Exploring The Last Green Valley – The Trumbulls of Lebanon were revolutionary leaders

Exploring The Last Green Valley – The Trumbulls of Lebanon were revolutionary leaders

Since we are on the cusp of our July 4 Independence Day holiday, I thought it would be a good opportunity to remember the Trumbull family and the important role they played in our country’s struggle during the War for Independence.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

John Hancock, after placing his signature on the Declaration of Independence.

I grew up two towns away from Concord, Massachusetts, and my family frequently visited Minute Man State Park, the Concord Bridge and other historic landmarks that commemorated the state’s place in the Revolutionary War. From John Hancock to Paul Revere, Lexington Common to Breeds (Bunker) Hill, we knew the stories and took pride in our region’s fighting spirit.

When I moved to northeastern Connecticut in 1980 and visited Lebanon for the first time, I learned about the important role some of Lebanon’s prominent citizens took when they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in the cause of liberty.

Since we are on the cusp of our July 4 Independence Day holiday, I thought it would be a good opportunity to remember the Trumbull family and the important role they played in our country’s struggle during the War for Independence.

The following information on three well-known members of the Trumbull family — Jonathan Trumbull Sr., Jonathan Trumbull Jr. and John Trumbull — is taken from two publications, TLGV’s “Notable and Notorious: Historically Interesting People from The Last Green Valley” and from “Around the Lebanon Green: An Architectural and Historical Review of Lebanon, Connecticut.” The information on the Trumbull family was written by the late Lebanon resident and local historian Alicia Wayland.

Jonathan Trumbull Sr. (1710–1785) was the only Colonial governor to support the Revolution. After graduating from Harvard in 1727, Trumbull operated a successful retail and wholesale enterprise at his store on the Lebanon Green. He imported goods from Europe, was an exporter of meats and had the largest meat-packing operation in the colony.

Trumbull earned a reputation for his merchant’s acumen and logic and was elected to the General Assembly, where his abilities continued to be recognized. He quickly ascended to prominence and began to voice his disagreement with England in the early 1760s, opposing taxes and other policies.

In 1766 he became deputy governor, then colonial governor three years later. He was the only colonial governor to remain in office when the Revolutionary War began, supporting the Revolution even in its darkest hours. He established an important supply line to provision the Continental Army and was a close friend and ally of Gen. George Washington.

Trumbull’s store became known as The War Office, the headquarters that hosted more than 500 meetings of the Council of Safety in which Connecticut’s defense was strategized. The governor not only provided for Washington’s army through the bleak days at Valley Forge but did so for the French Army as well.

He supplied privateers who interfered with English shipping by capturing hundreds of enemy ships. At the same time, Trumbull commanded Connecticut’s militia and navy. Because of his efforts, Connecticut became known as “the provision state.”

When Jonathan Trumbull Sr. died in 1785, George Washington wrote of him, “A long and well-spent life in the service of his country, places Governor Trumbull among the first of patriots.”

Trumbull’s second son, Jonathan Trumbull Jr., is often overshadowed by his famous father, but his career was also distinguished through his service to General Washington during the war and the early years of the new nation.

Born in 1740, Trumbull Jr. went on to graduate from Harvard, was active in his father’s business, and managed the family flour mill in Lebanon as well as their shipyard in East Haddam.

At the start of the war he was appointed paymaster general for the northern department of the Continental Army, and in 1778 he became the first comptroller of the U.S. Treasury. In 1781 he became military secretary to Gen. Washington and was with Washington at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Trumbull Jr. was elected to the first U.S. Congress created under the new Constitution in 1789, and was the second speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was later elected a U.S. senator and in 1797 was elected governor of Connecticut, an office he held until his death in 1809.

John Trumbull was born in 1756, the youngest of Trumbull Sr.’s six children. He painted spectacularly detailed images of the Revolutionary War and witnessed some of the most important events in U. S. history.

Nearly every American history textbook contains a photo of his remarkable paintings. Four paintings hang in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., including one of the most revered paintings in American history, “The Declaration of Independence.” That one painting illustrates with accuracy the likenesses of 48 Congressmen who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Trumbull not only painted this momentous first event toward independence, he also painted the end of the war with “The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.” In a letter to his father in March 1785, John wrote “the great object of my wishes … is to take up the History of Our Country and paint the principal Events particularly of the late War.”

John Trumbull’s talents included architecture and can be seen in his beautifully designed brick meetinghouse that serves the First Congregational Church of Lebanon. Trumbull’s enormous talent was more remarkable considering he was blind in one eye from a boyhood accident.

The best way to learn more about the amazing Trumbull family is to visit the Town of Lebanon and tour the many historic buildings along Lebanon Green.

Jonathan Sr. and Faith Trumbull’s home is now a museum owned and operated by the Connecticut Daughters of the Revolution. It is furnished with period antiques as well as Trumbull family possessions. It is also a National Historic Landmark.

The home of Jonathan Trumbull Jr. and his wife Eunice is also a museum and is owned by the Town of Lebanon. The house has been restored to its 18th-century appearance and the interior is much like it was when the Trumbulls lived there.

To live in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor is to experience a region with a rich history. Lebanon was at the heart of Connecticut’s efforts and struggles during the Revolutionary War. We should never forget those who led the way to independence. Their story is for us to care for, enjoy and pass on.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org

The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the preceding article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.