Our Veterans Have Given the Gift of Freedom

By Bill Powers

               “The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution,

               are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them

               against all attacks… It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the             

               present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be  

               wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or be cheated out of 

                            them by the artifices of false and designing men.”

                                                                                                          –  Samuel Adams 

   Over the centuries our veterans have made extraordinary sacrifices in the name of preserving the freedoms of Americans while defending their Republic from those who would denounce democracy as a way of governing. On Veterans Day, we thank and remember our veterans for their unselfish service. Here are the stories of three of our local veterans who ought not be forgotten and who have not always been given the recognition that they deserve.

  Colonel James Clark hailed from Lebanon, Adjutant-General Jesse Root was from Coventry and James Haggerty called Willimantic his home. The manner in which they supported themselves and their families was quite different. Clarke was a farmer, Root was a minister who became a lawyer, and James Haggerty was a businessman. One thing that they had in common was that they were all veterans and Patriots. Clarke and Root served during the Revolutionary War and Haggerty answered the call during the Civil War. After their military service, they all returned to their farm, village, or city with their memories of war and resumed life in the Republic they loved so much and for which they had made so many sacrifices.  


   A 19th century journalist called Colonel James Clark “the noblest of them all.” Grace Greenwood, the colonel’s great-niece and a well-known and highly respected journalist, wrote “Reminiscences of Lebanon” and various versions appeared in a popular national weekly magazine and the Hartford Daily Courant in 1869. She believed that Clark’s gallant contributions during the American Revolution had not received due recognition and that “his story was overshadowed by the fame of other notable patriots from Lebanon”, so she wrote: “Another revolutionary worthy of Lebanon was Colonel James Clark, in some respects, the ‘noblest Roman of them all’, though he never attained to great honor or high position…” 

   In 1902, Mary Clarke Huntington, another descendent of James Clark, presented a paper to the New London County Historical Society entitled “Colonel Clark of Lebanon.” She published a touching and tragic story about Clark as he returned home from a military campaign. She wrote: “As he rode into Lebanon on his white warhorse that he retained for so many years afterward, he saw a funeral procession winding into the Old Cemetery, and while he was so glad in his return, anticipating the welcome of wife and children at the old homestead, his heart went out the more readily to such townsfolk as has met with loss. It was long since he had heard from home – for the usual slow methods of communication were often interrupted in those times of war – and wondering whom death had taken, he turned his horse and rode after the procession. He heard the ‘dust to dust and ashes to ashes!’ Then as he saw that it was his wife who knelt weeping beside the grave of their little daughters. Other tragedies beset Clark and his wife during the war including the drowning in a well of their two-year old son. Yet he still fought on.” 

    He fought at the battles of Bunker Hill, Harlem Heights and White Plains. Huntington continued: “At the time of the laying of the corner stone of the Bunker Hill Monument, the year before his death, when he was ninety-five, a special escort was sent from Boston to accompany him, as one of the survivors of the battle, to the spot where he had helped to hold the British in abeyance.” He had led the 6th Company from Lebanon in the Battle of Bunker Hill. 


    Jesse Root was from Coventry and in a manner similar to Lebanon’s James Clark, “His story is overshadowed by the fame of other notable patriots”, in this case Coventry’s famous Nathan Hale. Root graduated from Princeton in 1756. He returned to Coventry to farm and preach. Later influenced by three lawyers, Jonathan Trumbull from Lebanon, and also Jedidiah Elderkin and Eliphalet Dyer from Windham, he decided to study to become a lawyer. After he began to practice law, Jesse moved with his family from Coventry to Hartford for better opportunities. In Hartford Jesse became involved in the Revolutionary movement where his law practice began to thrive and he taught law. He never gave up his farm in Coventry where he eventually returned. “The family maintained a household in Coventry while apparently renting in Hartford. They had slaves, who probably cultivated the land in Coventry.” The 1790 Federal Census records that he owned three enslaved persons.

   With respect to the Revolution, no job was too big or too small for Jesse. There was plenty to do as the British colonies in America were transformed into a new nation. Early on, as Americans protested British tyranny, Jesse won the trust and admiration of American leaders including George Washington.

    As a soldier Jesse served in 1775 with troops fighting in upper New York State.  He helped to plan and finance the Battle of Ticonderoga. After the Battle, he was assigned chairmanship of the prisoner committee overseeing British officers captured during the battle, when they were confined in Hartford. In December of 1776 Captain Jesse Root “raised and commanded a company of able-bodied men” to fight in the upper Hudson Valley. Soon after, he was named Lieutenant Colonel and second in command of a regiment. “When General Israel Putnam assumed command of the Hudson Highlands at Washington’s order, he assigned Root as Adjutant-General. In the late winter of 1778, he returned home to Hartford and Coventry.”  He then served on the Council of Safety that often met in the War Office in Lebanon. He was a member of the Second Continental Congress until the Peace of 1783, Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives, and a member of the Governor’s Foot Guard and served as its commandant from 1798 to 1802. In 1819 he served as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention. (Quotations from “The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut”, 1987, by Messier B.B. & Aronson J.S.)  


     James Haggerty was underage, only 13 when he enlisted in the Eighteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry to fight in the Civil War. His obituary appeared in the Willimantic Chronicle in November of 1934, along with a front- page headline that read “JAMES HAGGERTY DIES ON HIS 85TH BIRTHDAY: Last Member of Francis S. Long Post No. 30, G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic).

 “Although under age, Haggerty was desirous of serving the nation in its time of need. He ran away from home to Norwich for the purpose of enlisting but was rejected because of his youthful appearance. Hiking back home to Willimantic, he discarded the short pants he was wearing and donning a pair of long trousers belonging to a brother, returned to the same recruiting station to pass the required examination. The officer in charge failed to recognize him as the lad who appeared before him a short time previously attired in different garb.  

   “After enlisting, he was assigned to Company H of the Eighteenth Connecticut Volunteers. He had the distinction of being the youngest soldier to enlist in the state. Joining his regiment in Virginia, he took part in all of the engagements in which it figured until the Battle of New Market, near Richmond, where he was captured by the Confederates and imprisoned at Andersonville, GA. and Charlestown, S.C. In the latter place, he fell ill of yellow fever and was sent to Florence in the same state shortly before he was released. After going to Annapolis, MD. to recuperate, he rejoined his regiment until the surrender of Lee.

    “After the war, James Haggerty returned home and continued his education for a year. “The lure of the army life proved too strong and he enlisted in the regular army”, where he participated in the reconstruction of the South and then went to the western plains to fight Indians until 1869. At that point he returned to Willimantic and learned to be a blacksmith. He also worked with the Willimantic Linen Company before operating a tobacco and periodical store.  He served as a deputy sheriff and a burgess in the borough government and after the incorporation of the city government 1893, represented the third ward on the board of aldermen for six years. He also served for twelve years as a member of board of registrars. Haggerty continued to serve in the National Guard for many years. 

    Our veterans have given us the gift of freedom. All have made extraordinary sacrifices in order to serve while swearing an oath to support and defend our Constitution. Thankyou.

Bill Powers is a retired Hartford and Windham Public Schools teacher.

photo of the sign is mine and is from the Veteran’s Center in WILLIMANTIC

Leave a Reply