Letters from the American Revolution


(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. 2003 Nov/Dec/Jan 2004

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The Revolutionary War, like any other, was fought not by mythic beings but by regular folks whose letters home communicate emotions barely contained and at times, a high-pitched patriotic rhetoric that inspires. Strikingly ironic for 21st-century readers is the use of the analogy of slavery—at a time when slavery was a legal institution throughout the colonies—to describe America’s subjugation to England.

The First Independence Day

Written on the day we traditionally commemorate for the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.

Camp N. York, July 4th 1776

Hon. Father & Mother,

            The time is near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be free men or Slaves. Whether they are to have any property they can call their own. Whether their houses & farms are to be pillaged & destroyed & they confined to a state of wretchedness from which no human effort will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend under God on the courage & conduct of this army. Our cruel & unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance or the most abject submission. This is all we can expect. We have therefore to resolve to Conquer or Die. Our own & our country’s honour all calls upon us for a vigorous & manly exertion & if we now shamefully fail we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of our cause & the aid of the Supreme Being in whose hand the [illegible]is, to animate and incourage us to Great & Noble Actions.

            The eyes of all our countrymen are upon us & we shall have their blessings & praises if happily we are the means of saving them. Let us therefore animate & incourage each other & show the whole world that free men contending for liberty on their own ground is superior to any Slavish Mercenary on earth. The Gen’l recommends to the officers great Coolness in time of Action & to the soldiers [illegible]attention & obedience with a becoming firmness of spirit.

            I would proceed to write more but the drum beat. I must turn out the fatigue men & Main Guard.

            Tis thanks be to God pretty healthy in the Army. I remain your healthy & dutiful son

Hezekiah Hayden 


Patrolling Connecticut’s Shoreline: Timothy Parker

The following is a letter from Timothy Parker to his wife. Parker was a first lieutenant aboard the ship, Oliver Cromwell, which was put in commission in 1776. It was named, no doubt, to tweak George III and the local Tories. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.

New London
24 April [1776]
Wednesday Evening

Dear Wife,

            I believe when I wrote you last I said something about going to Rhode Island. But we have not been there yet, neither do I know whether we shall go at all. We are sent by the Commodore almost every day upon the look out and have seen the king’s cruisers several times, but take good care to keep the weather gage of them.

            I believe you want money very much and I wish I had it in my power to supply you. I have expected a payment this some time but can’t obtain it. Capt. Niles has received 300 pounds lately, but don’t seem to think my necessities so great as I pretend. When he thinks [illegible]to let me have any you have shall a double portion of it by the first conveyance then. Poor woman I hope you’ll buy yourself a [illegible]of fresh meat and make you one good dinner for my sake. I am in haste with love to you and the children.

Yours affectionately,
Tim Parker  


Amos Wadsworth: Merchant Soldier

By Lisa Johnson. Research & transcriptions by Jessica Gardner  

For Amos Wadsworth of Farmington, serving in the Continental army during the Revolutionary War meant double duty as a soldier and an agent for his family’s apothecary back home. The lives of this Yankee merchant-soldier and his family during the early chaotic months of the American Revolution are revealed in a series of 12 letters written between May and October 1775, which are now in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society.

Brothers Amos and Fenn Wadsworth ran an apothecary shop on Main Street in Farmington. Amos was one of several Farmington merchants to join the Continental army as soon as the British fired on resisters at Lexington and Concord. Long a vocal critic of British policies in the Colonies, Amos was known for his strongly worded lectures delivered at the Union Society, a debating club in Farmington. In a talk titled “The Powers of Congress,” Amos declared: “America is threatened with nothing less than absolute slavery, and a total deprivation of everything that is dealt to them as Christians, as men and as freemen, by a set of miscreants whose chief glory and highest ambition is to build their greatness on America’s ruin.”

He served as an ensign in the Sixth Company, Second Connecticut Regiment, arriving in Roxbury, Massachusetts outside Boston on May 25, 1775. His letters describe the military campaigns of Bunker Hill, complete with detail about the frustrations of being too far from the enemy to shoot, not having enough arms and ammunition, the laziness of some of his fellow soldiers and his compassion for others. Remarkable for their detail and spirit, his letters also reveal the interesting role he and other merchants played in the early days of the war.

Amos’s letters are filled with requests for items for himself and his fellow soldiers. “I hope you can send me a hatt if you can and money at the first opportunity…What else, I can’t think, oh, a little of cheese, that’s it. And cloth for a pair of gatirs. A bagg of fine salt.” At the same time, he instructs his brother in what to purchase for resale, based on what he is learning about soldiers’ needs and the future of the army. “Winter goods will be very salable, if you can get them. When soldiers come home they will have as much money as cloths.” As a merchant, Amos knew how to get goods and how to market, and he sued his experience as a soldier freely and liberally.

In truth, the nascent Continental army was lucky to have merchants such as Amos involved. The abruptness with which men swarmed to Boston gave the Colonies little time to provision the army. On April 26, 1775, the Connecticut General Assembly established a commissariat to supply troops, but it took time to set up the procedures and organization that would supply the troops with everything from bullets to flour. That left merchant-soldiers like Amos Wadsworth in the position to use their skills and connections the best they could to keep themselves and their fellow soldiers fed, warm, and sheltered. They depended on their families to acquire goods and their friends to deliver them to the front. In mid-June 1775 Amos wrote, “I should be glad if you would get hooks and eyes put on my coat. Make them of something safer than hairpins.” Soon after he wrote, “I have sent a pair of stockings by M. Stoddard, should be glad you would send my white worsted stockings.” And a month later: “If you have any good hair ribbons should be glad you would bring me one.” At the end of August Amos’s letter had a somber tone: “Perhaps you can send to Middletown and get some Cape [illegible, possibly cloth]. I shall want it as soon as cold weather comes on if I should live.”

Fenn’s last letter to his brother, dated October 11, combined a plaintive call for his return home with further requests for instructions about how to get much-needed flour to the Sixth Company. Amos had been in ill health and Fenn struggled with Amos’s desire to say in the army. “It would doubtless be more for our Interest for you to come home than to stay, but we must to sacrifice our own Interest for the good of the Public and in so good a cause as that of Liberty…If you have not engag’d any flower yet… I will send it soon after I get home from N. York.” It is unlikely that Amos had the opportunity to send Fenn further instructions. He died during the New York campaign on October 29, probably from disease, and was buried in Brookline Massachusetts with a full military funeral, attended by his mother and faithful brother.

Lisa Johnson is executive director of the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington. Jessica Gardner is an intern at Stanley-Whitman House.


The correspondence of Amos and Fenn Wadsworth is part of the Gay Manuscript Collection, Connecticut Historical Society. 1775: May 26, 30, 31; June 12, 14, 25; July 1, 2, 15; August 29; September 8; October 11.

Bickford, Christopher P. Farmington in Connecticut. Published for the Farmington Historical Society by Phoenix Publishing, New Hampshire, 1982.

Destler, Chester M. Connecticut: The Provisions State. A Publication of The American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Connecticut. The Pequot Press, Connecticut, 1973.


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