Powder House Keys Demanded
When the news of the Battle of Lexington reached New Haven on April 21, 1775 some 58 of the Guard voted to march to Cambridge to the assistance of their fellow patriots in Massachusetts. Most of the Company who volunteered their services subscribed to a remarkable agreement and proclamation which is set forth in the record and which is the first declaration of any body of citizens or of any military company in this country of armed resistance to the authority of the English Government.
The next day, April 22, Arnold, fiery young commander of Second Company, assembled his men, in full dress, on New Haven Green. They received the blessing of Rev. Jonathan Edwards then, marching up to Beer's Tavern, Arnold demanded of the Selectmen, the key to the King's powder. The Selectmen were reluctant to yield. Arnold, shouting "None but Almighty God shall prevent my marching" forcefully persuaded them to turn over the key enabling him to claim the powder, ball and flint and march with his men to the aid of their fellow patriots in Boston. This was New Haven's first active participation in the Revolution. The pageantry of this exciting historic event is reenacted annually by Second Company. "Powder House Day" has been a yearly tradition in the Elm City since 1904. Click here to see what is said in "Demanding The Keys"
The route of march was the so-called middle road to Boston, through North Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, and on to Wethersfield, where the night was passed. From there the Company proceeded through East Hartford, Bolton, Coventry, and Ashford to Pomfret. The tradition that Israel Putnam joined the Company here has never been substantiated. People in the towns of Thompson, Douglas, Oxbridge, Mendon, Holliston, Medway, Medfield, Dedham, Ames, and Roxbury watched, and no doubt cheered, as the Guard passed through.
When arrived at Cambridge, probably on April 29th, the Company was the only one on the ground complete in their uniforms and equipment, and owing to their soldierly appearance were appointed to deliver the bodies of British officers who had been taken prisoners by the Americans and had died in consequence of wounds received at Lexington. Upon this occasion one of the British officers appointed to receive the bodies from the Guard expressed his surprise at seeing an American Company appear so well in every respect, observing that in their military movement and equipment "they were not excelled by any of His Majesty's troops."
The Company drew 28 day's pay for their services at Cambridge and excepting those who remained in the Army with Arnold, who had been commissioned as Colonel by the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, returned to New Haven. Here, it continued its efforts to increase its efficiency. Drills were held on the Green once a week, the Company assembling at five o'clock in the afternoon of the day designated. On June 8, 1775, it was voted that 12 men "be chosen by the Company for Grenadiers" and at a later meeting that Messers Sabin and Shipman be a committee to provide caps for the Grenadiers and that the motto "For Religion and Liberty" be engraved upon them.
The Company formed an escort, on July 2, 1775, when General Washington passed through on his way to take command of the forces around Boston. In addition to the Guard there was also a body of Yale students led by Noah Webster, lexicographer, who played a flute. James Hillhouse was in command of the Guard. This was the first uniformed and armed military escort tendered to General Washington on his way through New England.
Apparently the first opportunity the Guard had to perform its primary duty was in the fall of 1775. At a meeting held October 2nd, it was voted:
"That the Company on the 2nd Thursday of this month escort his Honor the Governor and the Council Chamber at 8 a.m. and that a fine of three shillings be imposed on any absent members."
In August of the year following came the overwhelming victory of the British on Long Island and the threat of raids in Connecticut. In September the Guard received the following orders:
To the Commanding Officer of the Governor's Guard at New Haven,
You are hereby directed to see that your Guard is duly armed and equipped and held in readiness to march for the defense of the town of New Haven, and others on the sea coast. And you are further ordered, upon information of the approach, or appearance of the enemy, at the request of the civil authority or Selectmen of New Haven, to muster, array, and equip your said Company in arms complete, and lead them against such enemy, and do your utmost to defeat, repel, and destroy them. Given under my hand in Lebanon, the 11th day of September, A.D. 1776.
When Arnold addressed a letter to Hezekiah Sabin, on May 1, 1777, stating that he had sent his resignation as captain to the Governor, a meeting of the Company was held on May 8th at which Hezekiah Sabin was elected Captain, and James Hillhouse, Lieutenant.