1781: Terrorists attack church!

| July 24, 2010

CSI Intel Note:  We found this article this morning and we thought as a historical piece we would share it with our readers.  This shows the need of church security back then and it can happen today anywhere in the world. 

Editor's note: Darienite Jack Gault, who recently finished writing a book about Talmadge Hill, takes us back to Darien during the Revolutionary War, when Patriots and Loyalists battled for Connecticut's allegiance. The story begins on July 22, 1781.

JULY 22, 1781, PARISH OF MIDDLESEX (NOW KNOWN AS DARIEN), STAMFORD—Just after two o’clock today, an armed force of thirty-eight heavily armed terrorists attacked Darien’s Congregational Church during Sunday services. After a brief scuffle and much confusion, the unarmed worshippers surrendered.

The terrorist leader, a Captain Frost, ordered Reverend Moses Mather to come down from his pulpit. Next, Frost commanded his men to gather all valuable articles of jewelry from the congregation and to take about forty horses belonging to the congregation for their march back to the shore.

Then, forty-eight men and boys were herded together and marched out of the Church, with Reverend Mather in front. Two other men were captured outside the Church. The Darien prisoners were all tied together two by two, with ropes or by handcuffs made on the spot at a nearby blacksmith shop. Then, the terrorists mounted their captured horses and marched their prisoners back towards the Sound where their armed vessels waited.

Only four escaped the attack: Deacon Joseph Mather and three young men, Stephen Weed, Eli Reed and Noyes Mather. They all jumped out of a window. Two guns were fired at them by the terrorists, who did not think it prudent to fire any more, as the firing of three shots was the local alarm that signaled an attack on the Parish. Young Noyes Mather, the parson’s son, was hit in the heel by one of the shots and dropped to his knees momentarily, but was able to resume his successful escape.

During the attack, the women and some of the children tried to reach their husbands and fathers, but were roughly kept back by the soldiers with their bayonets. One of the women, Sally Dibble, tried to shield a boy from capture. One eyewitness said that Joe Smith of Talmadge Hill, and recently from New Canaan, stabbed Dibble in her breast with his bayonet.

Within two hours, a state of emergency was declared and the general alarm was sounded with bells being rung and drums being beaten. By this time, the terrorists had reached the Fish Islands. They set up a rear guard on the island closest to land. The Darien prisoners were waded out to the outermost island as preparation for boarding on the ships.

Before six o’clock, Major John Davenport and the Militia arrived with a rescue party. Over the next few hours, Davenport’s rescue party increased in size to over one-hundred men and perhaps as large as two-hundred-fifty men. Davenport’s men and the terrorists exchanged fire. One of the terrorist’s ships fired grapeshot from its guns.

Despite his greater numbers, Davenport decided that it was too risky to cross the islands’ sand bar while under attack by the ship’s guns and enemy musket fire. Major Davenport, who has homes in both Talmadge Hill and Stamford, is reported to have said, “We feared for the lives of the good Reverend and his flock. Many of the kidnapped victims were likely to be killed by the enemy if we attacked.”

The leader of this terrorist attack was identified as Captain William Frost of Darien. Frost’s wife, the former Sarah Scofield, lives in Darien with her small children. She grew up on a farm near the Meetinghouse (that is now the Goodwives Shopping Plaza).

Neighbors of Sarah Frost reported that Captain Frost is a Loyalist who fled to Lloyd’s Neck on Long Island prior to last winter. A Loyalist is someone who remains loyal to England in our War for Independence and is also known as a Tory. There, he joined a British para-military group called the Associated Board of Loyalists under the command of Governor William Franklin. Franklin is the once adored but now scorned son of Benjamin Franklin. He flew the kite in his father’s famous experiment with lightning and electricity.

More details emerge on the attack. Captain Frost assembled an armed party of thirty-eight men at Fort Franklin in Lloyd’s Neck Harbor. As darkness approached on July 21, 1781, the Loyalist attack force boarded two warships, a brig with a dozen mounted guns called the Sir Henry Clinton and a sloop with two swivel guns called the Association. They sailed from Lloyd’s Neck Harbor across the ten mile stretch of Long Island Sound.

The commander of the Sir Henry Clinton was recognized as Stephen Hoyt, of Norwalk. Hoyt led the first recorded raid against us in March 1777. As previously reported, he captured the sixty-one-year old Captain Samuel Richards, Jr. and fourteen Patriots at Richards’ home in Rowayton (today’s Pinkney Park). Richards died three months later, the day after he was released from prison.

Hoyt is descended from the same Simon Hoyt of Stamford as all of the Hoyts around Talmadge Hill. The Talmadge Hill Hoyts are among our greatest Patriots, including our highest ranked Patriot officer, Captain Joseph Hait (just a different spelling of Hoyt) and our youngest enlistee, his son, Warren, who joined as a private when he was thirteen.

Simon Hoyt was a serial settler who arrived at Salem, Massachusetts, in April 1629, from England. He helped to settle Charlestown, Mass., then Dorchester, Mass., then Scituate, Mass., and finally Windsor, Connecticut, before coming to Stamford. Simon perfected the residential real estate game of value enhancement by receiving land grants upon arriving in each new settlement. Upon his departure for his next village, he sold his properties and used the proceeds to buy more properties in his new settlement in addition to receiving more land grants from his new village.

Back to our story: Under the cover of darkness, Stephen Hoyt anchored in the area of the Fish Islands and Contentment Island. Here, the Loyalists lowered four tender boats to row ashore somewhere within Scott’s Cove. The boats were concealed and were to be used to make a hasty retreat if the Tories believed that they might be severely outnumbered or caught by surprise.

The Tory raiders marched about three miles towards their target, hiding overnight in a swamp eight-hundred feet from the Church. One wonders whether Captain Frost left his troops for a few hours to visit his wife and children, or whether such a dalliance might have endangered his mission.

Lookouts kept guard overnight, and at sunrise, Captain Frost led a small scouting party from their hiding place towards the Meetinghouse. It is believed that two Town residents, Rowland Slason and Daniel Gorham met with Frost that morning to confirm his plan to attack during the afternoon sermon, when there would be more rebels to capture.

No one witnessed Daniel Gorham meeting with Frost or can verify whether he is an undercover agent for the Loyalists. Gorham operates the grist mill and dam on Pine Brook (at what is today called Goodwives River—the bridge across the dam was built in 1825). His mill supplies grain for the Connecticut Militia, and many town residents believe that this proves his patriotism. Also, he took the State’s oath of loyalty on September 16, 1777. On the other hand, skeptics say that he sells his grain to the Militia only when the price is good for him.

Others report that Gorham remains faithful to his Anglican church, and he continues to pay his ministerial tax to his Anglican pastor, Ebenezer Dibble in Stamford. Some claim that he helped Tory Joe Smith escape from town, after Smith was wounded and captured during a Loyalist raid. By the way, Gorham is married to Abigail Waterbury, who is a sister of Smith’s wife.

Finally, it has been said that he still harbors a grudge against the State for how his brother, Joseph, was treated. As previously reported, Joseph Gorham attempted to join the Loyalists, but was arrested and jailed before he finally fled to Lloyd’s Neck in 1777. Joseph’s half ownership in the Gorham mill and his other property were seized by Connecticut.

However, our doubts cannot be proved and we need his grain, so we will just keep a close eye on Gorham. The Gorham family is well to do, and he purchased other properties during the war and repurchased his brother’s interest from the State. (In 1789, Daniel Gorham completed one of the first of the many future teardowns in Darien, taking down the original Gorham homestead and building a much large home on Ring’s End Road at what is now called Gorham’s Pond.)

July 25, 1781—New York City. The New York Gazette published the British account of the Meetinghouse raid today. This Tory gibberish extols the bravery, coolness and honor of armed Loyalist terrorists in capturing and kidnapping unarmed men while they were praying in church!

August 2, 1781—MIDDLESEX PARISH. Today, terrorists landed at Noroton Point to steal cattle. The Militia exchanged fire, but was outnumbered by the terrorists. No doubt, these vile terrorists took advantage of the depleted number of men in Town, as a result of their mass kidnapping eleven days ago. Two of our own were killed in action, including young Gideon Weed. We captured Joe Smith but he escaped with the suspected help of Daniel Gorham. Another cattle raid occurred later this month at Raymond’s Point, just east of Five Mile River. We killed eight of the enemy.

August 10, 1781—Stamford. Today, Town officials appealed to Washington for aid against these terrorist attacks. Abraham Davenport, Stamford’s most powerful public official and its wealthiest landowner, writes to General Washington about the terrorist raid on Middlesex.

Also, Davenport refers to a number of other enemy incursions with a request for military support. Abraham Davenport is the father of Major John Davenport. Davenport serves on Governor Trumbull’s Council of Safety, which effectively manages Connecticut at present and had served as a Colonel in the Connecticut State Militia. He is the son of Reverend John Davenport, who was Stamford’s third minister and an icon of Connecticut Congregationalism, and a great-grandson of John Davenport, who founded the New Haven Colony.

General Washington agrees to supply troops to protect Stamford. On August 31, 1781, Governor Trumbull authorizes the construction of “some small fortifications to prevent a surprise attack from enemy’s horse.” Colonel Rufus Putnam, the architect of West Point designs the plans for the fort, which will be built between October and December of this year, under the supervision of David Waterbury. Fort Stamford will measure one hundred thirty-five feet by one hundred sixty-five feet and can hold as many as seven hundred men. Parts of the fort survive today.

December 27, 1781— Provost Prison, New York CitY. Today, the Reverend Mather and the eighteen men and boys who were kidnapped from the Congregational Church on July 22 returned home. They were released in a prisoner exchange and walked home in the winter cold. James Bell died along the way.

After being taken from the Church, the Loyalists took their prisoners across the Sound to Lloyd’s Neck and then decided to release about half of the men. Twenty-six were jailed in prison ships. Then, these prisoners were marched to New York City and jailed in the notorious Provost Prison, which was the old debtors’ prison and is now the site of City Hall Park. Dr. Mather continued to preach during his imprisonment, dealing with daily threats of execution. There was little food and dreadful conditions.



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Category: Church Security