15 Sep 2014
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Branford's Revolution -- and Celebrations of the 4th

Connecticut was poised early on to have a good continuing relationship with Britain -- but ended up being one of the earliest colonies supporting the fight toward independence. The fireworks as we know them now, launched from Branford Point, began in the

Branford's Revolution -- and Celebrations of the 4th Branford's Revolution -- and Celebrations of the 4th Branford's Revolution -- and Celebrations of the 4th Branford's Revolution -- and Celebrations of the 4th Branford's Revolution -- and Celebrations of the 4th Branford's Revolution -- and Celebrations of the 4th

As a native Midwesterner, I admit that some of my early understanding of the American Revolution was formed by the musical 1776, which the community theater in my hometown performed when I was still impressionable. My family had come out to Boston -- where my father is originally from -- to visit relatives and walk the Freedom Trail when I was eight, but I admit that those memories amount to Paul Revere's silversmith shop, the Old North Church, and an anecdote about garbage being dumped into the streets (as was the habit in those days) told by our guide.

So it was through American history classes that I started to learn the historical shape of the Revolution, and it was only after moving to the East Coast that I started to be able to attach the events to real places. (I acknowledge, I still have a soft spot for historical fiction -- it's easier for me to want to commit to learning more about real historical figures when I've read about them in novels or comics like Lora Innes's The Dreamer, in which Connecticut native Nathan Hale and Thomas Knowlton, who grew up in Connecticut, are prominent characters.)

Thus, Connecticut's Revolutionary History is something I've been picking up in bits and pieces -- and it's an area in which I still have a lot to learn! Here are a few things I've just learned:

  • Connecticut's charter gave the colony greater self-government and political autonomy than its surrounding colonies, according to Thomas C. Barrow in Connecticut Joins the Revolution. Barrow suggests that Connecticut was less likely to suffer from serious complaints against the British because of this.
  • Connecticut was one of the early colonies to promote independence from Britain anyway. Barrow credits Jared Ingersoll (of New Haven, and a Yale graduate) and Jonathan Trumbull (of Lebanon, who served as governor of Connecticut both before and after the revolution) for guiding the colony toward independence.
  • Despite the leadership of men like Ingersoll and Trumbull, many Connecticut residents were not pro-independence. As reader chimed in: "many were British loyal and they didn't feel this was their problem." Connecticut had her share of "Tories" -- but most of the residents of Branford were pro-independence very early on.
  • In The History of North Branford and Northford, Herber C. Miller wrote that Branford and North Branford officials were on board with the Revolution by 1773. Branford's selectmen agreed to send relief to Boston residents who had been cut off from food and supplies after the Boston Tea Party led the British to close the port. At a town meeting on December 1, 1774, the people unanimously supported Connecticut's sending a delegate to the Continental Congress.
  • According to notes from Jane Bouley of the after Branford residents heard about the battle at Lexington, MA (the infamous "shot heard round the world" -- though it clearly took a day for the news to reach New Haven), 37 Branford men, under command of Captain Josiah Fowler, rushed to Massachusetts to support their fellow patriots.
  • In 1775, Branford formed a committee to enforce a ban on all British goods.
  • Three families loyal to the King had their lands (in North Branford) taken from them; they subsequently moved to Canada.
  • Ships continuously guarded the coast at Stony Creek, Indian Neck, Town Neck, and Branford Point. There were several raids along the coast; after the attack by Benedict Arnold on New London in 1781, Arnold's men landed in Lanphier's Cove. (The troops claimed the Wilmott House and took loaves of bread from John Blackstone's wife Rebecca Baldwin, but they did leave her a loaf to feed her eight children.)
  • Of the approximately 120 soldiers from Branford and North Branford who fought in the war, nine were African-American.

This is, of course, just the beginning of a much larger research project (which, happily, Jane Bouley is preparing to undertake!). In more recent history, Branford began celebrating the 4th of July as a holiday with most of the rest of the nation in the 1870s; in 1896, 1,000 people attended a band concert and fireworks display at the Driving Park on East Main street. In 1901, the number totaled 3000. After the state banned the sale of fireworks to the public in 1949, Branford's town fireworks display tradition began, sponsored early on by the American Legion. Those fireworks, launched from Branford Point, are the ancestors of the display enjoyed by Branford residents !

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