Reprinted from The Scarlet Standard, Historical Series, Number Seven, January 1999, General Israel Putnam Branch #4 The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, Inc.
LEBANON: CENTER OF CONNECTICUT’S REBELLION
The American Revolution was an extraordinary time in history and the sequence of events that unfolded at Lebanon was recognized by Gen. Washington and Gov. Trumbull as Providential and an absolutely essential key to American Independence. Lebanon was settled about 1700, so named by the Rev. James Fitch from a swamp of cedars found there. The Biblical implication to “Cedars of Lebanon” (Psalm 104) is somewhat prophetic as out of Lebanon would come the “Provision State”. Lebanon became home to the Trumbull Family when Capt. Joseph Trumbull moved there from Simsbury in 1704. He was the Grandson of John Trumbull, who came from England and settled at Rowley, Massachusetts in 1640. Also somewhat prophetically, the Trumbulls claimed a family tradition and Coat of Arms, derived from an incident in Scotland in the year 1315. King Robert the Bruce was hunting in the forest and became closely pursued by an enraged bull. A young Scot intercepted the bull by seizing its horns, turning him aside and allowing the King to escape. For his courage, the grateful King knighted him with the name Turn-Bull and granted him an estate and coat of arms bearing a device of Three Bulls’ Heads with the motto “Fortuna Favet Audaci” (Fortune favors the bold). During the Revolutionary War, the Trumbulls of Lebanon would again be successful in turning the bull, The English “John Bull”.
Before moving to Lebanon, Joseph Trumbull married Hannah Higley at Simsbury (her brother Samuel made the famous “value me as you please” Higley Coppers, The first experiment with coinage in colonial Connecticut). Joseph and Hannah had eight children, all born at Lebanon. Joseph became a successful merchant farmer at Lebanon, raising cattle and buying more from surrounding towns, then driving them to Boston on the hoof where he would receive English manufactured goods in exchange. These he would sell or trade at his store in Lebanon. Later, the sale of salted beef and pork packed in barrels, would be their primary product. In 1718 Joseph Trumbull became Lieutenant of the Troop for New London County and then Captain of the Troop for Windham County in 1728. His eldest Son Joseph, Jr., born in 1705, became his business partner and in 1727 married Sarah Bulkeley of Colchester. They had two daughters, Sarah, born 1728, Married Elijah Johnson of Colchester and Katherine, born 1731, married Benjamin Burnham of Hebron. In 1730 Joseph, Jr., became Quartermaster of the Troop for Windham County. The Trumbulls were active in the West Indies trade and owned several vessels. Joseph, Jr. was the principal owner of the recently built Brigantine “Lebanon” and on December 29, 1731 he sailed from New London destined for Barbados with a cargo of trade goods. The vessel was lost at sea and Joseph, Jr. was never heard from again. The loss of his eldest son and business partner was a devastating blow to Joseph, but the stage was being set for American Independence, as Joseph would now rely on his second son Jonathan to manage the business.
Jonathan Trumbull was born in 1710 and was early prepared for the ministry by his pastor, the Rev. Samuel Welles. Jonathan entered Harvard College at the age of Thirteen with deep religious conviction and was a distinguished scholar, graduating in 1727, having mastered Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Returning to Lebanon, he continued his study for three years with the moderate “New Light” minister of First Church, the Rev. Solomon Williams (father of CT Signer, William Williams), who with the theological giant, Jonathan Edwards, were Grandsons of the renowned Rev. Solomon Stoddard (Harvard 1662), Pastor of Northampton for 57 years and noted for preaching “The Safety of Appearing on the Day of Judgement in the Righteousness of Christ”. Jonathan Trumbull returned to Harvard in 1730, taking for his M.A. thesis: there were no contradictions in Scripture which could not be solved by reason. Similarly, William Williams chose for his thesis: the Scripture was perfect. This armament of David would serve them well during the Revolutionary War, as the Redcoats, whom the colonists referred to as “Philistines”, would fight the “New Israel” and learn the lesson of I Samuel 17:32-51, taught from a “City on a Hill”...”In his store on Lebanon hill”. Licensed to preach in 1731 by the Windham Congregational Association, Jonathan Trumbull preached at Lebanon, Colchester, Scotland, Goshen, Hebron, and was called to the ministry at Colchester.
As other Ministers licensed by the “Standing Order”, he was grounded in the Calvinistic principle, in the tradition of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, that government rests on a covenant between the governors and the governed, based not “according to their humours, but according to the blessed will and law of God, as Biblically constituted. “This revolutionary concept, that inspired the puritans in England alone, to preserve the precious spark of liberty and the whole freedom of the English constitution”, would set the future course for “The Rebel Governor of Connecticut”.
Jonathan Trumbull was also in partnership with his brother Joseph, whose tragic loss at sea necessitated attention to his father’s business at Lebanon, where his father was the leading merchant. Jonathan married Faith Robinson (a descendant of the Pilgrims John and Pricilla Alden) in 1735 and had six children. By 1738, Jonathan had replaced his father as the leading merchant in Lebanon and for the next thirty years he remained an incredibly active businessman, trading with the West Indies and England using the vessels he had built or chartering others. After the death of his father in 1755, Jonathan moved his family into his father’s impressive home, which was built in 1740 and now owned by the DAR. He entered into several partnerships with his two eldest sons and various other merchants. One of their many contracts was with the General Assembly to supply the troops of the Colony in his Majesty’s service, with clothing and refreshments for one year for the sum of six thousand pounds. By the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, Trumbull had accumulated properties at Lebanon including a house and store; a store, wharf and land at East Haddam; a lot and warehouse at Chelsea in Norwich; and a Gristmill, malthouse and several farms, which with other securities, were valued at eighteen thousand pounds. Now, recent shipping losses and worsening trade conditions would begin to destabilize his gains and approach the bankruptcy, which he obstinately tried to avoid. About this time, he petitioned the General Assembly to establish fairs in Lebanon to promote trade. While credit was the mainstay of his business in the Colonies, it was difficult to obtain in London. In September 1763, Jonathan sent his 26 year old son Joseph to London in the hope of promoting business opportunities. Writing to his father from London, Joseph would keep a watchful eye on the discussion of Colonial affairs in Parliament.
Jonathan Trumbull was as active in politics as he was in business. Elected as a Deputy to the General Assembly from Lebanon in 1733, he would become Speaker of the House in 1739 and was chosen Assistant and Member of the Council in 1740. He became increasingly involved with legal matters of the Colony including the Spanish Ship Case and boundary disputes with Massachusetts. In 1766, he was appointed Chief Judge of the Superior Court with Matthew Griswold, Eliphalet Dyer, and Roger Sherman, his associates on the Bench. In military affairs he was busy raising, provisioning and deploying the troops of the Colony. He rose from Lieutenant in the Troop of Horse of Windham County in 1735 to Colonel of the Twelfth Connecticut Regiment in 1753. Because the towns of the colony were actually “Ecclesiastical Societies”, religious matters in the General Assembly became more complicated after the Great Awakening. The “Standing Order” divided into “Old Lights” and “New Lights” based on their viewpoint regarding local evangelism and Covenant issues. Although conciliatory to both views, Trumbull favored the “New Light” views of his Pastor, the Rev. Soloman Williams, as did most of the more radical Freemen east of the river. His ability to resolve religious issues before the General Assembly in a reasoned manner, made him invaluable to the Council and respected by both Old and New Lights. Trumbull’s extensive experience with political, legal, military, trade, and religious matters, along with his Puritan understanding of the Biblical concept of Liberty, would reveal him as a formidable patriot Governor.
At the close of the French and Indian War, England tried to recover financially by enacting a chain of Parliamentary Measures to raise tax revenue from the colonies. While the taxes would be somewhat burdensome, Trumbull and others were aware of their conflict with Colonial Charters. His son Joseph, writing from London in December 1763, warned of the threats of impending taxation and loss of Charter Rights, with some Members of Parliament declaring that the Colonial Charters were given in high times by the King without consent of Parliament and are void. The passage of the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765 gave rise to the formation of the Sons of Liberty in Connecticut to prevent its implementation. Formed at Durkee’s Tavern on Bean Hill in Norwichtown, they were led by John Durkee, Israel Putnam of Pomfret and Hugh Ledlie, of Windham. Behind them stood some of the most prominent men in the Colony; the Rev. Stephen Johnson of Lyme, the Huntingtons of Norwich and Windham (Jedediah was Trumbulls son in law), Dyer of Windham (father of Trumbull’s daughter in law), Griswold of Lyme, and Trumbull and his son in law William Williams of Lebanon. In opposition to the Stamp Act, Trumbull would write to Gov. Fitch in August 1765, representing the freemen of Lebanon: “The People in this part of the Colony, are very jealous of their Liberties; and desire that the most Vigorous exertions be made for the repeal of the Late Act of Parliament.......which they look on to be utterly subversive of their Rights and Priviledges both by Charter, and as English Men”.
The Sons of Liberty would spark widespread opposition to the Stamp Act and also to Governor Fitch, who believed it was his duty to take the oath required by the Stamp Act to insure its enforcement. Three members of the Council were required to administer the Oath and four members agreed. Seven members of the Council refused, believing it would be a condemnation of them all as freemen. Colonel Trumbull exclaimed “It is in violation of your Provincial Oath”. When the Oath was to be administered, Colonel Jonathan Trumbull started from his seat, seized his tri-cornered hat, avowing he would never witness a ceremony which so degraded liberty and the Colony. The Stamp Act was repealed on March 18, 1766, but his direct action against the Oath and his ties to the Sons of Liberty would place him in office as Deputy Governor at the election in 1766, with William Pitkin becoming Governor. Trumbull would clearly define the Constitutional position of Connecticut in response to Gen. Gage demanding to quarter troops in the Colony, and he was at his finest when defining the nature of Writs of Assistance.
On the death of Gov. Pitkin in 1769, Trumbull became Governor and would support the plight of Boston, as hostilities with England increased. The Boston Tea Party of December 1773 would lead to the Boston Port Bill, closing the port on June 1, 1774. In Lebanon, the bells tolled a solemn peal lasting all day. The door of the Town House was draped in black with the Port Bill affixed and read to the freeholders. A spirited resolution denounced it as an outrageous invasion of human liberty. The impending crisis would prompt Governor Trumbull to double the munitions of the Colony before its coast could be blockaded, and called on the Council “to procure three hundred barrels of gunpowder, fifteen tons of lead, and sixty thousand good flints”. A Council of Safety would be appointed to assist Governor Trumbull at Lebanon and he would convert his store into the “War Office” to conduct preparations for resistance. On March 22, 1775 he issues a Proclamation from Lebanon, with the advice of the Council, calling for a Day of Public Fasting and Prayer. The day he chose, April 19, 1775, would begin the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord.
Having directed Connecticut’s Revolutionary War effort to a successful conclusion, Governor Trumbull retired in May 1784 and died at home on August 17, 1785. In his letter of sympathy to the Governor’s Son, Jonathan, Jr., General George Washington would write of the Governor: “A long & well spent life in the service of his Country justly entitled him to the first place among patriots.”