Eagle Feathers #88 – Our Connecticut Cousins
By Bob (Monty) Doherty
The historic Bunker Hill Monument has four entrances or gates. These honor each colony that contributed troops in that famous battle. They were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The most memorable quote from the battle was credited to Connecticut’s General Israel Putnam who was in command at the battle on Bunker Hill. He bellowed out to his men, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”
Every shot had to count. He instructed his men to aim for the British commanders first and then for the others. Make the center of the enemy’s cross straps your target. This was because gunpowder and shot were scarce, and the Americans had only the ammunition they brought with them the night before. The British Navy’s guns had stopped the Colonials from receiving any reinforcements from across Charlestown Neck or present-day Somerville. Despite this, General Putnam’s raw troops delivered terrible carnage to the British that day.
After the withdrawal, his Connecticut men built up defenses on Cobble Hill. For the next nine months during the siege of Boston, this stronghold protected the Charles River. It was called “Putnam’s Impregnable Fortress.” One month after the Bunker Hill battle, General Putnam and his soldiers were honored at the Prospect Hill Citadel. They were presented a flag to be flown at Prospect’s summit, which bore the motto of Connecticut on one side and the motto of a thankful Massachusetts on the other. This flag flew at Prospect Hill for five months before the first American flag, our “Grand Union Flag” was raised.
Connecticut-born hero Nathan Hale, a Yale-educated teacher, soldier, and spy is eulogized as the first member of the American Central Intelligence Agency. He spent the last year of his life training as an American Army Captain at Winter Hill and Prospect Hill. After a volunteer spy mission for General Washington, he was captured and executed by the British. Nathan’s inspiring last words were, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Colonel Thomas Knowlton of Connecticut was killed while under Washington’s command at the Battle of Long Island, New York. He is the namesake of East Somerville’s Knowlton Street near the Capuano School. Knowlton was a veteran of the French and Indian Wars and the Battle of Bunker Hill. While at Winter Hill, he formed and trained the first American Ranger Battalion. He is often referred to as Connecticut’s forgotten hero.
Ten Hills was the home of John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts. His son, John Winthrop II, became the first Governor of Connecticut. He, his fort, and his ships protected colonial Connecticut and Massachusetts from Dutch expansion. Among other feats, he also established the Saugus Iron Works in 1644, the first in North America.
The memories of our Connecticut cousins … Putnam, Hale, Knowlton and Winthrop … though obscure in Somerville, are vivid at the Capital Building in Hartford. All four patriots are honored with impressive statues on its grounds.