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New Haven County Court Records: Blog

Loyalists in Connecticut?

by Sarah Morin on 2023-07-19T08:30:00-04:00 in African Americans, Archives, Connecticut, Courts: Connecticut Courts, History, Military | 0 Comments

In The Tories of Connecticut, James Shepard opened with the bold statement, “During the first few years of the revolutionary war, this state was literally full of Tories.” Today, we examine whether the New Haven County Court records support this assertion and analyze the classification scheme that either the court clerks or previous State Library staff devised for these materials.

When quoting from documents, we will use the actual spelling, including transcriptions of individual words as necessary. (For more information about colonial spelling practices, see The Standardization of American English at In certain circumstances, we will add missing letters to abbreviated words or substitute modern spelling in brackets to enhance reader comprehension.

How the Court Records were Organized

shelves containing archival boxes

New Haven County, County Court Papers by Subject in various stages of processing.

The arrangement of the New Haven County Court records is not as straightforward as those who peruse or preserve them might wish. The original order of these records appears to have been court venue (County or Superior), then chronological by court session date, and then numerical by docket number. However, when the State Library acquired these records from the Connecticut Judicial Branch in the early twentieth century, they were either received in a new order or subsequently reorganized. Given the dearth of documentation on this matter, we are not certain who made the decisions regarding this rearrangement, or why they made them.

Both the County Court and Superior Court records were divided into two series. The first series was called “Files,” where the original order in which records were created was (somewhat) maintained. The second series was called “Papers by Subject,” where records were removed from their original order and placed into the following categories:

Admission to the Bar
Appointment of Officers
Confiscated Estates and Loyalists
Conservators and Guardians
Court Expenses
Equity Bills
Executions (meaning the record of when and how a writ was completed, not to be confused with capital punishment)
Justices of the Peace
Meeting House
Partition Land
Revolutionary Pensions

In this post, we will examine the subject category titled, “Confiscated Estates and Loyalists.”

Confiscated Estates and Loyalists

single page of paper with printed text and handwriting

Writ for Governor and Company vs. Jonah Baldwin of New Haven, February 1778. In 1777, writs for failure to muster cases were handwritten, but by 1778, such prosecutions were so common that court clerks filled out printed templates.

Confiscated Estates and Loyalists contains records from 117 cases and spans primarily from 1777-1778. The vast majority of these cases—109 in total—are state prosecutions (under the title “Governor and Company”) against persons for failure to muster—that is, they did not appear when they were drafted to fight on the Patriot side of the American Revolution. Two persons were prosecuted for being accomplices to someone’s military desertion. Two persons had their estates confiscated after absconding to New York to join the British. As for the remaining four cases, we only have scant documents from them that make it difficult to pinpoint the subject: two bills of cost, one property inventory, and one witness testimony.

Here is a breakdown of the towns that defendants were from, and the nature of their prosecutions:

  • Wallingford – 43 [failure to muster]
  • New Haven – 39 [36 failure to muster, 1 accomplice, 1 confiscation, 1 unknown]
  • Waterbury – 15 [13 failure to muster, 1 accomplice, 1 confiscation]
  • Branford – 5 [failure to muster]
  • Derby – 5 [2 failure to muster, 3 unknowns]
  • Guilford – 5 [failure to muster]
  • Milford – 3 [failure to muster]
  • Durham – 1 [failure to muster]
  • New Milford? – 1 [failure to muster; Daniel P. Handy was a member of the 7th CT Regiment, which was raised on September 16, 1776 at New Milford, but we could not confirm whether he was originally from there.]

Interestingly, Wallingford had the most failure to muster prosecutions, with New Haven coming in a close second.

Justifications Offered for Failure to Muster

two pages of paper with printed text and handwriting

Justification from Governor and Company vs. Samuell Munson of New Haven, February 1778. The court accepted his plea and adjudged Munson not guilty.

In 17 cases, we have documentation of those who offered justification to the court for their failure to muster, which was often deemed acceptable but sometimes not.

Seven persons claimed they were too ill to serve:

  • John Austin (Wallingford) was “affected with a troublesome Cough; & otherwise disordered.” Verdict: guilty, fined £10.
  • Shadrach Benham (Waterbury) was “Excused from going on account of his being Sick.” Verdict: not guilty.
  • Asa Brownson (Wallingford) “Complain[ed] much of His Back & [stoppage] in his water &c” and was deemed “Not fit for Marshall Service.” Verdict: not guilty.
  • John Coe (Durham) “has been in a poor State of Health through the last Summer and when he has Gone out into the feild has Done but a little Labour to what he was used to Do and Some Days he has Lain wholly Still from work.” Verdict: not guilty.
  • Stephen Culver (Waterbury) “was Sick at that Time so that he was not fit for s[ai]d Service at that time.” Verdict: not guilty.
  • Nathaniel Curtiss Jr. (Wallingford) “was Poorly and Complained of a pain in his Bre[a]st... his Mother... said she was a feared his Was a Going into the Consum[p]tion.” Verdict: not guilty.
  • Constant Kirtland (Wallingford) was “in a Bad State of Health, and (Really) a Valetudinary Person.” Verdict: not guilty.

Three persons pled disability or injury:

  • Peter Frisby (Branford) “was so lame by means of his Legs & Feet being scalded that he could not Labor.” Verdict: not guilty.
  • Jehulah Gille (Waterbury) was deemed unfit for duty “and had been poorly for Some time before.” Verdict: not guilty.
  • Samuel Mix Jr. (New Haven) had “a Stiffness in his joints occasioned by a long and [tedious] fiit of Sickness [especially] his Knee joints was so Lame at that Time that he was not Abel to walke but very Little without the H[e]lp of a Crutch or Staff.” Verdict: not guilty.

Three persons cited caregiver obligations:

  • Samuel Barber Jr. (Waterbury) had “Wife Was in a Weak and Low State of health and not Recovered from her Lying in... and one of his children was Sick and none of his family able to Do any business abroad.” Verdict: not guilty.
  • Andrew Hough (New Haven) had a wife who “was sick and troubeled with Fits which Rendered her unabel to Labor” and he “was [o]bliged to take the trobel of tending her for want of a nurs[e] which co[u]ld not be [o]btained but part of the time.” Verdict: not guilty.
  • Samuell Munson (New Haven) had a “Negro [who] was in the Greatest Distress possible with the Stone in the Bladder when he was Commanded to go abroad to do duty as a Soldier Last Octob[e]r which he could not do and act as a Christian Master.” Verdict: not guilty.

Two persons claimed they had enlisted already:

  • Caleb Merriman Jr. testified that he and Edward Collins Jr. (Wallingford) “was in Partnership by the way of Farming” and that he “went and Join[e]d the Company with the said Collins Belonged to.” Verdict: not guilty.
  • Samuel Elwell (Branford) had testimony from Captain James Peck certifying that he “inlisted into my Comp[an]y.” Verdict: not guilty.

One person claimed he was on an approved furlough:

  • Daniel Carrington (New Haven) was “Liberated to go home for a few days, on his Own Private Business.” Verdict: guilty.

One person claimed he was excused from service for strategic reasons:

  • Ephraim Hough Jr. (Wallingford) “was a principle Miller to a very important grist Mill” and the town selectmen were of the opinion that he “aught not to be compeled to go.” Verdict: nolle pros (charges dropped).

What Measure is a Loyalist?

eighteenth-century man with rope hooked to his breeches being strung up on a pole by a group of angry men; goose being plucked by women in lower left corner

Mobbing the Tories, illustration from “History of the United States” by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard, 1921, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Although these 117 cases were placed in the Confiscated Estates and Loyalists category of Papers by Subject—and subsequently into the Loyalist Index at the State Library—upon closer analysis, this designation may not be entirely accurate for all persons. The overwhelming majority of cases in this category are for failure to muster, but that is not necessarily proof of someone’s political leanings. As seen in the Justifications section, some individuals had good reason not to enlist. Others simply might have wished to avoid fighting in yet another colonial war.

However, the political climate of the time was such that anyone who wasn’t an ardent Patriot was deemed a Loyalist. In Connecticut, Committees of Inspection were established in several towns, in order to carry out “a patriotic and searching espionage into the principles, actions, and private affairs of every member of the community, without regard to station, profession, or character. If one was found to be lukewarm or indifferent, he was closely watched; but, if a royalist in sentiment, he was forbidden to go beyond the limits of his own farm, while in the meantime his name was to be published conspicuously in capital letters on the first page of one or more of the four newspapers of the colony, thus: “PERSONS HELD UP TO PUBLIC VIEW AS ENEMIES TO THEIR COUNTRY” (G.A. Gilbert, “The Connecticut Loyalists,” The American Historical Review, January 1899, pp. 280-281, 285).

But upon examining the 117 cases, we found direct evidence of Loyalism in only seven of them:

  • William Cooke (New Haven) had an estate confiscated because he “put himself under the Protection of the King of Great Brittan and has Joined the Enimies of These States.”
  • Samuel Dolittle (Waterbury) also had an estate confiscated because he “did Abscond and did Put himself under and doth Still hold and Screen himself under the Ministerial Army on Long Island or in New York.”
  • Amos Cook (Wallingford), who was prosecuted for failure to muster, was “Judged to be a dangerous Enemy” upon official examination and sentenced to house arrest.
  • Samuel Humphreys (Derby): per witness testimony, he went “over to long Island & there inlisted in to the Service of the king of Great Britain.”
  • The two bills of costs were explicitly labeled “Tory cases” (Derby and New Haven) and the property inventory was titled “Tory land” (Derby). Defendants in these three cases included at least one individual who was known to be a Loyalist, Nehemiah Marks.

We also found circumstantial evidence of Loyalism in two additional cases:

  • Samuel and Sarah Fenn (Waterbury) “did Harbour and Conseal one Benjamin Washburn of Darby a [deserter] from the Service of the United States of America.” Benjamin Washburn is listed in the State Library’s Loyalist Index.
  • Thomas Ives (New Haven) “did willingly and traterously harbour and conceal one Benj[ami]n Smith a Deserter from the continental Army Knowing him to be Such, and did then and there aid and assist s[ai]d Smith to make his Escape from the proper Officer who had him s[ai]d Smith in Custody, to return him to the Army and bring him to Justice.” Benjamin Smith is not only listed in the State Library’s Loyalist Index, he is also mentioned in The Tories of Connecticut by James Shepard (The Connecticut Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 2, April, May, June 1898).

Often, the verdicts for cases in this subject category were recorded on the back of the writ. In the majority of these 117 cases—63 in total—defendants were found not guilty (this designation also includes verdicts such as “nolle pros” and “plea sufficient”). In 46 cases, defendants were found guilty (or were most likely guilty, if only a fine was listed). In eight cases, we were unable to determine the verdict. For a category titled “Confiscated Estates and Loyalists,” it is interesting that less than two percent of cases concern confiscated estates, and that only 40 percent of defendants were found guilty by the Court!

Even more interestingly, there are at least 251 cases containing evidence of Loyalists in the County Court Files—69 confiscated estates, 6 military desertions or accomplice to desertions, 31 other Revolutionary-related controversies (accomplice to gaol escape, breach of the peace, debt, default, disseisin, embargo violations, failure to serve, petitions, riots, robbery, seisin and possession, slander and defamation, theft, trading with the enemy, treason, and trespass), and 145 cases involving noted Loyalists Benedict Arnold, Charles Ward Apthorp, Jared Ingersoll Sr., and Nehemiah Marks (many of these cases were for prosaic matters like debt). For unknown reasons, none of these records—including the confiscated estates cases—were moved to the Confiscated Estates and Loyalists category in Papers by Subject.

The Work Continues...

two archival boxes on top of filing cabinet; picture on wall titled “Care & Handling Guidelines for Public Records & Archives”

Militia awaits analysis...

If the above scenario wasn’t complicated enough, the subject category titled “Militia,” which dates primarily from 1777-1778, is also largely comprised of failure to muster cases. There are approximately 293 such cases in this subject category—well over double the quantity of failure to muster cases in Confiscated Estates and Loyalists. We do not know why the same type of case was placed in two different subject categories, though we suspect it is because these records were received and processed in discrete batches by different librarians over the course of several decades.

As demonstrated by the analysis of Confiscated Estates and Loyalists, none of the categories in Papers by Subject is a complete, exhaustive, or entirely accurate representation of the contents they purport to contain. While it is unfortunately not feasible to undo this inexplicable arrangement, it is our goal to ensure that these records are rehoused in a more accessible manner than tightly bound bundles, which will enable us to preserve them in a stabler environment and allow researchers and investigators to access them as efficiently as possible.

In August, we will discuss the cases found in the subject category of Militia.

As noted in a previous post, the records for these cases, as well as several of the cases previously profiled in this blog, are currently in the process of being digitized. They will eventually be available for public viewing at the Connecticut Digital Archive (CTDA).

This project is made possible through funding from the Historic Documents Preservation fund of the Office of the Public Records Administrator. We also recognize the past support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

logo of stylized book and color splashes representing each department with text: CT State Library Preserving the Past. Informing the Future. logo of eagle with text: National Archives National Historical Publications ampersand Records Commission

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