I’ve been reading up a bit on loyalists during the Revolution and came across a slim volume, published in 1909 but available now on Google books: The Tories of Chippeny Hill, Connecticut by E. LeRoy Pond. Pond wanted to memorialize one community of loyalists, mostly farmers, who lived in a hamlet in western Connecticut near present-day Bristol. Chippeny Hill overlooked these lands and a spot there known as “the Ledges” held a tiny cave where loyalists hid out as needed. The cave (shown above) is still in existence and there are directions here for those who want to hike to it.
Connecticut was contested ground during the Revolution. Although the state never fell under British control, neighboring New York City did, as well as Long Island just across the Sound. Patriots intimidated those who refused to join the movement for independence (“inimicals,” these Tories were also called, as they were deemed inimical to American liberty). Those who would not sign pledges of allegiance or who refused to fight the British were frequently subjected to “rough music,” including being ridden out of town on a rail, tarred and feathered, stripped naked and dragged through creeks or taken to hog sties and covered in dung. (For more on rough music, see my earlier entry about the term.) These harassments were rough indeed. One Tory described in Pond’s book was hanged by the neck from a tree but then cut down by a more sympathetic patriot who left him nearly senseless on the ground. Recovering later in the evening, he fled to the cave four miles distant.
What interested me about this particular book was not the story of the cave so much as the feelings, in 1909, of the book’s author, E. LeRoy Pond. The name alone discloses loyalties. We can infer that Pond preferred to be known by his middle name, which is of course French for “the King.” And during the Revolution, Tories were frequently known simply as “the King’s friends.” (The term loyalist didn’t come into use until late in the war.) By the opening of the twentieth century, American nationalism had long placed the Revolution’s patriots on pedestals. But Pond begged to differ. He contrasted the ascetic Puritan ways of many New Englanders with what he imagined was a more gentle existence flourishing around Chippeny Hill. “Life was not so stern,” he noted:
Pond’s genial loyalists experienced a natural bond with their king, he enthused, even if they would never lay eyes on him: “They liked to hear what play had been presented before him, what noble he had knighted, what hospital he had founded… They prayed for him as their sovereign lord and king,—not lukewarmly, my friends, as you repeat the Lord's prayer day after day, but affectionately…”
This rosy rhetoric almost lulled me into missing the depth of anger manifested in an encounter Pond describes between a patriot named John Wilson and Ruth Graves, the wife of a leading Chippeny loyalist. Ruth was “a timid woman,” Pond claims, “of whom her daughter is recorded as saying that she used to tremble with fear when she heard at night the "ooah! ooah!" of the bears in the neighboring wood.” But Graves and other Tory women alerted their menfolk working in the fields at the first sign of rebels arriving to harass or arrest them. The wives signaled their husbands to flee to the woods by blowing their dinner horns, whose sonorous tones echoed through the valley. Ruth Graves, for her part, possessed a conch shell which she used for the purpose. She blew it loudly one day when Captain John Wilson came through.
Wilson led a band of the Sons of Liberty who patrolled the county—rather like the Ku Klux Klan of Southern regions, Pond explained to his readers in 1909. This was a comparison most northerners of his day would not have been inclined to make, though in fact Pond was not so far off the mark in comparing the tactics of the two paralegal organizations. Their ideological creeds, of course, varied immensely. In any case, Captain Wilson had heard the conch shell blow its warning and so charged into Ruth Graves’ cabin, and managed to catch her
Did you catch it? What meek Ruth did, using her “quick wit”? I didn’t at first, because LeRoy Pond, the king’s friend, is being a little oblique in describing her actions. But readers in 1909 would not have missed the import of Ruth taking “something from under the bed” to throw in his face—not in an age when the majority of farmhouses still lacked indoor plumbing and chamber pots remained in use.
For Ruth Graves, the animosity between patriot and Tory endured well beyond the War for Independence. Pond notes that “Many years afterwards, when Mrs. Graves heard of Captain Wilson's death, she exclaimed: "I'm glad on't." Her husband reminded her of the Christian duty of forgiveness. She replied that she could not forgive him, for he had not brought back her conch shell that he had stolen.”
And I’ll bet Wilson never forgot the rough music he received at her hands either. Revolution is a sharp stick driving participants on both sides to stand up or stand down. Tory boys may have enjoyed raisin puddings, but those who baked them could be every bit as determined as their patriot tormentors.
James West Davidson
Occasional thoughts on history, teaching, paddling and the outdoors