Let Freedom Ring 2018

Readers of this blog know that I love Norwalk’s “Let Freedom Ring” program. I love its focus on the true origins of Independence Day, on Norwalk’s part in the American Revolution, and on bringing today’s community together. This year was no exception; in fact, we probably had our biggest crowd yet!

The program opened with Madeleine Eckert of the Norwalk Historical Society giving a talk called “Discovering 18th Century Norwalk Black History.” She and her husband Ed have done extensive research into Norwalk’s black population in the 1700s: from simple census counts to identifying names in probate records (either first, last, or both) to newspaper accounts. Mrs. Eckert then went into detail about Norwalk blacks who not only assisted the Patriot cause during the American Revolution, but also those who became loyalists.

NHS President Diane Jellerette introduces Madeleine Eckert. Author’s collection.

Information was coming at me so fast that it was hard to capture it all. Basically, there were some blacks who served as soldiers in integrated troops. Some slaves also helped save homes during the 1779 Burning of Norwalk. I did manage to capture the names of the black patriots:

  • Ned Negro
  • John Roger
  • Solomon Soutice
  • Onesimus Brown (there was a photo of him!)
  • Dover St. John

Those who supported the Loyalist cause probably did so under the promise of gaining freedom (in fact, they were included among those who received land grants in Nova Scotia). Some Norwalkers included:

  • Catherine
  • Moses
  • Pleasant Lockwood
  • David Raymond
  • Dorras Scudder
  • Cato Cannon

What an eye-opening talk it was!

After a short break, the “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony began. Mayor Harry Rilling spoke of his favorite passage in the Declaration of Independence (“we hold these truths to be self-evident…”). Senator Bob Duff emphasized that the Declaration was “not a love letter” but a list of grievances, and that we too should speak up and make our voices heard in government.

Mayor Rilling and Senator Duff. Author’s collection.

Town Clerk Rick McQuaid, in traditional Revolutionary garb, read many excerpts of the Declaration of Independence (I swear, he does it better every year!). The children present were then invited to help ring the bell as Mayor Rilling read off the names of the thirteen original states.

Rick McQuaid reads the Declaration; children help ring the bell. Author’s collection.

Zachary Anderson, Nathan Brenn and Richie Cordero, three graduates from Norwalk High School’s music program, performed a moving rendition of the National Anthem.

The National Anthem is performed. Author’s collection.

We were then introduced to our special guests, the Sable Soldiers. Ludger Balan told us that day they were representing Glover’s Marblehead regiment, of whom 40% were people of color, be it African-American, Native American, etc. He spoke of gratitude for knowing where we’ve been as a people, and how that has contributed to who we are today.

Ludger Balan (left) introduced us to the Sable Soldiers. Author’s collection.

Indeed the people re-enacting the Marblehead regiment had an intimate knowledge of the history of the regiment, from the motives behind the Marbleheaders joining the Revolutionary cause to the logistics of colonial warfare. When the crowd moved outside, stories were shared about the regiment and the battles it took part in (the most notable was the Battle of Trenton). Even the younger children were captivated by the stories!

Battlefield stories captured the crowd so well that the kids were more than willing to be a part of the cannon team demonstration. Author’s collection.

Finally, the soldiers gave us an unloaded demonstration of how some of their weapons worked. I won’t go into all the details here (please – see a demonstration of your local reenactors if you can), but I will share some of our modern expressions that stem from Revolutionary-era weaponry:

  • lock, stock and barrel
  • flash in the pan
  • half cocked
  • kick the bucket

In conclusion, I would say that my eyes have been opened about how all people have taken part in establishing our country. They may not have been in history books, but their names and roles are slowly being rediscovered by people like the Eckerts and the Sable Soldiers.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Encampment scenes. Author’s collection.

Samuel Grumman: Revolutionary and Genealogy Hero

As I’ve written about before, I love to attend Norwalk’s “Let Freedom Ring” program on Independence Day. This past 4th of July, the program included a special wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of Samuel Grumman, who was in the militia during the Revolutionary War.

After being led across the Mill Hill cemetery by Boy Scout Troop 222 color guard, we opened with the Pledge of Allegiance and listened as historian Madeleine Eckert told us the story of Samuel Grumman.

Following the Color Guard down the Norwalk River Valley Trail. Author’s collection.

The following are some of the highlights:

  • Samuel was born in 1725 at the site of 93 East Avenue in Norwalk.
  • He married Elizabeth Keeler and they lived where 74 East Avenue is today.
  • He owned a mill located on the Norwalk River, where 40 Cross Street is today (right around the corner from me!).
  • He was the Town Clerk in Norwalk during the Revolution until the time of his death in 1804.
  • In 1776, he enlisted in the 9th Regiment of the Connecticut militia under Jabez Gregory (who is also buried at Mill Hill), but never saw any military action.

Jabez Gregory’s grave. Author’s collection.

  • Samuel served on various Revolutionary War committees during 1778-1779.
  • In 1779, when Norwalk found out that General Tryon would be attacking them, Samuel had the foresight to hide the town records in a safe place, protecting them from the Burning of Norwalk. Descendants of colonial Norwalkers owe a debt of gratitude to him.
  • He died in 1804. Both he and his wife are buried at Mill Hill Cemetery. Elizabeth’s stone is broken in half, but is still legible. Samuel’s original stone has deteriorated with age.

Appropriately, current Town Clerk Richard McQuaid had the honor of laying a wreath at Samuel’s grave. Behind the decayed stone is a new marble marker for future generations to enjoy. “Taps” was played by Norwalk High School trumpeter Victoria Russo.

Richard McQuaid lays the wreath. Author’s collection.

Samuel Grumman’s new grave marker. Author’s collection.

The program continued indoors at the old meeting house, where Mayor Harry Rilling remarked how much we owe to the patriots who fought back in the Revolution, right up through present times. Connecticut Senator Bob Duff pointed out how interesting it was to hear the stories behind the names of our current streets. He also marveled at the sacrifices our forefathers made, all due to following their passion to be free. Because they followed their passions then, we are able to follow our own passions today.

Richard McQuaid, in period dress, read excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, followed by the thirteen rings of the bell by Senator Duff as Mayor Rilling read off the names of each of the thirteen original states. Catherine Robinson, of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, then sang the National Anthem in a beautiful contralto voice.

Mayor Rilling and Senator Duff let freedom ring! Author’s collection.

If you’re ever in Norwalk, take some time to pay respects to some patriots here! The Norwalk River Valley Trail now runs through the Mill Hill historical site, and the path goes right past Samuel Grumman’s grave.

The meeting house at Mill Hill. Author’s collection.

Taunt: A Short But Fruitful Branch

Remember Jerusha Taunt? I wanted to document her lineage as well, starting with her paternal line. Sadly, I only had it going back two more generations. Little did I know that there was a surprise waiting for me as I prepared this post!

Let’s start with the basics, beginning with Jerusha’s father, Seth Billings Taunt. He was the son of Levi Taunt and Jerusha Billings, born on September 26, 1772 in Stoughton, Plymouth County (now Norfolk County), MA. On March 11, 1794 he married Anna Capernaum in Braintree, Norfolk County, MA. One source, The Record of Births, marriages and Deaths and Intentions of Marriage in the Town of Stoughton… noted that the intention of marriage was filed in March 1794 between Seth Taunt and “Mrs. Anna Copernaun”. This brings two questions to mind: Which is the correct spelling of her surname (which I know is very subjective back then)? And “Mrs.” — was Anna really married before? If so, what is her maiden name?

The following are Seth and Anna’s children, the facts of whom all took place in Braintree unless otherwise noted:

  • Anna, born August 3, 1794 (by this date you can see why the intention of marriage was filed!); died September 5, 1811.
  • William, born after 1794; died July 15, 1797.
  • Cynthia, born May 21, 1798; married Elisha Savil on December 20, 1818; died April 23, 1876.
  • Jerusha, born February 7, 1801; died October 12, 1803 (obviously not my Jerusha).
  • Seth, born December 16, 1804; married Mary J. Holbrook on January 19, 1825.
  • Jerusha B. (as I stated before, I suspect that “B.” is for Billings), born May 28, 1807; married Ivory Goodwin on January 25, 1824; died October 20, 1870 in Lynn, Essex County, MA.
  • William, born August 24, 1809; died before January 15, 1817.
  • William, born January 15, 1817.

Seth died on April 17, 1837 and Anna on January 29, 1856, both in Braintree. I have no burial information on them at this time.

Going back a generation, we come to Seth’s father Levi, who lived in Stoughton. There are other Taunts in Stoughton around Levi’s time, and I suspect they are related, but I don’t know how. (Again, a job for an in-person research trip to the town!)

On December 7, 1767, Levi and his future bride Jerusha Billings (born August 3, 1750 to Seth Billings and Jerusha Redman) filed their marriage intention with George Crosman, Stoughton town clerk. They were married on February 25, 1768 by Reverend Samuel Dunbar, a long-time minister there.

Although the 1790 census shows more people in Levi Taunt’s home, I’ve only uncovered two children attributed to him and Jerusha:

  • Charlotte (also listed as Charity and Charlety), born December 10, 1768; married Ebenezer Holmes on February 10, 1789.
  • Seth, born September 26, 1772; outlined above.

Now for the interesting part. Normally before I write a blog post, I review what records I have and maybe do a quick second look in Google. Under a spelling variation of “Tant”, I came across Levi’s name in the History of the Town of Canton, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, by Daniel Thomas Vose Huntoon. Though published in 1893, Huntoon wrote the book in the 1860s after having been Town Clerk in Canton (which had been part of Stoughton) and desiring to preserve the history from its records. Under Appendix XX, “Levi Tant” was listed as a private who was in the First Company under Captain James Endicott, among a contingent of minutemen who marched from Stoughton on April 19, 1775 upon hearing news of the Lexington alarm. Under Appendix XXI, “Levi Taunt” is listed among the “Soldiers who served in the Revolution after the Lexington Alarm”. So my sixth great-grandfather was a minuteman and a Patriot!

Lexington Minuteman Monument. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Lexington Minuteman Monument. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Other than this one book, I can’t easily find any other record of his service (which of course will mean more deep digging). However, I have no reason to doubt it either. What a find, just in time for Independence Day!

Fifth Great-Grandfather David Scranton: Patriot or Loyalist?

I’ve seen a few old inquiries on the internet, asking if David Scranton was a Loyalist during the American Revolution. It’s a fair enough question, since he moved to Nova Scotia shortly after the war and transported a number of Loyalists with him. Also, he is not listed on the Daughters of the American Revolution Ancestor Search database. Because he moved to the British territory of Nova Scotia, David probably never could have applied for a Revolutionary War pension, so I would not find him in those types of records. However, all this is not enough to draw a conclusion. The following is what I’ve found.

In the book “Record of service of Connecticut men in the War of the Revolution” (page 614), David Scranton of Durham is listed as one of the ensigns in Colonel Ely’s State Regiment during June 1777. Other officers included Lieutenant Colonel James Arnold and Major Elias Buell. I found further evidence in Asa Burdick’s Revolutionary War pension application affidavit. Asa was part of a company in New London, Connecticut, commanded in June 1777 by “Captain Collins, Lieutenant Taylor and Ensign David Scranton, in a regiment commanded by Col. Ely and Lieutenant Col. Arnold.” The company was involved in building the original Fort Trumbull at New London.

In another Revolutionary War pension application affidavit by Abiel Baldwin, Abiel was part of team in 1781 that transported beef from Durham to Fishkill for the troops there, under David Scranton’s direction.

In William Chauncey Fowler’s book “History of Durham Connecticut,” David was among those chosen on February 27, 1782 from Durham as part of a committee to put together a regiment to defend Horse Neck & the western frontier. (Today, Horse Neck is now known as Field Point in a very exclusive area of Greenwich, Connecticut along the coast.) Now although the British formally surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781, there were still British troops in New York City (a relatively short distance from Greenwich) until November 25, 1783, so I presume the local militia stayed on alert until that time.

To answer the question “was David Scranton a Patriot or Loyalist?”, my verdict is that he was definitely a Patriot! (As a side note, his brother Abraham’s service in the American Revolution has been well-documented.)

So how did David and his family fare during the War of 1812, where there was a lot of hostility along the US/Canada border and at sea? I couldn’t find any mention of him in any kind of service in the war. Even though he was over sixty, he would at least have opportunity to donate supplies or support the cause of the British if he had chosen to do so. Much of New England, including David’s home state of Connecticut, did not support the US government’s decision to go to war with Great Britain. In spite of this, the British did attack Essex, Connecticut (only a few towns away from Durham) in 1814. On a more personal note, David’s nephew Hamlet Scranton who in Rochester, NY had to get his family to safety after a British raid at nearby Fort Niagara in late 1813. Certainly the strained trade relations hit the shipping industry hard, so it was a good thing that David had the farm to fall back on. In any case, David and his family remained in Nova Scotia regardless of where his sympathies may have laid.

Let Freedom Ring – Norwalk Style

Every Fourth of July, I try to make it out to Norwalk, CT’s annual “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony at the old Town House at Mill Hill. Out of all the Independence Day celebrations, this one is most true to the real meaning of the holiday. It is celebrated every year nationwide (although it is not formally organized) as a result of a Concurrent Congressional Resolution that can be read here (see the top of the linked page). Every year, it’s a little different; sometimes more elaborate than others. This year was rather simple, but faithful to Independence Day.

Let Freedom Ring!

Let Freedom Ring!

Diane Jellerette, Executive Director of the Norwalk Historical Society, welcomed everyone to the annual “Let Freedom Ring” bell-ringing ceremony. She reminded us of how our own city of Norwalk was involved in the Revolution during the Battle and subsequent Burning of Norwalk, where General Tryon only left about 6 homes standing of nearly a hundred that were in town.

Ms. Jellerette welcomed the many city and state officials that were in attendance. Mayor Harry Rilling said a few words, proudly declaring that, “America is, without a doubt, the best country on earth.” He reminded us of the phrase “with liberty and justice for all” from the Pledge of Allegiance we recited earlier applies now more than ever to all people.

Mayor Rilling.  Author's collection.

Mayor Rilling. Author’s collection.

Dressed in colonial garb, Town Clerk Rick McQuaid had the honor of reading excerpts of the Declaration of Independence (to be honest, I believe he read the whole thing).

Town Clerk Rick McQuaid reads the Declaration of Independence.  Author's collection.

Town Clerk Rick McQuaid reads the Declaration of Independence. Author’s collection.

Finally came the centerpiece of the ceremony: the ringing of the bell thirteen times, once for each newly independent state. (Technically, the bell ringing is to occur at 2pm, but that is when we started the whole ceremony.)  Councilman Erik Anderson read off the list of states as Senator Bob Duff (who attends the event every year) rang the bell of the old Town House.  (I was hoping to embed video, but WordPress doesn’t accept that filetype.  However, you can view my tweet that captured at least part of it here.)

What followed was a beautiful, pitch-perfect rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Catherine Robinson of Norwalk’s Crystal Theatre. Many couldn’t help but join in as the song progressed.

Catherine Robinson, singing the National Anthem.  Author's collection.

Catherine Robinson, singing the National Anthem. Author’s collection.

The ceremony concluded as Ms. Jellerette explained that the Town House will shortly be undergoing a renovation. Just recently, the grounds of Mill Hill were renovated to include a walkway and an herb garden, which she invited all to check out. And in the fall, a new Norwalk Museum will be opening up on the same grounds as City Hall after being out of commission for quite some time. There is much to look forward to regarding Norwalk history!

New herb garden at Mill Hill.  Author's collection.

New herb garden at Mill Hill. Author’s collection.