HIST 116: The American Revolution

Lecture 15

 - Citizens and Choices: Experiencing the Revolution in New Haven


To show how Americans experienced the war and made difficult choices, Professor Freeman offers a spur-of-the-moment lecture on New Haven during the Revolution, discussing how Yale College students and New Haven townspeople gradually became caught up in the war. Warfare finally came to New Haven in July 1779 when the British army invaded the town. Professor Freeman draws on first-hand accounts to provide a narrative of the invasion of New Haven.

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The American Revolution

HIST 116 - Lecture 15 - Citizens and Choices: Experiencing the Revolution in New Haven

Chapter 1. Introduction: The Revolution in New Haven [00:00:00]

Professor Joanne Freeman: Now I want to turn to the lecture, and I’m going to start the lecture with my true confession of the day. Okay. I did something a little insane and I’m not entirely sure how this is going to work out. I did it for you.

I — Basically, on the syllabus it says that the title of this lecture is “Citizenship and Leadership” or “Leadership and Citizenship.” I don’t even remember which one I put first. And initially, my idea had been when I wrote the syllabus for this course before the semester even started — well, this is going to be a lecture that has something to do with new ways of — how the Revolution changed people’s sense of themselves as citizens, how people were behaving differently because of the approach of Revolution and then because of the fighting of Revolution. And I was going to talk a little bit about crowd actions and about how the Revolution itself wouldn’t really have been possible without crowd actions. I talked, I know, a little bit about mob actions and we’ve seen some in action.

So I was basically going to talk about how the Revolution politicized people, how it — on a mass scale for many different kinds of Americans — brought them in to the public sphere, made them think and act politically in a way that perhaps they hadn’t before. And then I was going to accompany that with a brief discussion about the elite in this environment being on the one hand appreciative of the sort of mass popular involvement because there would be no Revolution without it — that is the Revolution — but on the other hand they’re elite folk so they’re all — some of them at least are a little nervous about all of this sort of popular sentiment and crowd action.

And I even had — let me find my favorite arrogant aristocratic quote. Okay. So I even found random arrogant elite guy quote in 1774 who observed with true disdain: “The mob begin to think and reason.” This is Gouverneur Morris, who actually has a really great sense of humor but also he’s really kind of aristocratically disdainful. And he says he believes “with fear and trembling that if the disputes with [Great] Britain continue, we shall be under the worst of all possible dominions. We shall be under the domination of a riotous mob.” Okay. So Gouverneur Morris is an extreme example of some sort of elite concern about what the Revolution means, what does it mean that people are rising up. So that was going to be today’s lecture. That was my plan.

But when I started thinking about the lecture and thinking about just preparing it and tweaking it, and again I had last thought about it back in December — and you know, when you make a syllabus for a course you think about the course, you outline it, you think it’s all going to go well, and then you get halfway through the course and sometimes different things seem exciting to you or you suddenly get a gut feeling that: ‘wow, I was going to have a really abstract discussion today, and I don’t want to have an abstract discussion. [laughs] I want us to be grounded in the actual Revolution.’ All of those things happened to me when I was thinking about today’s lecture, and I decided at the absolute last minute I wasn’t going to give that lecture — at literally the absolute last minute.

Today — This morning for me was like a reality show called “The Lecture” and I was like: ‘Freeman, three hours — research and write a new lecture.’ So I was sort of frantically at my desk. So not only did I research and write a new lecture, but it’s based entirely on primary research. So I mean — I really researched, you’ll hear, and I’m going to explain in a moment what I’m actually going to be lecturing on, which is related to what I’m supposed to be lecturing on. But basically I just came up with something that to me felt more interesting, more immediate, that’s going to show some of the same things I would have been talking about in my big, broad, general way with my leadership and citizenship lecture, but instead I’m actually going to base it on real people in a real place, sort of really showing you as the Revolution’s unfolding what happens to people in this place and how do events and ideas affect them. So when I said I hope I have a minute or two at the end — given that I literally was printing this out as I was grabbing my coat to run here, hopefully this is all going to work and the lecture will go swimmingly. This is true confessions. Right? I should never get up in front of you and say, “Maybe my lecture will die.” [laughter] Okay. Hopefully, it won’t die, but I’m going to aim for a grand slam, and we’ll try.

But one way or another, what I am going to do today is get across some of the ideas in a concrete way that I had been thinking I was going to approach in an abstract way and that just didn’t get me excited this morning, so it’s a little experiment for me. And what I’m going to do, my little experimental thing, is I’m actually going to be talking about citizenship and leadership and the American Revolution by focusing on Yale and New Haven. This was my brilliant thought for the morning. Ah ha, I could focus right here. I could talk about us here now, and look at — throughout the 1770s — some of the ways in which people were actually experiencing the Revolution, some of the ways in which the Revolution was getting them to take action, what it is they were doing, why they were doing it, who was doing it, who was taking action.

So again we’re not just going to be looking at three elite guys in a room sort of writing proclamations but we’re actually going to be talking about students and the people of New Haven. So that’s my experimental lecture for this morning and, as you’re going to see, average New Haven residents took strong action at an early point in the growing conflict between the colonies and Great Britain.

So really, in a main and a sort of major way what we’re going to be looking at is their story today, the story of average people in New Haven. Students are kind of above average because they would have been from more elevated families. We’re going to be looking at students too, but we’re going to be looking at a lot of what’s happening just in the town of New Haven, which in a way is the best way to look at the Revolution, which is really how it’s unfolding on the ground. Plus this means I get to talk about the British invasion of New Haven, which — I’ve been waiting for my moment. I’ve never actually talked about it in this class before. I discovered it when I was writing the introductory lecture and then having discovered it it was like: ‘okay, well, now I have to find a way to talk about the invasion of New Haven.’ So after I had my brilliant idea I realized ha, [laughs] this means I get to talk about the attack on New Haven in today’s lecture — so that will be there today too. Okay.

Chapter 2. Yale College as the Seedbed of Political Protest and Its Relation with the New Haven Community [00:06:18]

So let’s actually turn now to Yale and New Haven at the opening of the Revolution. And most of the lecture today is going to focus on the 1770s, but I will mention in starting that Yale students were certainly caught up in all of the fervor that I’ve been talking about in past lectures. And I know I mentioned once before that Yale students decided in protest at one point to give up importing fine wines, [laughs] — the sacrifice — on the part of Yale students. In the 1760s, Yale students, like many other people throughout the colonies, were engaged in acts of sort of personal protest like that, giving something up. Okay. Maybe on the part of Yale students it was just fine wines, but still —

Or on another occasion in 1769 in response to the Townshend Acts and then the idea of non-importation, the senior class of Yale came up with the following proclamation, which they made publicly:

“The Senior Class of Yale College have unanimously agreed to make their Appearance at the next public Commencement, when they are to take their first Degree, wholly dressed in the Manufacturers of our [own] Country: And desire this public Notice may be given of their Resolution, so their Parents and Friends may have sufficient Time to be providing Homespun Cloaths for them.”

[laughter] It was like: ‘we are making a proclamation. Mom, send me some clothes.’ [laughter] That was like — okay. [laughs] But the feeling was there. [laughs] And even better, they want their parents to provide homespun clothes, “that none of them may be obliged to the hard Necessity of unfashionable Singularity, by wearing imported Cloth.” Okay. ‘Mom, if you don’t send me clothes, I’m going to have to wear imported clothes and I’m going to be really unpopular’ — so — [laughter] guilting the parents. Okay, but anyway that’s — Yale students of the 1760s actually making acts of protest, organizing themselves into active protest.

Now Yale isn’t unique in this way, actually. Throughout the — this period, colonial colleges in a variety of different places were places that tended to brew sentiment — political sentiment that was rebellious or outraged at some of the acts being imposed by the British government. Actually, Yale and Harvard and the College of New Jersey, which is now Princeton, tended to be particularly well-known as sort of seedbeds of unrest — particularly angry students who had strong political feelings, but there were other colleges as well where the students really were provoked to acts of protest in a variety of different ways.

And I — this morning in researching for this lecture, I found a bunch of Princeton/College of New Jersey students who decided that no one in Princeton should be drinking tea. So they went out into the town and just personally forced their way in to people’s houses and when they found tea they burned it. That would be really popular — right? — and then one of them said something like, “That was a real frolic.” [laughter] Okay. [laughs] The town must have been very pleased.

I think in another college the commencement exercises, the speeches that the students gave at a commencement exercise, at a pretty early point actually, they debated, one for, one and against the possibility of independence. I think that was in 1769. You had students at one college who decided that would be what would be happening at their commencement ceremony is they would have that debate. It’s a really early point and again, pretty radical.

So we’re kind of looking at a long-standing pattern of college students being bold and radical during times of political controversy and political unrest, and this is happening throughout the colonies in this period. And it kind of makes sense. You have a cluster of people together and you have a variety of different avenues, ways for students to make their thoughts known, so colleges and, as I said, particularly Yale became known as the sort of seedbed of sedition. As one Loyalist said of Yale in the 1770s, The college is no longer remarkable for its scholarship but instead for “its persecuting spirit, its republican principles, its intolerance in religion” — but this is a person of Loyalist sympathies, who says, ‘Yale used to be great. It’s all downhill now. They have those crazy, wild, radical students.’ Or, as a British officer put it in 1779 — he happens to be the British officer who invaded New Haven — quote, “That place (New Haven) is a spacious and very considerable town; it has the largest university in America, and might with propriety be styled the parent and nurse of rebellion.” Okay. We are the parent and nurse of rebellion — ‘Yale, hate Yale.’

Okay, but this is not to say that colleges in this period are little isolated seedbeds of rebellion and everybody else is sort of sitting around whittling pieces of wood, thinking, ‘oh, I wonder what the British are doing today.’ Right? It’s not as though the colleges are isolated from the communities or that the colleges only notice the communities when they’re going to go out and burn random citizens’ tea as they did in New Jersey. There were obviously, there were connections between whatever was going on in these colleges and whatever was going on in these towns, and we’re going to see that play out a couple of times in this lecture today.

Sometimes things that went on in the town spread their way onto the Yale campus. An example of this is in the late 1760s when there was a rally on the New Haven town green against British policy, and the Yale students apparently attended that rally and got very stirred up by the rally and decided to continue it on the Yale campus, at which point a big group of students decided it would be a really great idea to declare their political sentiments by toasting English radical John Wilkes. And they decided not — And I don’t know where this number came from, because I didn’t have time to research where the number came from, but you’ll hear why I questioned it. They decided that they would toast John Wilkes forty-five times. [laughter] Okay. That’s forty-five drinks. [laughs] So one observer, who I gather from my research this morning had Loyalist sympathies, said that “instead of drinking 45 glasses in honor of Wilkes and Liberty,” the Yale students “drank themselves 45 degrees in extremo DRUNK.” [laughter] So we’ve got plastered Yale students like: ‘yeah, liberty’ — [laughter] but that’s the town spreading into the realm of the gown.

Now, in the 1660s [correction: 1760s] we’re seeing these sort of public demonstrations — New Haven, Yale campus protesting policies — but not anything that dramatic happening. But things become worse as relations between England and its colonies became worse and as actions became more aggressive on both sides. People in New Haven, as in a lot of other places, became more aggressive in their politics and became stronger in their actions. They made bolder decisions, and a great example of that is again here in New Haven, 1774. A group of about sixty men from New Haven, normal townspeople — I’m going to talk about them in a moment — decided that they were going to hire someone to teach them military exercises so that hopefully they would learn something and that somewhere down the road if they had to be they could organize themselves into a military unit and protect the town of New Haven.

Okay. So here’s sixty random people in New Haven who hire someone — I think they paid him three dollars a lesson or something — to teach them how to drill, and what to do with guns, and how to walk in formation, and basic military things so that they would know what to do, in case they ever actually had to fight. Again that’s kind of a dramatic action. That’s a big step to take. ‘Okay. Now I need to be militarily drilling in case I need to defend my family, my property, and my town.’ So that certainly gives you a sense of what it felt like, what was sort of floating in the air at this time for people in New Haven to take that kind of an action.

In early 1775, they met as a group and they decided that they would really organize themselves into a real military unit, as opposed to guys taking lessons on how to drill. So they met, they voted on uniforms, they figured out the best way to obtain arms so that they’d know where they’d be getting them from, and then not long after that they actually wrote to the Connecticut State Assembly and said that they, quote, “Anxious for the safety of our country and desirous of contributing all in their power to the support of our just rights and liberties, have formed themselves into a military company” — and then added that they wanted the Connecticut State Assembly to officially make them a sort of district military unit. So they wanted official recognition from the Connecticut State Assembly.

Again, really interesting — random sixty guys: ‘maybe we better know something military.’ Then after that they decide: ‘oh, okay, well, maybe we actually had better — we could organize ourselves so that this will actually be real. Hey, now that we’ve organized ourselves, we can actually get state recognition so that we’ll be on call and armed and ready in case something bad happens.’ Again kind of an interesting chain of events, series of personal decisions on the part of those random sixty men.

Now let’s look for a minute at who they are. One of them apparently owned a hat store on Chapel Street. One of them was a barber who was described, quote, as “a rather eccentric person.” I don’t know what that means, although I was dying to have the time to figure out why the barber was rather eccentric, but we have an eccentric barber who’s one of the sixty, a chair maker, a few sailors, someone who was just described as a man of leisure — [laughter] — it’s interesting to ponder what that means — a lawyer, a few grocers. There was a grocer who lived on State Street and a grocer who lived on the corner of Chapel and Church — and of course for me researching this this morning, it’s really fascinating to be finding people living in places that, of course, we all know. That’s always — Because you can exactly picture: oh, the corner of Chapel and Church. I know exactly where that person lived.

One person worked in the New Haven bank, and decided that he wasn’t really very skilled at horsemanship; in case that they were going to fight, he probably would need to know how to be really good on horseback. So apparently he regularly took his horse into his yard and practiced on the horse in private. He took it into his yard so no one would see that he was the guy who had to practice horsemanship, but he was sort of there doing his own little private drilling so that he’d be prepared in case there was actual fighting.

Okay. So there you see a group of people, all different levels of society — lawyers, man of leisure, eccentric barbers, chair makers, grocers — all different levels of society who have all come together for this one purpose and have gone over a series of months here to increasingly become more and more serious about what it is that they’re doing. So it certainly tells you something about the mindset in New Haven in early 1775, and not only in New Haven, as we’ve already heard in the course.

Chapter 3. Diversity of Colonial Opinions at Yale and the Formation of New Haven Military Units [00:17:18]

Things became more dramatic on April 21, 1775, when news of the Battle of Lexington arrived in New Haven. And what was interesting to me this morning was when I was reading accounts of people in New Haven reporting when they heard this news, several of them literally stated the precise time of day, like: ‘at noon on the 21st someone told me.’ They actually had it down to the hour and the minute when they heard about the events at Lexington, which to me was really telling, because it’s what you do — afterwards — when something really momentous or tragic or notable or historic happens, you think: where was I when that happened? Where was I when the Challenger blew up? I was a receptionist at an advertising agency sitting at my desk, but I remember that, because I remember everyone around me getting upset and it was a big deal.

And so here are these people kind of doing the same thing, remembering after the fact: ‘I remember where I was. It was noon on the 21st when we heard in New Haven that the British had actually fired on colonists in Lexington.’ In New Haven, a Yale student wrote in his diary: “Today tidings of the Battle of Lexington, which is the first engagement with the British troops, arrived at New Haven. This filled the country with alarm and rendered it impossible for us to pursue our studies to any profit.”

And this is the moment I mentioned in Tuesday’s lecture when Benedict Arnold — who is one of the men in that group of sixty guys who decide they’d better arm and drill; he’s one of those men — when he decides that they need arms and they’re going to march to Massachusetts, and he sort of fights the New Haven town committee to get the key so that he can grab arms and go march with his men up to Massachusetts. So I’m linking today’s lecture with Tuesday’s lecture, so I’m very proud. And actually, he and his men, as they were preparing to leave town and sort of go off to fight, they drew up an agreement which they all signed, a sort of pledge to each other, and a public statement as to what they were doing and why they were doing it, which is worth quoting because you’ll hear in the middle of it something you might not expect to see in a statement being drawn up by a bunch of guys who just — by force — armed themselves and they’re going to go march to Massachusetts to fight the British.

So this is the beginning of their statement: “Be it known that we, the subscribers, having taken up arms for the relief of our brethren and defense of their, as well as our, just rights and privileges, declare to the world that we from our hearts [correction: “the heart”] disavow every thought of rebellion to His Majesty, as supreme head of the British Empire.” Okay. They’ve taken up arms, they’re marching to fight the British, and the first thing they say in the first sentence of their proclamation is we’re not rebelling against the King. That — When I read this I thought, wow, that’s — And I’ve been saying over and over again in class it’s — that all of these things are mixed in together. People are upset, they’re angry at what’s going on, they’re angry at British policy, and they’re loyal to the King, and they’re thinking about independence, but they’re unsure about independence, and they’re still linked to England.

And in a way, that statement is a great example of that; guys who are holding guns and about to march to fight, are being sure to state that they are not rebelling against His Majesty as supreme head of the British empire — or, they don’t want to be accused of “opposition to his legal authority, and shall on every occasion manifest to the world by our conduct this to be our fixed principle.” So they’re not rebelling against the King. Instead they said that they were, quote, “Driven to the last necessity, and obliged to have recourse to arms in defense of our lives and liberties.” So they’re saying, ‘We’re not rebels who are out to rebel against the King. We’re actually — We’ve been driven to this by what’s going on in Massachusetts and we’re protecting ourselves, but this is a defensive act and not an aggressive act.’

And then when you read a little further on in the statement, after all of this sort of noble, lofty sentiment, they then promise each other they’re not going to get drunk or gamble or swear. [laughs] It’s down to practicalities. Now that we’ve declared our purpose to the world, no heavy drinking. Okay.

The next day, April 22, 1775, classes at Yale were suspended and a lot of students went home. Some, a few, actually, went off to fight. So you can kind of see the way that the wind is blowing in New Haven. You can imagine, given these sorts of events potentially how much fun it would have been to be a college student with Loyalist leanings at this particular moment. It would not have been very fun — and sure enough in 1775 there was that student. I discovered that student this morning. There was a — I don’t know if he’s the only one, but he’s the guy who got in trouble.

There was one college student here at Yale who was a declared Loyalist, 1775. He did not make other Yale students very happy. He must have been loud about being a Loyalist. Otherwise don’t know how it would have been so obvious to everyone that he was a Loyalist, but the — a large chunk of the Yale student body decided to have a meeting to debate what should be done about this student. Okay. Obviously, things are not going to go well for the student. ‘What should we do about this student?’

They decide that they are going to formally denounce him as — publicly, as, quote, “an enemy to his country” — and that no one will be allowed to socialize with this student ever again. Okay. They’ve just ostracized this — Can you imagine? Sorry. ‘You’ve just been entirely ostracized from every other person at Yale University [laughs] because we don’t like your politics.’ So when I first found this this morning, I was like: oh, poor guy, and I couldn’t figure out what happened next and I just felt sorry for him. Then I found a little bit more about him and I felt a little less sorry for him because he took action.

Apparently, he was from New Haven, this particular Loyalist student, so learning that he had been ostracized by all of the Yale student body, he went home and got some of his townie friends to go back to Yale and beat up some Yale students [laughter] — which they did. And then the Yale students got really mad at this apparently, and armed themselves with clubs and were going to go attack these townies when the Yale president, Naphtali Daggett, intervened. It was like: ‘okay, we’re done with the war now’ — [laughter] like, ‘nice idea, done with the war.’ So the fighting stopped and eventually — I don’t know when — the Loyalist withdrew from Yale — so, you can’t blame him at this point.

Okay. So we have people in New Haven forming military units and marching off to fight. We have students ostracizing that one lone Loyalist student. Not long after this, Yale students organized their own military company and actually began training, and not long after that the New Haven town meeting voted, and here’s what they declared: Quote, “That the Governor be desired to permit one hundred stands of arms to be lodged in the library for the use of a company in Yale College … That should a company in college be formed and accoutred, they draw half a pound of powder to each man.” Okay. Yale students have just started militarily drilling and the New Haven town meeting has voted to store arms in the Yale library; in case the students actually get it together and form an organized unit, they’ll have arms stored in the Yale library ready in case fighting has to happen. Which again is a really dramatic kind of a decision to make. It’s stated in a very plain way in the document that I found, but that’s a dramatic kind of a decision.

So again, you can see even just in that example how some of these really general ideas I’ve been talking about over the course of many, many lectures — building resentments, shared fears, continued loyalty to the King — are playing out here on a small scale in New Haven in real life.

Now the Yale military unit apparently had its main moment of glory that same year in 1775, when George Washington, who was now the newly named Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, actually passed through New Haven on his way to join the Continental Army outside of Boston. And I’ll be talking about George Washington in the next lecture so I’m feeling very fancy once again that I have magically somehow seemed as though this lecture was really planned all along.

But apparently, Connecticut newspapers noted that people from New Haven went out; they wanted to see Washington; they wanted to see what was going on; they wanted to watch the Yale students do a drill, which they did apparently — a formal drill in front of Washington and his escort. Noah Webster, dictionary Webster, was a Yale freshman that year, and in later years he told people that he remembered that event; he remembered Washington watching the drilling students; he remembered that the body of the — the military body of students, escorted Washington out of town. And Webster said that he himself played some kind of music to accompany the marching of the Yale students with Washington out of town — but he remembered that a long time later as sort of a memorable moment from the war.

Chapter 4. British Landing in New Haven and Yale’s Call to Arms [00:26:06]

Now in the interest of time, I’m going to leap to 1777, because in 1777 warfare now is unfolding throughout the northern states and some people then began to conclude that actually staying in New Haven and studying at Yale might be just too dangerous for Yale students — because New Haven was an exposed port, which we’re going to see in about five minutes. It is an exposed port.

So the Yale authorities sent students out to different towns. They didn’t close Yale. They just said, ‘Okay. We’re going to send students to random places in Connecticut where they will be safer than they are in New Haven.’ So freshmen went to Farmington, sophomores and juniors went to Glastonbury, and seniors went to Wethersfield. I cannot tell you why those particular places seemed like logical places, but you and your class were sent to a random place to continue your studies. On their way out, Yale officials asked the town to please protect the abandoned college buildings from troops — American or British — troops, and some library books were moved inland to protect them in case troops came to New Haven. So again, people are feeling there’s a potential real threat here.

Yale eventually did come back into session in New Haven, not without serious problems — and again you’re going to see the playing out here of something I’ve talked about before. I’ve talked before about the problems of supplying the army. It was hard to get food. People weren’t sort of giving up food and supplies to the army. Apparently, they — it was really hard for people to get food and supplies into Yale too, that people just weren’t — whatever sources of supplies had been serving Yale in the past were no longer doing that in a time of war.

So in 1778, Yale sent out the following notice to parents of Yale students. September 30, 1778: “The steward of Yale College hereby requests the Parents and Guardians of the Students to assist in furnishing a supply of Provisions” — okay, ‘parents, would you please send food? [laughs] We don’t have a lot; we really need it’ — ‘ “without which it will be very difficult if not impracticable for him to subsist the Scholars the ensuing winter. A generous and full Price shall be allowed and paid either in Money, or their Son’s Quarter Bills, shall be most agreeable.” Okay. ‘Please send us food. We don’t have any, and if you do we’ll either pay you or we won’t charge you tuition for your son so please give us food’ — which again — Can you imagine being the parent who gets the sorry, there’s no food for your son; [laughter] send some now? While you’re sending the homespun clothes, send the food too.

Okay. So the war is a real presence, even on the college campus: drilling students, fighting men, guns stored in the Yale library, people having a hard time getting food and supplies. 1779 is when things become much worse because that is the peak year of violence in New Haven; that is the year when the British invaded New Haven. And Ezra Stiles, who was President of Yale at the time, noted in his diary the events as they unfolded — and again, it’s really interesting to see his diary entries. He later wrote another account that had full sentences, but to me what was more interesting — and I’ll read some of them here — were some of his diary entries because they’re really immediate, and he’s kind of recording his reaction to events as they’re happening.

So on July 4, 1779, he says he heard news that there was a British fleet of ships that had been seen near Bridgeport, and supposedly rumor said it was heading to New Haven. So again, being the responsible president of Yale, he asks for militia to be sent. In case this is actually true, they’re going to need some real soldiers, but he writes in his diary: “Would not believe the enemy intended landing.” Okay. He hears the rumor and he takes action but he actually literally cannot believe that the British are actually going to get off the ships and attack. That can’t be real; can’t be really happening.

The next day, July 5, Stiles, using a telescope, says that he “saw the ships distinctly from the steeple of College Chapel” and, he continues, “Began to remove all property… . Militia meeting. Tories calm. With telescope from the tower or steeple clearly saw the boats putting off from the ship and landing a little after sunrise.” He sees the smaller boats going off of these ships, with soldiers, to land on the shore. “Immediately, I sent off College records and papers … and a bag of my own things,” sent his family away. The next day, July 6, Stiles writes: “Enemy paraded. Sailors came on shore and took their turn at plunder.”

I’m going to continue a couple days here and then go back to the actual invasion, just because the series of things he writes here are interesting and they become weirdly personal, which again reminds me that this is a real person’s experience. He says: July 7, 11 o’clock p.m., “enemy landed and burnt Fairfield.” July 8, “Removing my furniture” — (he’s now moving his furniture out of Yale) — “Removing my furniture broke my Fahrenheit Thermometer which I have had since 1762.” [laughter] I was like: oh, okay, I feel sorry you’re moving your furniture and he broke his thermometer. July 12, “the whole town moving,” and then July 23 this little, tiny reminder that Yale is still an institution that exists. July 23, Stiles spent the day writing diplomas onto parchment. [laughs] ‘Yeah, I know this is a little taxing. I’ve still got students and they still have to graduate so I’m going to write out their diplomas’ — which I think is really kind of striking.

Okay. Let’s turn back for a minute to look at precisely what happened as the British invaded New Haven. Apparently, they decided to attack the Connecticut shore to draw some of Washington’s troops away from White Plains, New York, where I guess they were, and that was I guess a strong position to hold, so the British thought well, if they attack the Connecticut shore, they’ll entice Washington to send some of his troops to Connecticut and that way maybe they can defeat them on both fronts.

And New Haven ends up being the first target in this plan, so on July 5 the British debark in New Haven Harbor. They had about two thousand soldiers. One part of the troops was going to enter New Haven from East Haven and the other part was going to enter from West Haven. Stiles wrote in his diary, “Perhaps one-third of the adult male inhabitants flew to arms and went out to meet them. A quarter [were] moved out of town doing nothing, the rest remained unmoved, partly Tories, partly timid Whigs,” and then he adds that some of the Tories armed themselves and then went out to fight with the British.

That’s a great example of how our — I think our impulse is to say, ‘Well, the people were united in unity against the British.’ It’s like — well, no. The entire town wasn’t a big lump — a big lump of rebels. It was people with different ideas, and you just — Stiles in that one little sentence — He has people going to fight with the British, people going to fight against the British. He has people sort of not knowing what to do and kind of just staying in town and then people not wanting to do anything, just wanted to get themselves out of there — all sort of happening at the same time. People are making decisions, some pretty dramatic decisions, and they’re having to make them spur of the moment, and you can see them in a lot of cases here taking a side, taking a formal side in a way that could have pretty dire consequences.

Yale immediately was dismissed, and some students immediately ran for home. Supposedly, according to a diary, one student, a sophomore, instead of going home decided to go to a nearby town and read Blackstone’s Commentaries. Why that made sense I don’t know. ‘What, the British are coming? I think I’ll go to Fairfield and read Blackstone now.’ [laughter] And in later years, he said he so enjoyed himself reading Blackstone during that period that he decided to become a lawyer right there and then. Okay. It’s this one lone little reading calm student in the midst of not a lot of other reading calm students from what I could tell.

Unlike that little Blackstone student, a volunteer company of about seventy Yale students — which is roughly half of the student body at that point — formed to fight. They were led by Captain James Hillhouse. He is indeed New Haven Hillhouse. He was a Yale graduate of a few years before, so he’s not that much older than these men. And a Yale senior, who ends up being one of these fighting Yale students, offers an account of what happened at this point. He says — He notes that troops landed in the south part of West Haven,

“about five miles from the center of the town. College was of course broken up and the students, with many of the inhabitants, prepared to flee on the morrow into the neighboring country. To give more time for preparation and especially for the removal of goods, a volunteer company of about a hundred young men was formed, not with the expectation of making any serious stand against such a force, but simply of retarding or diverting its march.”

So these students formed; they don’t think they’re going to beat the British, but maybe they can delay them a little bit. “In common with others of the students, I was one of the number, and I well remember the surprise we felt the next morning (July 5) as we were marching over West Bridge towards the enemy, to see Dr. Daggett,” who is the former President of Yale, Naphtali Daggett, who is now a professor of divinity, so he’s a Yale professor,

“how surprised we were the next morning, to see Dr. Daggett riding furiously by us on his old black mare with his long fowling piece in his hand ready for action. We knew the old gentleman had studied the matter thoroughly and satisfied his own mind as to the right and propriety of fighting it out, but we were not quite prepared to see him come forth in so gallant a style to carry his principles into practice.”

So, they see this professor go riding off with his gun, going to fight the British, like: ‘wow, [laughs] that’s pretty impressive.’ And I think in the first lecture I mentioned this, and said it was the President of Yale riding out. Daggett had retired as President, so for the sake of accuracy, he’s now not President but a professor riding off to fight the British with his gun. So now this student goes on:

“Giving him a [hearty] cheer as he passed, we turned down towards West Haven at the foot of the Milford Mills [correction: Milford Hill??], while he [Daggett] ascended a little to the west and took his station in a copse of wood where he seemed to be reconnoitering the enemy like one who was determined ‘to bide his time.’ As we passed on towards the south we met an advanced guard of the British, and taking our stand at a line of fence, we fired upon them several times, and then chased them the length of three or four fields as they retreated, until we suddenly found ourselves involved with the main body” —

Okay, [laughter] so it was — a couple of soldiers were like: ‘get them, uh oh [laughter] — “and in danger of being surrounded. It was now our turn to run, and we did for our lives. Passing by Dr. Daggett [laughs] in his station on the hill we retreated rapidly across West Bridge, which was instantly taken down by persons who stood ready for the purpose to prevent the enemy from entering the town by that road.”

Okay. So that’s where his account ends. Now we’re going to pick it up with Daggett who offered his own account afterwards of what happened. Okay.

“On Monday morning, the 5th inst. the town of New Haven was justly alarmed, with the threatening appearance of a speedy invasion from the Enemy. Numbers went out armed to oppose them. … Having gone as far as I supposed was sufficient, I turned down the hill to gain a little covert of bushes which I had in my eye; but to my great surprise I saw the Enemy much nearer than I expected, their advance guards being a little more than 20 rods distant, [with] plain open ground between us. They instantly fired upon me, which they continued till I had run a dozen rods, discharging not less than 15 or 20 balls at me alone; however thro’ the preserving providence of God, I escaped [from] them all unhurt, and gained the little covert at which I aimed, which concealed me from their view, while I could plainly see them thro’ the weeds and bushes, advancing towards me within 12 rods. I singled out one of them, took aim and fired upon him.”

Okay. So he takes one shot. “I loaded my musket again, but determined not to discharge it any more, [and] as I saw I could not escape from them [laughs] [and] I determined to surrender myself as a prisoner.” So he’s charged out with his gun, he takes one shot, and he’s like: ‘what am I doing? [laughter] I’m a guy with a gun and the British Army. What am I doing?’ He’s like: ‘okay, I’ll surrender myself as a prisoner.’

“I begged for Quarter and that they would spare my life. They drew near to me, I think two only in number, one on my right hand, the other on my left, the fury of infernals glowing in their faces, they called me a damned old Rebel and swore they would kill me instantly. They demanded, quote, ‘What did you fire upon us for?’” [laughter]

Okay. I love the question. ‘Why are you shooting at us, you old crazy man sitting in the bushes?’ “I replied, ‘because it is the exercise of war.’” [laughter] That did not impress the British, and apparently, they actually — they didn’t treat him very well so they — one of them pretended to stab at him with his bayonet and actually stabbed him a little bit, and some of them sort of [laughter] hit him on the head, and there’s a long account here which I don’t have time to read in which he talks about: ‘this guy hit me in the head and that guy hit me on the shin and then some guy hit me with the barrel of his gun.’

And he actually — he ends up being forced to march at the head of the British troops back to New Haven, from wherever he is. And he says I think in his account, ‘I finally — I saw the New Haven green and I was so happy I was back in New Haven.’ But I think he — Oh, and also I should say they stole his shoes, his knee buckles, his pocket handkerchief, and a little, old tobacco box, so they also just stripped him of whatever he had, but he actually I think was kind of badly hurt and he’s sick for a while. And then a couple years later he died, and people later said that maybe he died because of injuries sustained at that moment after the crazy charge of one guy, the noble professor going off to fight the British.

Okay. So troops entered New Haven proper a little after noon after one last skirmish where Whaley and Dixwell meet. This was the last little skirmish and then the British entered. They entered New Haven and immediately began to plunder Loyalist and Rebel houses alike, breaking windows and doors, carrying off valuables. As Stiles described it, “Plunder, Rape, Murder, Bayoneting, Indelicacies toward the Sex” — okay, women were not being treated respectfully — “Insolence and Abuse and Insult toward the Inhabitants in general.”

One woman later recalled that a British soldier in town cut off her necklace to keep, and stole her shoe buckles. Someone who lived on State Street said he was sitting in his door on State Street as the British came, and he saw a British officer come riding down Elm Street and turn up State Street towards Grove, and then he saw someone he knew from East Haven ride over, holding a musket which he leveled and fired at the British officer, who fell off his horse and sort of crawled into someone’s garden at which point the East Haven guy grabbed the officer’s horse and rode away. ‘So [laughter] I shot me someone from the British Army, and I got a horse too.’

Some people fled town. One man who was stuck in town with his wife because she was too ill to run, saw British officers enter town and apparently went up to one and asked for protection and the officer asked, ‘Are you a friend to King George?,’ and the man said, ‘I am,’ — so his house was not attacked, but apparently he was not a friend to King George, he was not a Tory, so for there, after in the town he was someone who was highly unpopular because he had — I suppose in a sense — sold himself out to protect his house; again a sort of decision of the moment that makes sense but that then had implications. Some New Haven Loyalists actually fled with the British Army, which as they left, actually, they left a lot of destruction in their wake.

Chapter 5. The Influence of the Revolution on Citizenship and Leadership in the Common Person [00:41:09]

Okay. So what have we seen today? We’ve definitely seen how ideas and events happening in places pretty far removed from New Haven are distilling their way down, right here — Yale College, New Haven, Connecticut — and really driving people to take action, sometimes pretty dramatic action. We’ve seen average citizens, average people from New Haven, stirred to act: merchants, lawyers, sailors, shoemakers, students. We’ve seen how the coming of war revealed all kinds of divisions among local people, as well as unity, because people did have to make choices of all kinds.

So basically, we’ve seen in this one little real-life example how the coming of the Revolution and then the carrying out of the Revolution drove average people to become politically active and also militarily active, to think through their options, to decide what they really believed, and then in many cases to take a stand. So Professor Daggett — The student says, ‘We know he’d been thinking about it and he had been thinking about what he wanted to do and he had decided that if pushed, he would fight.’ The student is kind of surprised he’s actually heading out with a gun, but again — the student knows tehat Daggett was thinking through what his actions were going to be, and then he watches him take action, like the Loyalists who left New Haven with the British; again a really dramatic action.

So in just this little sort of case study of New Haven and Yale, you can see how citizenship and leadership came to have different meanings, how people were understanding what they were supposed to be doing as citizens in a different way as they lived the experience of fighting a Revolution.

Okay. I ended that on time. I even read my — I’m so impressed with myself — [laughs/laughter] the instant lecture. Okay. And I ended two minutes early, so you have time to get your midterms. Have a wonderful spring break, and I will see you after.

[end of transcript]

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