Signs of the Revolution are all around

John Burgeson

For most, the Fourth of July is the day to fly Old Glory, fire up the barbecue and feast on hot dogs, baked beans and potato salad.

But lest we forget why we're all here, it's also a good time to peel back the layers of time and rediscover the past. Although the American Revolution ended in 1783, there is still plenty of evidence of the conflict about, if you know where to look.

Many of these artifacts are in museums, some can be seen from the road and others are in private hands.

Take Richard Platt's British musket, for example, which hangs from a beam in the living room of his home in Milford.

"It belonged to Joseph Platt, my great-great-great-great-grandfather," he said. "He was fighting under Washington in the Battle of Long Island."

Also known as the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, it was the first of several defeats that the newly assembled Continental Army was to suffer at the hands of the British, on Aug. 26, 1776.

"He tripped over a dead British soldier, so he took his musket, and hiked all the way back to Milford," Platt said.

The weapon, Platt said, is a Brown Bess Type 2, the standard-issue flintlock made for British troops. It's missing its bayonet, perhaps the deadliest part, given its reload time of about 30 to 45 seconds and the firing delay after the pull of the trigger.

"It wasn't terribly accurate, either," Platt said. "But it still has the ramrod -- in fact, I was told to check to make sure that the ramrod went all the way down, to make sure it wasn't loaded."

Milford also has a very public artifact, Liberty Rock, which sits along Route 1 in Devon, near an Interstate 95 entrance ramp. Also known as Hog Rock, it was used by "The Liberty Boys" to spot the arrival of British ships on Long Island Sound and the Housatonic River.

The park in which it sits can be accessed from Oldroyd Street and Hackett Avenue.

"Back then, there weren't many trees or buildings, so by standing on the rock, you could see all the way across Long Island Sound and across the river to Stratford," Platt said. "Plus, it's been moved at least once or twice over the years."

Ansonia has a number of Revolutionary War-era sites, not the least of which is the David Humphreys birthplace at 37 Elm St.

Humphreys was George Washington's aide-de-camp during the war and the nation's first ambassador to Portugal and Spain. His red clapboard childhood home is maintained by the Derby Historical Society; it's filled with artifacts from the Revolutionary War era, also offering a slice of life from Colonial times. Julia Baldini, director of the society, which maintains the house, said it was built in 1698.

Some household implements in the house are from the mid-1700s, including a spinning wheel discovered in the attic after the society took over in 1961.

"In the era before textile mills, the eldest daughter was the one who spun yarn for use by the entire family, hence the name `spinster,' " said docent Paula Norton. "Since they were always spinning wool, they usually never married."

In an upstairs room is a collection of spinning wheels where schoolgirls today try their hand at spinning. "They usually tire of it pretty quickly," she said.

Connecticut has scores of monuments recalling the Revolution. But one of the most overlooked is on Ansonia's Wakelee Avenue in front of a tiny bodega, Klanko's Smoke Shop and Convenience Store.

What looks like a gravestone there marks the site known as Pork Hollow, where a group of rabble-rousers hid a British store of supplies and food in the nearby woods, The marker was placed in 1901 by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Not every town in the region is blessed with Revolutionary War cast-offs.

"Monroe used to have a family, the Lewis family, that had a rapier used in the Revolution which was given to them by a French soldier, but when they moved West, the sword went West with them," said Monroe Historian Ed Coffey.

He added that although there was a troop encampment where St. John's Cemetery is today, nothing of interest has ever been found there.

Ditto for Stratford, according to Carol Lovell, town historian.

"Stratford people were in the war, but the war was not in Stratford," she notes.

A good nearby place to look at local artifacts from the Revolutionary War is the Fairfield Museum and History Center.

"We have on display now a sword and musket that were used in the Revolution," said Walter D. Matis, program and volunteer coordinator.

"There actually isn't a lot of material from the Revolution, as compared with the Civil War, where the battlefields were almost instantly turned into historic sites. After the Revolution, the battlefields returned to their original use -- crops and cattle."

The sword, he said, is a British Navy cutlass carried by a Fairfield man during the conflict. "How he came to own it, we don't know," he said. "It has a few nicks, so apparently it was used in battle."

He said that in addition to the war materiel -- there's also a cannonball and a powder horn -- the museum has letters, clothing, shoes and other items.

The musket was known as a Committee of Safety musket, a weapon cobbled together from parts cannibalized from other muskets, plus some newly manufactured parts.

The museum is sponsoring a walking tour Saturday, beginning at 6:30 p.m., to recall the British burning of Fairfield on July 7, 1779. The walk takes place along the streets surrounding the Fairfield Green, and will begin at the museum, 370 Beach Road.

A few miles north of Fairfield on Black Rock Turnpike in Redding is the Putnam Memorial State Park, which state officials call "Connecticut's Valley Forge."

"We actually have more period above-ground artifacts than you'll find at Valley Forge," says Daniel Cruson, park historian and president of the Connecticut Historical Society.

Cruson spent much of Monday giving Gov. Dannel P. Malloy a tour of the park, where Gen. Israel Putnam's division of the Continental Army, all from New Hampshire, encamped in Redding in the winter of 1778-79. There were about 1,000 men camped there; 27 died of disease.

Cruson spent 12 years excavating artifacts from the site.

"One thing that surprised us was that some of the huts had glazed windows," Cruson said. "The fact that Danbury, which was attacked by the British in April 1777, wasn't attacked again is testament to the effectiveness of this encampment."