By day – War, westward expansion and overturned canoe


Samuel Parsons may have spent his golden years remembering his accomplishments, but he never had that opportunity as he died in 1789 while shooting rapids in his canoe. Undeterred by the frigid November weather, he was traveling to Lake Erie to survey parts of the western Connecticut reservation. A day after the accident, Samuel’s broken canoe was floating near the outpost where he had planned to stop for lunch. His body was found the following May. He lies somewhere on the banks of the Beaver River in Pennsylvania in an unmarked grave. He was 52 years old.

I like to know it, even if it is sad, because I like the fact that Samuel died as he lived, a man of action.

In March 1787 Samuel had been appointed director of the Ohio Company of Associates, a company designed to give officers of the Revolutionary War land grants instead of pensions. Two months after his appointment, Samuel entered Marietta, Ohio, on a barge packed with cattle, pigs, dogs, and two dozen other settlers. He was ready to take on the roles of territorial judge, clergyman and surveyor.

Samuel was a war hero who had nothing to prove by overcoming more challenges, but seven long years of military service had drained him financially and emotionally. Going west may have been a way of healing.

Samuel was born in Lyme in 1737. After graduating from Harvard, he studied law with his uncle, Governor Matthew Griswold, then opened his own law firm in Lyme. In 1761 he married Mehitabel Mather, descendant of America’s first Mather.

As events moved inexorably towards revolution, Samuel got deeply involved. He moved to New London and joined the Town’s Correspondence Committee, a resistance communications network linking the 13 colonies.

In 1772 he wrote the Boston scorchleader Sam Adams, recommending that the colonies call annual meetings to discuss Britain’s punitive policies and, in his opinion, to discuss severing all ties with the English. He told Adams: “The idea of ​​inalienable allegiance to a prince or to a state is an unacceptable idea to me; and I can only see that our ancestors, when they first landed in America, were also independent of the crown or the king of Great Britain. , as if they had never been his subjects … “

Events moved quickly. In April 1775, immediately after Lexington and Concord, Samuel and like-minded colleagues began raising funds to finance a raid on British-held Fort Ticonderoga. In June, he was in Boston at the head of the 6th Connecticut Regiment at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Patriotic fervor ran through the family. Hearing of Bunker Hill, Samuel’s father, the Reverend Jonathan Parsons, thundered from his pulpit against British oppression and recruited a company of volunteers there in the church.

Samuel remained in Boston until the following spring, when the British left the city. (The cannons seized at Ticonderoga and mounted on Dorchester Heights left little choice for the English.) He spent much of the remainder of the war in New York City, rebuilding the fortifications at West Point, uprooting conservative strongholds on Long Island, and fighting in the battle. of White Plains, among other commitments.

Of particular local interest was Samuel’s role in the unlikely attempt to torpedo British ships from a wooden submarine. David Bushnell of Saybrook had built the ship, but upon launch the intended mariner fell ill. When Bushnell turned to Samuel for advice, Samuel recommended his brother-in-law, Ezra Lee, for the job. The daring mission failed, but it scared the British and foreshadowed our region’s reputation as the submarine capital of the world.

After the war ended, Samuel set out to build his second career. It’s sad that this chapter of his life ended prematurely, but it’s only fitting that he died as he expanded the country he did so much to create.

In conclusion, I must note that 100 years after the war, a correspondence was revealed which suggested the possibility that Samuel spied for the British. Historians have largely concluded no, but it illustrates how interpreting new information can expose traitors or cast unwarranted shadows on righteous lives.


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