In New England, we are surrounded by the legacy of a rich history from the original Native American settlements through the founding of our nation to the Civil War and up to the present. At The Gunnery, we don’t even need to venture outside our backyard to be in the thick of it. For the history lovers among us, we are perfectly situated to explore all the different facets of America’s history and on Monday, Sept. 26, Bart McMann, History Department Chair, took his A.P. US History students to learn firsthand about the Redcoats’ 1777 Danbury Raid and the Battle of Ridgefield.
With the help of Sal Lilienthal, a history buff who is part of the crew program at The Gunnery, 25 students and interested faculty mounted bicycles to trace the stories they had been reading about. Mr. Lilienthal co-wrote a book and website called “Revolutionary Connecticut” which outlines tours to Revolutionary War sites in the state. He started “The Bicycle Tour Company” in 1997 and has led thousands of tours across North America and in Europe. He recently cycled 211 miles from Litchfield, Connecticut to Burlington, Vermont following the trail of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys.
“If you know where to look, Revolutionary War history is right at our back door,” said Mr. Lilienthal. “While cycling a section of the Redcoats’ 1777 Danbury Raid and Battle of Ridgefield; Mr. McMann’s AP U.S. History students toured sites such as the place where British soldiers mortally wounded David Wooster, Connecticut’s forgotten General, and the spot where patriot turned traitor, Benedict Arnold, blocked the enemy’s return route to Westport. The Gunnery’s history class literally experienced America’s roads to independence!”
The day started at the Keeler Tavern Museum in Ridgefield. The students and faculty cycled behind Mr. Lilienthal and Brent Colley, First Selectman of Sharon and local historian, on a loop through Ridgefield to learn about the 1777 Danbury Raid and the Battle of Ridgefield. They stopped at the 3rd engagement of the battle, the 2nd engagement where General Wooster was mortally wounded and the first engagement of the battle before heading back to the Keeler Tavern Museum.
At the Keeler Tavern Museum, costumed docents told the story of Timothy and Esther Keeler who lived in the tavern from 1769-1816. It was a landmark and a regular stop for travelers between Boston and New York. The Keeler Tavern still sports a baseball-sized cannonball in a corner post, thus giving birth to its nickname, “The Cannonball House.”
“I think the most interesting part of the trip for me was the Keeler Tavern,” said Lizzi Hodge ’18. “It was interesting to learn about what life was like during the 18th century for a family like the Keelers. Having the chance to be active while learning was something I’d never done before and I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it. I ended up having a great time and the trip engaged everyone by applying what we learned in class about the Revolutionary War to what took place locally.”
After touring the Keeler Tavern, the class visited General Israel Putnam’s 1778 Continental Army encampment at Redding (Connecticut’s Valley Forge) which is today Putnam State Park. Mr. Colley explained what life was like for the soldiers in Putnam’s camp from 1778 to 1779.
“Revolutionary War history came alive for the students that day as they meandered through the winding roads of Ridgefield,” said Mr. McMann. “They were fully engaged both physically and intellectually and seemed to have immense fun learning from our knowledgeable tour guides.”