When one thinks of the American Revolution, two cities immediately jump to mind.
Boston, with her Sons of Liberty and late-night “tea party,” lit the first match of independence. Then, in Philadelphia, that passion for a new nation went from simmer to boil, resulting in a declaration that would help change the world.
Connecticut doesn’t get a lot of notice when it comes to the Revolution, outside of our own local remembrances of those who served and died during the conflict. In Cheshire, which wasn’t even an official town at the beginning of the war, a small monument outside of Town Hall stands as a testament to the men from the community who served.
But Connecticut’s role in earning independence is much grander than is commonly recalled these days. It produced some of the “stars” of the conflict, including Nathan Hale, who served as a soldier and spy for the rebels until he was captured in 1776. Hale is believed to have said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” before he was hanged by the British, and though there is some debate amongst historians as to whether Hale actually uttered his famous line, his last moments continue to live on in American history.
There was Ethan Allen, who may be best known for helping to establish Vermont as a state, but was born in Litchfield and was a part of the raid on Fort Ticonderoga. Then there was Roger Sherman, who has the distinction of being the only Founding Father to sign all four of what are considered the “great papers” of the era: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. Sherman would also play a key role in the construction of the Constitution, offering up what would be known as the Connecticut Compromise that effectively established the legislative branch of the federal government.
And then there is perhaps the most famous, or infamous, of Connecticut’s Revolutionary leaders, Benedict Arnold. Born in Norwich, Arnold was a businessman who opened up a small supplies shop in New Haven in 1762 hoping to make his fortune. But 15 years later, Arnold found himself a Brigadier General leading volunteers against raiding British soldiers who had landed in Danbury. During the skirmish, two horses were shot out from underneath Arnold, but his bravery and “no quarter” attitude earned him promotion to Major General.
Of course, Arnold would become America’s most notorious traitor, and in 1781 he once again fought a battle on Connecticut soil, this time leading British soldiers against Continental Army units stationed at New London. It would be a victory for Arnold, but history would deliver a lasting defeat to his legacy.
The personalities may be what’s remembered most, but Connecticut’s greatest contribution to the cause of independence was supplies. George Washington nicknamed Connecticut the “Provisions State” because so much of the Continental Army’s food and munitions came directly from here.
Unlike its neighbors, Massachusetts and New York, Connecticut remained relatively peaceful throughout the war, with a few battles waged within its borders, but never suffering under an occupying British force. That left the state free to redirect the goods it could no longer trade abroad to the new army under Washington.
Without the Nutmeg State, Washington’s soldiers would have found themselves with scarcely any food, ammunition, or clothing.
So this weekend, as we celebrate what happened in Philadelphia nearly 250 years ago, remember how Connecticut ensured that the words of the Declaration became the cry of a new nation and not the whimper of a lost cause. The names made famous in Boston and Philadelphia will live on in history, but it took the efforts of the unsung heroes, like those in Connecticut, to turn colonies into a country.