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   Chapter 10 TAVERN-KEEPER AND ORACLE

Old Put" The Patriot" By Frederick A. Ober Characters: 13142

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


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No one could call in question Israel Putnam's loyalty, yet the year following his last campaign in behalf of King George, he might have been found opposing the Government and riding from town to town, for the purpose of inciting men to make armed resistance to the iniquitous "Stamp Act," which had been passed and made a law early in 1765. While James Otis, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry were eloquently declaiming against it, Putnam was for putting words into action, and as one of the "Sons of Liberty" was active in urging his countrymen to make a stand for freedom.

Though prevented by an accident from taking part in the proceedings by which the "stamp-master" for Connecticut was compelled to resign his position and disavow the office to which he was appointed, yet Putnam was foremost in bringing this condition of affairs about. It seems that one Mr. Ingersoll was appointed stamp-master by the Crown, and, on being requested to resign from such an obnoxious office by the Sons of Liberty, he returned an evasive answer. Consequently, a body of them mounted their horses and went out to meet him, as he was on his way to Hartford. Finding him on the road, they caused him to dismount and, in the presence of the company, now swelled to several hundred, to read his resignation as a royal appointee, and to shout for "liberty and property," three times, as loud as he could.

The spirit of the people, now thoroughly aroused, was very accurately expressed by Colonel Putnam, who, deputed by the Sons of Liberty to wait on the Governor of his State and inform him of the public sentiment respecting the Stamp Act, made him understand that there would be no temporizing whatever in the matter.

"But what should I do," asked the perplexed Governor, "if the stamped paper should be sent me by the King's command?"

"Lock it up until we shall visit you again," replied Putnam, boldly.

"And what will you do then?"

"We shall expect you to give us the key of the room in which it is deposited, and if you think fit, in order to screen yourself, you may forewarn us not to enter that room upon our peril."

"And then what will you do?"

"Send the paper safely back again."

"But if I should refuse you admission?"

"In that case, your house will be leveled to the ground in five minutes!"

The Governor, who desired to be loyal, and was inclined to receive the paper, was not called upon to act, the determined attitude of the Sons of Liberty, preventing any from being sent into the State. Elected a representative in 1766, Putnam was prepared to do all in his power to frustrate the intent of the Act; but, in common with his fellow citizens, was made happy by the news of its repeal. As this was then the only bone of contention between the Colonials and the King, the former hastened to send the latter a loyal address of thanks, assuring him of their continued devotion, etc., etc.

It would seem that farming, in colonial days, was almost as hazardous an employment as fighting in the wilds, for Putnam was the victim of two different accidents, by one of which he lost the first joint of his right thumb, and by the other he received a compound fracture of his right thigh. The latter being imperfectly attended to, rendered that leg an inch shorter than the other, "which occasioned him ever after to limp in his walk." Notwithstanding these injuries, he faithfully attended to his duties as representative at Hartford. In June, 1767, two years and two months after the death of his wife, Hannah, he was married to Mrs. Deborah Lothrop, widow of John Gardiner, of Gardiner's Island, New York.

As his second wife had a fine property on Brooklyn Green, in the center of the town, and as the entertainment of his numerous admirers (who came from all over the country to see him) was becoming burdensome, Farmer Putnam concluded to convert the newly acquired mansion into an inn. So he moved himself and most of his belongings (including his stock of war relics and anecdotes) from the farmhouse to the "Green," nearly two miles distant, and there set up as "mine host" Putnam, putting out a sign of the Wolfe-not of the beast he had slain in early life, but the gallant general of that name who fell at Quebec. This veritable sign may now be seen in Hartford, at the rooms of the Connecticut Historical Society, where also are several other precious relics of Putnam and his time, including some autograph letters by the hero himself.

Some one, long ago, wrote of this sign, which was affixed to one of the great trees that stood in front of the tavern on the Green, "It represents General Wolfe in full uniform, his eye fixed in an expression of fiery earnestness upon some distant object, and his right arm extended in emphatic gesture, as if charging on the foe or directing some important movement of his army. The sign seems to have fared hardly in one respect, being plentifully sprinkled with shot-holes!"

A contemporary wrote of him, about this time: "Col. Putnam served with the Connecticut troops under Amherst in the last war. By his courage and conduct he secured to himself a good share of reputation. When peace commenced he returned to the civil line of life. Of late he has occupied a tavern with a farm annexed to it."

As the landlord of a country tavern, the genial and loquacious colonel with a past peculiarly his own, possessing the rotund figure, the frame and habit of the traditional Boniface, seemed at last to have fallen into his proper groove, where he fitted exactly. Now nearly fifty years of age, with a record of ten years' fighting any one might well be proud of, a reputation not confined within the boundaries of his own country, and with some of his children already married and settled around him, he had good reason to consider himself a fixture at Brooklyn Green.

He had joined the Congregational Church, soon after the death of his first wife, in 1765, and took a leading part in building the structure that stands to-day near the site of the first meeting-house, which was erected in 1734. It was in the year 1771 that the new church was erected, opposite the house that Putnam turned into a tavern, and the old tree that bore the sign of Wolfe. Church and trees remain to-day, separated only by the public road; but the tavern itself no longer exists, the building having been torn down some time ago.

In 1772, it was voted by the parish that "Colonel Putnam take care of ye new meeting-house and ring ye bell," for which service he was to rece

ive three pounds a year. Thus the duties of sexton and bell-ringer were assumed by this many-sided man; but he had not performed them long before he was called to go on a strange voyage in quest of lands in West Florida, which were reported to have been granted to the survivors of the French-and-Indian wars. The claims of the survivors were just enough; but their quest was fruitless, for they were not given the lands. However, a band of "military adventurers" set out, under the leadership of General Phineas Lyman, who had been in command of Connecticut's troops all through the wars, and Landlord Putnam was one of them.

Urged, perhaps, by his admirers to preserve some chronicle of his doings this time (having been so neglectful in this respect in the past) our hero actually began a journal, writing on the blank leaves of the "orderly book" which he used in his Havana campaign. This book, doubly interesting to the present generation, is still preserved by a lineal descendant of Putnam, and attests to the fact that the soldier of many wars was not equal to the intellectual effort of writing even a legible diary of his doings. He soon gave it up, in fact; but the few entries he made are exceedingly quaint and simple, as for example:

"friday ye forst of jenauary, 1773-this Day no work don-went to Church.... satorday ye 2-this day taking in goods for ye voige-good weathor. thorsday ye 7-this was a varey good Day and had almost all completed. Satorday ye 9 of Jenauary-had all things on bord and ready for sailing But the wind was so much to ye south it would not Do."

At last the "military adventurers" got away. On the 30th of January they touched in at Mole San Nicolas, island of Haiti, and a week later made port at Montego Bay, Jamaica, where, according to the veracious diarist, "we waited on ye mannegor of the plantation who treted us very hamseley-walked with ous-shewed ous all ye Works and the mills to grind ye Cain and as we went thare was a dog atacked ye manegor and in ye fight I tumbelled into won of the vats that was full of Liquer to make rum of-shifted all my Cloths and went on borde."

They finally arrived at Pensacola, where, learning to their sorrow that no lands had been granted them, they set out on a short exploring trip of the Mississippi, by the way of New Orleans, which ended north of Natchez, to which spot General Lyman later returned and founded a settlement, where he passed his last days. The gallant adventurers returned to Pensacola, thence sailed to New York, where they arrived the first week in August, 1773.

It was Colonel Putnam's intention to invest in lands on the Mississippi, it is believed, but the events that shaped toward and brought about the Revolution were yearly getting more exciting, intense, and his soldier instinct was aroused. He keenly watched the trend of events, he discussed in his tavern the exciting news of the day with visitors from all parts of the country, and his convictions were becoming stronger and stronger that something dire and dreadful was to happen.

The Boston massacre of the 5th of March, 1770, fired our hero almost to a frenzy, and while there may have been men more eloquent in their denunciations of the British soldiery, like Otis and Adams, there was none more emphatic and in earnest. Between the massacre and the Boston "Tea Party" in 1773, Putnam made his journey to the Mississippi; but he was home, and as usual alert and anxious, when the latter event occurred.

From that moment he was most attentive to what was going on in Boston, which was then the "danger spot" of the Colonies. He gave his time freely to the anticipatory work of organizing his fellow citizens into military companies and drilling them into proficiency, and he was made chairman of the "Committee of Correspondence" for Brooklyn. As such he bore to Boston, when the infamous "Port Bill" was passed, the condolences and sympathy of his fellow citizens, in a letter eloquently phrased, and-what was more satisfactory and substantial-the gift of a flock of sheep.

"We send you," the committee wrote, "one hundred and twenty-five sheep as a present from the inhabitants of Brooklyn, hoping thereby you will stand more firm (if possible) in the glorious cause in which you are embarked." And Israel Putnam, always the man for the emergency, always ready to mount and away at a moment's notice, rode all the way to Boston, driving that flock of sheep before him! When arrived there he was not received as the farmer, the tavern-keeper, the drover, but as the famous military man, hero of many battles, an American of renown. He was the guest of Dr. Joseph Warren, the patriot who was killed at Bunker Hill; but people of all classes and conditions united to do honor to "the celebrated Colonel Putnam," one of the "greatest military characters of the age," and "so well known throughout North America that no words are necessary to inform the public any further concerning him than that his generosity led him to Boston, to cherish his oppressed brethren and support them by every means in his power." The newspapers alluded to him as "the old hero, Putnam"; and yet he was only fifty-four at the time, at the period of life in which a man should be able to do his best work. "He looks fresh and hearty," wrote one of his friends to another, "and on an emergency would be as likely to do good business as ever."

And why not? Putnam himself might have asked this question, for he had by no means reached his "grand climacteric," and was still ready, willing-and able, as well-to fight the enemies of his country. He was zealous in behalf of his fellow patriots, but during this visit to Boston he found almost as many friends on the British side as on the Colonial, including Governor Gage, with whom he had fought their common enemies, the Indians. When one of them banteringly asked them whether he was going to stand by the flag or the country he answered seriously, but with perfect good nature: "I shall always be found on the side of my country!"

"Now, Putnam," another asked him, "don't you seriously believe that a well appointed British army of say five thousand veterans could march through the whole continent of America?"

"No doubt," he promptly replied, "if they behaved civilly, and paid well for what they wanted; but," he added, after a moment's pause, "if they should attempt it in a hostile manner (though the men of America were out of the question) the women would knock them all on the head with their ladles and broomsticks!"

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