Planning Your Visit > Lebanon during the American Revolution:
“Among the troops unfit for duty and returned for want of clothing, none of your state are included. The care of the legislature in providing clothing…for their men is highly laudable and reflects great honor upon their patriotism and humanity.” General George Washington to Governor Jonathan Trumbull, 1778
The American Revolutionary War spanned eight years, from 1775-1783, as thirteen united North American colonies established their independence from Great Britain. Armed clashes between the colonial troops and the British army ranged from Canada to Florida and west into the Ohio River Valley. Although only a few battles took place in Connecticut, the state became a hub for supplies, and earned its nickname as “the Provisions State.”
Throughout the Revolution, not all Americans supported rebellion. Historians estimate that 40 to 45 percent of colonists supported the cause of independence, while 15 to 20 percent were Loyalists, supporting the British crown. The remaining 35 to 45 percent sought to remain neutral. Lebanon prided itself as a strong supporter of the Revolution and actively protested British policies to tax the colonies. In order to show their support, many Lebanon men left home to fight in the Continental Army.
In the spring of 1775, after the Lexington Alarm, 143 men from Lebanon marched to Boston and participated in the Battle at Bunker Hill. As the war progressed, at least 677 Lebanon men, out of a total population of 3,960 in 1774, served in the Continental Army or in the militia units for various periods of enlistment.
The Connecticut General Assembly appointed a Council of Safety in May 1775 to assist Governor Jonathan Trumbull in directing the defense of Connecticut when the Assembly was not in session and to supply provisions to the Continental Army. Members were appointed annually with nine men appointed to the original Council of Safety. The Council’s size increased as the war lengthened with an average of twenty a year from 1778 through 1783. Many of its meetings were held at the War Office in Lebanon, a building that had formerly been Trumbull’s store and mercantile office. The Council had the authority to raise and direct the militia and naval forces, to direct the iron and cannon foundry at Salisbury, and to oversee the purchase of arms, munitions, and supplies for the state’s military and naval forces, and the Continental Army.
Although Connecticut citizens mostly supported the war, the state found it difficult to recruit enough soldiers. In 1776, General George Washington lifted the ban on black enlistment in the Continental Army. During the next seven years, more than 5,000 black soldiers would serve as Revolutionaries. From Connecticut, there were at least 736 African Americans, American Indians, and those of mixed ancestry who served as soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Some of these men volunteered, while others were offered bounties to take the place of drafted men. Slave owners could emancipate their slaves to serve as soldiers; thus, slaves were also hired as substitutes. Fearing that they would loose their lands if the colonies were successful, many more Native Americans chose to fight for the British than for the American forces.
During the Revolutionary War, commanders often had difficulty providing adequate food for the soldiers. In the 18th century, food often spoiled quickly and supplies were bulky and difficult to transport. Often, troops would eat as they traveled, finding subsistence wherever they could, in local towns and farms as they passed through.
In 1779, Congress finally established supply quotas for each state. From the first days of the war, Connecticut merchants and farmers had provided such ample supplies for their troops that the state’s quota for pork and beef was set at 78,400,000 pounds. Connecticut and the Council of Safety prided themselves on meeting these quotas. Only rarely did they fall short of their responsibilities. The British quickly realized Connecticut supplies were a threat and in 1777 attacked Danbury and Reading, destroying 1,700 bushels of corn and 1,600 canvas tents. The British attacked again in 1779, when General William Tyron raided Greenwich in order to destroy the salt works.
In addition to food, the soldiers needed ammunition and arms. These were initially imported from Europe, but a cheaper and more efficient way of receiving these goods was needed. In 1775, residents in towns such as East Hartford, Windham, New Haven, Stratford, and Glastonbury began to build powder mills. The Connecticut General Assembly provided an incentive with gunpowder production bounties and a 5-shilling per gun bounty for new firearms. The ironworks at Salisbury provided the cannons for the Continental Army. Throughout the state, guns were refurbished and weapons makers in Mansfield, Windham, and Goshen expanded their production to meet the government’s demands.
The war affected the lives of ordinary Lebanon residents. Clothing was not the only thing that ceased as an import from Europe. Many Americans supported non-importation as a way to reduce British economic control of the colonies. As a result of these policies, goods such as sugar, wine, raisins, spices, and coffee were no longer widely available. With men away at war, women assumed new responsibilities working in fields or shops.
During the war, Lebanon’s Board of Selectman accepted three major responsibilities: providing supplies for the families of poor soldiers, collecting provisions for the Continental Army and clothing for Lebanon’s soldiers, and securing soldiers to meet quotas for the Army. Lebanon levied special taxes and raised general taxes several times to provide the funds needed to fulfill these goals.
On February 6, 1778, France signed the Treaty of Alliance with the United States. Under the terms of this treaty, nearly 6,000 French troops arrived in Rhode Island in 1780 under the command of General Rochambeau. General Washington asked Governor Trumbull to help provide provisions for the allied troops.