Paul Revere rode out of Boston on the night of April 18, 1775 to warn rebellious colonialists that the British Army was on the march. Patriot volunteers, heeding the warning, gathered in Lexington to stand against the English presence. The first shot ‘heard around the world’ in that confrontation began the American Revolutionary, and eight-year War that transformed American Colonies into an independent nation.
Fifteen year old James Little, born and raised in Litchfield, Connecticut at the time was living with his parents, five brothers, and three sisters. Other than vital statistics dates, little information is available about family. James did not join the Continental Army during that first year of the war.
In May 1775 Connecticut Colonel Benedict Arnold led a Connecticut force into New York to capture of British Fort Ticonderoga; then continued north with an invasion of Canada, taking Montreal. This excursion into Canada fell apart when an attempt to capture Quebec City failed. Around the same time the Boston based British Army, attempting to break out of encirclement by rebels, attacked and defeated the American forces at the battle of Bunker Hill, a fight that cost British more casualties than American . The next action in Boston came when Colonel Arnold delivered cannons he had liberated from Fort Ticonderoga back to the Massachusetts. In March 1776 those cannons were secretly set up on Dorchester Hill overlooking Boston Harbor, creating a serious threat to British ships and fortifications. The British chose to evacuate Boston, sending their troops by sea to Halifax, Canada.
>The Continental Congress, anticipating that the next attack by the British would be an attempt to capture New York City, authorized the formation of an American Army, appointing George Washington to lead that army. As a part of this new army, Connecticut Colonel Philip Bradley was order to raise a Battalion in May 1776 under General Wadworth’s Brigade. James Little joined the Connecticut Militia as a private under Company Commander Captain Bealeel Bebee, also of Litchfield. The British invasion fleet arrived July 3, 1776 with three hundred ships disembarking thirty-two thousand men at Staten Island in New York Harbor.
General Washington moved Private James Little’s Connecticut Militia to Bergen Heights and Paulus Hook (present day Jersey City) as part of his preparation for an enemy attack. Meanwhile, British commander General Howe finally moved, taking his army to Long Island, where they defeated the American defenders at Brooklyn Village, but not before Washington had extracted his army to New York City. James Little’s unit (Colonel Bradley’s Battalion) at this point was building Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, across from the northern tip of Manhattan.
In September General Howe, trying to outflank Washington’s defenses in lower Manhattan, landed an army at Harlem. A Connecticut Regiment positioned there badly mauled a light British infantry,, stopping the British advance. British and American forces then dug in for a siege in Harlem. During this time, General Washington moved his forces around Harlem to the northern tip of Manhattan. In October, General Howe again attempted to outflank Washington with another landing north of Harlem. This force was also held to shoreline defenses by the American forces.
At that time James Little, along with twenty-five volunteers from Captain Bebee’s Company, were brought across the Hudson River from Fort Lee to northern Manhattan to participate help in reinforcing defenses of Fort Washington at the northern tip of the island. Fort Washington was hurriedly constructed to cover General Washington’s retreat off the island towards White Plains, New York. Following the escape of General Washington’s army, James Little and nearly three-thousand other defenders were surrounded by a far superior British army. Laying siege to the fort, the defenders of Fort Washington surrendered on November 16, 1776.
1832 Pension Statement of James Little
modified to first person writing style and revised with 1833 corrections statement
Born and raised in Litchfield, Connecticut, I volunteered in that town on May 2, 1776 for Revolutionary War service the Connecticut State troops under Captain Besaleel Bebee for an eight months enlistment. With Captain Bebee’s Company we marched from Litchfield through New Preston, New Milford, Danbury, and Bethel in Connecticut to Norwalk, where we boarded a ship and sailed to New York. We were in New York when independence was declared on July 4th. His Company marched from there to a place I think was called Bargaintown Point, where we were stationed to defend in the event that the enemy coming from Staten Island. While there our Company was attached to a Regiment commanded by Colonel Bradley. In August 1776 my Company was moved to the Hudson River to assist in building Fort Lee, in New Jersey.
While at Fort Lee I volunteered with twenty-five others in the Company to cross the Hudson to Manhatten as reinforcements for Fort Washington, commanded by Colonel Macgaw. When the attack was made upon that Fort, I was in the battle on the lower lines. There I was ordered to retreat while the enemy were firing upon us. I was hurt in his right side, but succeeded in reaching the Fort. I was taken prisoner the 16th of November and was conducted with many others to Harlem where I was kept three days, and then marched to New York.
It took four days of a forced march to reach New York, and during that time I had nothing to eat. I was there locked in North Chapel in New York for six days, a facility filled with other prisoners. Then, along with many others, I was put on board a prison ship called the ‘Grovenor’, where he was kept till into January following. Onboard the ‘Grovenor’ I suffered every inconvenience but death. In January I, and many others, in consequence of having the Small Pox were placed on shore and put into a private house where I was kept. I think I was held there till about the 20th of February. That was when I was taken to sign a parole agreeing not to take up arms again until exchanged. I was permitted to go home. I started for Litchfield traveling four or five miles a day, which is all my health would permit., and reached home about the first of March, having been gone ten months. That six of Captain Bebee’s Company as nearly as I can recollect went on board the prison ship with me, and all died excepting myself, and one Oliver Woodruff, who is living, residing now in the state of New York.
Historical Perspective Insert
These British Prison ships, converted supply ships, were hell hole prisoner of war lock-ups, comparable to Confederate run Andersonville in the Civil War. During the winter months, the holds of these prison ships were unheated. Food destined for the prisoners was confiscated by corrupt commanders, and resold on the black market. Beatings, torture, and summary executions were common place. Medical treatment was almost non-existant. During the winters, starvation, related diseases, and frigid temperatures combined to kill thousands of prisoners. There were 11,000 deaths of Americans held prisoner by the British, three times as many as combat casualties. The British did participate in prisoner exchanges and paroles in response to comparable acts with British held prisoners.
James Little detailed his experiences as a prisoner of the British in New York with a letter he wrote to Congress in 1819, a part of his efforts to petition for a pension authorized by an Act of Congress in 1818. Below is that transcribed letter.
Addressed to Congress
It was on Sunday the 16th of November that we were made prisoners at Fort Washington, and although good treatment was promised, the reverse was experienced in New York. We slept part of the night in the open field, then marched to Harlem. Crowded with three thousand other prisoners into sheep pens, we were forced to remain there until Thursday. Then we were ordered to New York. Formed into platoons, we were marched through the British and Hessian army where we were insulted, kicked, beaten with the butt of their guns. Some of us were smashed down with poles on our heads and robbed of blankets, which was afterwards severely felt since most of us were outfitted only in summer clothing. After passing their army, we marched rank and file, but being so exhausted for want of food and drink could not go without staggering and falling. But go we must and not being permitted to stop to get drink, were forced by our captors scoop with our hands the muddy water in the road for our needs.
We arrived at the Grand Parade near New York before sun set. The ladies and gentlemen from the city came to the Yankee prisoners, where Jay C. Mathews asked a lady, who appeared to be much affected by our situation, if she could not give him something to eat. She left, but soon returned with a small loaf of bread that she gave him. After thanking the generous woman he turned and said to the Company, ‘You shall share with me.” The twenty-four of us shared in the loaf
We were separated for Quarters. Five of my Company with a great number of others were put into the North Chapel. On Friday, November 21st we drew three days food allowance. My share, which was of bran bread, was about a double handful, moldy, and full of worms with two ounces of pork. I had been so long without food that a craving appetite had left me but with satisfaction I ate the whole ration, and then went three days more without food. So, in those first eight days I had one meal. We stayed one week in the Chapel in which time many died. As we were not allowed to go out the stench in the Chapel was almost insupportable. In this place we suffered extremely for want of water as well as every other necessary part of life. And for the information of such as are ignorant respecting British imprisonment, I will state a fact that in the night a British sergeant and a gang came in an kicked out five or six to the stoutest of the prisoners. One of them knew James Howden. He asked the sergeant what he was going to do with him. The sergeant damned him and bid him go along. Howden resisted then they struck and clubbed him and took him off with the others.
We were taken from the Chapel, and put on the prison ship ‘Grovesnor’, a two decker. The ship was so crowded that there was not enough room for us to lie down. Our living was now was as follows. The head of each group got meals by being directed up the hatchway to receive from the cook about three pints of burggo, or water gruel without salt in a bowl, for six men in the morning. At night he got about a handful of kennel biscuit. This was our living while onboard the ship. But when the small pox began to rage our lease seemed deplorable. Indeed death and distress was on every side. The dead bodies were hoisted on deck, a cannonball fastened to them, and they were thrown overboard with shout of ‘there goes another damned Yankee rebel.
It is also true the prisoners were offered the chance to carry the dead in a boat to Long Island to bury the dead. This was impractical by reason of the severity of the weather and our being almost destitute of clothing. I know of but one instance where this happened. Isaac Gibbs persuaded two others to go with him and bury his father. Isaac Gibbs and both ship mates of got so chilled and frozen that they died soon after their return. Indeed to go outside from the confined air in the hold of the vessel brought almost instant death. I have now but one of my ship mates left. Is it probable to describe our situation hopeless, as we were pitiless faint and feeble, confined in the putrefied stagnated air of the hold of the vessel crowded with vermin.
After being on board of the prison ship about six weeks there came a doctor to take out those that have the small pox. About forty of us were taken ashore and, being landed under a strong guard, reeling and tumbling, we arrived at the hospital. We stayed in there a fortnight, where all died excepting myself, Isaac Grant, and Elisha Grant. We hourly expected to follow. My last ship mate young Gibbs, before he died, was frozen from his feet to his hips. Here we recovered after about a fortnight, destitute of everything comfortable, even fire to warm us.
Steve Allen, formerly of Salisbury, Connecticut, visited and brought us clothing and after signing a parole as dictated by a British officer not to bear arms against his Royal Majesty until exchanged. He provided quarters for us and of the ***** ***** ***** ***** ** **** **** ***** ****** **** ***. And we were by a guard conducted to the American Army at Ri** where the constabulary officer gave a receipt for nineteen almost dead men. I think six died within 20 miles on our way home. I arrived at Danbury where I stayed with a friend until my father sent for me. After going home, I was revived through a course of salvation under the care of doctors in about three months. I soon regained my health so as to be able to labor and again assist in defending my country.
Your petitioner, now advanced in life, infirmed and not able to do much labor submits his case, trusting that I shall have such relief as in your wisdom shall seem right and is in duty bound will ever pay.
May 27, 1819
Morristown, Orleans County, Vermont
continuation of James Little’s 1832 Statement to War Department
I lived at home in Litchfield, recovering from what happened in New York, until the enemy attack was made on Danbury in April 1777. I then volunteered with others when the alarm was given, but did not march to the scene of destruction till the enemy was gone. The buildings were on fire when I arrived. We then proceeded to Ridgefield, and I was in the engagement at that place when General Wooster was killed. Along with my associates, I returned thru Ridgefield to Danbury and took charge of some prisoners whom we conducted to Norwalk. I then returned to Litchfield having been gone I thinks about six weeks.
Family Historical Insert
According to the Pension Files at the National Archives, James Little’s younger brothers enlisted in the Continental Army after he returned home from the British prison ships.
William Little enlisted in February 1777 in Lyme, Connecticut for a three year term under Captain James Eldridge and Colonel Fredrick Huntington. He was involved in the battles of Flatbush and Jamacia, Long Island; White Plains, New York; Hacken Sack, New Jersey; and Stony Point.
Samuel Little enlisted in August 1779 for three months in Litchfield, Connecticut, serving at Middlesex Village, near Norwalk, Connecticut under Captain Griswald and Lieutenant Gibbs as a fifer musician. He volunteered for another two months of duty as a fifer in February 1780, serving at Danbury and Horse Neck. He volunteered in May 1780 for an additional two months at Horse Neck with Colonel Bebee. At Horse Neck Samuel Little was involved with a combat skirmish against a Tory gang that was rustling cattle. Forty of the Tory gang were killed, while others were wounded. From September to November 1781 Samuel served another two months as a fifer at West Point, New York.
Samuel Little, provided the following statement to the War Department in support of James Little’s application for a pension.
I, Samuel Little of Sheldon, in the County of Franklin and State of Vermont, depose and say that I am seventy years of age, that I am brother to James Little of Morristown, in Orleans County, who has petitioned for a pension under the Act of June 7th 1832. That at commencement of the Revolutionary War I resided and so did James Little, in the town of Litchfield, in the State of Connecticut. That in the year 1776 I understood said James Little enlisted. I cannot however be certain of the year, but understood he enlisted for eight months, and know he was gone upon said enlistment some time, and returned home sick and feeble. I then understood from him that he had been a prisoner and that only two or three out of twenty-five who were taken prisoner with him were then living. I well recollect of his going to the Danbury Alarm, but do not know how long he was gone. In 1779 I was a musician in Captain Griswold’s Company and did duty in said Company in Middlesex in Connecticut three months. Said James Little was there a private in the same Company and did duty at the same time. I recollect where my brother James returned from North River of his telling me that when they heard Burgoyne was taken, they roasted an ox whole and had a day of general rejoicing.
Historical Perspective Insert
Although Connecticut feared an attack after the British invasion of Long Island in July 1776, the British were preoccupied with General Washington’s army in New York throughout 1776. However, in April 1777 British General Howe directed Major General William Tryon, royal governor of New York, to attack Danbury, Connecticut with a force of 2,000 troops and destroy military stores stockpiled there. On April 25th General Tryon’s expedition landed his force at Compo on the Saugatuck River, then marching them inland, reaching Danbury the following morning. After driving off local citizens with cannon fire, General Tryon’s troops began methodically burning buildings with supplies, looting stores, and getting drunk with stored rum.
Answering to the patriot’s alarm, James Little volunteered for the Militia, and marched toward Danbury in response to the incursion. General Wooster and Benedict Arnold, at home in New Haven assembled their forces and marched to join local defenses at Bethel to intercept the expected withdrawal from Danbury. At two in the morning on the 27th, realizing his position was in a precarious, General Tryon roused his troops and began his retreat to his ships at Compo Beach. In an effort to avoid General Wooster, Tryon diverted his retreat through Ridgebury. Wooster sent Arnold and much of his force, to Ridgebury, where the British had to fight their way through the town to avoid annihilation.
That about the 2nd of September of that same year I, along with many others, volunteered under Captain Buel and marched to Peek Kill in the state of New York. We were there under a Regiment commanded by Colonel Durkee. I was there when General Burgoyne surrendered to General Gates, and on hearing the news we barbecued an ox. I was stationed at Peek Kill until about the 2nd of December and returned home, having served three months.
Historical Perspective Insert
In June British General John Burgoyne launched a major attack (with a force of 9,000 men) out of Canada along the shores of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River in an attempt to take control of that main waterway in an effort to separate the New England states from the rest of the American colonies. On July 6, Burgoyne’s army took Fort Ticonderoga. His plan was to draw the patriots towards him in anticipation of reinforcements from General William Howe in New York coming north along the Hudson to meet him in Albany. A third force was to converge from Lake Ontario along the Mohawk Valley. The British plan soon ran into difficulty. General Howe got approval to modify the plan, so that he left a much smaller force in New York to help General Burgoyne, taking most of the army by sea to the Chesapeake Bay for an attack on Philadelphia..
Moving north from New York, British ships and forces moving up the Hudson overwhelmed American positions near West Point, but those advances were too slow to come to Burgoyne’s relief In mid August Connecticut General Benedict Arnold American army stopped the British relief in the Mohawk Valley, forcing them to retreat back to Lake Ontario. Meanwhile, a force sent to Bennington (Vermont) was decimated with over 800 casualties by a New England Militia. Despite these setbacks, Burgoyne severed communications with Canada, and pressed forward down the Hudson River towards Albany. In a major series of battle skirmishes, General Burgoyne was eventually outnumbered, outwitted, and surrounded. He was forced to surrender at Saratoga on October 17, 1777. Connecticut Militia Soldier James Little was there for the surrender.
In April 1778 as nearly as I can recollect, the Militia of Connecticut was expanded, and each community was to furnish one soldier. I served one and a half months commencing in April as a Private in the Militia of Connecticut under the certification of the Militia and was employed as a substitute by my Rupel whose duty it was to perform that service for the Company to which he belonged. The services were performed in Stamfer in Connecticut under Captain Peck. The Colonel I do not recollect.
That the latter part of August 1778 I was employed as a substitute by a man whose named Mr. Cotton. I went under Captain Griswold and Lieutenant Gibbs to Middlesex in Connecticut and served about three months upon the lines watching for cow boys.
I served three months, commencing the latter part of August 1779 as a substitute for a Mr. Strong as a Private, and marched in Captain Grant’s Company under Colonel Mills. The Services were performed at Horse Neck with the Militia watching cow boys.
Historical Perspective Insert
At the February 27th Battle of ‘Horse Neck’ (West Greenwich, Connecticut) several British Regiments under General Tryon invaded the unsuspecting American town, driving off the small force of defenders. The British burned and destroyed munitions, weapons, and food stores before retreating back to New York while being harassed by Militia converging on them.
At the time of the New Haven alarm I volunteered from Litchfield in Connecticut as a Private. I was in a skirmish at Fairfield and was gone about twenty days.
Historical Perspective Insert
On July 4th , British General Tryon sent a sea-borne raid into New Haven, Connecticut. The British troops burned military stores, harassed residents, and got drunk on available rum. By nightfall sniper fire and harassment from the local Militia convinced the British return to their ships before they were destroyed.
Three days later, on July 7th, British raiders landed 2,000 troops at Fairfield Beach, invaded the town of Fairfield, and burned most of it to the ground before withdrawal the following day, before the Connecticut Militia could converge on them.
In July 1780 I volunteered in Danbury in Connecticut under Captain Buel and marched in his company to Cranis Pond in the state of New York about seven miles from Peeks Kill and was stationed there to guard cattle brought by the Company for the Army. I was there when Major Andre was executed. I was in service that time for three months.
Historical Perspective Insert British Major John Andre, an aid to General Clinton, negotiated with American General Benedict Arnold when Arnold betrayed the American Revolution by offering to surrender the West Point fortifications intact to the British. Major Andre was captured by Revolutionary bandits with Arnold’s documents in his boots, a action that thwarted the loss of West Point. Although Benedict Arnold escaped to British lines, Major Andre was sentenced as a spy, and hanged on October 2, 1780.
I never knew any discharges or have I any documentary evidence of his services. I applied for a pension under the act of 1818, and suppose that my first enlistment was for nine months. I since learned that the Connecticut enlistments at that time were eight months
On October 30, 1779 twenty-one year old Connecticut soldier James Little married nineteen year old Sarah Hodges in Litchfield, Connecticut. Although James remained with the Connecticut Militia through the rest of the war (ended at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1783), there is no further records of combat engagements.
I moved from Litchfield to Lenox in Massachusetts and stayed about two years, and then moved to Middlebury in Vermont and lived there seven years. I came to Morristown in Orleans County, Vermont where I have lived.
Prepared by Descendant Kevin F. Owens, January 2003