Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

During the American Revolutionary War,
From 1775 to 1783.
Describing Interesting Events and Transactions of this period;
with numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes
From the Original Manuscript
By James Thacher, M. D.
Second Edition, Revised and Corrected.
Boston, Published by Cottons & Barnard, 1827.



THE life of this patriot and hero has been portrayed by the able and impartial hand of the late General David Humphreys, and a brief sketch, chiefly from that work, must suffice for the present purpose. General Putnam was born at Salem, Massachusetts, on the 11th day of January, 1718. He was indebted to nature, more than education, for a vigorous constitution, for mental endowments, and for that undaunted courage, and active enterprise which were his prominent characteristics. Much confidence was reposed in his military prowess and judgment, and he was remarkable for a faithful perseverance in all the duties of his station, and for the most undeviating principles of honor, humanity, and benevolence. In the year 1739, he removed to Pomfret, in Connecticut, where he applied himself to the art of agriculture. His biographer, as a display of character in early life, has recorded an instance of his bold attack of a wolf while in her den ; but as the story has been frequently promulgated, it need not be repeated in this place. When in the year 1755, the war between England and France broke out in America, Putnam was appointed to the command of a company of rangers, and was distinguished for his active services as a partizan officer. In 1757, he was promoted to a majority, and being in a warm and close engagement, with a party of French and savages, he had discharged his fuzee several times, when at length it missed fire while the muzzle was pressed against the breast of a large and well proportioned Indian. This adversary, with a tremendous war-whoop, sprang forward with his lifted hatchet, and compelled him to surrender ; and having bound him fast to a tree, returned to the battle. For a considerable time the tree to which Major Putnam was tied was tied was directly between the fires of the two parties, than which no conceivable situation could be more deplorable. The balls flew incessantly from each side, many struck the tree, while some passed through the sleeves and skirts of his coat. In this state of jeopardy, unable to move his body, to stir his limbs, or even to incline his head, he remained more than an hour. So equally balanced, and so obstinate was the fight! At one moment, while the battle swerved in favor of the enemy, a young savage chose an odd way of discovering his humor. He found Putnam bound. He might have despatched him at a blow. But he loved better to excite the terrors of the prisoner by hurling a tomahawk at his head, or rather it should seem his object was to see how near he could throw it without touching him.-The weapon struck in the tree a number of times at a hair's breadth from the mark. When the Indian had finished his amusement, a French bas-officer, a much more inveterate savage by nature, though descended from so humane and polished a nation, perceiving Putnam, came to him, and, levelling a fuzee within a foot of his breast, attempted to discharge it, -it missed fire. Ineffectually did the intended victim solicit the treatment due to his situation, by repeating that he was a prisoner of war. The degenerate Frenchman did not understand the language of honor or of nature ; deaf to their voice, and dead to sensibility, he violently and repeatedly pushed the muzzle of his gun against Putnam's ribs, and finally gave him a cruel blow on the jaw with the butt end of his piece. After this dastardly deed he left him.

At length the enemy was driven from the the field of battle, and as they were retiring, Putnam was untied by the Indian who had made him prisoner, and whom he afterwards called master. Having been conducted to some distance from the field of action, he was stripped of his coat, vest, stockings and shoes ; loaded with as many of the packs of the wounded as could be piled on him, strongly pinioned, and his wrists tied as closely together as they could be pulled with a cord. After he had marched through no pleasant paths, in this painful manner, for many a tedious mile, the party, who were excessively fatigued, halted to breathe. His hands were now immoderately swelled from the tightness of the ligature ; and the pain had become intolerable. His feet were so much scratched, that the blood dropped fast from them. Exhausted with bearing a burden above his strength, and frantic with torments exquisite beyond endurance, he entreated the Irish interpreter to implore as the last and only grace he desired of the savages, that they would knock him on the head and take his scalp at once, or loose his hands. A French officer, instantly interposing, ordered his hands to be unbound, and some of the packs to be taken off. By this time the Indian who captured him and had been absent with the wounded, coming up, gave him a pair of moccasons, and expressed great indignation at the unworthy treatment the prisoner had suffered.

That savage chief again returned to the care of the wounded, and the Indians, about two hundred in number, went before the rest of the party to the place where the whole were that night to encamp. They took with them Major Putnam, on whom, besides innumerable other outrages, they had the barbarity to inflict a deep wound with the tomahawk in the left cheek. His sufferings were in this place to be consummated. A scene of horror, infinitely greater than had ever met his eyes before, was now preparing. It was determined to roast him alive. For this purpose they led him into a dark forest, stripped him naked, bound him to a tree, and piled dry bush, with other fuel, at a small distance, in a circle round him. They accompanied their labors, as if for his funeral dirge, with screams and sounds, inimitable but by savage voices. Then they set the piles on fire. A sudden shower damped the rising flame. Still they strove to kindle it, at last the blaze ran fiercely round the circle. Major Putnam soon began to feel the scorching heat. His hands were so tied that he could move his body. He often shifted sides as the fire approached. This sight, at the very idea of which, all but savages must shudder, afforded the highest diversion to his inhuman tormentors, who demonstrated the delirium of their joy by correspondent yells, dances and gesticulations. He saw clearly that his final hour was inevitably come. He summoned all his resolution, and composed his mind, so far as the circumstances could admit, to bid an eternal farewell to all he held most dear. To quit the world would scarcely have cost a single pang, but for the idea of home, but for the remembrance of domestic endearments, of the affectionate partner of his soul, and of their beloved offspring. His thought was ultimately fixed on a happier state of existence, beyond the tortures he was beginning to endure. The bitterness of death, even of that death which is accompanied with the keenest agonies, was, in a manner, past-nature, with a feeble struggle, was quitting its last hold on sublunary things-when a French officer rushed through the crowd, opened a way by scattering the burning brands, and unbound the victim. It was Molang himself-to whom a savage, unwilling to see another human victim immolated, had run and communicated the tidings. That commandant spurned and severely reprimanded the barbarians, whose nocturnal powwas and hellish orgies he suddenly ended. Putnam did not want for feeling or gratitude. The French commander, fearing to trust him alone with them, remained till he could safely deliver him into the hands of his master.

The savage approached his prisoner kindly, and seemed to treat him with particular affection. He offered him some hard biscuit; but finding that he could not chew them, on account of the blow he had received from the Frenchman, this more humane savage soaked some of the biscuit in water, and made him suck the pulp-like part. Determined, however not to lose his captive, the refreshment being finished, he took the moccasons from his feet, and tied them to one of his wrists ; then directing him to lie down on his back on the bare ground, he stretched one arm to its full length, and bound it fast to a young tree ; the other arm was extended and bound in the same manner-his legs were stretched apart, and fastened to two saplings. Then a number of tall, but slender poles were cut down, which, with some long bushes, were laid across his body from head to foot: on each side lay as many Indians as could conveniently find lodging, in order to prevent the possibility of escape. In this disagreeable and painful posture he remained till morning. During the night, the longest and most dreary conceivable, our hero used to relate that he felt a ray of cheerfulness come casually across his mind, and could not even refrain from smiling when he reflected on this ludicrous group for a painter of which he himself was the principal figure.

The next day he was allowed his blanket and moccasons, and permitted to march without carrying any pack, or receiving any insult. To allay his extreme hunger, a little bear's meat was given, which he sucked through his teeth, At night the party arrived at Ticonderoga, and the prisoner was placed under the care of a French guard. The savages, who had been prevented from glutting their diabolical thirst for blood, took this opportunity of manifesting their malevolence for the disappointment, by horrid grimaces and angry gestures; but they were suffered no more to offer violence or personal indignity to him. After having been examined by the Marquis de Moncalm, Major Putnam was conducted to Montreal by a French officer, who treated him with the greatest indulgence and humanity.

At this place were several prisoners. Colonel Peter Schuyler, remarkable for his philanthropy, generosity and friendship, was of the number. No sooner had he heard of Major Putnam's arrival, than he went to the interpreter's quarters, and enquired whether he had a Provincial major in his custody ? He found Major Putnam in a comfortless condition-without coat, waistcoat, or hose-the remnant of his clothing miserably dirty and ragged-his beard long and squalid-his legs torn by thorns and briers,-his face gashed with wounds and swollen with bruises. Colonel Schuyler, irritated beyond all sufferance at such a sight, could scarcely restrain his speech within limits, consistent with the prudence of a prisoner, and the meekess of a Christian. Major Putnam was immediately treated according to his rank, clothed in a decent manner, and supplied with money by this liberal and sympathetic patron of the distressed, and by his assistance he was soon after exchanged.

In the year 1760, Major Putnam was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and served under General Amherst in the conquest of Canada. He embraced numerous opportunities of achieving feats of valor, and was particularly honored by his general for the promptitude and ability with which he acquitted himself of his arduous duty. " Colonel Putnam, at the expiration of ten years from his first receiving a commission, after having seen as much service, endured as many hardships, encountered as many dangers, and acquired as many laurels, as any officer of his rank, with great satisfaction laid aside his uniform and returned to his plough." No character stood fairer in the public eye for integrity, bravery and patriotism. It was proverbially said, as well by British as Provincial officers, that, in a service of great peril and hardship, from 1755 to 1763, "he dared to lead where, any dared to follow."

At the commencement of hostilities between the colonies and the mother country, Colonel Putnam, on hearing of the battle at Lexington, left his plough in the middle of the field, and without changing his clothes, repaired to Cambridge, riding in a single day one hundred miles. He was soon appointed a major general in the provincial army, and returning to Connecticut he made no delay in bringing on a body of troops. Not long after his appointment, the commander of the British army, unwilling that so valuable an officer should act in opposition, privately conveyed to him a proposal that if he would quit the rebel party, be might rely on being made a major general in the British establishment, and receiving a great pecuniary compensation for his services ; but he spurned the offer. " On the 16th of June, 1775, it was determined in a council of war, at which General Putnam assisted, that a fortified post should be established at or near Bunker hill. General Putnam marched with the first detachment and commenced the work ;-he was the principal agent or engineer who traced the lines of the redoubt, and he continued most if not all the night with the workmen; at any rate he was on the spot before sunrise in the morning, and had taken his station on the top of Bunker hill, and participated in the danger as well as the glory of that day."*

In a letter from Judge Grosvenor of Pomfret, Connecticut, it is stated that he was a lieutenant under the command of general Putnam, when on the evening of the 16th June, 1775, a redoubt was formed on Breed's hill, under the immediate superintendence of the general, who was extremely active, and directed principally the operations during the battle on the 17th June. And he adds, of the officers on the ground, the most active within his observation were General Putnam, Colonel Prescott, and Captain Knowlton.

The following is a letter from Colonel John Trumbull, of New York, an officer of distinction in the revolutionary war, and now a celebrated historical painter employed in his profession by the government of the United States, dated, New York, 30th of March, 1818.

" In the summer of 1786, I became acquainted in London, with Colonel John Small, of the British army, who had served in America many years, and had known General Putnam intimately during the war of Canada, from 1756 to 1763. From him I had the two following anecdotes respecing

* In the spring of the year 1818, an account of the battle of Bunker hill was published in the Port Folio by Henry Dearborn, Esq. major general in the army of the United States, in which he animadverts on the conduct of General Putnam with great severity. To this production Daniel Putnam, Esq. son of the late general, has published a rejoinder from which I have taken the testimonials which follow.

the battle of Bunker hill, I shall nearly repeat his words: -Looking at the picture, which I had then almost completed, he said: ' I don't like the situation in, which you have placed my old friend Putnam; you have not done him justice. I wish you would alter that part of your picture, and introduce a circumstance which actually happened, and which I can never forget. When the British troops advanced the second time to the attack of the redoubt, I, with other officers, was in front of the Hue to encourage the men; we had advanced very near the works undisturbed, when an irregular fire, like a feu dejoie was poured w on us; it was cruelly fatal. The troops fell back, and when I looked to the right and left, I saw not one officer standing;-I glanced my eye to the enemy, and saw several young men levelling their pieces at me, I knew their excellence as marksmen, and considered myself gone. At this moment my old friend Putnam rushed forward, and striking up the muzzles of their pieces with his sword, cried out, ' For God's sake, my lads, don't fire at that man-I love him as I do my brother.' We were so near each other that I heard his words distinctly. He was obeyed; I bowed, thanked him, and walked away unmolested.'

" The other anecdote relates to the death of General Warren, At the moment when the troops succeeded in carrying the redoubt, and the Americans were in full retreat, General Howe, who had been hurt by a spent ball which bruised his ankle, was leaning on my arm. He called suddenly to me : " Do you see that elegant young man who has just fallen? do you know him?" I looked to the spot to which he pointed-' Good God, Sir, I believe it is my friend Warren.' ' Leave me then instantly-run-keep off the troops, save him if possible.'-I flew to the spot, 'My dear friend,' I said to him, ' I hope you are not badly hurt:'-he looked up, seemed to recollect me, smiled and died! A musket ball had passed through the upper part of his head. Colonel Small had the character of an honorable, upright man, and could have no conceivable motive for deviating from truth in relating these circumstances to me; I therefore believe them to be true. You remember, my dear Sir, the viper biting the file. The character of your father for courage, humanity, generosity and integrity, is too firmly established, by the testimony of those who did know him, to be tarnished by the breath of one who confesses that he did not. Accept, my dear Sir, this feeble tribute to your father's memory, from one who knew him, respected him, loved him-and who wishes health and prosperity to you and all the good man's posterity.


Daniel Putnam, Esquire."

" I shall make no comment," says Colonel Putnam, "on the first anecdote by Colonel Small, except that the circumstances were related by General Putnam, without any essential alteration, soon after the battle; and that there was an interview of the parties on the lines between Prospect and Bunker hill, at the request of Colonel Small, not long afterwards."

It is very apparent that General Washington reposed great confidence in the skill and judgment of General Putnam, or he would not have entrusted him with the command of the city of New York at the moment when it was expected that the whole of the British land and naval forces would attempt to take possession of that city. On the 29th of March, 1776, the Commander in Chief gave to General Putnam the following orders and instructions. "You will, no doubt, make the best. despatch in getting to New York; on your arrival there, you will assume the command, and immediately proceed in continuing to execute the plan proposed by Major General Lee, for fortifying that city, and securing the passes of the East and North rivers. If, on consultation with the brigadier generals and engineers, any alteration in that plan is thought necessary, you are at liberty to make it/cautiously avoiding to break in too much on his main design, unless where it may be apparently necessary so to do, and that by the general voice and opinion of the gentlemen above mentioned. You will meet the quarter master general, Colonel Mifflin, and commissary general, Colonel Trumbull, at New York. As these are both men of excellent talents in their different departments, you will do well to give them all the authority and assistance they require; and should a council of war be necessary, it is my direction that they assist at it. Your long service and experience, will, better than my particular directions at this distance, point out to you the works most proper to be first raised, and your perseverance, activity and zeal will lead you, without my recommending it, to exert every nerve to disappoint the enemy's designs." "The faithful execution of the duties here enjoined were acknowledged by the Commander in Chief after his arrival in New York, and his thanks were publicly expressed in general orders. Two days before the battle of Flat Bush, in consequence of the sickness of that excellent officer, Major General Greene, who had commanded on Long Island, General Putuam was ordered to the command of that post, and assisted in the arduous and complicated difficulties of that masterly retreat. In the memorable and distressing flight of the American army through New Jersey, in 1776, General Putnam was always near-always the friend, the supporter, and confidant of his beloved chief; and the moment after reaching the western bank of the Delaware with the rear of the army, he was ordered to Philadelphia to fortify and defend that city against a meditated attack. When, in the summer of 1777, Fort Montgomery was captured by the enemy, and it was determined to erect another fortification on the banks of the Hudson, for the defence of that river, the Commander in Chief left it wholly to the judgment of General Putnam to fix on the spot, who decided in favor of West Point; and as his biographer has remarked, ' it is no vulgar praise to say, that to him belongs the glory of having chosen this rock of our military salvation.'

In December, 1779, while on his return from Connecticut to head quarters, this venerable man was attacked by a paralytic affection, under which he languished till the nineteenth of May, 1790, when his honorable and useful life was brought to a final close. The qualities of his mind were sincerity, generosity, and an invincible sense of duty. The moral virtues, and duties of piety, and pure religion were objects of his serious reflection, and the late Reverend Dr. Dwight, in his Travels, has eulogized these as eminent traits in his character.

Extract of a Utter from, General Washington to General Putnam, dated, Head Quarters, 2d June, 1783.

" Dear Sir,-Your favor of the 20th of May, I received with much pleasure. For I can assure you, that, among the many worthy and meritorious officers with whom I have had the happiness to be connected in service through the course of this war, and from whose cheerful assistance in the various and trying vicissitudes of a complicated contest, the name of Putnam is not forgotten; nor will it be, but with that stroke of time which shall obliterate from my mind the remembrance of all those toils and fatigues through which we have struggled, for the preservation and establishment of the rights, liberties and independence of our country. Your congratulations on the happy prospect of peace and independent security, with their attendant blessings to the United States, I receive with great satisfaction; and beg you will accept a return of my gratulations to you, on this auspicious event-an event, in which, great as it is in itself, and glorious as it will probably be in its consequences, you have a right to participate largely, from the distinguished part you have contributed towards its attainment. I anticipate with pleasure the day, and I trust not far off, when I shall quit the busy scenes of military employment, and retire to the more tranquil walks of domestic life. In that, or whatever other situation Providence may dispose of my future days, the remembrance of the many friendships and. connexions I have had the happiness to contract with the gentlemen of the army, will be one of my most grateful reflections.

" Under this contemplation, and impressed with the sentiments of benevolence and regard, I commend you, dear Sir, my other friends, and, with them, the interests happiness of our dear country, to the keeping and protection of the almighty God.

I have the honor to be, &c. &c.
To the Honorable Major General Putnam."

The following Eulogium was pronounced at the grave of General Putnam by Dr. A. Waldo.

" Those venerable relics! once delighted in the endearing domestic virtues which constitute the excellent neighbor, -husband,-parent, and worthy brother! liberal and substantial in his friendship;-unsuspicious-open,-and generous; just and sincere in dealing; a benevolent citizen of the world -he concentrated in his bosom the noble qualities of an Honest Man.

" Born a Hero-whom nature taught and cherished in the lap of innumerable toils and dangers, he was terrible in battle! But, from the amiableness of his heart-when carnage ceased, his humanity spread over the field, like the refreshing zephyrs of a summer's evening! The prisoner-the wounded-the sick-the forlorn-experienced the delicate sympathy of this Soldiers Pillar. The poor and the needy of every description, received the charitable bounties of to Christian Soldier.

" He pitied littleness-loved goodness-admired greatness, and ever aspired to its glorious summit! The friend, the servant, and almost unparalleled lover of his country;- worn with honorable age, and the former toils of war-Putam rests from his labors!

" Till mouldering worlds and trembling systems burst!
When the last trump shall renovate his dust-
Still by the mandate of eternal truth,
His soul will flourish in immortal youth !"
" This all who knew him, know; this all who lov'd him, tell."

Dr. Dwight penned a very excellent inscription, which is engraved on his tomb, but our narrow limits must apologize for its omission in this place.

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