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A Connecticut Store Becomes a Revolutionary War Office

Trumbull's War Office,

Trumbull's War Office,

When Connecticut Gov. Jonathan Trumbull got word of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, he went to his store and began collecting supplies for the men marching off from his hometown of Lebanon. In the two-room building that would be nicknamed the War Office, Trumbull weighed, measured and packed up barrels and boxes of his own merchandise. He sent off teams of oxen and carts and dealt powder and musket balls to the militiamen.

Throughout the American Revolution, Trumbull met with his Council of Safety in the two-room building next to his house on Lebanon Green. Visitors who came to see him included George Washington, Henry Knox, Israel Putnam, Marquis de Lafayette and Count Rochambeau. Both the house and the War Office are still on the mile-long green.

Inside the tiny War Office, Trumbull discussed ways to supply the armies as messengers came and went on horseback. He sent off wagon trains and herds of cattle. When men joined the Army of the Revolution, they gathered around the War Office before marching to war.

George Washington called Jonathan Trumbull 'the first of the patriots.' He wrote to him frequently asking for more men, food, cannon and always-scarce gunpowder.  Trumbull complied, earning Connecticut the nickname 'The Provision State.'

Jonathan Trumbull

Jonathan Trumbull

Jonathan Trumbull

Trumbull was one of the few Americans who served as governor in both a pre-Revolutionary colony and a post-Revolutionary state. Before the war, he was one of the most prominent shipping merchants in the colonies.

Born Oct. 12, 1710, he had graduated from Harvard and studied for the ministry. He was licensed to preach at Colchester, Conn., but he joined the family business after his brother was lost at sea and his father got old.

His sloops, schooners, brigantines and snows came into New London and Norwich carrying goods from a wide commercial network: New York, Boston, Nantucket, Halifax, the West Indies, London, Liverpool, Bristol, Hamburg and Amsterdam.

He sold the produce of Connecticut: salt fish, oil, flax-seed, potash, lumber, whale fins, skins and furs, wheat, peas, barley, Indian corn, pork, beef, wool, hemp, flax, cider, perry, tar, turpentine, livestock and pine and spruce for the king’s masts.

He imported dry goods, such as cloaks, caps, waistcoats, greatcoats, cloth, scythes, nails, firearms, crockery, cutlery and pewter.

Trumbull was worth 18,000 pounds at the end of 1765. He held various judgeships and government jobs until 1769, when he became governor of the Colony of Connecticut. From 1776 to 1784, he was governor of the State of Connecticut.

As a merchant and a politician, he objected to Britain's Intolerable Acts. He was especially offended by Parliament's insistence that writs be granted to authorize the invasion of private dwellings to search and seize goods.

When the governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Gage, asked Trumbull for help after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Trumbull refused. He replied Gage's troops would "disgrace even barbarians," and he accused Gage of "a most unprovoked attack upon the lives and the property of his Majesty's subjects.

War Office

From his War Office, Trumbull directed supplies to feed the Continental Army, French troops and the workmen of a forge in New Jersey. When the people of Nantucket had no bread one winter, he let them barter oil, salt and rum with Connecticut merchants. When Congress asked him for 539 head of cattle immediately, he sent them. When the starving troops in Newport were on the point of mutiny, he sent them 300 barrels of Indian corn.

During the winter of 1779-80, Washington and his troops were quartered in Morristown, N.Y. George Washington Parke Custis related how his adopted father despaired of getting any supplies from any of the states.

Washington sent a letter by special messenger to Trumbull, Custis said. Trumbull met the messenger in the War Office and told him to rest for the night. The messenger galloped back the next day with a sealed letter. Washington read the letter in the presence of Custis. It said at a certain hour on a certain day, a wagon train from Hartford would arrive with 200 barrels of flour, 100 barrels of beef, and 100 barrels of pork.

On the day Trumbull said the provisions would arrive, American soldiers stood on the camp's highest hills looking for the wagon. Custis described how, "Within half an hour of the time assigned by Governor Trumbull for the arrival of the stores, the expectant eyes almost filled with tears of joy at discovering through the mists of the valley the teamsters cheering along their jaded horses,"


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