Jedediah Huntington of Connecticut

Portrait of Jedidiah Huntington. (Author)

Brigadier General Jedediah Huntington is an overlooked yet very interesting patriot leader from Connecticut who grew up with Benedict Arnold, fought in several battles, and became close to General Washington toward the end of the war. Huntington was born in 1743 into a wealthy merchant household headed by Jabez Huntington, who owned a fleet of ships trading between Norwich, Connecticut, and the Caribbean. Jedediah was Jabez’s oldest son, and he graduated from Harvard College in 1763, second in his class. In those days, class rank was based on wealth rather than academic performance, so his class standing attested to the prominence the Huntington family had in New England.  In May 1766, three years after his college graduation, he married Faith Trumbull, daughter of Connecticut’s Gov. Jonathan Trumbull.  He received his master’s degree from Yale in 1770.  Jedediah’s younger half-brother Ebenezer, born in 1754, also graduated from Yale in 1775, weeks ahead of schedule so that he could volunteer to serve along with Jedediah in the Revolutionary War.[1]

In the 1760s, Jedediah was one of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty in Norwich, which was headed by Col. John Durkee, who, like Jedediah, would ultimately lead soldiers in the Battle of Monmouth. Jedediah was appointed ensign of the first Norwich militia company in October of 1769, became a lieutenant in 1771, and a captain in May of 1774.  By the time the war broke out in 1775, he had already risen to full colonel.

Jedediah commanded the 20th Regiment of militia in Norwich. Soon after the battles of Lexington and Concord, express rider Israel Bissell rode all the way from Boston to Philadelphia. He stopped to alert Israel Putnam in Pomfret, Connecticut, and also in Norwich to alert Huntington. Huntington marched his soldiers of the 20th from Norwich that week, arriving in Cambridge on April 26 in response to the alarm.

By June 1775, Jedediah’s beloved wife Faith had become increasingly depressed and despondent, such that Jedediah thought it wise to come home in order to bring their son Jabez to live at her parents’ house.  To fulfill this plan, he took her by horse carriage via Providence to the Boston area to be close to himself, hoping to help her depression while participating in the siege of Boston. Due to a mishap with the carriage caused by a tavern keeper in Providence, the couple arrived late on June 17, too late for Jedediah to join in the Battle of Bunker Hill. In the wake of that day’s battle, Faith received a rude awakening to the horrors of war:

About noon of that day I had a momentary interview with my favorite sister, the wife of Colonel, afterwards Gen. Huntington, whose regiment was on its march to join the army.  The novelty of military scenes excited great curiosity throughout the country, and my sister was one of a party of young friends who were attracted to visit the Army before Boston.  She was a woman of deep and affectionate sensibility, and the moment of her visit was most unfortunate.  She found herself surrounded, not by “the pomp and circumstance of glorious war,” but in the midst of all its horrible realities.  She saw too clearly the life of danger and hardship upon which her husband and her favorite brother had entered, and it overcame her strong, but too sensitive mind.  She became deranged, and died the following November at Dedham (Massachusetts).[2]

Huntington’s regiment was one of those assigned to take Dorchester Heights, the move that so surprised the British in Boston on the morning of March 4, 1776.   After that display of might caused the British to evacuate the city, Washington knew Crown forces were headed for New York. Washington traveled southwest, and stopped off in Norwich on April 13 for a conference with Governor Trumbull.  The focus of the conference was likely how Trumbull and Huntington could get Connecticut to provide the necessary militia and supplies for the impending attack on New York by the British. Jedediah had planned on hosting the conference at his own new house, but by this time his wife Faith had committed suicide while suffering from depression. Jedediah wrote to his father, asking Jabez to host the conference at his house instead.

Huntington suffered many challenges in the coming years. Not only was he dealing with the grief of the untimely death of his wife, he also became ill and bedridden, and could not lead his regiment, then renamed the 17th Continental Regiment, at the ill-fated Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776.  The 17th was one of many regiments in Maj. Gen. Joseph Spencer’s division. Another regiment under Spencer was led by Norwich’s Colonel John Durkee. Huntington’s 17th suffered heavy casualties at Brooklyn Heights (now Green-Wood Cemetery), with 199 killed or missing.[3]

After several postings and skirmishes outside New York, Huntington’s next major brush with the British came during the Battle of Ridgefield on April 27, 1777, resisting Gen. William Tryon’s raid on the Patriot stores at Danbury, Connecticut. Huntington arrived with militia reinforcements, traveling from one end of the state all the way to the other over the night of the 27th and 28th. Huntington’s unit assisted Gen. Gold Silliman and Gen. Benedict Arnold; the latter was in his youth a neighbor of the Huntingtons in his native Norwich. Huntington’s soldiers engaged the British by swarming around their column as it moved south from Ridgefield back to the shore in Westport.  The scene was reminiscent of the harassment of the British on their retreat from Concord two years prior, with soldiers firing from behind stone walls, trees and buildings.

In September 1776, Jedediah’s father Jabez had been appointed by Connecticut’s assembly as one of the two major generals in charge of the state militia; the other was David Wooster. Tragically, Wooster died in the British raid on Danbury in April 1777.  Jabez was then appointed major general over the entire Connecticut militia.

In March 1777, Roger Sherman wrote that Col. Jedediah Huntington had been recommended by General Washington as fit to command a brigade, but Connecticut already had met their quota of generals with Israel Putnam (commissioned June 1775), Arnold (January 1776), Spencer (August 1776) and Samuel Parsons (August 1776). In the wake of the Battle of Ridgefield, Jedediah was promoted to brigadier general on May 12, 1777. Consequently, the battle resulted in the promotions of both Huntingtons, father and son.

In the meantime, on April 15, 1777, Jedediah wrote an interesting letter to General Washington from his home in Norwich that was an early example of Huntington’s concerns for the welfare of the common foot soldier and the difficulties he would have in keeping them properly outfitted:

May it please your Excellency,
I am favoured with your Excellency’s Letter of the 3d inst. & observe your Desire that I march my Men fit for Duty immediately to Peek’s Kill.
Since the Date of your Letter … the equiping the Men is attended with the utmost Difficulty, with Blankets in particular – praying & paying hardly prevail with Families to spare from their already exhausted Stores – I shall send on my Men as fast as possible & urge the recruiting Service every Way in my Power.
Three Thousand French Arms (without Cartge Boxes) came in here this Day from Portsmouth, I am sending them on to New Haven by Genl Parson’s Order.  I am, with Affection, Respect & Esteem, Your Excellency’s most obedient Servant
Jed. Huntington[4]

Huntington joined Maj. Gen. Putnam at Peekskill, New York, in July 1777, and helped construct fortifications at Constitution Island across from West Point. Huntington’s regiment was one of four under Maj. Gen. Alexander McDougall which was rushed south in mid-September in the wake of Washington’s defeat at Brandywine on September 11. Unfortunately for both Washington and Huntington, the latter’s brigade did not fully arrive in time to help the confused patriots at the Battle of Germantown on October 4.  Fortunately, one of Huntington’s regiments, the 5th Connecticut, did arrive in time to engage in heavy fighting as part of Gen. Nathanael Greene’s division on the left flank.

Huntington and his brigade, consisting of the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 7th Connecticut Regiments, were among those with General Washington that arrived at the winter encampment at Valley Forge on December 19, 1777.  It was long believed that Huntington was quartered at a stone farmhouse, but recent analysis by the National Park Service indicates the house was not built until the early 1800s, and that Huntington probably lived in a log cabin built that winter by his soldiers.

The Huntington Brigade stone marker at Valley Forge indicates where the soldiers of Connecticut built their huts and suffered through that long winter encampment.  To ensure protection of the encampment from possible surprise attack, Washington ordered the construction of earthworks, and Huntington’s is among the few that survive today.

Huntington’s letters to his family that winter are among the plethora complaining of miserable conditions centered around the lack of provisions. His letter on December 25, 1777 referred to Chester County as “this starved country.” [5]  Several months later he joined the chorus of complainers about the commissary: “We have lived upon lean beef ’til we are tired of the sight of it [and] live hand to mouth for flour.  We blame our providers,” he wrote to his brother Andrew.[6]  One writer noted of Huntington, “His language may have been curt, but he was nowhere near as furious as Col. Charles Parker, who blamed the Commissary for inedible food and short supplies and beat one of its agents with a whip and then threatened to hang him.”[7]

Washington instructed Generals McDougall and Huntington as well as Col. Edward Wigglesworth to leave Valley Forge “without delay to proceed to Fishkill or to such other place in the State of New York as you shall appear most expedient”[8].  The purpose of this directive was to investigate the loss of Forts Montgomery and Clinton and the conduct of the officers who commanded those posts.

This northerly deployment of Huntington allowed him in late March or early April to return home to Norwich, Connecticut, where he married his second wife, Ann, the daughter of Thomas Moore of New York City, on April 9, 1778.[9]  They had likely met while Huntington’s regiments were encamped near Peekskill, New York in 1777.  They would eventually have seven children together.

Perhaps the most interesting of all of General Washington’s war councils occurred at Washington’s headquarters at the Isaac Potts House. Taking minutes was Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton as primary aide to Washington. Crammed into the stone farmhouse’s parlor was a veritable who’s who of Patriot generals: Major Generals Charles Lee, Nathanael Greene, Benedict Arnold (still recovering from his leg wounds sustained at the Battle of Bemis Heights), Lord Stirling, the Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, Brigadier Generals Henry Knox, William Smallwood, Enoch Poor, John Patterson, Anthony Wayne, William Woodford, Peter Muhlenberg, Jedediah Huntington, and Louis Duportail, the French engineer commissioned in the Continental Army.[10]  Washington had convened the generals to ask them what they should do when the British left Philadelphia.  This had occurred earlier that day, when the British troops under Gen. Henry Clinton paraded out of the capital city towards Haddonfield, New Jersey.

The replies from the generals showed that they remained divided.  The “foreign” officers (Lee, von Steuben, and Duportail) still opposed a general engagement, whereas most of the Americans (as well as Lafayette) favored offensive action.  Huntington was among those who cautioned restraint. He stated, “If a great Degree of Caution has marked the Tenor of your Excellencys Conduct hitherto, & you have won by Delay — no Risque should be run at this Stage of the War, when the general Complexion of our Affairs at Home & abroad is more promising than ever — One hazardous Enterprise might ruin the fair prospect.”[11]

The army set out across New Jersey in pursuit of their British adversaries. On the morning of June 28, General Lee’s division made contact with the British in the early stages of what became the Battle of Monmouth. Huntington’s fellow Norwich native and Sons of Liberty leader, Col. John Durkee, was seriously wounded in his right hand while in command of two regiments. He was forced to leave the action for medical attention.[12]  Eventually, around noon, Huntington entered the fray as part of Lord Stirling’s wing near Perrine Farm, located on a ridge.  Huntington’s brigade included Connecticut’s 2nd and 5th Regiments under Col. Philip Bradley and the 1st and 7th Connecticut Regiments under Col. Heman Swift.

Huntington’s written orders from that morning—a morning that would later turn to sultry hot torture for the soldiers, as the day reached nearly 100 degrees—read:

Brigade Orders, June 28, above English Town where the Troops were formed to march to Freehold … Gen. Huntington has the fullest confidence in the Bravery and abilities of his officers and Men – doubts not they will preserve a cool & determined spirit, and confiding in the Justice of their cause, and in the God of Heaven, they will gain honor to themselves and their Country.[13]

Huntington’s forces were adjacent to Brig. Gen. John Glover’s Massachusetts Brigade and located on the east slope of Perrine Ridge. Around 1 p.m. a large battery of cannons was set up by Knox on this eastern slope, just above a boundary fence delineating the Perrine and Sutfin farms. Dr. William Read reached the battle in the afternoon, riding towards the front line during one of the cannonades. Arriving at the Patriot lines, he saw “Washington riding to and fro along the line, sometimes at full speed, looking nobly, excited, and calling loudly to the troops by the appellation of brave boys.” The doctor then saw a British cannonball “strike a wet hole,” splattering dirt on the general. Two officers, whom Dr. Read recalled were John Laurens and Jedediah Huntington, then took hold of the bridal of Washington’s horse and implored him to relocate, insisting that he served as too noteworthy a target.” Washington did not heed their advice.[14]

Apparently, Huntington’s regiments were among the many in the thick of the heavy fighting in that area of the battlefield, but unfortunately, there is neither narrative nor even a summary by either Huntington or one of his soldiers recounting the action. What detail we have is the court martial of General Lee, which was composed of twelve generals, including Huntington, presided over by Lord Stirling.  The court martial began at Brunswick, New Jersey.  Lee was found guilty by the generals and not allowed to serve in the Continental Army for one year.

The winter of 1778-1779 for Huntington and his brigade was spent in Redding, Connecticut. This was so his and other regiments under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam could respond to the threat of attacks either along the coast of Connecticut, up the Hudson River Valley, or a repeat attack on the stores of supplies at Danbury. Unfortunately, much like Valley Forge, the soldiers suffered and did not receive needed supplies.  The suppliers blamed it on the poor winter weather, but the soldiers did not believe it.  The soldiers of Huntington’s brigade formed for the usual inspection on the morning of December 30, but then threatened to march with their arms all the way to the State House in Hartford in protest to demand redress of grievances.[15]

An appeal in a speech from horseback by Major General Putnam quelled the impending rebellion, but the ringleaders were rounded up and put in a guarded hut.  Overnight, the primary ringleader tried to escape, only to be shot dead by the sentry on duty. Putnam wrote to Washington of the near mutiny in the ranks, and Washington agreed with Putnam’s approach of general clemency balanced with making an example of ringleaders, who Washington often had executed to prevent future insubordination.[16]

The years of 1779 and 1780 passed relatively quietly for Huntington, as the British turned their focus towards the south. But the inaction turned to disbelief and haste once the treachery of Benedict Arnold was discovered in September 1780. Not only had Huntington grown up with the young Arnold in the busy port city of Norwich, Connecticut, but they had served together, briefly in the siege of Boston, and again at the Battle of Ridgefield.  Imagine the thoughts swirling in Huntington’s head when he learned of Arnold’s treachery. Washington sent a letter with a list of the sensitive papers off to another Norwich neighbor of Jedediah’s, Samuel Huntington, a distant cousin who had signed the Declaration of the Independence and was in Philadelphia at that time serving as president of the Continental Congress.

Jedediah Huntington was among those immediately sent through Westchester County, New York, into the Redding area, once again passing through Ridgefield, where he had served with Arnold. What irony. This time, Huntington was with Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge and a detachment of his dragoons to make themselves available in southwestern Connecticut should the treason of Arnold result in a British excursion into that area.

Huntington served on a second prominent military trial. This time it was another assemblage of generals for the trial of British Maj. John Andre.  This charming, talented young officer had changed from his uniform into civilian clothes in order to cross from Patriot territory back through contested land in Putnam County and into Loyalist territory north of New York City. Huntington and the other generals found Andre guilty of being a spy, and he was soon after hanged at Tappan. There was an intriguing, secret, “last-ditch” effort by Alexander Hamilton to offer Andre to General Clinton in return for Arnold. Imagine how Huntington would have reacted had he faced Arnold again.

Huntington and Arnold had almost served together in battle one other time, on August 1, 1780.  It was just prior to that time that Washington had received intelligence that General Clinton and the British troops sailed north via Long Island Sound to eventually attempt an attack on the newly arrived French forces at Newport. Washington figured he could take advantage of the absence of Clinton and the majority of his forces to attempt an attack on New York.  Washington’s orders of August 1 indicate that he wished to have Arnold in command of the left wing of the  Continental Army, and Huntington in charge of a brigade in the right wing, as was diagramed by Washington and his aides.[17]  Naturally, Arnold was caught off-guard and incredulous at Washington’s offer because he was already in communication with the British and designing his plans to turn coat. Arnold tried to sneak his way out of this command assignment by claiming his wounded leg had not healed enough for him to ride a horse in battle. Regardless, Washington’s planned attack on New York was called off once he received intelligence that Clinton’s fleet was returning to the city.

The third time that Huntington and Arnold could have feasibly faced each other was in September 1781, when Arnold was in command of British forces that raided New London and Groton, Connecticut. Arnold burned anything of military value in New London because it was a privateering port. Across the river in Groton, Patriot militia under Col. William Ledyard were massacred after surrendering Fort Griswold. Huntington and his brigade were not in Connecticut at the time for what could have been an epic showdown reunion, because Huntington was stationed in the Hudson Valley, and did not have time to respond to the raid.

Washington had kept Huntington’s and other brigades in the Hudson Valley in 1781 and 1782 simply because the threat remained of attack by General Clinton out of New York and up the Hudson or close-by into New Jersey. By the fall of 1782 the army was again in its winter quarters. West Point was under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry Knox, and joining him with three Connecticut regiments was Huntington.

According to Washington’s letters, by December the Continental Army was more irritated than at any point since the beginning of the war. Proposals were made among officers to resign in groups until Congress committed to their demands for pay. The journals of Maj. Samuel Shaw, Knox’s aide-de-camp, recorded that a committee including Knox and Huntington drafted a formal letter of grievances on behalf of the whole army. In addition, Maj. Gen. McDougall wrote to Knox, asking him and Huntington to provide their opinions on this critical matter.[18]

The Jedediah Huntington House, National Register of Historic Places, New London, Connecticut. (US Park Service)

In 1783 Huntington’s Brigade was the only Connecticut brigade in service. In May he was part of a committee of four to draft the plan of organization of the Society of the Cincinnati. Letters between Knox and von Steuben indicate that Huntington was instrumental in helping organize the fraternity of officers. Unfortunately, Huntington was not among the few leaders left to join Washington at his farewell dinner at Fraunces Tavern. In October, Huntington’s wife Anne was growing nervous about the impending winter, so the dutiful husband asked Washington if he could attend his wife on the return trip to Norwich via Manhattan by sailboat. Washington thanked Huntington for his long, loyal leadership in a letter sent from Rocky Hill, New Jersey. He later followed up his appreciation of Huntington’s skills by appointing him in charge of U.S. Customs for the port of New London. At that time, this huge responsibility included not only New London and the Thames River, but also the Connecticut River and the port cities of Middletown, Wethersfield, and Hartford.[19]Jedediah Huntington, favored Son of Norwich, ended up living the rest of his life in New London, the very town that Norwich’s other son, Benedict Armold, had burned down in a British raid eight years earlier. A lasting emblem of Huntington’s legacy is the New London Harbor lighthouse which dates from 1800 and is the fourth oldest lighthouse in the United States.

 

[1]www.nps.gov/vafo/learn/historyculture/generalhuntington.htm.

[2]Isaac William Stewart, Life of Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., Governor of Connecticut(Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1859), 175.

[3]The heroics of this regiment under the substitute leadership of Lt. Col. Joel Clark, Huntington’s second in command, are well-detailed in Charles Lewis, Cut Off: Colonel Jedediah Huntington’s 17th Continental (Connecticut) Regiment at the Battle of Long Island, August 27, 1776(Berwyn Heights, MD: Heritage Books, 2005).

[4]Jedediah Huntington to George Washington, April 15, 1777, in The Papers of George Washington, vol. 9, ed. Philander D. Chase (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1999), 172.

[5]Jedediah Huntington  to Andrew Huntington, December 25, 1777, Valley Forge Historic Park.

[6]Jedediah Huntington to Andrew Huntington, December 20, 1777, Charles Stewart Papers, New York Historical Society.

[7]Bruce Chadwick, George Washington’s War(New York: Sourcebooks, 2004), 205.

[8]Washington to Alexander McDougall, March 16, 1778, George Washington Papers, founders.archives.gov/(GW Papers).

[9]Town Marriage Records, Pre-1870, Barbour Collection, Connecticut State Library.

[10]Council of War, June 17, 1778, GW Papers.

[11]Jedediah Huntington to Washington, June 18, 1778, GW Papers.

[12]John Durkee to Washington, November 14, 1778, GW Papers.

[13]General Orders of General Washington, June 1778, New York Historical Society

[14]Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone, Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle(Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017), 326.

[15]Record of Service of Connecticut Men in the Revolution(Hartford, 1899), 131.

[16]John Nagy, Rebellion in the Ranks: Mutinies of the American Revolution(Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2008), 39-41.

[17]George Washington’s Orders, August 1, 1780, GW Papers.

[18]Knox Manuscripts XI: 36, New England Genealogical Society, Boston; Nagy, Rebellion, 202.

[19]Washington to Jedediah Huntington, October 1783, GW Papers.

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4 Comments

  • It was much appreciated to have such solid detail on one of the Patriot leaders that has been due proper reverence from our nation. Mr. Cregeau addressed that oversight in fine form.

  • Interesting piece about a remarkable man. Thank you for sharing your insights into the life of this American patriot…. Your piece brought home the human cost of those who sacrificed for American independence. Well done!

  • Thank you, Stephen! I’m working on a book on Jedediah and his patriotic family. His father was a militia general and two brothers later became generals. Ebenezer was a Lt. Col. at the time of the Rev. War and 240 years ago this August led Webb’s Regiment (Col. Samuel Webb was under house arrest back in his town of Wethersfield, CT) at the Battle of Rhode Island.

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