Chapter 3

British Invade New Haven


      In July, 1779, came the invasion of New Haven, and the Company played a worthy part in defense of the town. On the morning of the 5th, General George Garth landed with 1500 men on the West Side of the harbor. The Foot Guard, a small body of militia under the command of the Guard's own Hezekiah Sabin, a few Yale students, and a group collected by 23-year old Aaron Burr, who was visiting New Haven, set out to repel the British as they advanced toward New Haven. Captain Hillhouse marched his men out Davenport Avenue, crossed the bridge over West River, and, encountering the invaders, fired upon them from every available shelter the roadside offered. Greatly outnumbered, the defenders retired, recrossing the bridge, which they destroyed, Jonathan Newball of the guard, according to tradition, setting off the train that blew it up. The British, crossing the river at another point, met continued resistance until, cover becoming poor, further opposition was inexpedient. According to the State Records. Herzekiah Sabin and John Townsend were taken prisoners, but their captivity appears to have been brief. For the remainder of the war period there is little record of meetings held or activities in which the Company may have engaged.

      The State House continued to be the headquarters of the Company and when meetings were resumed on a regular basis they were held in one of the taverns or assembly rooms of the town. A popular place of gathering seems to have been the Coffee House Tavern, which stood on Church Street, approximately where the Tontine Hotel was later erected. Occasionally Morse's Tavern was selected, located on the corner of Church and Crown Streets and used by the city government for the entertainment of distinguished guests. Marcus Mile's Tavern was another popular place of resort and Henry Bloomfield's Tavern, Elisha Foote's and Lockwood DeForest's Taverns are also mentioned in the records. The custom of dining together in May of each year had been inaugurated and was invariably observed. According to a vote passed May 1, 1789, "The committee appointed to procure an entertainment for the Company on the 1st Monday in the month be empowered to contract for liquor to amount to one shilling for each member and that they be directed to invite the Rev. James Dana to dine with the Company on said day mentioned above."

      Also, in 1789, the method of admitting to membership in the Guard was somewhat changed, for on April 3rd it was voted: "That for the future no person shall be admitted a member of this Company until such person or persons who may be desirous of being admitted shall make application of the clerk of said Company for the time being and until said clerk shall nominate to the Company said person or persons for admittance, which clerk shall act discretionally in regard to each person."

      At one period during these years special attention seems to have been given to details of personal appearance, for on April 23, 1798 a committee was appointed to inspect the height of candidates, and on May 7th, it was voted that no person be admitted to membership unless he be five feet and five inches tall. At a meeting in the fall it was stipulated that when in uniform the hair of the members "be flattened and turned up under the hat."

      In the minutes of the May 7, 1798 meeting is the first mention of participation of the Guard in the observance of July 4th. It was then voted that the Guard meet "at the usual place on the 4th of July at 1/2 past 8 o'clock to celebrate Independence Day."

      Inserted after a record of a meeting held on October 6, 1806 is the following: "We the subscribers agree to enlist into the 2nd Company of Governor's Guard, as musicians, composing a Band of Music for the Company, and to do duty accordingly, to dress ourselves in such uniform as shall be agreed upon by the officers of said Guard, and to be subjected to the rules of said Company. And we further agree that we will make no expense to said Company for dressing ourselves in uniform or for instruments of music, and agree to play on all days of exercise in said Company without any expense to said Company, and be subject to the same penalties and fines for absence as the soldiers of the said 2nd Company of Governor's Guard."

      The band was welcomed into the ranks of the Guard with the understanding that, since it had agreed to bear the expense of its maintenance, its members should not be subject to taxes imposed on the rest of the Company.

      On August 7, 1809 Jonathan Trumbull, son of Connecticut's great Revolutionary War governor, upon whom the Company had "waited" at intervals, died in Lebanon, and as a tribute of respect the Company wore crepe every parade day during the fall.

The officers kept their eyes on the First Company in Hartford to see that no privileges or powers were granted to it that were not also conferred upon the Second. At a meeting October 19, 1809 Captain Atwater informed the Company that he had called them together to petition the Legislature to grant the Company equal rights, "or to be placed on an equally eligible footing with the 1st Company Governor's Foot Guard at Hartford."

      The change in the title of the commanding officer from captain to major occurred at the election of May 24, 1810. The officers chosen are designated as follows: Luther Bradley, Major-Commandant; Henry Eld, 1st Lieutenant and Captain; Timothy Bishop, 2nd Lieutenant; Eleazer Foster, 3rd Lieutenant; Jared Doolittle, 4th Lieutenant; and Timothy Plant, Ensign.

      In Connecticut the war with England which began in June 1812 and ended in December 1814 aroused enthusiasm in few, if any. Unquestionably, the great majority of the citizens were opposed to it, and the General Assembly passed resolutions condemning the administration for declaring it. Whatever military forces Connecticut provided were for local defense.

      The first mention of the war in the records of the Guard is under the date of May 17, 1813. At a meeting "convened for the purpose of adopting measures for the defense of New Haven, in case of attack by the enemy" it was

      Resolved: That the members of the Second Company, Governor's Foot Guard, in New Haven, deeming it highly important that some measures should be adopted for the safety of our city in case of sudden attack by the enemy, severally agree to volunteer our services for its defense, and consider ourselves to honor bound upon an alarm being given, to repair with all possible speed to the place of rendezvous, and to act in strict obedience to the command of our superior officer present, as when on parade duty.

      Resolved: That the place of rendezvous shall be the center of the Lower Green.

      Resolved: That our warning signal shall be the ringing of the Church Bell, and the discharge of the cannon in succession.

      The first call for the services of the Guard came three months later. It was not occasioned by danger from the enemy but by a riot of sailors on the waterfront; sailors belonging to Swedish and Portuguese vessels then in port, on the one hand, and American sailors on the other.

      The Mayor, Elizur Goodrich, issued his order to the Commander of the Guard to call out his Company, and aid in suppression of the riot. A detachment of two platoons, fully armed, together with music, was then ordered to the front by Captain Eld, who accompanied by the Mayor, marched them with bayonets down the wharf, the sailors breaking before them and retreating on board their vessels. Order was restored but the Guard remained on the grounds during the night. In the morning, no indication of a renewal of hostilities appearing, they returned to their quarters and were dismissed. Many sailors on both sides were severely injured in the affray, principally by wounds received by sheath knives.

      Twice afterward, the Guard was called out, on April 9 and April 13, 1814, when British naval vessels were seen approaching New Haven. The enemy, however, remained offshore, and eventually took up anchor. Apprehension of attack, however, was so strong that guns were no longer left at the armorers, but every man was ordered to "keep his musket ready for use at a moment's warning and, when notified by the signal, to repair promptly and fully equipped to the place of rendezvous."

Chapter 4