Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Mystery of the War Office Store Counters



Governor Jonathan Trumbull's Store Counters

Whatever Happened to the Store Counter(s) in the War Office?



The Mystery of the War Office Store Counters



“and the old “war office,” as it was called, . . . School-boys entering the latter looked with awe upon the marks of spurs still to be seen on the side of the counter, where orderlies and express-riders had sat awaiting the governor’s orders during the war of independence.[1]

I will begin this study with a photograph of the interior of the War Office (South Room) circa 1897. The text below the photograph states, “Interior of the War Office, with Trumbull’s Old Furniture.” It appeared in an article titled, “Brother Jonathan and his Home.”, by William Elliot Griffis, published in “The New England Magazine”, Volume XVII, Number One, September 1897. It is the earliest known photograph of the War Office interior.


I have personally seen all the items pictured during my 20+ years as a member of the Connecticut SAR (CTSSAR) except for the following: possibly a glass windowpane on the far right of the photograph leaning against the fireplace behind the chair. I don’t know what that is or where it came from? CTSSAR still had it in the 1920s/1930s because it is pictured in a RP (Real Photo) War Office postcard. That may be a topic for another study? The chair on the far right is also unknown? Some of the unknown items may have been on loan, and returned.

UPDATE: The CTSSAR Property Steward has solved the mystery of the glass windowpane pictured above. This glass windowpane was originally over the front door of "Redwood," the home of Gov. Jonathan Trumbull's son, David Trumbull.

The subject of this study is the unknown wooden object to the left of the sink, against the wall, which I believe is either one of the counters, or a portion of the counter which was supposedly removed from the War Office in 1922/1923? This could be the CTSSAR portion of the counter? The portion of the store counter said to be once on display at the Connecticut Historical Society, would have been removed very early (before CTSSAR ownership of the War Office), sometime between 1825 and 1859, since it is mentioned in Stuart's, "The Life of Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., Governor of Connecticut," which was published in 1859.

I believe this could be a portion of the original counter because it fits Stuart’s description of how the War Office interior looked during the American Revolution 1775-1783, and how the CTSSAR set up the interior. It is also located in the correct room. The North room being the council room, and the South room being the store room.

"But within, it was divided, as seen but a few years ago, into two apartments - - one of which, that on the North, was strictly the office-room of the Governor, where he matured his councils -- and the other of which, that on the South, was his store room, and the apartment also in which his messengers and expresses were usually received."[2]

The earliest reference to the existence of the store counter or store counters is mentioned in 1836, "The above is a representation of Governor Trumbull's house and the old "War Office," so called; this latter building is seen on the left, and is now occupied as a post office, the projection in front is a modern addition. This was the building in which Gov. Trumbull transacted his public business during the Revolution. In those days travelling was generally performed on horseback; the marks of the spurs of the horsemen, expresses, &c. are still seen on the side of the counter on which they sat, while waiting the governor's orders."[3]

Referred to in 1859, “Within that “War Office” also, . . . Here was the point of arrival and departure for numberless messengers and expresses that shot, in every direction, to and from the scenes of Revolutionary strife. Narragansett ponies, of extraordinary fleetness, and astounding endurance – worthy such governmental post-riders as the tireless Jesse Brown, the “alert Samuel Hunt,” and the “flying Fessenden,” as the latter was called – stood hitched, we have heard, at the posts and palings around, or by the Governor’s house, or at the dwelling of his son-in-law Williams – ready, on any emergency of danger, to fly with advices, in any desired direction, on the wings of the wind. The marks of the spurs of the horsemen thus employed, were, but a few years back, visible, within the building – all along upon the sides of the counters upon which they sat, waiting to receive the Governor’s orders.”[4]

Note: “A section of the counter thus marked, from the old War Office, is in the possession of the Connecticut Historical Society. It is also marked by measures for a yard."[5] 

Referred to in 1875, “and the old “war office,” as it was called, . . . School-boys entering the latter looked with awe upon the marks of spurs still to be seen on the side of the counter, where orderlies and express-riders had sat awaiting the governor’s orders during the war of independence.”[6]

Referred to in 1876, “The traditions of the old war office would stir the heart of any aspiring boy who saw with his own eyes the marks of the spurs left by orderlies and aides de camp as they sat waiting for despatches, and listened with bated breath to the stories of the revolution which fell from the lips of all the elders of the town, and heard them describe, as they had seen, the persons of Washington, Lafayette, Knox, and Rochambeau.”[7]

Referred to in 1879, "The sentinel tapped at the door. It was opened. A ruddy glow burst from within, and by it two despatch-bearers could be seen sitting on the counter— for before the war the office was a country shop -- driving their spurs into the wood work as their legs dangled a foot or more from the floor. (The marks of the spurs of these and other messengers are to be seen in the woodwork even this day.)"[8]

Referred to in 1889, "Marks may now be seen on the floor of the building which, it is affirmed, were made by the steel spurs of the French Cavalry-men." It is believed that the "War Office" will now become the depository of old Revolutionary relics, with which the country round about is still well filled."[9]

Referred to in 1891, "Later five crack regiments of French infantry, under Count Rochambeau, were stationed for many weeks at Lebanon Green, together with 500 handsome hussars commanded by the Duke de Lauzun. The gallant soldiers visited the war office frequently, and there are nicks in the walls of the office that were made by the spurs of the French, who kicked their heels against the woodwork while they idled and told stories."[10]

Referred to in 1898 (a re-published story originally written/published in 1876), "They marched into town and into the now famous war-office of Governor Trumbull, to his pleased surprise. "Who sent you?" asked the governor, for it was not yet six hours since the demand on the nearest town had been made. "Who sent us?" echoed the lieutenant, looking confused and at a loss to explain, and finally answering truthfully, he said: "It was a young girl, your excellency. She lit a beacon fire on a hill and gave the command that we report to you." A laugh ran around the sides of the old war-office. The messenger who had ridden from Cambridge sat upon the counter pressing his spurs into the wood and heard it all."[11]

Referred to in 1916, “Messengers came and went, flying on horseback along the country roads, and sometimes they sat on the counter in the store, swinging their spurred boots, waiting for the governor to give them their orders. A piece of that counter, with the marks of their spurs in the soft wood, can be seen now in the rooms of the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford.”[12]

And lastly, referred to in a CTSSAR document marked 1920, on what appears to be (4) old library cards photocopied onto one page. The cards show drawings of War Office future corner display cabinet locations, possible installation of a stove for heat, paint colors and rugs, etc. Lists “Old Counter. Shows spur marks of French soldiers.”[13]

“The counter or table over at the south side of the entrance room to be removed. It might be well to save the material for possible use elsewhere.”[14] From a letter of correspondence between the CTSSAR and CTDAR, dated October 30, 1922. For many years prior, the CTSSAR allowed the Town of Lebanon to use the War Office as the public library. In 1922/1923, the War Office was being repaired/restored again by the CTSSAR. The remaining library book shelves were removed, the plaster was removed from the lower portions of the fireplaces to reveal the stone, the two corner display cases were added, etc., and it was re-dedicated by the CTSSAR, September 6, 1923 (The Anniversary of the Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781). The local Gov. Jonathan Trumbull Chapter CTDAR held their chapter meetings there, and the War Office was opened again to the public for tours. 



Where is the store counter today? Does it still exist?



This is actual Revolutionary War history you can touch. It somewhat amazes me that there is no illustration or photograph of the store counter(s)? So it is very difficult to actually identify what the counter(s) looked like? Earlier this year I contacted the Connecticut Historical Society about the portion of the War Office store counter that was said to be, "in the possession of the Connecticut Historical Society,"[15] and, "can be seen now in the rooms of the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford."[16] There is an interesting photo of one of these rooms in an article titled, "Finding a Home For Connecticut History," by Mary Muller, posted by National Public Radio (WNPR), Dec 12, 2014.[17] This portion of the store counter was said to be on display at the Connecticut Historical Society when they were located at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. There is no mention of it being on display at their earlier location at 124 Main Street, but it was said to be in their possession from at least 1859. If true, this portion of the store counter was probably removed from the War Office sometime between the founding of the Connecticut Historical Society in 1825, and the publication of Stuart’s, “The Life of Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., Governor of Connecticut,” in 1859. To the best of my research, the last reference to the portion of the counter said to be on display at the Connecticut Historical Society was in a 1916 publication quoted above.

I learned that the Connecticut Historical Society has no information regarding the portion of the store counter that was once on display at their earlier Hartford location(s). The conclusions were that the portion of the store counter was either not part of their permanent display (meaning it may have gone back to its original owner?), or, it was lost when the Connecticut Historical Society relocated in 1950 to One Elizabeth Street? There are no illustrations or photos. This portion may still survive somewhere?

The remaining CTSSAR portion of the counter, which I believe is pictured in the circa 1897 photo of the War Office interior (South Room), to the left of the sink, and later mentioned in the 1922 DAR letter, where did that portion go? The letter went on to say that it should be saved? Saved where? This portion may also still survive somewhere?






1. Congressional Record: Containing the Proceedings and Debates of the Forty-Third Congress, Second Session. Volume III, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1875, pg. 1871; William Alfred Buckingham by Rev. Increase N. Tarbox, D.D., The Congregational Quarterly. Volume XVIII-New Series, Vol. VIII, Christopher Cushing, Editor, American Congregational Union, Boston, 1876, page 223; The Life of William A. Buckingham The War Governor of Connecticut, Rev. Samuel G. Buckingham, D.D., The W.F. Adams Company, Publishers, Springfield, Mass., 1894, page 481.
2. Life of Jonathan Trumbull, Sen., Governor of Connecticut, I. W. Stuart, Boston, Crocker and Brewster, 1859, page 183.
3. 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 Descriptions, John Warner Barber, New Haven, 1836, page 323.
4. Life of Jonathan Trumbull, Sen., Governor of Connecticut, I. W. Stuart, Boston, Crocker and Brewster, 1859, pages 181-182.
5. Ibid. pages 181-182.
6. Congressional Record: Containing the Proceedings and Debates of the Forty-Third Congress, Second Session. Volume III, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1875, pg. 1871; William Alfred Buckingham by Rev. Increase N. Tarbox, D.D., The Congregational Quarterly. Volume XVIII-New Series, Vol. VIII, Christopher Cushing, Editor, American Congregational Union, Boston, 1876, page 223; The Life of William A. Buckingham The War Governor of Connecticut, Rev. Samuel G. Buckingham, D.D., The W.F. Adams Company, Publishers, Springfield, Mass., 1894, page 481.
7. Memoir of the Hon. William A. Buckingham, LL.D., by Noah Porter, D.D., LL.D., President of Yale College, New Haven, CT., The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume XXX, 1876, Boston, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Page 9; Genealogical and Biographical Record of New London County, Connecticut, J. H. Beers & Company, Chicago, 1905, page 2; A Modern History of New London County, Connecticut, Volume II, Benjamin Tinkham Marshall, A.M., D.D., Editor in Chief, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York City, 1922, page 68.
8. Trumbull's War Office. And the Secret that Mistress Prudence Strong Hid There Years Ago., Anonymously Written, Originally Published in the New York Sun, Daily Alta California and San Francisco Times, Sunday October 26, 1879, Page 4.
9. The Old War Office. Will the Town of Lebanon accept the Gift?, Article: New York Times, March 24, 1889.
10. Old Trumbull “War Office”, A Grand Celebration to be held over its Restoration, Article: The New York Times, May 17, 1891.
11. Pussy Dean's Beacon Fire, March 17, 1776, The Only Woman in the Town and Other Tales of the American Revolution, Sarah J. Prichard, Published by Melicent Porter Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, Waterbury, Conn., 1898, page 74.
12. Once Upon a Time in Connecticut, Caroline Clifford Newton, Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1916. pages 118-119.
13. CTSSAR Collections.
14. Ibid.
15. Life of Jonathan Trumbull, Sen., Governor of Connecticut, I. W. Stuart, Boston, Crocker and Brewster, 1859, pages 181-182.
16. Once Upon a Time in Connecticut, Caroline Clifford Newton, Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1916. pages 118-119.
17. Finding a Home For Connecticut History, Mary Muller, article posted by National Public Radio (WNPR) at wnpr.org/post/finding-home-connecticut-history, December 12, 2014.



The War Office is owned and maintained by the 
Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.