Saturday, April 27, 2013

A First Patriot Profile: General David Wooster

Those of you who follow my postings on Facebook might have caught a flurry of them this week on the small  engagement that took place near Danbury, Connecticut and the death of a "little known First Patriot, David Wooster." The American Revolution is replete with people from all walks of life who served quietly and diligently (on both sides) for the cause they believed in. This is the story of of the First Greatest Generation.

Captain David Wooster
Much of David Wooster's fame came early in life during two of the many wars fought between England and France in North America.  A  Yale graduate, he had married the beautiful daughter of the president of that college, but chose a life of action over books.  He took to the water (even today, Connecticut has more ports  than any other state) and became an officer in that colony's coast guard.

During the War of the Austrian Succession (King George's War in America), the colonists of New England waged a bitter struggle against the French  in Canada and Nova Scotia to their north. Wooster was commissioned a captain in command of a company in Colonel Andrew Burr's Regiment.  Coincidentally, Burr was the uncle of  Aaron Burr. He took part in the campaign against the mighty French fortress  of Louisbourg. Captain Wooster distinguished himself enough to be named as part of the escort of prisoners back to France when the fortress finally fell.  His journey took him to Britain where his achievements were celebrated in the  press. Wooster met the King and received for his service a commission in Sir William Pepperrell's Regiment (a regular British army regiment)  that included a pension for life. In 1748, the Treaty of Aix la Chapelle ended the war and Wooster returned to civilian life in Connecticut.

The siege of Louisbourg,
the most powerful fortress in French America

Jeffery Amherst at Ticonderoga,
the land between the waters
When the French and Indian War broke out, Wooster served from 1755 to the war's end in 1761, during which he was promoted to colonel and given command of the 3rd Connecticut regiment. In 1758 his regiment was at the disastrous Battle of Carillon, near the French fort of that name, at the southern extreme of Lake Champlain. There, General James Abercrombie launched a disastrous frontal attack that was torn to ribbons by Marquis de Montcalm's force of French regulars, Canadians and Indians. This was the bloodiest battle of the French and Indian War, the British lost over  2,000 of the 3,000 casualties. But Wooster was  again in the thick of things in 1759 when General Jeffery Amherst captured the Fort Carillon and renamed it Ticonderoga, the Indian name
for that strategic place between the waters.

Rebels stopped cold at Quebec
By the time of the American Revolution, Wooster was in his mid sixties and settled in the mercantile business in New Haven. But this First Patriot sacrificed his comfortable pension and status to serve the cause of his country at a time when most men of his age were enjoying home and hearth.. Appointed general in the Connecticut militia, he planned the attack on Fort Ticonderoga that gave the newly forming rebel army its first artillery train. He was named a Brigadier General in the Continental Army and second in command of the failed rebel attack on Quebec that same year. Wooster stayed with the force during the bitter retreat  to Fort Ticonderoga.  The defeat in Canada resulted in his recall from Continental command but likely his age ruled him out for further active campaigning with the field forces. But Wooster was then appointed Major General of the Connecticut Militia and commanded all militia troops in that state.

Governor William Tryon

That placed him at the center of the action for the Danbury April 1777 raid launched by New York's Governor Tryon.  At the time, an arc of  territory stretching from southeast Connecticut through the Hudson Valley and Highlands was a no man's land of bitter  fighting on both sides.  Danbury was a key rebel base in that struggle. Leading a force of regulars and Loyalists in a swift landing at Fairfield, Connecticut,  Tryon's column over 2,000 strong marched north towards the rebel arsenal at Danbury, looting and burning patriot homes along the way.  They  reached the arsenal  and destroyed it on April 26th.

 Learning of the attack, Wooster and General Benedict Arnold had  rallied around 600 Connecticut militia who tried to stop the British at Ridgefield as they returned south to the coast near Compo Point. Arnold,  took the main body of troops to block the British advance while Wooster lead a small detachment of them the British rear. His undisciplined troops could not stand up very long against the regulars and they soon broke.  Wooster's fire was up though and he tried gallantly to rally his men.  However, a British cannon fired canister and a shot pierced his side and struck his backbone.

Battle of Ridgefield - Arnold and Wooster
could not stop Tryon's forces

The battle continued in sporadic skirmishes as the British retreated to the coast. But they carried the gravely wounded old warrior back to Danbury. Before he died on May 2nd, his wife and son had been sent for. They arrived soon enough to receive his parting blessing. The gallant old Patriot  told them that he was dying, but "with strong hope and persuasion that his country would gain its independence."

Monument to Major General David Wooster
in Danbury, Connecticut

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