Battle Apron: The Loyalists
Editor’s note: This is the third of eight columns provided to The Press in lead-up to the Battle of Ridgefield re-enactment Saturday, April 29.
A Town Meeting was called for April 4, 1777. Timothy Keeler was the moderator. The purpose of the meeting was to provide for the soldiers, who enlisted in the Continental Army. It was decided to give each soldier six pounds a year for each year of their three-year enlistment. If they died in service, their families were to receive the money. Despite this show of support for the Continental Army, not everyone in Ridgefield was a Patriot.
There were some notable freeman, who still supported the Crown. The Loyalist dominated Ridgefield Episcopal Church (Church of England) was forced to discontinue its services. The minister, Epenetus Townsend, was ordered to leave town, March 31, 1777.
The Congregational minister Jonathan Ingersoll also refused to break with the British. However, he was allowed to continue preaching because the Congregational litany did not include an allegiance to the Crown as did the Episcopalian litany. Also, Reverend Ingersoll had tended Colonel David Wooster’s 4th regiment during the French and Indian conflicts, which made him acceptable to the villagers despite his Loyalist leanings.
Other Loyalists were the miller Daniel Sherwood, the hatter Epenetus Howe, the blacksmith Benjamin Burt, and merchant Benjamin Hoyt. These prominent men were not alone. In all, 33 Ridgefield freemen were brought before the court for subversive behavior.
Whether or not to remain a Loyalist, or to become a Patriot was a difficult decision. One that would split families. In the Stebbins family, three brothers remained Loyalist, while two became Patriots. The Smith family had 15 kinsmen who were Patriots, and three who were Loyalists.
It was difficult for the two sides to co-exist in this small village, but religious ties, family ties, ties of friendship and economic interdependence made coexistence a necessity.