The Convention Troops in Connecticut





Published in the Connecticut Quartely
Apr. May & June 1897

In the early summer of that eventful year in the history of the American Revolution, General John Burgoyne, in command of about eight thousand English and German troops, set out from Canada with orders to descend along the line of the Hudson River to Albany. Here he was to meet Colonel St. Ledger, who was to come down the Mohawk Valley from Lake Ontario, and General William Howe, who was to ascend the Hudson. The object of this campaign was to weaken the Colonies by dividing them East and West. If the two sections were unable to co-operate, it was believed that they might be subjugated separately. This in brief was the plan of the campaign. Colonel St. Ledger was overpowered at Fort Stanwix. General Howe, who by a curious accident, was the only one of the three commanders left with any discretionary power in the matter did not follow the original plan, and failed to support Burgoyne. General Burgoyne followed his instructions, and proceeded down the Hudson as far as Saratoga, where he met General Gates, with his overpowering force of Americans. It was after the battle of Saratoga, which has been classed by Creasy among the fifteen decisive battles in the history of the world, that General Burgoyne was forced to surrender. At the request of the British general the affair was styled a “Convention,” and the sbldiers who laid down their arms at that time have since been known as the “Convention Troops.”

In John Fiske’s History of American Revolution, we read: “A dispatch containing positive and explicit orders for Howe to ascend the Hudson was duly drafted, and with many other papers awaited the Minister’s signature. Lord George Germaine, being on his way to the country, called at his office to sign the dispatches ; but when he came to the letter addressed to General Howe he found that it had not been ‘fair copied.’ Lord George, like the old gentleman who killed himself in the defence of the great principle that crumpets are wholesome, never would be put out of his way by anything. Unwilling to lose his holiday he hurried off to the green meadows of Kent intending to sign the letter on his return. But when he came back the matter had slipped from his mind. The document on which hung the fortunes of an army, and perhaps a nation, got thrust unsigned into a pigeon-hole, where it was duly discovered some time after the disaster at Saratoga had become a part of history.”

The terms of the surrender, which were embodied in “Articles of the Convention,” provided that the troops under General Burgoyne march out of their camp with the honors of war, and lay down their arms at the word of command from their own officers. A free passage was to be granted the army under Burgoyne to Great Britain, on the condition that they should not serve in North America again during the war. The port of Boston was assigned for the entry of transports to receive the troops. The army was to march to Massachusetts Bay “by the easiest, most expeditious and most convenient routes." All officers were to retain their carriages, horses, baggage and side-arms.

Gates made haste to accept these “Articles.” Although he sat in his tent
during the battle, and commanded that Arnold be called from the field where he was leading the attack, Gates, as general in command, was praised for the brilliant victory, and for the most successful campaign of the war, while it has been forgotten that the “Hero of Saratoga” was Benedict Arnold, who was afterwards the traitor.

The Convention Troops numbered about six thousand men. They marched to Boston, and spent the winter at Winter Hill, Cambridge. Detachments of them passed through Connecticut, over what was known as the “Old Colony Road,” which was one of the principal highways through the state.

Alice Morse Earle, in “Customs and Fashions in Old New England,” gives the following description of some of the early Connecticut roads:

“The Old Connecticut Road or Path started from Cambridge, ran to Marlbotough, thence to Grafton, Oxford, and Woodstock, and on to Springfield and Albany. it was intersected at Woodstock by the Providence path which ran through Narragansett and Providence plantations, and also by the Nipmuck path which came from Norwich.”

“The new Connecticut road ran as did the old road, from Boston to Albany. It was known at a later date as the Post Road. From Boston it ran to Marlborough, thence to Worcester, to Brookfield, and so on to Springfield and Albany.”

During the revolution there was a constant marching of troops over this road, but while traditions of their passing are common, no special records regarding them seem to have been kept. The march of one company of foreign troops, however, is recorded in a journal kept by Oliver Boardman, of Middletown, Connecticut, which is now in the possession of the Connecticut Historical Society. It states that the writer witnessed the surrender of Burgoyne. The first entry is dated September 2, 1777, and the last October 27, 1777.

The following is a copy of the journal regarding the company referred to:

“Monday. 20th. 1 was one of fifty that was called out of the regiment to guard 128 prisoners of war to Hartford. At evening we crossed the ferry and put up at Green Bush,” (New York.) “Tuesday, 21st. We marched from Green Bush to Canter Hook.” (Now Kinder Hook, New York.) “Wednesday, 22d. We marched from Canter Hook to Nobletown.” (Now Hillsdale, New York.) “Thursday, 23d. We marched from Nobletown to Sheffield,” (Massachusetts.) “Friday, 24th. We march from Sheffield to Rockwells, about the middle of the Greenwoods.” “Saturday, 25th. We marched from Rockwells to Simsbury,” (Connecticut.) “Sunday, 26th. We marched from Simsbury to Hartford (Connecticut), and delivered 123 prisoners to the sheriff; five of them left us on the march.”

The arrival of this company in Hartford is confirmed by the Hartford Courant under date of Tuesday, October 28, 1777, it being reported in that paper as follows: “Last Sunday arrived in town 128 prisoners, among whom were several Hessian officers. They were taken at the northward before the capitulations.”

“Rockwells, about the middle of the Greenwoods,” was a tavern in Colebrook, Connecticut. The house was built by Samiel Rockwell, who went to Colebrook f r o m East Windsor, Connecticut, in 1766. The Greenwoods road which extended from New Hartford to Norfolk, passed about a half mile south of the house. The name “Rockwells” was not altogether applied to the tavern. Qctite extensive works for those days were carried on by Samuel Rockwell and sons. Their saw mill, as well as a mill for grinding grain, a shop for the manufacture of agricultural implements, and works for carding wool, together with the tavern, gave the place notoriety. The house is still standing, and is occupied by a descendant of its builder.

In the older towns of northwestern Connecticut there are homesteads now over a hundred years old, where tales are told of foreign soldiers who spent a night before the kitchen fire, or drank at the old well, or begged for food, and perhaps left articles which are treasured as having Once belonged to a dreaded Hessian.

Mrs. Mary Geike Adam, in a paper recently published in THE CONNECT!CUT QUARTERLY, notes the passing of a company of Hessian soldiery through Canaan, and their stay at the old Douglas place in that town.

Norfolk, in Litchfield county, was a thrifty, vigorous town in 1777. Its people were active in the defence of the independence which had been declared, and Norfolk men were present at very many of the important engagements of the war. Not only did the town send its quota of men to the army, but at great personal sacrifice the people sent money and provisions, notably during the terrible winter at Valley Forge. “When the British undertook the campaign of 1777, Litchfield county, being so near the line of march, was thoroughly roused, and Norfolk men went along with the rest, and were present at the surrender at Saratoga. More traditions remain concerning this battle and its consequences than concerning any other period of the war."* There is in the town to-day a house which at that time was owned and occupied by Captain Michael Mills, and the following authentic story is told of a Hessian who died there:

In the latter part of October, 1777, a small party of Convention troops passed through the town on their way to Hartford. They camped for a few days on the village green. Among their number was a German lad, named Abram Si Hunchupp (pronounced "Sunchupp"), who was ill and unable to travel further. He was taken into the home of Captain Mills and cared for by his wife, Mercy Lawrence Mills, until, after some weeks, he died. He was buried in Loon Meadow, which is on the road leading from Norfolk to Colebrook, in a lot which belonged to Captain Mills. Upon a tree which stood above his grave these words were carved:

"Here lies the body of Abram Si Hunchupp."

Years passed, and the illness and death of the Hessian became one of the traditions of the house, when one evening the wife of Mr. Eden Mills, who was a son of Captain Mills, was sitting before the old kitchen hearth, singing softly to the little one nestled in her arms, and watching the glowing fire as it blazed lip the wide-mouthed chimney. Suddenly she noticed that letters were slowly shaping themselves upon the great back log, and was startled and frightened as she spelled out the burning words, "Here lies the body of Abram Si Hunchupp." With regret it was learned that a laborer, Clark Walter by name, had unwittingly cut down the tree which marked the lonely grave, and the place could not afterwards be found. This spot now lost in Loon Meadow, was always called the Grave of the Hessian, and the lot is still known as the "Hunchupp Lot."

At the time Abram Si Hunchupp was taken to the house of Captain Mills, a number of German soldiers from the same company stopped at the house of Nathaniel Pease, a resident of Norfolk, and begged a night's rest. (The spot where the house then stood ison the farm of Nathaniel S. Lawrence in West Norfolk.) They were allowed to spend the night by the fire, and during the evening one of them took from his sack a curious black teapot and to the amazement of the family a small package of tea. After having made himself a cup of tea, he threw the little teapot far back into the deep fireplace, among the glowing embers. Mr. Pease and his family were too awed to appear to notice this strange behavior on the part of their guest, but in the morning, after he had departed, the careful housewife drew the little teapot out of the ashes. It was uninjured, and was afterwards known in the family as "The Hessian's Teapot." At a comparatively recent date, through the agency of a small boy who thought it unnecessary to mention its loss, the pot itself disappeared, but the cover is still in the possession of a descendant of Nathaniel Pease. During the fall of 1777, Hendrich Bale, a Hessian soldier who belonged to Burgoyne's army, deserted his company as it passed through the town. He remained in the village and married Sara Hotchkiss.

The well known and dearly loved Rev. A. R. Robbins was at that time pastor of the church at Norfolk, and he helped with food and shelter the weary foreigners who passed through the place during those memorable Oc tober days.

An old gentleman now residing in the town relates a story which be remembers hearing his grandfather narrate, to the effect that after the surrender at Saratoga, a small party of British troops came into his grandfather's house, which stood on the road now leading into Colebrook, and threw themselves on the floor to sleep. They were remonstrated with, the men of the family telling them that the women could not move about to do their work, whereupon the leader replied that his men would lie upon their, faces, and the women might step upon them, but sleep they must.

There is told in Norfolk the story of an encounter between Captain Giles Pettibone (who was one of the foremost citizens of the town, and who led his company at Saratoga, and also held a command at West Point at the time of Arnold's treason) and a Hessian soldier, who, as he marched past the tavern kept by Captain Pettibone, stepped aside from his comrades, and made some demand upon the captain, which was refused. The Hessian then struck the doughty captain, who, it is said, defended himself with a pitchfork, to the serious discomfort of the Hessian. The house where this tavern was kept is still standing.

Just outside the present village of Simsbury, there stands a house, now deserted and falling, which was built in 1765, by Daniel Holcomb. Previous to and during the revolution, a tavern was kept here, and the old bar-room is the same as in the days when foaming tankards of colonial flip were served from its oak board. The present owner of the house, Mr. Roswell J. Noble, has in his possession, among other valuable colonial relics, a curious staff, surmounted by an ornamental iron tip, which it is supposed was a color bearer, and which was left at the tavern by a company of Convention troops who camped there.

The Convention troops were not allowed to sail for England. Congress refused to accept payment for their support in its own paper money, but insisted that all debts be paid in gold; demanded of General Burgoyne papers regarding his men which he was unable to furnish, and finally refused to carry out the agreement that the troops be allowed to leave the country. They remained in Boston until the latter part of 1778, when they were sent to Charlottesville, Virginia, and established as a colony there. Much assistance was given them by Thomas Jefferson, whose estate at Monticello was near there. In 1780, to prevent a possible uprising, the British were sent to Maryland, and the Germans to the northern part of Virginia. Afterwards some were sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in 1781, large numbers of the officers and men were billeted upon the people of East Windsor, Connecticut.

In Stiles' History of Ancient Windsor, there is an account of these troops, in which their number is given as "nineteen British officers, with forty-three servants, and forty-three Hessian officers, with ninety-two servants." The officers seem to have been well supplied with money horse racing and betting were common amusements among them, and they enjoyed a considerable degree of freedom. At the suggestion of Lafayette numbers of the men were employed in planting trees. There were weavers and shoemakers among them, and they worked among the people of the town.

Many of the Convention troops were allowed to escape, and many of them settled in the colonies, and became American citizens.

By 1783 they had all become dispersed.

Photo's from this artical

Haystack, "The Glory of Norfolk"


The Michael Mills House, Norfolk.

The Giles Pettibone Tavern, Norfolk

The Holcomb House, built 1765

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