|Numerous “beehive” ovens used to bake bread are located on the encampment site. Recently inspecting one was Charles A. Couch (left), author of the accompanying report, and Dr. Stuart Reeve, an archaelogical consultant. An account executive with a computer consulting firm, Mr. Couch has his SAR Membership Application in process; he will be affiliated with the Connecticut Society’s Roger Sherman Branch. Thanks go to Edward Franklin Romig II, Immediate Past President of the Branch, for bringing this remarkable story to the attention of the National Trustees, who when they met in Louisville on March 7 approved a Resolution pledging support for a program aimed at conserving the site.|
A remarkable tract of land in Connecticut boasts remnants of an important Saga in the annals of the Revolutionary Waras reported by Charles A. Couch, A soon-to-be compatriot. Our National Society is strongly backing conservation efforts.
The State of Connecticut is well known for picturesque small towns with manicured town greens that sit amidst colonial homes and historic antique churches. Many of these communities are rich with Revolutionary War histories that tell us of our struggle in becoming a sovereign nation. What is not always apparent to many is the fast-paced development of land surrounding many of these tranquil settings. The town of Redding in Fairfield County is no exception to this dilemma. While only 65 miles from New York City, Redding is home to a 53-acre privately owned tract of land that has remained undisturbed since the times of the Revolutionary War. This unique parcel of land contains the remnants of a very important saga in American history. This is the core area of what was Gen. Samuel H. Parsons’ encampment of the 1st Connecticut Brigade during the Winter of 1778-79.
After 219 years the site is in remarkable condition. Many of the log hut sites from the encampment are still clearly discernable by their stone “firebacks” which remain today. The term “fire-back” refers to the fireplace built of stone while the upper chimney or flue section was constructed of small-diameter cribbed logs that were lined with clay. At this site many of the cabins and their respective fire-backs were built into the hillside to avoid exposure to the cold northwest winds of winter. Most of the stone “beehive” ovens used to bake bread, when flour was in supply, still exist near the creek which flows through the property. Although damaged by at least two floods over the past two centuries, the stonework of a dam/bridge, likely built by the soldiers, still exists. Sitting on the property is a modest unoccupied home that was converted from a post and beam barn dating to the site prior to the Revolution. Upon close examination of the area, roads from site to site and a possible paddock area are still visible features of the property. As important as this site is, it is but idle testimony to the real story of the hardships and sufferings bravely endured by our Patriot ancestors.
|The encampment site boasts this row of firebacks (among others), which were fireplaces for the log huts that housed soldiers.|
Winter Worse Than At Valley Forge
By early December 1778 Gen. Parsons’ Brigade arrived in Redding from the Hudson Highlands region of New York, being part of the east wing of the Continental Army under the command of Major General Israel Putnam. This was a strategic site chosen to provide safety to the nearby stores at Danbury to the north and ensure guard support to the coastal towns 14 miles south along Long Island Sound. Gen. Parsons’ 1st Connecticut Brigade consisted of the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th regiments and accounted for an estimated 800 to 1,200 soldiers. Col. Meigs and Col. Wyllys commanded the latter two regiments, respectively. From Gen. Parsons’ brigade orders of Dec. 4th, 1778, we are given the laying out of the camp:
The huts are to built 14 by 16 between joints with logs “duftailed” together,- the door towards the brook at one end and the chimney at the other,- the square of the hut must be six feet high … The huts to built in two rows with eight feet between them … Col. Wyllys’ regiment to occupy 28 rods in front,Col. Meigs’ regiment 30; and the other two regiments 15 rods each … The officer’s huts of each regiment must be built in a regular line at about 16 feet distance from the rear of the line of the soldiers…
|During the March 7 meeting of the National Trustees, Paul M. Frantz (left), Chairman of the Historic Sites and Celebrations Committee, reported on the area in Connecticut where Patriots encamped in 1778-79. Following this, Carlos J. Ricketson (right), a member of the Resolutions Committee, introduced the following Resolution, which was unanimously approved: “Whereas the core sites of General Samuel Holden Parson’s First Connecticut Brigade’s winter encampment of 1778-1779, located on 53 acres in Redding, Connecticut, is of such national historical significance and the last remaining undisturbed Revolutionary War encampment site, the National Society Sons of the American Revolution, hereby gives itsfull support for the preservation of said site. The NSSAR supports the long-term conservation of this site via the acquisition of the site by an appropriate land trust and listing on the National Register of Historic Places.”|
In Joseph Plumb Martin’s narrative “Private Yankee Doodle” – he was encamped at this site under Col. Wyllys’ regiment – we gain great insight into the deprivations endured by the soldiers. Martin states that the conditions that winter were more severe than those he had suffered the previous Winter at Valley Forge. “And now came on the time again between grass and hay, that is, the winter campaign o starving and freezing.” Martin goes on to write “We now and again got a little bad bread and salt beef (I believe chiefly horsebeef for it was generally thought to be such at the time).”
Cooked Horse Bones Found
Due to severe weather the soldiers were without blankets, shoes, clothing and food. On Dec. 27th Gen. Parsons issued brigade orders to the officers and soldiers explaining he had used every possible method to supply flour, bread and every article possible that was in storage at Danbury for the brigade, but was unsuccessful because the snow was so deep that teams of oxen were unable to reach the adjoining town. In the mid-1970s an archaeological project, conducted at nearby Putnam Park by Connecticut State Historical Commission Archaeologist Dr. David Poirier, found the remains of cooked horse bones near some of the fire-backs. The Parsons’ Brigade encampment has never received a scientifically controlled archaeological assessment to date, although Dr. Poirier did perform a “dig” of a single fire-back where some minor artifacts, including a clay pipe, were unearthed.
By early January 1779 most of the soldiers were tired of camp conditions, which had not improved. It has been well documented about the insurrection at Gen. Huntington’s brigade-site, where the soldiers took up their arms and were ready to proceed to Hartford to air their complaints, before being intercepted by Gen. Putnam himself. (This site was destroyed by a housing development in the 1970s.) One of the ringleaders, named Smith, was later executed for desertion less than a half mile away from the Parsons’ encampment. This site is now known as Gallows Hill. What some historians fail to realize is the fact that there was a minor insurrection at the Parsons’ campsite, too. Joseph Plumb Martin relates this:
“Accordingly, one evening, after dark, we all turned out again with our arms, appointed a commander and were determined that time … to march to center of the state … By this time the colonel had come … and the old mode of flattery and promising was resorted to and produced the usual effect. We all once more returned to our huts and fires, and there spent the remainder of the night, muttering over our forlorn condition.”
|The stonework of a dam/bridge, probably built by the soldiers who wintered on the site, is still in good condition. Note the rocky terrain in this and other photographs taken by the author of this report; this accounts to a large extent for the encampment’s remarkable condition.|
|This rendering of how a hut for housing the soldiers probably looked was created by Rear Admiral Lauren S. McCready, USMS. A friend of Mr. Couch, the author of this report, he lives near the Parson’s Encampment Site.|
Young Boys There, Too
Not all the soldiers at the Parsons’ encampment were grown men as it is often perceived. Many were young boys who suffered the deprivations of that winter, too. From the National Archives Revolutionary War records is a letter dated Feb. 5, 1834 from Ebenezer Couch III, petitioning for a Revolutionary War Survivors pension. He states he first entered the service at age twelve, as a waiter to his father, who was captain of a company mustered out of New Milford, CT. He further states in the letter:
“If I am not mistaken in my recollection, in the winter of 1778 or 1779, General Parsons’ brigade was in winter quarters at Redding … same time of that winter I was on the Camp ground and present at the roll call of Col. Meigs Regiment, when I discovered a number of boys, both musicians and soldiers who from their appearance were not as old or athletick as I was when I first entered the service. There was one company which was called Meigs Pigs, which was composed of the boys of the Regiment excepting Musicians. Many of whom was said to be from twelve to sixteen years old”
It was also recorded that during Gen. Parsons’ Brigade encampment at this site, eight soldiers died. They likely died from disease, often referred to as “Camp Fever”, but no details of their symptoms are known to exist. Their places of burial are also unknown at this time.
“Most Important Undisturbed War Site”
Today the property is covered with medium growth hardwood trees and mountain laurel. Although this land was partially cleared and farmed almost a half-century prior to the Revolution, the core of the encampment site was subjected only to sheep and cattle grazing for the following century and a half. Other parts of the tract were logged until the early part of this century to provide fuel for a nearby lime kiln operation that itself was in operation since the early 18th century. The impact of logging in the surrounding areas has yet to be determined.
Connecticut State Archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni is familiar with the site and has referred to it as “perhaps the single most important undisturbed Revolutionary War site in the country”. The current owner of the property is 88 years old, in poor health and uncertain what to do with the property beyond having it sold upon his death and the proceeds dispersed among his heirs. These are honorable intentions, but a disturbing point that could result in our Revolutionary heritage passing beneath a bulldozer blade rather than an archaeologist’s spade.
Trust Leading Preservation Effort
The Redding Land Trust is seeking to save this invaluable tract of land by partnering with interested groups and individuals to raise the necessary monies to purchase the land from the current owner. The intention of this preservation effort is to work outside of government involvement where a low key approach is required to keep treasure hunters from destroying the archaeological integrity of the site. Archaeologist Dr. Stuart Reeve is assisting the Redding Land Trust in developing strategies for the preservation effort. Dr. Reeve has prior experience with archaeological research at Saratoga National Historical Park.
|Dr. Stuart Reeve, the archealogical consultant who worked with the author on this story, recently examined the remains of a fireback.|
Future use of the property could involve extensive research programs where members and families of the SAR and other relevant organizations could actually participate in unearthing our Revolutionary past. Most importantly, proper documentation and publication of findings could be shared across the nation to ensure that future generations retain compassion for our country’s heritage.
This article has been reproduced from the Spring, 1998 issue of The SAR Magazine.