they accepted a charter under Charles II. but declared at the same time, Jesus was their King, and themselves sole legislators and lords of Connecticut; admitting no law of England to be of any validity, until it had received the sanction of their General Assembly."[19] The motto, "No King but King Jesus," was popular in the colonies during the American Revolution.

This same spirit is evident in the writings and proclamations written by the rebel Gov. Jonathan Trumbull, who studied at Harvard to be a minister. "Immediately after he graduated, he commenced the study of theology with the Rev. Solomon Williams (1700-1776) of Lebanon."[20] (Solomon Williams was minister at Lebanon, and the father of William Williams (1731-1811), a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Gov. Jonathan Trumbull's daughter, Mary Trumbull (1745-1831) would marry William Williams.) "In due time, he was licensed to preach, and was soon after invited to settle in the ministry at Colchester."[21] The Rev. John Bulkeley (1679-1731) (my ancestral grandfather), first minister at Colchester, CT, was preparing to retire, and likely exercised his influence to obtain the Colchester Pulpit for Jonathan Trumbull. The Rev. John Bulkeley was the father-in-law of Jonathan Trumbull's older brother, Joseph Trumble, Jr., who married his daughter, Sarah Bulkeley (my ancestral grandparents). With the loss of his older brother, Joseph Trumble, Jr., who was lost at sea aboard the Trumbull's merchant vessel, the brigantine "Lebanon," bound for the West Indies on December 29, 1731. Jonathan Trumbull, "who at the urgent request of his father [Captain Joseph Trumble, Sr.], with great reluctance declined the call of the church at Colchester."[22] He would take his place in the Trumbull family business, and he would enter into Connecticut politics. Following the Revolution, "In October, 1783, Gov. Trumbull declined any further election to public office."[23] Jonathan Trumbull served in some form of public office from 1733 to 1784. In his address to the General Assembly, he stated, "I have had the pleasure to serve the State; contemplating, with pleasing wonder and satisfaction, at the close of an arduous contest, the noble and enlarged scenes which now present themselves to my country's view; and reflecting, at the same time, on my advanced stage of life -- a life worn out almost in the constant cares of office -- I think it my duty to retire from the busy concerns of public affairs; that at the evening of my days I may sweeten their decline by devoting myself with less avocation and more attention to the duties of religion, the service of my God, and preparation for a future and happier state of existence; in which pleasing employment I shall not cease to remember my country, and to make it my ardent prayer that Heaven will not fail to bless her with its choicest favors."[24]

In a letter to the rebel General George Washington, dated at Lebanon, Connecticut, July 13, 1775, the rebel Governor Jonathan Trumbull writes, "Suffer me to join in Congratulating you, on your appointment to be General and Commander in Chief of the Troops raised or to be raised for the Defense of American Liberty."[25] He goes on to write, "Now therefore be strong and very courageous, may the God of the Armies of Israel, shower down the blessings of His Divine Providence on You, give you Wisdom and Fortitude, cover your Head in the Day of Battle and Danger, add Success -- convince our Enemies of their mistaken measures -- and that all their attempts to deprive these Colonies of their inestimable constitutional Rights and Liberties are injurious and vain."[26]

The rebel General George Washington himself, shares this spirit in his General Order, dated Headquarters, Valley Forge, May 2, 1778, he "directs that divine Service be performed every Sunday at 11 oClock"[27] and that "while we are zealously performing the duties of good Citizens and soldiers we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of Religion. To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian. The signal instances of providential Goodness which we have experienced and which have now almost crowned our labours with complete Success, demand from us in a peculiar manner the warmest returns of Gratitude and Piety to the Supreme Author of all Good."[28]

The third article is from August 1781 titled, "Trumbull, the Rebel Spy discharged."[29] Again referring to Col. John Trumbull, the Artist of the American Revolution. "John Trumbull, the youngest son of the present Rebel Governor of Connecticut, was discharged about a month ago, from Tothill-Fields Bridewell, after being confined there from the month of November last year."[30]

There are many stories and reports of attempts and threats to Gov. Jonathan Trumbull's life. This atmosphere showed the need to build "The Sentry Box" in the  Gov. Trumbull House. There is an interesting little pamphlet once distributed by The Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution, published in October 1935, "On the upper floor is the room where the governor took refuge when a price was set on his head because he was the only rebel governor in the colonies, and of course did all he could to assist the cause of the Americans."[31] The pamphlet also mentions the "Sentry box" or "sentinel's box" in the house, "The room, at that time, was situated at the head of a flight of stairs (which have since been removed). A person standing at the top of these stairs could guard the approach from two directions as the house then stood. Here a sentinel was stationed for the purpose of guarding the governor while he rested. This little enclosure with its tiny windows overlooking the western hills is now called "The Sentinel's Box."[32] In an American Guide Series book on Connecticut, sponsored by Wilbur L. Cross, Governor of Connecticut, published in 1938, "At the head of the stairs is the small room which served as a secret office when the British Government put a price on the Governor's head. The only window is a small shuttered opening, 27 inches square, placed above the head level of a seated person as a precaution against stray bullets. Outside the office door is the Sentinel's Box, in which a guard was always stationed."[33]

The Governor had sentries or sentinels who were stationed at his house and War Office.  

"The Governor generally had a guard of about half a dozen men to protect his person, there being some danger at that period of being seized in the night season and carried off to the enemy. Some alarm was caused at one time by a traveler coming into the house in the garb of a beggar, and insisted upon seeing the governor, who at that time was unwell. Mrs. Hyde, his housekeeper, not liking his appearance and actions, seizing the shovel and tongs, drove him out of the house, called the guard, who came to her assistance, but the beggar was no where to be found."[34]

"Mrs. Anna Hyde and the Assassin. -- The story of the encounter between Mrs. Anna Hyde, the worthy housekeeper of Governor Trumbull, and a suspected assassin of the Governor is well supported by authentic tradition. One evening this good woman was greatly alarmed at the sudden entrance of an unknown man, in the guise of a mendicant, who stoutly persisted in seeing the Governor, then ill and in bed. She knew that to have gained entrance to the house the man must have eluded the sentinels on guard. She well knew, what all knew, that a price had been set upon the Governor's head by British authority; that he had often been threatened with assassination by malignant Tories and their emissaries; and he records in his own diary that once, while at Newton, a malignant there said "he would kill him as quick as he would a rattlesnake;" and believing that the purpose of the intruder was the assassination of the Governor, the brave lady at once, seizing the large kitchen shovel in one hand and the tongs in the other, made such a vigorous onslaught upon him that he fled for safety and escaped in the dark from capture."[35]

In the book, "Jonathan Trumbull, Governor of Connecticut 1769-1784," written by the Governor's great great grandson Jonathan Trumbull, he states that in 1781, "In order to be nearer to the scene of military operations, and to expedite the payment of the soldiers, Governor Trumbull in the following month of August set out for Danbury, thus carrying out a plan already suggested by Washington of holding the meetings of his Council near the scene of action, and encouraging the troops by his presence, and by the welcome payment of a portion, at least, of their much needed wages."[36] He goes on to say, "According to the meager entries in the Governor's diary at this time, we learn that his sojourn at Danbury partook of the nature of a military encampment. Guards were set at night, owing, no doubt, to threats of personal violence to the Governor, which he himself records in his diary in the following words: "At Newtown one said he would kill me as quick as he would a Rattle Snake.""[37] The Governor stayed in Danbury, "about a fortnight in the month of August,"[38], this is corroborated in the Records of the State of Connecticut, where the minutes of the meetings of the Council of Safety are recorded at Danbury from August 16, 1781 to August 23, 1781.[39]

There was always a remote chance of British and/or Tory activity in the area.

"Cornwallis at Yorktown, closely besieged in front by Lafayette, in the rear by Count de Grasse, with Washington but a few days' march distant, was already in the Continental grasp, his commander, Sir Henry Clinton, being left in New York by Washington's superior generalship, too far distant to render material assistance. In his dilemma Clinton determined on a feint, in the hope of recalling Washington from the south, and chose New London as the scene of his ruse de guerre. This town had sent out the most active and daring privateers that ever snatched a convoy from under the guns of a British frigate. Several rich prizes were then lying at its wharves, and its storehouses were filled with West India goods, provisions and military stores. Further, it would be a convenient base for certain predatory excursions into New England, which it is probable Clinton had long meditated, but, most important of all, it was within a day's march of Lebanon, the quiet country town where dwelt Governor Jonathan Trumbull -- Washington's "Brother Jonathan" -- and which contained the little store and counting-house, which had long been recognized as the real "war office" of the Continental Government, and the chief source of supplies for its army; and no doubt the hope of disturbing "Mr. Trumbull" in his operations, and of ravaging the rich agricultural region near him, from which he drew his supplies, was one of the motives of the expedition."[40]
And lastly, there is a legend of a secret tunnel which connected the Governor Jonathan Trumbull house and the War Office. This tunnel would have allowed Gov. Trumbull the freedom to move safely between the two buildings unnoticed. This secret tunnel may or may not have existed? If it existed, it would have been located at the original locations of the buildings at the corner of Town Street and the Colchester Road, before they were moved in 1824.

There is a modern illustration of this "secret tunnel," depicting Gov. Trumbull walking from the Gov. Trumbull House to the War Office, published in the book, "Historic Lebanon,"[41] by Rev. Robert G. Armstrong, D.D. The problem with the illustration is it is based on the sketch by Barber, published in 1836,[42] depicting the Gov. Trumbull house and the War Office in their locations on West Town Street after their first move in 1824. The War Office would be moved a second time to its present location in 1844. Ground penetrating radar or similar technology could probably settle the question of the tunnel's existence once and for all, as well as provide the exact location and position of the War Office during the American Revolution.

In the Governor Jonathan Trumbull House there is, "A door found in the panelling of the work room now opening against a part of the chimney may have been a secret passage to this inside room, for the sides beyond the chimney are plastered. It has been intimated in some old accounts that a passage way extended from the house, underground to the war office or store, where the councils of safety held over 1,200 meetings."[43]

"A secret passage, possibly behind the panelling set about the fireplace, led to a tunnel which opened on the War Office, boarded up years later, but much in use during the war years."[44]

This story of a secret passage, passed down through the years, generation to generation, may have been embellished, and become the basis for the legend of a secret tunnel?

1. Concord Hymn, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, sung at the completion of the Battle Monument, April 19, 1837, Poems of the English Race, selected and edited by Raymond MacDonald Alden, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1921, Page 286. 
2. A Proclamation by the Honorable Jonathan Trumbull, Esquire, Governor of the English Colony of Connecticut, in New England, in America, Lebanon, Connecticut, March 22, 1775. 
3. Jonathan Trumbull, Address to the Advanced Scholars of the Public Schools at Hartford, December 3, 1897, Henry C. Robinson, LL.D., Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, Hartford, Conn., 1898, Pages 15-16.
4. Harpers' Popular Cyclopedia of United States History, from the Aboriginal Period to 1876, . . ., Benson J. Lossing, LL.D., Vol. II, Harper & Brothers, Publishers, New York, 1882, Page 1421.
5. Ibid.
6. George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., Mount Vernon, October 1, 1785, George Washington Papers, Series 2, Letterbooks 1754-1799, Library of Congress.
7. Early Lebanon. An Historical Address delivered in Lebanon, Conn., by request on the National Centennial, July 4, 1876, Rev. Orlo D. Hine, with an Appendix of Historical Notes, Nathaniel H. Morgan, Hartford, 1880, Pages 91-92.
8. Ibid.
9. Record of Service of Connecticut Men in the War of the Revolution, Adjutant General, Hartford, 1889, Page 594.
10. Autobiography, Reminiscences and Letters of John Trumbull, from 1756 to 1841, John Trumbull, B. L. Hamlen, New Haven, 1841, Page 35.
11. A General History of Connecticut, from its First Settlement under George Fenwick, Esq., to its Latest Period of Amity with Great Britain: . . ., By a Gentleman of the Province, London, 1781.
12. Examination and Commitment of John Trumbull, Esq; for High Treason, The Political Magazine and Parliamentary, Naval, Military, and Literary Journal, For the Year M,DCC,LXXX., Volume I, London, November 1780, Pages 738-740.
13. The Autobiography of Colonel John Trumbull, Patriot-Artist, 1756-1843, edited by Theodore Sizer, Kennedy Graphics, Inc., Da Capo Press, New York, 1970, Page 72.
14. Ibid. Pages 58-83.
15. Ibid. Page 66.
16. History of Jonathan Trumbull, the present Rebel Governor of Connecticut, from his Birth, early in this Century, to the present Day, The Political Magazine and Parliamentary, Naval, Military, and Literary Journal, For the Year M,DCC,LXXXI., Volume II, London, January 1781, Pages 6-10.
17. Ibid. Page 10.
18. Ibid. Page 8.
19. Ibid.
20. Brief Memoir of Governor Trumbull, The American Quarterly Register, conducted by B. B. Edwards and S. H. Riddel, Vol. XIV, No. 1, August, 1841, Published by the American Education Society, Press of T. R. Marvin, 24 Congress Street, Boston, 1842, Page 2.
21. Ibid. Page 2.
22. Ibid. Page 10.
23. Ibid. Page 12.
24. Ibid. Page 13.
25. To George Washington from Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 13 July 1775, Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Vol. 1, 16 June 1775-15 September 1775, ed. Philander D. Chase. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1985, pp. 112-113.]
26. Ibid.
27. George Washington, May 2, 1778, General Orders, The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor, The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799.
28. Ibid.
29. Trumbull, the Rebel Spy discharged, The Political Magazine and Parliamentary, Naval, Military, and Literary Journal, For the Year M,DCC,LXXXI., Volume II, London, January 1781, Page 481.
30. Ibid.
31. The Governor Jonathan Trumbull House, Reprinted with the permission of the Waterbury Republican, Distributed by The Daughters of the American Revolution of Connecticut, October 1935, page 4.
32. Ibid.
33. American Guide Series, Connecticut, A Guide to its Roads, Lore, and People, Written by Workers of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Connecticut, Sponsored by Wilbur L. Cross, Governor of Connecticut, Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press Cambridge, Boston, 1938, Pages 414-415.
34. Connecticut Historical Collections containing a general collection of interesting facts, traditions, biographical sketches, anecdotes, &c. relating to the History and Antiquities of every Town in Connecticut, with geographical decriptions, John Warner Barber, 1836, Page 323.
35. History of New London County, Connecticut, with Biographical Sketches of many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men, Compiled under the supervision of D. Hamilton Hurd, Philadelphia, 1882, Page 489.
36. Jonathan Trumbull, Governor of Connecticut 1769-1784, by his Great-Great-Grandson, Jonathan Trumbull, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 1919, Page 278.
37. Ibid.
38. Ibid. Page 279.
39. The Public Records of the State of Connecticut, from May, 1780, to October, 1781, Inclusive, with the Journal of the Council of Safety from May 15, 1780 to December 27, 1781, Inclusive and an Appendix, compiled by Charles J. Hoadly, LL.D., Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, Hartford, 1922, Pages 490-497.  
40. The Massacre at Fort Griswold, September 6th, 1781, The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries, Volume VII, A.S. Barnes & Company, September 1881, No. 3, pages 161-162.
41. Historic Lebanon, Highlights of an Historic Town, Rev. Robert G. Armstrong, D.D., published by the First Congregational Church, Lebanon, Connecticut, 1950, Page 36 (illustration).
42. Connecticut Historical Collections containing a general collection of interesting facts, traditions, biographical sketches, anecdotes, &c. relating to the History and Antiquities of every Town in Connecticut, with geographical decriptions, John Warner Barber, 1836, Pages 322-323.
43. The Governor Jonathan Trumbull House, Reprinted with the permission of the Waterbury Republican, Distributed by The Daughters of the American Revolution of Connecticut, October 1935, Page 9.
44. Store-Keeper to the Revolution, Jonathan Trumbull (1710-1785), Leonard Byrne, Alarums & Skirmishes, The Revolutionaries of Connecticut (limited to 50 printed editions), The Bulletin Company, Norwich, Connecticut, 1976, Page 34.

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