Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Battle of New Haven & The Atwater Elm

Revolutionary War Patriots

While looking in Grandma Foy's papers for the story of the ancestor who swam out to sabotage a British warship during the Revolutionary War, I found that the Atwater Family, one among many New Haven families in our line, were patriots. Sufficiently sidetracked, I never did find the other event so that's fodder for the mill next year. Here's a great story for reading and telling this 4th of July.

Jude Tuttle of North Haven, Connecticut, married Lydia Atwater on the 14th of July, 1748. Jude's great-great grandfather, William, had been born in Devon, England, but died in New London, Connecticut, he being the first of our line to come to the new world. Jude's great-great grandson, Newton Tuttle, was the first in our line to join the Mormons and come to the western Zion. If you are one of the first Foy-ever cousins then Newton is your great-great grandfather.

Jude's wife Lydia was of a staunchly patriotic family. Her grandfather, David Atwater, came to New Haven, Connecticut, from the Kentish countryside of England during a time of brewing church and civil unrest. In the year following his arrival began the Wars of the Three Kingdoms which lasted from 1639 - 1651. The Atwater ancestry can be traced through wills to John Atwater of Royton in Kent who died in 1501. They owned many lands and lost wealth in their move to New England.

"David Atwater, son of Thomas and Susan Narsen, baptized in Lenham church October 8, 1615. He was born in Royton in Lenham, England, and in the month in which he became twenty-one years of age, October, 1636, his father died, and his mother died scarcely more than two months later, in January, 1637. In less than six months from the latter event, June 26, 1637, the brothers, Joshua and David, with their sister Ann, arrived in Boston. It cannot be doubted that their arrangements for removal, so hastily made at that time of general discontent and apprehension in church and state affairs, involved large pecuniary sacrifices. It is seen that David was in his twenty-second year when he came to New England in 1637. If he was one of those who accompanied Mr. Eaton to Quinnipiack in the autumn of that year, he returned to Boston, for only seven of the company, of whom Joshua was one, remained at Quinnipiack. It may be believed that David and his sister Ann, remaining in Boston that winter, sailed with the company for their new home in the spring of 1638. He signed the plantation covenant June 4, 1639, the day of the meeting of the constituent assembly in Mr. Newman 's barn, which was the commencement or foundation of the Colony of New Haven. He was unmarried previous to 1643, when he appears alone on the list of planters, with a valuation upon his estate of £500, 'according to which he will pay his proportion in all Rates and Public charges from time to time to be assessed for civil uses, and expect Lands in all divi- sions which shall generally be made to the planters.' He was one of twenty-nine whose estates were on the list at £500 or more. He married Damaris Sayre, daughter of Thomas Sayre, of Southampton, L. I., before March 10, 1646-7, the date of the General Court, when the name of "David Atwater's wife" was read among those seated in the meeting-house."

Battle of New Haven During Tyrone's Invasion

You have perhaps heard of the famous Liberty Tree that stood in Boston near Boston Common, in the days before the American Revolution. Ten years before the American Revolution, colonists in Boston staged the first act of defiance against the British government at the tree. The tree became a rallying point for the growing resistance to the rule of Britain over the American colonies.The Atwater family story includes an equally historical elm and the patriotic charity of David Atwater, as part of the Battle of New Haven. Presumably all able-bodied men of our line fought the British during the Invasion of New Haven, but we only have the story of Lydia's cousin.

On July 3, 1779 the British fleet sailed from New York reaching New Haven two days later. Immediately after disembarking, Garth's division quickly gained control of New Haven, and went to work. Although Tryon had given orders that included burning the town, Garth did not do this; he limited his activities to destroying public stores, and seizing or destroying the towns armaments and ships in the harbor. Tryon's division landed in East Haven, where it met spirited resistance from a band of local militia, but managed to take Black Rock Fort. In addition to destroying barns filled with grain, Tryon had local manor houses put to the torch.By the time the British withdrew, over 1,000 militia had mustered from the surrounding towns (Wikipedia).

Map of the British invasion of New Haven, Connecticut, in July 1779. Drawing by Ezra Stiles.
The Atwater Elm

"The Atwater Elm can still [1907] be seen at the original 'plantation' of David Atwater, who came to America in 1636 in 'the good ship Hector.' and in the 'goodly company' of the Rev. John Davenport, Theophilus Eaton and others. The tree was planted in 1746 by David Atwater, a descendant of the original settler; and on the old plantation at East Farms, now Cedar Hill, New Haven. The diameter of the tree is fifteen feet. It is estimated the circle of branches near the top is 300 feet. The height is ninety feet. The elm was thirty years of age when the Revolutionary war was declared and must have been a silent witness to many remarkable events. If it could give us tales of the period, it would speak of the ardent patriot David and of his equally pa- triotic wife, Elizabeth. Doubtlos the tree felt the vibration of the three guns fired at midnight of Sunday, July 4th. 1779, followed by the tramp of men and hoys, rushing to the city to resist the 'British Invasion.' With them went David, who left his farm, taking with him his "dutch horse and whiffietree, and with several friends went to an armed vessel at the wharf, dismounted one of its six pound guns, and hitching his horse to it, drew it to West Bridge and tired shots at the enemy." The old tree would tell of the passing of soldiers, weary and discouraged by the hardships of war. It would not fail to re- call the fact that "within the space of three weeks, 1,500 soldiers and prisoners- rested in the shade of the elm to partake of the bounty of the worthy and loyal lady, Elizabeth, and her patriotic husband, David Atwater." This statement was taken from an extract from the sermon by Rev. Chauncey Whittlesey and Rev. Mr. Baird at the funeral of Elizabeth Atwater in 1785. Harriet B. Atwater."

Tyrone's Invasion, Revolutionary War Monument in New Haven.

Quoted paragraphs are from Atwater History and Genealogy compiled by Francis Atwater. Meriden, Connecticut; The Journal Publishing Company, 1907. Digitized by the Internet Archive 2008 and stored online. This was a major source for Grandma Florence Foy in her research of the family genealogy, photocopies of which were in her papers upon death.

Townshend, Charles Hervey (1879). The British invasion of New Haven, Connecticut. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse, and Taylor.

Photograph "View of New Haven and the Harbor From East Rock."Found at website.

Image of the Battle of New Haven Map source: 1779. Image courtesy of the Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Found online at Wikipedia as part of Tyrone's Raid.

Photograph of the monument found at Photo taken by Sheila McCreven,  the photographer is a 10th great-granddaughter of David and Damaris Atwater, through their son Ebenezer. Thank you, cousin Sheila!


  1. Hello! I was just doing some genealogy research on my 10th great-grandparents, David Atwater and Damaris Sayre, and I came across your blog post here. What a pleasant surprise to see the photo I took of the statue commemorating the Invasion of New Haven! Thank you for the photo credit -- you can add to this if you like; the photographer is a 10th great-granddaughter of David and Damaris Atwater, through their son Ebenezer.

    Terrific story you recount here -- I should like to find this tree if it still stands. I would be happy to share a photo of it, if I am able to locate it.

    Cousin Sheila in Woodbridge, CT

  2. Hi, Sheila, Thank you for giving continued permission to use your photograph and I will gladly extend the credit to include your relationship to David Atwater. I would love to have a picture of the tree if it still exists. Your comment has given me the push to publish more stories. Happy research! Fawn