Brother Jonathan: Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull Sr. held nothing back in supporting the War for independence. George Washington ranked him "among the first of patriots".
Trumbull made crystal clear in that April 28, 1775, letter that Connecticut would not aid Gage. Indeed, Trumbull was firmly behind the patriots, the only colonial governor who sided with the patriot cause. "The people of this colony," Trumbull told Gage, "you may rely upon it, abhor the idea of taking arms against the troops of their sovereign.... [B]ut, at the same time, we beg leave to assure your Excellency, that as they apprehend themselves justified by the principles of self-defense, so they are most firmly resolved to defend their rights and privileges to the last extremity; nor will they be restrained from aiding their brethren, if any unjustifiable attack is made upon them."
His Majesty's government, infuriated by Governor Trumbull's bold response, placed a price on his head, as it had for Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
Within days Trumbull was organizing in the building that housed his old trading business in Lebanon, Connecticut, as a "War Office" to assist patriots in Boston. There he began his Committee of Safety, which held more than 1,100 meetings on behalf of the war effort. The Committee of Safety meetings deliberated and acted on safety measures for the state of Connecticut, developed deployment and aid proposals to the Continental Army to present to the legislature, and ensured the personal security of the governor and public officials during the war.
Trumbull's eldest son, Jonathan Jr., and his youngest son, John, both soon accompanied the Connecticut militia to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to meet the British threat. In Cambridge, according to popular legend, Jonathan Sr. obtained the nickname "Brother Jonathan" from George Washington. Upon receiving word that the military force was short of gunpowder, Washington reputedly said that "we will have to consult Brother Jonathan" about supplies. Connecticut would become known during the war as the "provisions state" of the independence effort. Throughout the War for Independence, George Washington knew that he could rely on Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull to provide vital supplies to the colonial forces.
Trumbull did not become a political leader by choice; he had wanted to become a minister. The would-be minister continuously advised himself in his diaries to become an "adventurer for another world." Yet Trumbull did become that adventurer, in a way he did not intend. Without Trumbull's efforts, the new world of American independence and freedom may never have come to pass. Washington wrote of the statesman: "A long and well-spent life in the service of his country places Governor Trumbull among the first of patriots."
Little about Jonathan Trumbull's family history would indicate a call to greatness. His father Joseph Trumbull was a hardworking and apparently uneducated Connecticut farmer and trader who, though highly regarded in his hometown of Lebanon, had failed to climb above his humble social status. Desperately wanting to give his son Jonathan the best opportunity to succeed, Joseph sent Jonathan to Harvard College in 1723 at age 13.
While at Harvard, young Jonathan studied religion, formed a society for promoting religion among the students, and resolved to become a minister. Returning to Lebanon in 1727 with a master's degree, he studied for the ministry with Lebanon's Congregationalist pastor and was soon accepted as pastor by a parish in neighboring Colchester.
But circumstances soon drew young Jonathan to a different vocation. After his older brother Joseph was lost at sea in 1732, Jonathan, responding to the call of duty, willingly took over the family meat and livestock trading business from his elderly father.
Jonathan quickly proved himself adept at closing deals and delivering goods, but not so capable at collecting the funds promised to him for the transactions. He frequently extended liberal credit to his customers and by 1762 had more than 10,000 [pounds sterling] in uncollected accounts, an astronomical sum in those days. Though the business initially flourished under his management, he fell behind paying his own bills because of uncollected accounts, and his creditors began hounding him. When he lost four ships and their cargoes in a storm in 1766, for a loss of more than 10,000 [pounds sterling], his partnership broke up and his financial picture worsened.
The economic downturn, precipitated by the Stamp Act and numerous embargoes, ended any realistic hope that his business enterprises would succeed. Trumbull spent the rest of his life narrowly staving off personal bankruptcy, scraping just enough funds together to pay insistent creditors.
Public Service Success
Trumbull's real success in life began when he was elected to the Connecticut State Assembly in 1733 at the age of 23. Two years later Trumbull married a minister's daughter, Faith Robinson of Duxbury, Massachusetts. Because she was the great-granddaughter of Mayflower descendant John Robinson, the marriage greatly improved his social standing. The marriage proved a genuinely happy one, lasting 45 years until her death in 1780 and producing four sons and two daughters. Opponents unfairly accused him of cynically marrying into the New England equivalent of royalty to improve his station, an accusation that would follow him his entire life.
Trumbull was repeatedly reelected to the assembly, and by the time he was 30 was named speaker of the house. He was appointed to the position of lieutenant colonel in the state militia at the outbreak of the French and Indian War. Though he never saw combat, he gained valuable experience in organizing colony war efforts that he would later use during the War for Independence. He was appointed to the Governor's Council in 1740 and subsequently served in a variety of judicial positions.
Passage of the Stamp Act in London in 1765 created a stir up and down the American seaboard. In Connecticut it caused the downfall of then-Governor Thomas Fitch, who tried to require Trumbull and the rest of the Governor's Council to take an oath to enforce the Stamp Act in Connecticut. Trumbull, however, led three other advisers on the Governor's Council in refusing to take the oath during a November 1766 confrontation--and walked out of the meeting. He held an assembly in his native Lebanon shortly thereafter and wrote to Fitch: "The people in this part of the colony are very jealous for their liberties and desire that the most vigorous exertion be made for the repeal of the late act of Parliament ... which they look on to be utterly subversive of their right and privileges both by charter, and as Englishmen."
The confrontation brought a change of governor; Fitch failed to get reelected the following year, and Trumbull came in as lieutenant governor under William Pitkin. Two years later, in 1769, Trumbull was elected governor.
Lebanon: Heartbeat of the Revolution Trumbull's hometown of Lebanon, Connecticut, began donating provisions toward the patriot cause long before the war and became Connecticut's center for patriotic activism. On June 3, 1774, townsfolk sent money to aid Boston, which the British had blockaded. Two months later, they sent 376 "fat sheep for the relief of those who were most unable to support themselves." And they sent more livestock on October 3rd.
Five hundred of Lebanon's citizens saw military service during the war, including three of Trumbull's four sons. Later in the war, Lebanon hosted a segment of Rochambeau's French troops during the winter before the assault on Yorktown. The troops tented in the mile-long, ribbon-shaped town green, across from Trumbull's home where French officers frequently dined.
Trumbull's own family raised Lebanon to prominence throughout the state and nation. The eldest of Trumbull's six children, Jonathan Jr., became a top aide to Washington, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and eventually governor of Connecticut. Joseph served in the continental army as commissary general. John became an aide de camp to Washington, in addition to a famous painter and notable architect. David became Lebanon town magistrate for organizing provisions for the war. Mary married the son of the pastor of Lebanon's First Congregational Church, William Williams, who became a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Trumbull's Connecticut became the most active and militarily aggressive colony in the early war effort. Trumbull helped to organize the successful assault on Fort Ticonderoga by Vermont's "Green Mountain Boys" and sent 1,000 soldiers to garrison the fort after Ethan Allen took it.
He lobbied early for an invasion of Canada. Though the 1775 invasion was repelled and failed to motivate Canada to seek independence from Britain, it did delay a British drive from the north for another year.
To protect the vulnerable Connecticut coastline, Trumbull actively pursued a state navy, producing 49 vessels of various size, including the "Turtle," the first submarine. After the British occupation of nearby Long Island and lower New York State, the threat of British invasion of Connecticut was a constant concern. Trumbull's little navy captured more than 40 British ships, a mixture of military and merchant marine vessels, though most were recaptured or sunk before the Americans could use them.
Connecticut supplied more troops for the war than any other state except for the much more populous Massachusetts. Thirty-eight thousand of the state's population of 200,000 served in the army or active militia during the war. But Connecticut became better known as the "provisions state" during the War for Independence. For instance, Trumbull and his legislature worked hand-in-hand to supply the troops, advancing 15,000 [pounds sterling] cash and 40 1/2 barrels of gunpowder to General Schuyler for the northern army in July 1775. And this was immediately after Trumbull had dispatched thousands of troops and huge quantities of supplies to help Boston after Lexington and Concord.
Though Connecticut continuously provided food, clothing, and supplies to the continental army throughout the war, two particular responses in times of emergency are noteworthy. Washington wrote to Trumbull on February 6, 1778, from Valley Forge urgently requesting food for his starving troops. Trumbull and his deputies immediately organized a drive of hundreds of head of cattle down to Valley Forge, from Connecticut as well as Massachusetts and upstate New York, to the great relief of Washington. Significantly, most of the provisions were for soldiers of other states. Connecticut's own troops were possibly better equipped than the troops for any other state during the war. Washington wrote to Trumbull from Valley Forge in March 1778 that "among the troops unfit for duty and returned for want of clothing, none of your state are included. The care of your legislature in providing clothing ... for their own men is highly laudable and reflects the greatest honor upon their patriotism and humanity."
Trumbull's Connecticut came to Washington's rescue again in early 1780, when a huge ox-driven caravan of sleds with 1,500 barrels of beef and 3,000 barrels of pork was shipped to Washington's hungry troops. Washington wrote in his diary that "no other man than Trumbull would have procured them and no other state could have furnished them."
Trumbull had well-honed political instincts even into his later years, as indicated by the fact that he became an ardent and early Federalist. He explained in a 1783 address that Congress under the Articles of Confederation was insufficiently empowered to fulfill its duties. "In my opinion, that body is not possessed of those powers which are absolutely necessary to the best management and direction of the general weal, or the fulfillment of our own expectations," he said. "This defect in our federal constitution [the Articles of Confederation] I have already lamented as the cause of many inconveniences which we have experienced; and unless wisely remedied, will, I foresee, be productive of evils, disastrous, if not fatal to our future union and confederation."
Trumbull won annual election as governor throughout the war, but declined to run for reelection in 1784 because of his advanced age. He stated in an October 1783 address: "I think it my duty to retire from the busy concerns of public affairs; that at the evening of my days, I may sweeten their decline, by devoting myself with less avocation and more attention, to the duties of religion, the service of my God, and preparation for a future happier state of existence."
Trumbull died on August 17, 1785, just a year after leaving office. The Hartford Courant appropriately eulogized Trumbull, stating: "Few men have ever rendered more essential service to mankind, and none can claim in equal degree with him the gratitude of the people of Connecticut. In times of peace he was revered as an upright judge, a wise legislator, and a shining example of manners and virtue. During the late war, his inflexible integrity and unwearied perseverance rendered him an able patron of our doubtful though interesting cause, and an important instrument in effecting the late glorious revolution."
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|Title Annotation:||History--Struggle For Freedom|
|Author:||Eddlem, Thomas R.|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||Aug 25, 2003|
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