Home | Query | Town Index | Records | Volunteers | Links
CT GenWeb | CT Archives | US GenWeb


Windham County Connecticut
CTGenweb Project


Israel Putnam

Distinguished Revolutionary Officer.

General Israel Putnam, who excelled both in war and peace, will ever live in the history of this nation, and his memory is especially dear to the people of Connecticut, where his active life was passed.
From a multitude of New England ancestors he inherited those qualities which made him preeminent, qualities which made the New Englander preeminent in the settlement and development of the United States, qualities which have established everywhere the school, the church and the printing press, the leading instruments in the progress of civilization.
The ancestry of the American family of Putnam has been traced to a very remote period in England, the first being Simon de'Puttenham, who lived in 1199 and was probably a lineal descendant of Roger, the manor of Puttenham under Bishop of Baieux. The parish of Puttenham is in Hertfordshire, close to the border of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
The first American ancestor, John Putnam, of the seventeenth generation was baptized at Wingrove, County Bucks, January 17, 1579. He was an early settler at Salem, Massachusetts, and in that vicinity the family has been conspicuous down to the present day.
His son, Lieutenant Thomas Putnam, baptized in England, 1615, resided in Salem Village, now Danvers, and was father of Joseph Putnam, born there. The sound sense of the latter is indicated by his opposition to the witchcraft trials of Salem. This was a source of peril to him, and for six months one of his fleetest horses was kept saddled, ready at a moment's notice to bear him from the wrath of his contemporaries. He married Elizabeth Porter, and Israel Putnam was their fourth son, born January 7, 1718, in Danvers. He died after an illness of two days in Brooklyn, Connecticut; May 29, 1790. The house in which he was born was built by his grandfather, and is still standing.
Israel Putnam had a rather meager education in the common schools of his native town, and he was very early accustomed to the arduous labors of the farm. When he attained his majority, a portion of the paternal farm was set off to him, and on it he built a small house, but soon after removed to Pomfret, Connecticut, where, in association with his brother-in-law, John Pope, he purchased a tract of five hundred acres of land. He became sole owner of this in 1741, and there he built as his second residence, a large frame house, which is still standing, and one of the points of interest to all tourists and patriotic Americans. This was in the district known as Mortlake Manor, which was incorporated as the town of Brooklyn in 1786. He cleared his farm of the native forest and planted fine orchards; the great shade trees of Brooklyn were planted largely through his initiative and influence. He was not only a thrifty and prosperous farmer, but from first to last an earnest and helpful friend of the town and colony in which he lived. The story of his killing of the wolf which had annoyed the neighborhood is well known to every schoolboy, and the cave into which he crawled on his hands and knees to shoot the wolf is sought by many visitors.
His military career began in the French and Indian War. He was commissioned captain in Colonel Lyman's regiment of General Johnson's command, and participated in the engagements at Fort Edward and Lake George in 1755. In the campaign of the following year he again served with distinction in the same regiment. At Fort Edward, in 1757, he was commissioned major, and in the following year he and Major Rogers, the famous ranger, were taken prisoners. He was tied to a tree and a fire lighted at his feet, but before it had inflicted any serious injury upon the intended victim, he was released by the timely arrival of a chief of the tribe whom he had previously treated with kindness while a prisoner. The wounds inflicted upon him during the torture before the burning left scars that time never erased. He was taken to Montreal, suffering further indignities and torture on the way, and was relieved through the intercession of General Peter Schuyler, who was also a prisoner. Major Putnam was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1759, and served that year under General Amherst at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and in the following year in the expedition against Montreal, which capitulated without resistance. He commanded a regiment in the West Indies afterward, and in 1764 under Colonel Bradstreet marched against the Indians with a Connecticut regiment to Detroit. Before the close of that year he returned to the farm, and for a period of years following this, his spacious dwelling served as an inn. He was honored with various civil offices of trust and responsibility, served on important committees, and was often moderator; was thrice selectman of Pomfret, and served as deputy to the General Assembly. In the winter of 1772-73, he went with General Lyman and others to examine a tract of land on the Mississippi river, near Natchez, given by the British government to the soldiers who fought in the West Indies. A diary kept by him on this trip, during which he visited Jamaica and the harbor of Pensacola, has been preserved.
In the trying days before the Revolution, Colonel Putnam was among the most active in resisting the obnoxious measures of the home government. In 1774 an exaggerated rumor concerning depredations of the British in the neighborhood of Boston came to the ears of Putnam, and he immediately addressed the citizens of his State and aroused a determination to avenge the impositions. Thousands were recruited and immediately started for Massachusetts, but it was learned that the rumor had little foundation and they returned. The news of the battle of Lexington reached Pomfret April 20, 1775, the day succeeding the engagement. With his sixteen-year-old son, Daniel, Putnam was engaged in plowing when the news arrived. The son afterward wrote: "He loitered not, but left me, the driver of his team, to unyoke it in the furrow, and not many days after to follow him to camp." On the afternoon of April 20, Putnam was on his way on horseback, and arrived in Cambridge on the following morning. On that day he wrote at Concord a report of the situation to Colonel Ebenezer Williams, calling for six thousand troops from his State, and he soon returned to recruit and organize this force. The provincial congress of Connecticut appointed him brigadier-general, and in one week he was again on his way to the scene of action. During the temporary absence of General Ward, he served some time as commander-in-chief. and on another occasion led a force of twenty-two hundred men from Massachusetts and New Hampshire on a reconnaissance to Charlestown. He commanded a party of provincials sent to Chelsea on May 27, 1775, and captured a British schooner, which attacked his force, with American loss of one killed and four wounded, while of the British force twenty were killed and fifty wounded. With Dr. Joseph Warren, Putnam represented the Americans in an exchange of prisoners on June 6, and on the 19th of that month, the Continental Congress raised him to the rank of major-general. This was two days after the battle of Bunker Hill, but the news had not yet reached the Congress. General Putnam was the officer in command at the battle of Bunker Hill, whose story is so well known to every patriotic American. General Putnam's commission was brought by Washington, when he came to Cambridge to take command, and by him Putnam was given command of the centre at Cambridge. When Boston was evacuated, Putnam's command was sent to New York, and he took part in the battle of Long Island After the retreat, Washington assigned Putnam to the command of the city of New York, north of Fifteenth street, and he participated in the battles of Harlem Heights and White Plains, taking a prominent part. In 1777 he commanded at Philadelphia, and was later stationed on the Hudson river. In 1778 he was at West Point, and in the following winter was posted at Danbury, Connecticut, with three brigades. In this region he made his famous dash on horseback down a precipice to escape capture by a superior force of the British under General Tryon. In the campaign of 1779, General Putnam was active and superintended the completion of the defenses at West Point. During the following winter he visited his family, and on his return to the front he suffered a stroke of paralysis, which closed his military career. Though he lived ten years afterward, and witnessed the birth of the new nation, he was never able to return to the army. He was buried with military and Masonic honors, and his epitaph written by Rev. Dr. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale College, says: "He dared to lead where any dared to follow," and "his generosity was singular and his honesty was proverbial. * * ~ He raised himself to universal esteem and offices of eminent distinction by personal worth and a useful life." He is described in person as of middle height, "very erect, muscular and firm in body. His countenance was open, strong and animated; the features of his face large, well-proportioned to each other and to his whole frame; his teeth fair and sound till death. His hearing was quick, his sight strong and of long range. Though facetious and dispassionate in private, when animated in the heat of battle his countenance was fierce and terrible, and his voice like thunder. His whole manner was admirably adapted to inspire his soldiers with courage and confidence, and his enemies with terror. The faculties of his mind were not inferior to those of his body; his penetration was acute; decision rapid, yet remarkably correct; and the more desperate the situation the more collected and undaunted. With the courage of a lion, he had a heart that melted at the sight of distress; he could never witness suffering in any human being without becoming a sufferer himself. Martial music roused him to the highest pitch, while solemn, sacred music rent him into tears. In his disposition he was open and generous almost to a fault, and in his social relations he was never excelled."
He married (first) at Danvers, July 19, 1739, Hannah Pope, who died September 6, 1765, and (second) June 3, 1767, Mrs. Deborah (Lothrop) Gardner, daughter of Samuel Lothrop, of Norwich. She died at his headquarters on the Hudson in 1777. The first wife was the mother of ten children. He died May 29, 1790.

Back to Index


Copyright © 2008
Please send comments to

Home | Query | Town Index | Records | Volunteers | Links
CT GenWeb | CT Archives | US GenWeb