“Lebanon and the Revolution”
From Remembering Lebanon 1700-20100, A Commemorative Album
By Alicia Wayland
Parliament’s moves to tax the colonies at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 were actively opposed by eastern Connecticut towns. Lebanon men were prominent in the newly formed Sons of Liberty and joined the agitation to repeal the Stamp Act of 1765. As tensions mounted, they were deeply involved in the growing movement for Independence. In 1774, when the British closed the port of Boston, Lebanon sent money, sheep and other livestock for the relief of the poorer citizens.
News of the Lexington-Concord alarm on April 19, 1775, reached the area the next day. The legislature met in special session on April 26, ordering the stockpiling of supplies and providing for the organization of the militia. Connecticut militiamen marched in May to the camps forming around Boston, including the 6th Company from Lebanon, led by Captain James Clark. Many of the men participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17. During the entire war, at least 677 Lebanon men served in the militia and the Continental Army. This figure represents more than fifty percent of the adult male population.
LEBANON WAR OFFICE
The town’s greatest service came from its leadership, which galvanized and guided the new state’s contributions to the Revolutionary cause. Governor Jonathan Trumbull, the only colonial governor to become the governor of a state, was at the center of the American war effort.
A Council of Safety, consisting of members of the General Assembly, was appointed in May 1775 to assist the governor in conducting the war effort between legislative sessions. The management of day-to-day operations, however, fell solely on the governor. His office was located in his store building, which was called the War Office.
The Council of Safety held over a thousand meetings from 1775 to 1783. Over 500 of these meetings took place in the Lebanon War Office.
As commander in chief, Trumbull was responsible for provisioning and arming the Connecticut militia and the 13-ship state navy. He commissioned and supplied over 200 privateers, who captured nearly 500 British vessels. Trumbull supervised Connecticut’s essential war industries, including the iron and cannon foundry at Salisbury. He kept an express rider at the War Office for the almost daily Lebanon-Salisbury ride.
Trumbull also responded to General Washington’s urgent pleas for provisions for the Continental Army, perhaps none more crucial than the cattle drives sent to the starving soldiers at Valley Forge and Morristown. When the French Army under Comte de Rochambeau landed at Newport in July 1780, Washington again turned to Trumbull to supply the French allies. The outpouring of men, munitions and provisions throughout the war earned Connecticut its nickname as “The Provisions State.”
William Williams (1731-1811) was one of Connecticut’s four signers of the Declaration of Independence. Appointed to replace the ailing Oliver Wolcott as one of Connecticut’s delegates to the Continental Congress, Williams arrived in time to sign the Declaration on August 2, 1776, the day appointed for all the delegates to sign the engrossed copy. Although he was not present on July 4, when the Declaration was officially adopted, Williams was one of the most ardent supporters of the patriot cause. He was a fiery orator and eloquent pamphleteer and used both voice and pen to rally support for the troops when the cause seemed darkest. He served as the clerk of the Council of Safety from 1775 to 1783, putting aside his own business throughout the war. He frequently gave his own money and supplies to soldiers passing through town.
Governor Trumbull’s four sons all played major roles in the Revolution on the state and national scene. Joseph Trumbull (1737-1778) was appointed the stat’s commissary general in 1775. Congress appointed Joseph the first commissary general of the Continental Army. In ill healthfrom overwork, he resigned his commission in late 1777 and died the next year.
Jonathan Trumbull Jr., (1740-1809) served as paymaster general of the Northern Department of the Continental Army in 1775, first comptroller of the U.S. Treasury in 1780, and private secretary and first aide to General Washington from 1781-1783. He later became a U.S. Representative in the first Congress elected in 1789, the second Speaker of the House, a U.S. Senator, and governor of Connecticut from 1797-1809.
David Trumbull (1752-1822) was his father’s right-hand man at the War Office and served as an assistant state commissary. During the encampment of the French calvalry in Lebanon, David was in charge of finding lodgings for officers, building barracks for the troops, and providing supplies for the horses. He turned over his own house, Redwood, to the Duc de Lauzum to use as his headquarters.
John Trumbull (1756-1843), the youngest son is best known as the patriot-artist. He served briefly on Washington’s staff at Cambridge and then with General Gates at Ticonderoga, resigning to continue his art studies. One of the most revered paintings in American art is “The Declaration of Independence,” one of a series of Trumbull’s paintings that recorded the events of the American Revolution. Four of his paintings hand in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. He designed the First Congregational Church in Lebanon, built 1804o-1809, the only surviving example of his architectural work.
THE FRENCH ENCAMPMENT
One of the most colorful events of the war was the six-month encampment of the French cavalry in Lebanon. With forage for horses in short supply in Rhode Island, General Rochambeau sent half of the Duc de Lauzun’s Legion to Lebanon for the winter. About 220 hussars and light infantry arrived in November 1780 and camped in the fields west of the green. They built ovens on the green to bake their bread.
The Legion was a multi-national unit, whose members spoke eight different languages. Although brave and disciplined soldiers, the Legion had a high desertion rate. Two of the Legionnaires were executed by firing squad in Lebanon in April 1781.
After a year in Newport, the French army was ordered to join Washington and the Continental army on the Hudson River, marching across Connecticut in June 1781 for the rendezvous. From their camp in Windham, Rochambeau’s army marched through Columbia, then part of Lebanon, to the next campsite in Bolton. Contrary to legend the French army never camped on the green. Lauzun’s Legion left Lebanon on June 21, riding south of Rochambeau’s army as the left flank.
The allied armies marched south to attach Cornwallis’s army in Virginia, aided by the French fleet commanded by Admiral De Grasse. Cornwallis surrendered October 19, 1781. The victory at Yorktown virtually ended military operations, although it was not until 1783 that the peace treaty was ratified and the British finally evacuated New York City.
Around the green are some of the most important buildings connected with Connecticut’s role in the Revolution, including the Governor Trumbull (1740), The Revolutionary War Office (c.1727/1756), and the Jonathan Trumbull, Junior, House (c.1769). These buildings are museums, open to the public seasonally. Three other sites, the birthplace of William Williams (1712), the house (c.1748) Williams lived in as an adult, and Redwood (1778-1779), David Trumbull’s home, are private residences.
GENERAL WASHINGTON’S VISIT
General Washington met with General Rochambeau in Newport, R.I., in March 1781. On his journey from his headquarters at New Windsor, N.Y., to Rhode Island, Washington passed through Lebanon, spending the night of March 4-5 in town. While here, he reviewed the French troops of Lauzun’s Legion.
Where Washington stayed the night of his Lebanon visit is a subject of much speculation because no mention of the location can be found in the official records of the trip.
A reasonable surmise can be made, however, based on Washington’s recorded itinerary. Early in the morning of March 4, Washington left Farmington, where he had spent the night to continue his journey to Newport. Washington stopped in Hartford to meet with Governor Trumbull, then continued on his way, escorted by Col. Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. They arrived in Lebanon late in the afternoon. On the morning of March 5, Washington left Lebanon, heading to Newport through Norwich and Preston.
Governor Trumbull, a widower, had remained in Hartford, leaving his own house without a suitable host. The most likely place for General Washington to have stayed is the home of his escort, Jonathan, Jr., on the east side of the green. The house, now a town owned museum, is the site listed as the stop-over by many researchers, although it is still conjecture.
Only a few weeks after Washington left Lebanon, he invited Jonathan, Jr., to join his staff, an indication of the good impression young Jonathan made on his distinguished visitor.