CHAPTER I. - NEW ENGLAND COLONIES.
In Connecticut the Committee of Safety took the form of an advisory council to assist the Governor in military matters. This colony alone of the thirteen was able to pass the crisis of the Revolution without any alteration in government, and the rebel Governor, Jonathan Trumbull, remained throughout the war its executive head.
It belonged to his position to raise and command the militia and to see that the men were properly armed and equipped. To aid and advise him in this work nine men were chosen by the Assembly in its May session, 1775. They were "to assist the Governor when the Assembly was not in session, to direct the marches and stations of the soldiers enlisted for the defense of the colony, or any part of them as they should judge proper, and supply with every matter and thing that should be needful for the defense of the colony." The body thus chosen did not bear the name of Council of Safety, but its duties were practically identical with those given later councils of that name, so that it may justly be classed with them.
The Council as thus constituted was entirely subordinate to the Governor. It had no independent power, but must act, if at all, with and through him. A similar council with the name of Council of Safety was appointed each May by the Assembly from 1775-1783 inclusive. Its membership varied from nine to twenty. The Deputy-Governor was always chosen and three or four Assistants, the others being drawn from the House of Representatives. Nearly the same members were appointed to the Council during the entire period of its existence.
The commissions given the Councils of Safety at the time of their appointment varied little. Besides the powers already noted they were, with the Governor, to direct the navy as well as the army and to carry out any special trust imposed by the legislature. The Governor was to convene the whole Council on all important occasions, but if the emergency of the case rendered this impossible, five might be a quorum. In 1776 the pay of the members was fixed at eight shillings a day, hut it was later raised to twelve shillings.
The Assembly issued directions to the Governor and Council from time to time, and gave them powers to perform duties not included in their commission. Thus they were ordered to raise and to form into regiments certain of the militia or disband and dismiss the troops. They were frequently authorized to appoint and commission certain officers and to fill such vacancies among the officers of a regiment as might occur in the recess of the Assembly. It is to be noted that the powers thus conferred were for individual and particular cases. The Assembly never gave the Governor and Council general power to raise all the militia or appoint all the officers. In fact, in one instance the legislature having empowered them to appoint the officers in the eight battalions then being raised in the State, expressly declared that this power and authority was "thus delegated and referred in consideration of the extraordinary and peculiar circumstances of the case, and not to be drawn into precedent in the future." Military preparation cannot wait upon the convenience of a legislature, and during the recess of the Connecticut Assembly the raising and marshalling of troops was of necessity transferred to another body, and fell naturally to the Governor and Council of Safety.
By their commission the Governor and Council were to control the method of procuring and distributing supplies, and the Assembly only interfered in occasional orders relative to forwarding the stores or to give them permission to lay embargoes to prevent the export of commodities, or to grant them the power of impressing what they needed if it could be obtained in no other way. Other charges were occasionally imposed on the Governor and Council and will be noted later. The Assembly thus claimed the power of directing the Governor and Council from time to time, but never interfered to dictate the manner in which these duties should be performed or exacted a report of their proceedings. The Council sat only in the recess of the legislature, and in order that that body might keep in touch with affairs, the Council of Safety was to represent it through their position as advisors of the Governor. The relation of Governor and Council was not clearly defined, hut the two worked in harmony. Governor Trumbull was well trusted in Connecticut, and the Council far from seeking occasion to hamper and block him, was content to take the position of a purely advisory body. If the Governor saw fit, as sometimes happened, to take measures without consulting it, the members were ready to approve without question. Governor Trumbull thus kept the management of affairs and the responsibility. He was the soul of the Council and was present and presided at all its meetings. It aided him not so much in materially decreasing his labor, as in giving him the wisdom and experience of able men.
We have now to consider in more detail the work performed by the Governor and Council of Safety. It was, generally speaking, purely military in character, relating only to those exigencies which the war had occasioned. The journals of the Council of State as distinguished from the Council of Safety have been lost, but it is probable that the former carried on the ordinary civil affairs of the State while the military affairs were exclusively in the hands of the latter. Under its supervision militia were raised, officered and sent by it to join the Continental army or to guard the frontiers of the State. The troops that stayed in Connecticut were directly subject to its command. The militia officers were responsible to it for their conduct, and could he summoned and punished for misbehavior. Every effort was made to answer the calls for troops and regiment after regiment was sent forward to the Continental army without delay. It generously placed the welfare of the whole before that of their particular province, and when Washington asked for the troops which they had intended to reserve as a coast guard, they were allowed to go. The records tell us that the demand was "much considered," and the Council felt that the troops would be less useful at Boston than at home. Nevertheless they were sent at once and new men raised to take their place. The untiring cheerfulness and zeal with which troops were raised for the service won from Washington and the Continental Congress the highest praise and confidence.
The Governor was the first naval officer in the State and as such had charge of Connecticuts little fleet. The coast was rarely free from the dread of the British privateers, and the Governor and Council fitted out war galleys, armed slops and men-of-war to clear the sound and to make descents upon the ports of Long Island. Prize after prize rewarded these cruises and the Governor and Council adjusted the shares of the booty. As was perhaps to be expected, the captains of these Connecticut privateers went at times beyond the narrow line dividing them from pirates, and looking rather to plunder than to the source from which it came, committed depredations upon the property of good Whigs. Complaints of these abuses were promptly considered by the Governor and Council. The captain was either ordered directly to make good the wrong done, or summoned to them to answer the charge.
The Governor and Council saw that the State troops were supplied with food and clothing, arms and ammunition. They adopted no uniform way of collecting and distributing what was needed. Sometimes the selectmen of particular towns were required to furnish arms and blankets, sometimes all towns were levied upon proportionately for shirts, frocks, stockings and shoes. At times individual men took the matter in charge, or again, special committees or commissaries. In the scarcity of money the towns sometimes were allowed to pay their taxes in supplies of this kind.
The iron foundry at Salisbury was under the control of the Governor and Council and from it a large supply of arms and ammunition was obtained.
If engrossers held back supplies the Council could seize them, paying only an appraised value. When need urged, supplies were sought beyond the State, men being sent to trade for that purpose with Massachusetts, Maryland and even with the Bahamas. Once, irritated by the continued depredations of the British, the Governor and Council ordered the seizure in Long Island or elsewhere of the cattle and goods of the British and Tories for the use of the State.
The Governor and Council not only cared for the wants of the soldiers when well and in service, but provided hospitals, physicians and medicine for the sick and wounded. The spread of small pox brought Governor and Council together in serious consultation and led to their directing the inoculation of all new troops. The matter, they admitted, was of high consequence, and should naturally have been dealt with by the General Assembly, but the necessity that the step be taken before the army took the field, led them to assume the responsibility. They undertook, as well, to care for the Connecticut men who were held prisoners by the British, seeing that they were suitably clothed and fed.
The Governor and Council regulated to some extent the supplies of the private citizen. The enforcement of the embargo lay in their hands and permission to export and import must be obtained from them. When they felt that trade with any place left them with an unfavorable balance they prohibited it altogether. In the scarcity of hard money and the depreciation of paper currency, trade was carried on largely by barter and was regulated by the Governor and Council lest the State be deprived of any products it could not afford to lose. Paul Putnam, a Nantucket trader, is permitted to sell in Connecticut a certain amount of salt, coffee, mum, tar, etc., and to buy any articles he may need except leather, iron, and not more than three firkins of lard. In October, 1777, the Assembly forbade the purchase for sale by any citizen of rum, sugar, molasses, stockings, shoes, and other articles of food and clothing without permission from the Governor and Council of Safety. No one, moreover, could distill liquors without a similar license. The supply of salt for the State was for a long time low, and much attention was given by the Governor and Council to this need. M en who had salt to sell were freely permitted to bring it in to exchange for articles with which the State was better supplied. Salt was bought by the Governor and Council for the use of the State, and keepers of salt had it in charge as a public monopoly, doling it out to the towns in limited quantities at the order of Governor and Council.
The money that was necessary for the multifarious charges of a large military establishment was supplied from the treasury by orders drawn on a committee known as the Pay Table, which bad been chosen in the April session of the Assembly, 1775, and was given full power to examine, liquidate, settle and order paid the different accounts against the State that related to military affairs.
All such accounts seem to have been first presented to the Governor and Council of Safety for approval and were then referred by them to the Pay Table. At one time the Governor and Council performed a valuable service for the continental cause against State exclusiveness. The Treasurer had doubted the propriety of receiving Continental paper in payment of the Colonys taxes, but the Governor and Council considered it "necessary to support the union of the colonies in the free circulation and credit of continental bills," and ordered that they should he received in all payments, and notice given to that effect in the newspapers. Taxes came in but slowly, even when paid in kind, and money was hard to get. Like the other colonies Connecticut sought aid of the Continental Congress and issued paper money to supply immediate wants. Yet by July, 1781, the Governor and Council were forced to the expedient of sending four men to borrow money on their own personal security (evidently better trusted than the States) from the inhabitants of the different towns. These men were to be reimbursed by the tax payable in May and July "as soon as collected."
Passing to another field of the Councils activity, we find tile Tories were under its supervision. The laws against the British sympathizers were severe in Connecticut, but much less cruel than in some of the other colonies. The actual number of Tories imprisoned does not seem to have been great.
July 10, 1776, the Governor and Council published a proclamation against Tory spies, forbidding any stranger or suspected person to travel from town to town without a pass from some Congress, Committee of Safety or Inspection, some magistrate or field officer, stating the place from which he came, his destination, and his friendly attitude toward the States. Tories that the towns thought dangerous were sent to the Governor and Council, who determined where they should be confined. On giving bonds for peaceable behavior they were usually assigned to some town, sufficiently remote from their native place, within whose limits they were free, save that the selectmen or the local committee of inspection had a general oversight of their conduct. Upon due repentance and taking the oath of allegiance they secured their freedom. As a result of this generous treatment hundreds retracted their hostile expressions and became loyal citizens who would otherwise have remained enemies to the end. Tories from neighboring states were sent to Connecticut to he cared for and were dealt with in a similar way. Many were allowed to go home to attend to their business affairs on parole to return again within a certain time, or on giving promise to respond if sent for, an arrangement which must in a large number of cases have meant complete dismissal. Those Tories that sought the protection of the British line suffered the confiscation of their estates, which were put by the Governor and Council in the hands of commissioners to be sold at public auction, or rented for the State. Many were bought by soldiers, at the end of the war, being taken in lieu of wages.
Beside the Tories many British soldiers taken in battle were sent to Connecticut, and it fell to the Governor and Council to make prevision for them till 1778, when a commissary of war within the State, acting however under their direction, took the matter more particularly in charge. They were also active in forwarding an exchange of prisoners whenever possible.
Other matters of a miscellaneous character occupied time Governor and Council at times. Permits to individuals to pass to and from the State were issued. Refugees from Long Island were assisted to Connecticut and the local town committees asked to provide for those that were destitute. On the order of the Assembly, in accordance with a plan formed at a convention of New England States, the Governor and Council established and conducted a system of weekly couriers. When delegates from New England and New York met in consultation the Governor and Council twice appointed Connecticut representatives. In the summer of 1776 when Colonel Wolcott, one of the representatives of the State in tile Continental Congress, returned home on account of sickness, the Governor and Council appointed one of their number in his place.
With the exception of New Hampshire, Connecticut kept her Council of Safety longer than any of the other states. This was due to the fact that although the surrender of Cornwallis practically ended the war, the British still held New York and it was necessary for Connecticut to maintain and superintend a force adequate to protect the southern and western frontier. The last session of the Council of Safety was held October 28, 1783.
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