- Historic Sites
The little town of Lebanon, Connecticut, played a larger role in the Revolution than Williamsburg, Virginia, did. And it’s all still there.
April 1989 | Volume 40, Issue 3
Jonathan Trumbull became the principal merchant in the booming town, and in 1733 he was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly. Reelected in 1736, he would remain in public service the rest of his life. He flourished domestically as well: In 1735 he courted and married the seventeen-year-old Faith Robinson. She was a good catch, for as her son the painter John Trumbull wrote in his autobiography, she was a “great granddaughter of John Robinson, the father of the pilgrims, who led our Puritan ancestors . . . out of England.” Then, as now, being a Mayflower descendant carried weight in New England.
About 1755 the Trumbulls moved into the large two-story frame house that still fronts Lebanon’s green. The exterior sports elegant fluted pilasters beside the front door and pediments above the door and windows, flourishes almost certainly added to the original, simpler building, probably by the local builder Isaac Fitch. In 1785 Trumbull wrote the mayor of New London praising Fitch as “the best Architect within the compass of my acquaintance.” Fitch was born in Lebanon in 1734, and it is probably safe to assume he was self-taught, learning architecture, as was usual at the time, from books.
In 1758 Trumbull hired Fitch to work on the family office and shop next to the house. Trumbull’s ledgers reveal total payment to Fitch of sixty-three pounds, a figure so high one must assume Fitch either repaired virtually every nail and joist or else built a completely new structure. In either event, the shop, maintained by the Sons of the American Revolution and open to the public, still stands abutting the green. It was from here that Jonathan Trumbull directed Connecticut’s actions during the Revolution.
Named governor of the colony in 1769, Trumbull grew increasingly suspicious of the British and kept a keen eye out for any infringement of Connecticut’s traditional liberties. When he heard of the battles of Lexington and Concord, he turned the old shop into a provisions center—the War Office—for the American effort and personally set out to raise and equip the local army.
During the course of the conflict, Trumbull kept the patriot cause alive. He convened roughly eleven hundred sessions of the Council of Safety at the War Office, often attended by luminaries such as Franklin, Washington, Lafayette, and Rochambeau. That freezing February at Valley Forge, Washington appealed to all the colonies’ governors for food. Trumbull responded by organizing a cattle drive and sent three hundred head south to the starving troops, who devoured the lot in just five days. So thoroughly had the ravenous horde picked over the animals that the head drover remarked, “You might have made a knife out of every bone.”
Two years later, at Morristown, Trumbull and Lebanon again provided succor and salvation. And Governor Trumbull’s merchant-shipping background proved its worth when he organized the small but potent Connecticut navy. Following War Office orders, Connecticut’s sailors and ships captured more than forty British warships.
The comments of a contemporary give a sense of the man. The Marquis de Chastellux wrote that Trumbull had “all the . . . pedantry becoming the great magistrate of a small republic.” He noted that Trumbull, “a little, old man,” wore the “antique dress of the first settlers of this colony” but wisely concluded that “eccentricities must not imply ineptitude to govern: since it is through character that men govern, and through character also that men acquire eccentricities.”
Faith Robinson Trumbull comes across as a remarkable figure in her own right. Connecticut’s women were constantly raising money and clothes for the American cause. One Sunday at divine service the Lebanon pastor asked for still more donations, but they were slow in coming. Mrs. Trumbull, it is said, rose from her pew and strode to the altar, where she handed over a magnificent scarlet cloak that had been a gift to her from Rochambeau. “For our men,” she said softly, laying the garment over the rail. The other women in the congregation, greatly moved, immediately covered the cloak with rings, brooches, chains, greatcoats, caps, mittens, and boots. Mrs. Trumbull’s cloak was eventually cut into strips to serve as rank stripes on Continental Army uniforms.
Trumbull held sessions of the Council of Safety here, attended by luminaries such as Washington and Lafayette.
When peace came in 1783, Trumbull retired. He died at home, on August 17, 1785, while resting on a daybed. That bed and many other original furnishings have been reassembled for the house by the Daughters of the American Revolution, whose members maintain the building, opening it to the public on a regular basis.