Hezekiah Munsell Goes to War with the Connecticut Militia


October 19, 2016
by Matthew Reardon Also by this Author


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In the spring of 1841, a correspondent from the Hartford Courant went to East Windsor, Connecticut looking for an elderly man who was a bit of a local celebrity.   The Courant, which had originated as a weekly newspaper in 1764, played a large influential role in affecting the opinions of many within Connecticut during the American Revolution. During the war, the Courant was reported to have had the largest circulation in the thirteen colonies.   As an open backer of the American cause, its paper mill had suspiciously burned down. Whether it was true or not, the cause of the fire was blamed on tory arsonists. Since the newspaper was so important to helping maintain public support for the war, the state legislature intervened and authorized a lottery to raise funds to replace the paper mill.[1]

Now almost sixty years after the war had officially ended, the Courant correspondent arrived in East Windsor on a very different mission, not to help continue the public support for the war, but to record the story of one of its veterans for posterity. There in East Windsor, the reporter sought out the town’s last surviving veteran of the Revolutionary War, eighty-eight-year-old Hezekiah Munsell.   Even as an elderly man, according to a local historian, “[Munsell] was tall and erect, and used frequently, after the age of seventy-five, to compete with young men in the field. He had an instinctive aversion to rum and tobacco; such was his antipathy to cider and vinegar that they never [were] placed on his side of the table, although the former was the common beverage of New England, and used on every farmer’s table. His memory was very tenacious, and he retained his faculties in a remarkable degree till within a week of his death.”[2]

Hezekiah was born on January 17, 1753 to Elisha and Kezia (Taylor) Munsell, near Warehouse Point, a section of East Windsor along the Connecticut River.[3] Though at the time of Hezekiah’s birth the town was still part of Windsor, the first English settlement in Connecticut, East Windsor separated from Windsor and was incorporated as a town by the General Assembly in 1768, when Munsell was fifteen years old.   As a young child Munsell was baptized by the Rev. Timothy Edwards, father of the famous Rev. Jonathan Edwards. Hezekiah was the oldest surviving child of his parent’s eventual nine children and the second of two sons to serve during the war.[4]   Munsell served in four tours of service and his interview, even sixty years after the fact, gives valuable insight into the experiences of a common soldier of the Connecticut militia during the war.

It is interesting to note that as the elderly Munsell spoke about the war, he made mention first of the Hartford Courant. Munsell would have known of the newspaper’s existence his entire life. In Munsell’s recollection, he claimed that the Hartford Courant’s coverage of the events unfolding in Boston during the early 1770s greatly influenced his personal support for the war. The elderly Munsell recalled, “when the war commenced there was but one newspaper printed in Hartford-the Courant. By reading that my own mind was principally prepared to repel the British invasion.” He recalled one specific letter printed in the newspaper from Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull to British General Thomas Gage, the military governor of Massachusetts. This letter he said “had a powerful influence on my mind, and did much to prepare me for the scenes in which I afterward took a part.”[5] Munsell also contended,

The stamp act, duty on tea, Boston Port Bill, and the massacre of citizens, in the town of Boston by British soldiers … all tended to prepare me to defend what I considered our common rights, and liberties. At this juncture, I felt and so did others, that there must be a war. For the feeling was quite general, that unless we defended our rights and liberties, we must be slaves: and as unnatural as some may think of it, we chose to decide the question by an ‘appeal to arms.’ In this state of mind, the news of Lexington battle reached me.[6]

 Messengers carried news of the fighting at Lexington and Concord to Connecticut towns during the night of April 19 and word continued to spread about it throughout the next two days. Munsell never revealed when the post rider arrived in East Windsor bringing the news, but it is likely that it did not arrive until sometime on April 20. It was that same day, as local legend states, that news of the British incursion into the Massachusetts countryside arrived in the neighboring town of Enfield.[7] According to Munsell, the reaction of the local citizens was that of an angry excitement. In 1841 he stated, “Most of the inhabitants now living in Massachusetts, and Connecticut, can hardly conceive of the spirit of indignation, which was enkindled in the community at the news of the march of British troops from Boston, to Concord.”[8]

In his interview Munsell described how his own militia company responded to the “Lexington Alarm” and subsequent Siege of Boston. Even though Munsell’s company played a very minimal role in both affairs, the details he provides give a valuable glimpse into the workings of a Connecticut militia company during those early days of the conflict.

As the news of the altercation at Lexington and Concord arrived in East Windsor, Capt. Lemuel Stoughton, the forty-three-year-old commander of the militia company in the northern part of the town, ordered his men to assemble.[9] Munsell, twenty-three years old at the time, recalled how they were “paraded half a mile north of the Scantic meeting-house.” Standing in front of men, Stoughton briefed them on the situation and called for volunteers to march with him to Massachusetts. According to Munsell, forty of the men “full of patriotism and, ambition” stepped forwards to “march to the field of battle with their Captain.”[10]

With knapsacks on their backs and muskets on their shoulders, the company departed East Windsor on Saturday, April 22. They probably marched towards Massachusetts using the Upper Boston Post Road which ran north along the Connecticut River through East Windsor and reached Springfield, Massachusetts where it turned eastward towards Boston.[11] On the following Monday, April 24, the contingent reached the town of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, a few miles just east of Worcester. In Shrewsbury, Stoughton’s Company met Maj. Nathaniel Terry from Enfield, Connecticut. Major Terry served in the 19th Connecticut Militia Regiment of which Stoughton’s Company belonged.[12]   To the dismay of many in Stoughton’s Company and others in nearby militia companies, Terry alerted them that the British had retreated back to Boston and they would not, as many had apparently believed, engage the redcoats in combat in the open Massachusetts countryside.   Major Terry also told the militia assembled that those who could should continue on to Roxbury, the headquarters of the militia gathering around Boston, and that they should plan to “stay two or three weeks.”[13]

Terry’s disappointing news brought the company to a halt.   Each man was now allowed to make his own decision: proceed on towards Roxbury or return home. When making their decision, one consideration that might have factored in was the lack of supplies. Stoughton’s Company had been away from home for almost three days and only had what they had carried on their backs or in their pockets. Munsell explained, “On this expedition we bore our own expenses, and lived for the most part of the time on what our wives and mothers put into our knapsacks when we left home.” Whether this played a large role in the decision of those who remained or went home is not known or revealed in Munsell’s account. But all of the senior company leadership chose to return home, except Sgt. Ebenezer Watson. Watson, the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in the company, chose to continue on and immediately called for volunteers to go with him. Munsell testified that eleven of the forty men stepped forward and pledged to continue onward, including himself and his friend Asabel Stiles. Before departing Shrewsbury, the East Windsor company elected new leadership; Watson was elevated to lieutenant and Noah Phelps to sergeant.[14]

Two more days of marching along the Upper Post Road, brought the small East Windsor company to the outskirts of Boston, where they joined the roughly 20,000 militiamen from across New England who had surrounded the British occupied city. From Watertown, they marched south towards Roxbury.   Entering Roxbury, Munsell claimed his company “found that many of the inhabitants had fled” the town. Being without any tents, Lieutenant Watson and his soldiers searched for a house or other building in which they could take shelter and “soon found a house empty, and prepared to occupy it.” A short time later, the East Windsor men moved out of the house into an abandoned schoolhouse where they remained for the duration of their tour of service.[15]

Their time in Roxbury was apparently very quiet and uneventful.   Under the direct command of Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam, who commanded the Connecticut militia in the area, Watson’s men seemed to have escaped the fatigue duty that Putnam had ordered to occupy his men.   Instead, Lieutenant Watson and his soldiers spent their introduction to military life performing guard duty. Munsell would recall, “We were not much exercised in military tactics at this time. I stood sentinel two, or three times, which was the most that I did in the soldier’s life at this campaign.”[16]

But despite the close proximity of the British, guard duty was not by far Munsell’s most exciting experience, rather it was the food that his company was issued to eat. Even sixty-six years later, Munsell remembered, “What was then a curiosity to me, we drew for our rations, sea-bread, which I was told, was taken from the British on their excursion to Concord. It was so much of a curiosity, that I brought some of it home, when I returned.”[17]

As April turned to May it brought an end to Munsell’s first tour of duty. After serving for about three weeks outside of Boston, Munsell and the rest of Lieutenant Watson’s company was allowed to return home to East Windsor about the second week of May.[18] However, it would not be long before Munsell signed up for a second tour and returned to Roxbury.

As Connecticut’s own militia companies marched to Massachusetts in response to the Lexington Alarm in late April, the General Assembly in Hartford was called together by the governor into a special session where they began to make preparations to raise more troops who would serve for the remainder of 1775. After ten days in session, in the first week of May, they officially recognized Lexington and Concord as “Sundry acts of hostility and violence committed in the Province of Massachusetts Bay” and formally requested British Gen. Thomas Gage to explain his reasoning for the incursion into the countryside. Not waiting for a reply from Gage, the General Assembly almost simultaneously passed an act calling for one fourth of its militia to be “enlisted, accoutered, and assembled” into six state regiments, totaling about 6,000 men, to serve at Boston and at Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point in New York.[19]

In late May, Munsell signed up in one of these newly organized state regiments.   Enlisting for a term of seven months, Munsell was placed into Lt. Col. George Pitkin’s company of the 4th Connecticut Regiment. While eight of the ten companies of the 4th Connecticut served at Fort Ticonderoga, two companies, including Pitkin’s company, were detached and served with the American army outside of Boston.[20] Pitkin, a native of what is today East Hartford, ordered his company to be assemble in nearby Bolton.[21] Numbering 100 men rank and file, Pitkin’s company marched northeastward through the towns of Tolland, Willington, Stafford, and then onto to Woodstock, Connecticut. At Woodstock, Pitkin’s company crossed into Massachusetts and marched northward through the towns of Dudley and Oxford before reaching Roxbury, sometime in early June.[22] On the march, Munsell proudly displayed his hat which bore a brass front piece, brazened with the motto, “Liberty, Property, and all America.”[23]

Arriving in Roxbury, Lieutenant Colonel Pitkin assumed direct command over the two companies of the 4th Connecticut that were in the Boston area. The two companies were then attached to the 2nd Connecticut Regiment under Col. Joseph Spencer.[24] For the duration of their time outside of Boston, Pitkin’s company performed guard duty at various posts in Roxbury, Brookline and a group of other small coastal Massachusetts towns.

When the Battle of Bunker Hill occurred in mid-June, Pitkin’s company was stationed in Brookline. Though Munsell missed the fighting, it left an impression on him. He explained:

 It was the duty of the company to which I belonged, to guard the shore in the vicinity of Boston. I was not in the battle of Bunker Hill; our company was not called to take part in that conflict. I heard the cannon, and was standing on the bell deck of the Brookline meeting-house, during that battle. From this elevation I saw Charleston burnt.[25]

 A month later, on July 17, Munsell became aware of his first battlefield casualty. In the interview, Munsell told the correspondent, “While our company was stationed in Roxbury, Moses Huxley was killed by a cannon ball, which was fired from Boston. He belonged to Captain [Oliver Hanchett’s] company, and was from Suffield.”[26] The circumstances behind Huxley’s death were well known and written about by several high ranking officers, including Generals George Washington and William Heath, which strongly implies that his death was common knowledge among the rank and file. General Washington reported to John Hancock, “Last Evening also a Party of the Connecticut Men stroll’d down on the Marsh at Roxbury & fired upon a Centry which drew on a heavy Fire from the Enemys Lines & floating Batteries, but attended with no other Effect than the Loss of one killed by a Shot from the Enemy’s Lines.”[27] The man killed was none other than Huxley.   Munsell probably did not know Huxley or see the incident which led to his death. But the event was impressionable and still fresh in Munsell’s memory six decades later.

Munsell also fondly remembered the regimental chaplain, the Reverend Boardman. Rev. Benjamin Boardman was a Congregational minister from Middle Haddam, which is today within the borders of East Hampton, Connecticut. Munsell referred to him as “the cannon or gun of the gospel,” a nickname he asserted the British had given him, “on the account of his strength and compass of voice.”[28]

As the siege of Boston continued through the summer and into the fall of 1775, Pitkin’s company continued to be shifted around to different points along the Massachusetts coastline, primarily south of Boston. This was, according to another member of Pitkin’s company, to protect against “incursions of the Enemy.”[29] All throughout the siege, the British suffered with shortages of food, forage and firewood, resulting in the constant threat that they would conduct foraging raids along the coastline. With naval superiority over the Americans the British could launch raids almost anywhere along the coastline. Pitkin’s company, presumably with other militia companies, were moved south towards the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts to help defend against these raids. Munsell remembered, “The company to which I belonged, had not much fighting with the enemy, during the campaign. In addition to [Roxbury, Brookline] we were in Cohasset, Dorchester Farms, and Hingham. We spent the last part of the seven months in Cohasset, where we had three stations to guard.”[30]

Food was never a problem at any of their stations; Munsell in fact remembered “our food was as good as I wanted; but as I shall state by and by, it was not always so during the war.”[31] The lack of a steady supply of rum was only a minor inconvenience for the twenty-three-year-old. Munsell recalled, “I was never troubled on this point if I had such a ration, I could sell it for a trifle, or give it away – for I never drank rum.”[32] But as winter approached, the lack of firewood was the real problem. At Cohassett, about twenty miles east of Roxbury, the weather, according to Munsell, turned “very cold.” Munsell recalled in his interview how their guardhouse was not well supplied with firewood and “For the want of fuel, we burnt rails from the fence.” This was immediately followed by demands from the local population to the American officers to tell their men to stop taking their fence rails. Munsell humorously remembered, “orders were consequently given to the soldiers – not to burn any more rails! Baxter was our Sergeant, and when the time came to give his orders to the guard – he communicated the prohibition on rails! He, however, added – ‘there has been nothing said about posts – I advise you to keep a good fire.’” A short time later, an ample supply of firewood miraculously made its way towards the guardhouse which supplied the men comfortably until the company and Munsell were dismissed in the last week of December.[33]

Before leaving for home, Private Munsell reported directly to Lieutenant Colonel Pitkin for his pay. This too was a very memorable experience for Munsell, even several decades later. Munsell recalled, “When leaving for home, at the expiration of my term, Colonel Pitkin, put into my hand two or three bills of Continental money, the first I remember of ever seeing.”[34]

The two tours of duty that encompassed most of 1775 were full of memorable experiences for the Munsell. Even sixty-five years later, Munsell was able to recall events big and small with great detail. But as winter turned to spring, the war turned away from Boston and south towards New York City. Munsell would be back in action again six months later, but experience a new side of the war. The year 1776 would bring hardship, defeat, and Munsell’s closest brush with death.


[1] “The Oldest US Newspaper in Continuous Publication,” Connecticut History.org, accessed August 15, 2016, http://connecticuthistory.org/the-oldest-newspaper-in-continuous-publication/.

[2] Henry Reed Stiles, The History of Ancient Windsor, Connecticut: Including East Windsor, South Windsor, and Ellington, Prior to 1768, the Date of Their Situation from the Old Town; and Windsor, Bloomfield and Windsor Locks, to the Present Time. Also the Genealogies and Genealogical Notes of Those Families which Settled Within the Limits of Ancient Windsor, Prior to 1800 (Bloomfield, CT: C.B. Norton, 1859), 713.

[3] Stiles, History of Ancient Windsor, 712.

[4] Hezekiah Munsell Pension Application, W 17184, National Archives and Record Services, Washington D.C., Stiles, History of Ancient Windsor, 712-713.

[5] Connecticut Courant, June 8, 1844.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Alden Freeman, Extracts from the Memorial of Captain Thomas Abbey (East Orange, NJ: Abbey Printshop, 1916), 13.

[8] Connecticut Courant, June 8, 1844.

[9] Ibid. According to Stoughton’s grave marker in the Town Street Cemetery in East Windsor, he was born on August 9, 1731.

[10] Connecticut Courant, June 8, 1844; Charles J. Hoadly, ed., The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 15 vols. (Hartford: Case, Lockwood, & Brainard Co., 1890), 13:432. Stoughton’s Company was officially named the 2nd “East Windsor” Company, 19th Connecticut Militia Regiment.

[11] Today the route would basically follow US Route 5 to Springfield where they would have turned east onto US Route 20 and followed it towards Boston.

[12] Henry P. Johnston, ed., The Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Naval Service During the War of the Revolution, 1775-1783 (Hartford, CT: Case, Lockwood, & Brainard Co., 1889), 438. The 19th Connecticut Militia Regiment consisted of companies from Hartford (east side of the Connecticut River, modern day East Hartford), East Windsor (including modern day Ellington and South Windsor), Enfield, and Bolton.

[13]Connecticut Courant, June 8, 1844.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid. Munsell also noted witnessing the rounding up of many local British sympathizers by the soldiers that brought them into Roxbury. He noted, “I then supposed that they were considered as dangerous men in our state of affairs, to have their liberty in the community” and then humorously commented, “They wore their white wigs; and for some reason or other, a number of them had settled down in Marshfield.”

[17] Ibid.

[18] Johnston, Connecticut Men, 10; Hezekiah Munsell Pension Application.

[19] Royal Ralph Hinman, A Historical Collection, From Official Records, Files, &c., of the Part Sustained By Connecticut During the War of the Revolution With An Appendix, Containing Important Letters, Depositions, &c. Written During the War (Hartford: E. Gleason, 1842), 164.

[20] Johnston, Connecticut Men, 59-62. Pitkin, at the time, was lieutenant-colonel of the 19th Connecticut Militia Regiment and the company was composed of men from the regiment. Hezekiah Munsell Pension Application. Pitkin commanded a composite battalion made up of four companies detached from the 1st Connecticut and 4th Connecticut Regiments who were serving in the northern theater.   From multiple sources from within Munsell’s pension application, it is likely that while Pitkin retained command over these four companies, they were attached to 2nd Connecticut Regiment under Joseph Spencer during the Siege of Boston.

[21] The area the company assembled is probably what is now today the Bolton Heritage Farm. The farm was then owned by local patriot minister, Rev. George Colton. Situated along a major travel route through the state, Colton allowed his property to be used several times by both American and French forces as an encampment site.

[22] Sylvanus Filley Pension Application, W 17906, National Archives and Record Services, Washington D.C. The company used the road to Boston which would become known as the Center Turnpike in the mid-19th century.

[23] Connecticut Courant, June 8, 1844.

[24] Benjamin Olmstead Pension Application, W 20280, National Archives and Record Services, Washington D.C., Samuel Barnes Pension Application, S 44318, National Archives and Record Services, Washington D.C. Barnes stated his company of the 1st Connecticut Regiment also served within the 4th Connecticut Regiment.

[25] Connecticut Courant, June 8, 1844.

[26] Ibid. Huxley belonged to Spencer’s 2nd Connecticut Regiment.

[27] Washington to Hancock, July 14, 1775, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

[28] Connecticut Courant, June 8, 1844.

[29] Sylvanus Filley Pension Application.

[30] Connecticut Courant, June 8, 1844..

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

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