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Israel Putnam

1718 - 1790

Major General

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Israel Putnam


PUTNAM, Israel, soldier, born in that part of the town of Salem, Massachusetts, which has since been set off as the town of Danvers, 7 January, 1718; died in Brooklyn, Connecticut, 19 May, 1790. His great-grandfather, John Putnam, with his wife, Priscilla, came from England in 1634, and settled in Salem. They brought with them three sons, Thomas, Nathanael, and John. All three acquired large estates, and were men of much consideration. 

In 1681, of the total tax levied in Salem village, raised from ninety-four tax-payers, for the support of the local church, the three Putnams paid one seventh. In 1666 Thomas Putnam married, for his second wife, the widow of Nathanael Veren, a wealthy merchant and ship-owner. By this marriage he acquired wealth in Jamaica and Barbados. Joseph, the son of this marriage, was born in 1670, and at the age of twenty married Elizabeth, daughter of Israel Porter. In the witchcraft frenzy of 1692, Joseph's sister was one of the accused, and only saved herself by fleeing to the wilderness and hiding till the search was given up. The Putnam family has always been prominent in the history of Salem and its neighborhood.Of the 74 recording clerks of the parish of Danvers, 24 have been Putnams ; and this family has furnished 15 of the 23 deacons, 12 of the 26 treasurers, and 7 of the 18 superintendents of the Sabbath-school. In 1867, of the 800 voters in Danvers, 50 were Putnams 

Israel Putnam, son of Joseph and Elizabeth, was the tenth of eleven children. At the age of twenty he married Hannah, daughter of Joseph Pope, of Salem village. In 1739 Israel and his brother-in-law, John Pope, bought of Governor Belcher 514 acres in Mortlake manor, in what is now Windham county, Connecticut By 1741 Israel had bought out his brother-in-law and become owner of the whole tract. The Mortlake manor formed part of the township of Pomfret, but as early as 1734 it was formed into a distinct parish, known as Mortlake parish. In 1754 its name was changed to Brooklyn parish, and in 1786 it was set off as a separate township under the name of Brooklyn. The old Putnam farm is on the top of the high hill between the villages of Pomfret and Brooklyn.  For many years Israel Putnam devoted himself to the cultivation of this farm, and it was considered one of the finest in New England. He gave especial attention to sheep-raising and to fruits, especially winter apples. 

In 1733 the town sustained four public schools; in 1739 there was a public circulating library; and in the class of 1759, at Yale college, ten of the graduates were from Pomfret. These symptoms of high civilization were found in a community not yet entirely freed from the assaults of wild beasts. By 1735 all the wolves of the neighborhood seem to have been slain save one old female that for some seasons more went on ravaging the farm-yards. Her lair was not far from Putnam's farm, and one night she slew sixty or seventy of his fine sheep. Perhaps no incident in Putnam's career is so often quoted as his share in the wolf-hunt, ending in his descending into the dark, narrow cave, shooting his enemy at short range, and dragging her forth in triumph. It was the one picturesque event in his life previous to 1755, when Connecticut was called upon for 1,000 men to defend the northern approaches to New York against the anticipated French invasion. This force was commanded by Major-General Phineas Lyman, and one of its companies was assigned to Putnam, with the rank of captain. 

Putnam was present at the battle of Lake George, in which William Johnson won his baronetcy by defeating Dieskau. He became one of the leading members of the famous band of Rangers that did so much to annoy and embarrass the enemy during the next two years. In 1757 he was promoted major. Among the incidents illustrating his personal bravery, those most often quoted are--first, his rescue of a party of soldiers from the Indians by steering them in a bateau down the dangerous rapids of the Hudson near Fort Miller ; and, secondly, his saving Fort Edward from destruction by fire, at the imminent risk of losing his life in the flames. In a still more terrible way he was brought into peril from fire. In August, 1758, he was taken prisoner in a sharp skirmish near Wood creek, and after some preliminary tortures, his savage captors decided to burn him alive. He had been stripped and bound to the tree, and the flames were searing his flesh, when a French officer, Captain Molang, came rushing through the crowd, scattered the firebrands, cuffed and upbraided the Indians, and released their victim. 

Putnam was carried to Montreal, and presently freed by exchange. In 1759 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel, and put in command of a regiment. In 1760 he accompanied General Amherst in his march from Oswego to Montreal. In descending the St. Lawrence it became desirable to dislodge the French garrison from Fort Oswegatchie; but the approach to this place was guarded by two schooners, the larger of which mounted twelve guns, and was capable of making serious havoc among the English boats. " I wish there were some way of taking that infernal schooner," said Amherst. " All right," said Putnam; "just give me some wedges and a mallet, and half-a-dozen men of my own choosing, and I'll soon take her for you." The British general smiled incredulously, but presently authorized the adventurous Yankee to proceed. In the night Putnam's little party, in a light boat with muffled oars, rowed under the schooner's stern and drove the wedges between the rudder and the stern-post so firmly as to render the helm unmanageable. Then going around under the bow, they cut the vessel's cable, and then rowed softly away. Before morning the helpless schooner had drifted ashore, where she struck her colors ; the other French vessel then surrendered, thus uncovering the fort, which Amherst soon captured. 

  In 1762 Colonel Putnam accompanied General Lyman in the expedition to the West Indies, which, after frightful sufferings, ended in the capture of Havana. In 1764 he commanded the Connecticut regiment in Bradstreet's little army, sent to relieve Detroit, which Pontiac was besieging. At the end of the year he returned home, after nearly ten years of rough campaigning, with the full rank of colonel. In 1765 his wife died, leaving the youngest of their ten children an infant about a year old. In 1767 Colonel Putnam married Deborah, widow of John Gardiner, with whom he lived happily until her death in 1777. There were no children by this second marriage. Colonel Putnam united with the church in Brooklyn, 19 May, 1765. For the next ten years his life was uneventful. During this period he used his house as an inn, swinging before the door a sign-board on which were depicted the features of General Wolfe. This sign is now in the possession of the Connecticut historical society at Hartford. In the winter of 1772-'3 he accompanied General Lyman in a voyage to the mouth of the Mississippi, and up that river to Natchez, where the British government had granted some territory to the Connecticut troops who had survived the dreadful West India campaign. In the course of this voyage they visited Jamaica and Pensacola.  After 1765 Colonel Putnam was conspicuous among the "Sons of Liberty " in Connecticut. 

In August, 1774, before General Gage had quite shut up the approaches to Boston, and while provisions from all the colonies were pouring into that town, Putnam rode over the Neck with 130 sheep as a gift from the parish of Brooklyn. During his stay in Boston he was the guest of Dr. Warren. On 20 April following, early in the afternoon, a dispatch from the committee of safety at Watertown reached Pomfret with news of the fight at Concord. The news found Putnam ploughing a field. Leaving his plough in the furrow, and without waiting to don his uniform, he mounted a horse, and at sunrise of the 21st galloped into Cambridge. Later in the same day he was at Concord, whence he sent a dispatch to Pomfret, with directions about the bringing up of the militia. He was soon summoned to Hartford, to consult with the legislature of Connecticut, and, after a week, returned to Cambridge, with the chief command of the forces of that colony, and the rank of brigadier There has been a great deal of controversy as to who commanded the American troops at Bunker Hill, and there is apparently no reason why the controversy should not be kept up, as long as the question is at bottom one of rivalry between Connecticut and Massachusetts. The difficulty in settling it points to the true conclusion, that the work of that battle was largely the work of distinct bodies of men hardly organized as yet into an army. It is even open to question how far the troops of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, then engaged in besieging Boston, are to be regarded as four armies or as one army. From the nature of the situation, rather than by any right of seniority, General Ward, of Massachusetts, exercised practically the command over the whole. On the day of Bunker Hill, it would seem that the actual command was exercised by Prescott at the redoubt and by Stark at the rail-fence. Warren was the ranking officer on the field; but as he expressly declined the command, it left Putnam the ranking officer, and in that capacity he withdrew men with entrenching tools from Prescott's party, undertook to throw up earthworks on the crest of Bunker Hill in the rear, and toward the close of the day conducted the retreat and directed the fortifying of Prospect Hill. Putnam was, therefore, no doubt the ranking officer at Bunker Hill, though it does not appear that the work of Prescott and Stark was in any wise done under his direction. The question would be more important had the battle of Bunker Hill been characterized by any grand tactics. As no special generalship was involved, and the significance of the battle lay in its moral effects, the question has little interest except for local patriots.

The work of organizing a Continental army began in June, 1775, when congress assumed control of the troops about Boston, and, after appointing Washington to the chief command, appointed Ward, Lee, Schuyler, and Putnam as the four major-generals. In his new capacity General Putnam commanded the center of the army at Cambridge, while Ward commanded the right wing at Roxbury, and Lee the left wing stretching to the Mystic river. After the capture of Boston, General Washington sent Putnam to New York, where he took command, 5 April, 1776. On 25 August, as General Greene, who commanded the works on Brooklyn heights, had been seized with a fever, General Putnam was placed in command there. For the disastrous defeat of the Americans, two days afterward, he can in no wise be held responsible. He was blamed at the time for not posting on the Jamaica road a force sufficient to check Cornwallis's flanking march, but, as Chief-Justice Marshall long ago pointed out, this criticism was simply silly, since the flanking force on the Jamaica road outnumbered the whole American army. Indeed there is no need of blaming any one in order to account for the defeat of 5,000 half-trained soldiers by 20,000 veterans. The wonder is, not that the Americans were defeated on Long Island, but that they should have given General Howe a good day's work in defeating them, thus leading the British general to pause, and giving Washington time to plan the withdrawal of the army from its exposed situation. As Putnam deserves no blame for the defeat, so he deserves no special credit for this obstinate resistance, which was chiefly the work of Stirling and Smallwood, and the Maryland "macaronis," in their heroic defense of the Gowanus road. 

After the army had crossed to New York, Putnam commanded the rear division, which held the city until the landing of the British at Kip's bay obliged it to fall back upon Bloomingdale. In the action at Harlem heights, part of Putnam's force, under Colonel Knowlton, was especially distinguished. The futile device of barring the ascent of the Hudson river, between Forts Washington and Lee, by chevaux de frise, is generally ascribed to Putnam. In the affair at Chatterton Hill, Putnam marched to the assistance of General McDougall, but arrived too late. In the disastrous period that followed the capture of Fort Washington and the treachery of Charles Lee, Putnam was put in command of Philadelphia. After the retreat of the enemy upon New Brunswick, 4 January, 1777, he brought forward the American right wing to Princeton, where he remained in command till the middle of May. He was then intrusted with the defense of the highlands of the Hudson river with headquarters at Peekskill. His command there was marked by a characteristic incident. Edmund Palmer, lieutenant in a loyalist regiment, was caught lurking in the American camp, and was condemned to death as a spy. There seemed to be a tacit assumption, on the part of the British, that, while American spies were punishable with death, this did not hold true of British spies; that American commanders, as not representing any acknowledged sovereignty, could not possess any legal authority for inflicting the death-penalty. This assumption pervades some British opinions upon the ease of Andre. In reliance upon some such assumption, Sir Henry Clinton sent up from New York a flag of truce, and threatened Putnam with signal vengeance, should he dare to injure the person of the king's liege subject, Edmund Palmer. The old general's reply was brief and to the point: 

"Headquarters, 7 August, 1777

Edmund Palmer, an officer in the enemy's service, was taken as a spy lurking within our lines; tie has been tried as a spy, condemned as a spy, and shall be executed as a spy, and the flag is ordered to depart immediately.

Israel Putnam.

P. S. He has accordingly been executed." 

In October, Clinton came up the river, to the relief of hard-pressed Burgoyne, and, landing at Tarrytown, captured the forts in the highlands. They were immediately recovered, however, after the surrender of Burgoyne. At the end of the year, Putnam was superseded at Peekskill by McDougal, and went to Connecticut to hasten the work of recruiting the army for the next campaign. During the years 1778-'9, he was engaged in the western part of Connecticut, with headquarters usually at Danbury, co-operating with the force in the highlands. At this time he made his famous escape from General Tryon's troops by riding down the stone steps at Horse neck in the township of Greenwich. There is some disagreement between the different accounts as to the date of this incident, and the story is perhaps to be taken with some allowances. When the army went into winter-quarters at Morristown, in December, 1779, Putnam made a short visit to his family at Pomfret. He set out on his return to camp, but, before reaching Hartford, had a stroke of paralysis. His remaining years were spent at home. 

His birthplace is shown above from the accompanying engraving General Putnam's biography has been written by Colonel David Humphreys (Boston, 1818); by Oliver Pea, body, in Sparks's " American Biography"; by William Cutter (New York, 1846); and by Increase N. Tarbox (Boston, 1876). The most complete bibliography of the question as to the command at Bunker Hill is to be found in Winsor's "Narrative and Critical History of America" (Boston, 1888), vol. vi., p. 190.

Rufus Putnam, soldier, born in Sutton, Massachusetts, 9 April, 1738; died in Marietta, Ohio, 1 May, 1824, after completing his apprenticeship as a millwright enlisted in the war against the French, served through the campaigns of 1757-'60, and in the latter year was made an ensign. On the surrender of Montreal he married and settled in New Braintree, pursuing his original vocation and that of farming. At; the same time he studied mathematics, in which he attained proficiency, particularly in its application to navigation and surveying. In January, 1773, he sailed to east Florida with a committee to explore lands that were supposed to have been granted there by parliament to the provincial officers and soldiers that had fought in the French war. On arriving at Pensacola, he discovered that no such grant had been made, and was appointed by the governor deputy surveyor of the province. On his return to Massachusetts he was made lieutenant-colonel in David Brewer's regiment, one of the first that was raised after the battle of Lexington. 

The ability that he displayed as an engineer in throwing up defenses in Roxbury, Massachusetts, secured for him the favorable consideration of General Washington and General Charles Lee, and the former wrote to congress that the millwright was a more competent officer than any of the French gentlemen to whom it had given appointments in that line. On 20 March, 1776, he arrived in New York, and, as chief engineer, superintended all the defenses in that part of the country during the ensuing campaign. In August he was appointed chief engineer with the rank of colonel but during the autumn, from some dissatisfaction with congress in regard to his corps, he left it to take command of the 5th Massachusetts regiment. In the following spring he was attached to the northern army, and served with great credit, at the battle of Stillwater at the head of the 4th and 5th regiments of Nixon's brigade, in 1778, with his cousin, General Israel Putnam, he superintended the construction of the fortifications at West Point. After the surprise of Stony Point he was appointed to the command of a regiment in General Anthony Wayne's brigade, in which he served till the end of the campaign. 

From February till July, 1782, he was employed as one of the commissioners to adjust the claims of citizens of New York for losses occasioned by the allied armies, and on 7 January, 1783, he was promoted to be a brigadier-general. He was several years a member of the legislature, and acted as aide to General Benjamin Lincoln in quelling Shays's rebellion in 1787. As superintendent of the Ohio company, on 7 April, 1788, he founded Marietta, Ohio, the first permanent settlement in the eastern part of the Northwest territory. In 1789 he was appointed a judge of the supreme court of the territory, and on 4 May, 1792, he was appointed brigadier-general under General Wayne to act against the Indians. From Nay, 1792, till February, 1793, he was United States commissioner to treat with the latter, and concluded an important treaty with eight tribes at Port Vincent (now Vincennes), 27 September, 1792. He arrived at Philadelphia, 13 February, 1798, to make a report of his proceedings, and then resigned his commission. 

He was made surveyor-general of the United States in October of that. year, and held this office till September, 1808. In l803 he was a member of the Ohio constitutional convention. At the time of his death he was the last general officer of the Revolutionary army excepting Lafayette. General Putnam was deeply interested in Sabbath-schools and missions, and with others, in 1812, formed the first Bible society west of the Alleghenies. General Putnam's manuscript diary is in the Astor library, New York city.

Israel's nephew, Gideon Putnam, founder of Saratoga Springs, born in Sutton, Massachusetts, in 1764; died in Saratoga Springs, 1 December, 1812, set out for the west in 1789, seeking a suitable place for business, and finally settled at what has since been known as Saratoga Springs. He married Doanda Bisley, of Hartford, Connecticut, and their first child was the first white child born in Saratoga. In 1802 he built and conducted the first hotel of consequence, which he called Putnam's Tavern, but which his neighbors called " Putnam's Folly." Putnam's tavern of that day is now the Grand Union hotel. Mr. Putnam proceeded to amuse and amaze his fellow-pioneers by purchasing the land on which the village of Saratoga Springs now stands, and on which are some of the most famous and lucrative mineral springs in the world, several of which he excavated and tubed. In laying out the village he so broadened and arranged the streets as to leave the springs in the middle of the public thoroughfares, and absolutely free to all. A public park was also included in his plans, which were suddenly cut short by his accidental death. He died of a fall while assisting in the erection of Congress Hall hotel, of which he was the projector, and he was the first to be buried in the cemetery that he presented to the village.

Israel's great-grandson, Albigence Waldo Putnam, author, born in Marietta, Ohio, 11 March, 1799; died in Nashville, Tennessee, 20 January, 1869, studied law, practiced in Mississippi, and in 1836 settled in Nashville, Tennessee, and was president of the Tennessee historical society, to whose publications he was a contributor. In addition to articles in periodicals, he wrote a "History of Middle Tennessee" (Nashville, 1859) ; " Life and Times of General James Robertson " (1859); and a " Life of General John Sevier." in Wheeler's" History of North Carolina."

Israel's nephew, Henry Putnam, lawyer, born in Boston in 1778; died in Brunswick, Maine, in 1822. He studied law in Boston, and became distinguished as a jurist.

His wife, Katherine Hunt, born in Framingham, Massachusetts, 1 March, 1792; died in New York city, 8 January, 1869, was a daughter of General Palmer of the army of the Revolution, married Henry Putnam in 1814, and passed most of her married life in Boston. She was noted for her benevolence, and wrote " Scripture Text-Book" (New York, 1837); and "The Old Testament Unveiled ; or, The Gospel by Moses in the Book of Genesis" (1854).

--Israel's grandnephew, George Palmer Putnam, publisher, born in Brunswick, Maine, 7 February, 1814; died in New York city, 20 December, 1872, entered the book-store of Daniel and Jonathan Leavitt, New York, in 1828, in 1840 became a partner in the house of Wiley and Putnam, and in 1841 went to London and established a branch. In 1848 he returned to New York, dissolved the partnership with Mr. Wiley and engaged in business alone. He early interested himself in the production of fine illustrated books, and in 1852, with the assistance of George William Curtis and others, established "Putnam's Magazine." In 1861 Mr. Putnam planned and organized the Loyal publication society. In 1863 he retired from active business to become United States collector of internal revenue, which post he held till 1866, when, in conjunction with his sons, he founded the publishing house of G. P. Putnam and Sons (now G. P. Putnam's Sons). Mr. Putnam was for many years secretary of the Publishers' association. As early as 1837 he issued "A Plea for International Copyright," the first argument in behalf of that reform that had been printed in this country. He was a. founder of the Metropolitan museum of art, of which in 1872 he was honorary superintendent. He had been appointed chairman of the committee on art in connection with the Vienna universal exposition. He wrote " Chronology ; or, An Introduction and Index to Universal History, Biography, and Useful Knowledge" (New York, 1833) ; "The Tourist in Europe : A Concise Guide, with Memoranda of a Tour in 1836" (1838); " American Book Circular, with Notes and Statistics" (1843) ; " American Facts : Notes and Statistics relative to the Government of the United States" (1845) ; " A Pocket Memorandum-Book in Prance, Italy, and Germany in 1847" (1848); and " Ten Years of the World's Progress : Supplement, 1850-'61, with Corrections and Additions " (1861). 

--George Palmer's son, George Haven, publisher, born in London, England, 2 April, 1844, studied at Columbia in 1860 and at Gottingen in 1861-'2, but was not graduated, as he left college to enter the United States military service during the civil war, in which he rose to the rank of brevet major. He was appointed deputy collector of internal revenue in 1866, and in this year engaged in the publishing business in New York, in which he has continued ever since, being now (1888) head of the firm of G. P. Putnam's Sons. He has served on the executive committees of the Free-trade league, the Reform club, the Civil-service reform association, and other political organizations, and in 1887-'8 as secretary of the American publishers' copyright league. He has written articles on literary property for journals and cyclopedias : a pamphlet on "International Copyright" (New York, 1879); and, conjointly with his brother, John Bishop Putnam. "Authors and Publishers" (1882).




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