Chauncey Judd

The Robbers

Upon the high bluff of land a little east of the present village of Seymour stood, in 1780, a tavern of some celebrity, kept by a man named Tural Whittemore. This locality was, and we believe still is, called "Indian Hill," having once been the residence of the remnant of a tribe of the Milford Indians, of whom the lands in this vicinity were pur­chased. Their sachem was Mauwee, named by the English settlers "Joe Chuse," it is said from the man­ner in which he pronounced the word "choose"; and from him the settlement was often called "Chuse­town." It was a part of the ancient town of Derby, which then included what is now Derby, Ansonia, Seymour and the larger portion of Oxford.

About a mile south of Whittemore's tavern resided Henry Wooster, a brother of David Wooster, of Gunntown, of John and Thomas Wooster, in what is now Oxford, and of Daniel Wooster, of Derby. Like his brothers, he was a tory, and had become highly obnoxious to his patriotic neighbors, not only from his political sentiments, but from having, like so many other of the royalists, been ready to harbor and assist those who went from thence to join the British army.

On the Saturday evening preceeding the events recorded in chapter seventh, a number of young men were gathered at the tavern above mentioned. Among them were a son of Mr. Wooster's, Henry Wooster, Jr., his cousin, David Wooster, Jr., from Gunntown, and Samuel Doolittle, belonging in Litchfield, but then living near by, within the limits of New Haven. Other persons of the neighborhood were there also, drawn in by the usual attractions of a country tavern. The blazing fire in the bar-room, with the store of good things in the bar itself, made it a favorite place for passing the winter evenings, while the progress of the war and the latest news from the army and from England were related and all the petty gossip of the town indulged in. Sometimes, though not often, disputes arose between those of opposite politics, for such was the severity of the laws and the danger of expressing sentiments adverse to the popular side, that the more discreet tories were either very moderate in the utterance of their opinions, or altogether silent in the presence of others.

In the course of the evening there entered a couple of travelers, who asked for accommodations for the night. Their request was granted; and after they had had supper, a place was made for them in the circle which surrounded the huge, hospitable fireplace. They were strangers to the town, and one of them, who seemed to be spokesman for both, was, from his speech, apparently, an old country-man. Neither of them entered much into the conversation at first, but sat listening attentively to what was said by the others, and closely observing the persons that spoke.

After a little while the stranger, who had given his name to the inn-keeper as Graham, inquired if any one present knew a Captain Dayton, formerly of Long Island, who, it was believed, kept a store somewhere in that vicinity.

The reply, of course, was in the affirmative. No man, certainly, was better known to the tories of Derby, and none more intensely hated than he.

Without explaining the reason of the inquiry, the conversation turned at once upon the exploits of Dayton in his privateering expeditions. This was a subject with which Graham seemed quite familiar, and he related at length the particulars of one of the latest of these expeditions, in which he was supposed to have brought home a large stock of goods procured by plunder on Long Island. Graham affected much admiration of the adroit manner in which this had been done, and of the just retaliation upon those who scrupled not, whenever they had an opportunity, to plunder the whigs. This drew out from many of those present a strong dissent from these opinions, and unmeasured denunciations of the man and all his proceedings. In the course of the evening the strangers thus obtained full knowledge of the sentiments of all present, while all the same time managing to conceal their own.

At length one after another of the company departed, and the two strangers, with Henry and David, remained alone. Even the landlord had retired, leaving his place supplied by a fellow named Wooding, who lived near by, and was for the most part employed in the service of Mr. Whittemore as bar-keeper, hostler, and general assistant in the establishment. The hour was waxing late, and the two Woosters rose, as if to go, when Graham, with a sudden change of manner, said: Don't go yet, friends; let me have a little private talk with you.

Oh, certainly, replied Henry, resuming his seat; what do you want?

Can I trust you with a secret?

Depends upon what it is. You are strangers to us, and may have many secrets that we'd better not meddle with. However, we can keep anything, I guess, that ought to be kept, so go ahead.

Be your own judges, then, as to that. I'm not afraid to trust you, at any rate. If I mistake not, you are on the loyal side in this war that's going on, and don't approve of the rebellion. Isn't that so?

Well, supposin' 'tis; what then?

I want to get a few just such young fellows as you two are to join us in a little adventure.

Then, dropping his voice to a whisper, and drawing his chair nearer his auditor, he continued,–

I have a commission from General Howe as lieutenant in his majesty's service, to raise recruits from among those who are well affected to him. Here are the enlistment papers. Give me your names and those of any others you know of the right sort, and then I will show you a nice thing to be done. That young man who was with you – Doolittle, I think he was called – is one of that kind, an't he?

Oh, Sam? He's my cousin," replied David, "and a first-rate fellow, too, though I do say it. But what is this affair you make so much of? What's to be done, anyway?

The bar-keeper is listening, whispered Graham's companion, at the same pointing over his shoulder to Wooding, who stood observing the company.

Never mind him, said Henry; he's all right – an't you, Lem? he added, turning to the latter. Come and sit down here, and hear what this gentleman has to propose to such fellows as we – tories you know.

Thus invited, Wooding drew near the party and listened.

You know, resumed Graham, where this Captain Dayton lives, you say?


And it is not far distant from here?

No; up in Bethany a little way – four or five miles, perhaps.

And he's got a houseful of stolen goods carried off from the island, and any quantity of money, too – not your miserable Continental trash, but hard coin – the real chink?

Yes, I s'pose so.

And there's nobody – at least not more than two or three – to guard it.

Oh, that's what you're up to, is it? interposed David. But I thought now you were a friend of the old pirate. You seem to be a great admirer at him, at any rate?

Ah, well; it isn't always safe to trust to appearances, especially in such times as these. We did not want to show ourselves till we were sure of our men, you know. But what do you think of my proposal now that we understand one another?

Well, I must say, replied Henry, it might not be a bad thing to do. We should get a good haul, I've no manner of doubt, and pay off the old man in some of his own coin, too. Rather a skittish business, though. He's smart, you may depend on't; and besides, a pretty uproar it would make in all the regions about here. Then, what should we do with the things?

Carry them back to the island with us, said Graham.

And what object would there be in that? They would do us no good there unless we should go there ourselves to stay.

And that's just what you'd do. Come now; I am authorized to offer you liberal bounties if you join the army. We have several regiments of loyal Americans in the service, you know. Of course, King George is going to whip the rebels yet, even if it takes an age to do it. There will be plenty of confiscations then, and those who have stood true and loyal, and much more, those who have helped put down the rebellion, will be rewarded. Come, landlord, make us a good stiff toddy, all 'round, of your best old Jamaica. And while he's doing that, put down your names here and we'll drink success to the good cause.

No, said David, we are not quite ready for that yet. Old folks wouldn't consent. But I'll tell what we can do. Carry the things up to Gunntown; they'll be safe enough there. Dayton'll believe it's somebody from Long Island come to be revenged on him, and never think of chasing up there for them. And if he should, we could ourselves just come down the other way, by Hawkins' to the landing below here, and slip across the island until the affair should blow over.

It is not necessary to detail the conversation further. The feasibility of the project was fully considered, with its difficulties and dangers. The young men did not think it would be safe to make the attempt without a considerable force. Henry said it was well known that there were other persons from the island stopping at Captain Dayton's, who were doubtless armed, and they did not hope to succeed without having men enough to overcome them at once. David only wished that three or four of his friends, whom he names, were there, and he would have no fear of the result.

The conclusion they finally reached was, that David should go next day to Gunntown and see what he could do in raising a sufficient force for the undertaking. Henry would in the meantime communicate the scheme to Doolittle, and enlist his co-operation, and make also such preparation as should seem necessary. Wooding pleaded that he could not join them because he could not leave the tavern, nor his family, but he would do what he could to help, and Graham and his companion might well come and stay at his house – a small hut on a lonely back street nearly half a mile distant – till David's return.

Accordingly, next morning, David hastened home. That day was the Sabbath, and a violent storm from the northeast of hail, snow, sleet, and rain,[1] prevailed nearly all day. He, however, contrived to see several of the persons he desired, and succeeded in inducing two of them, Jesse Cady and Amasa Scott, to join in the expedition. A third, William Seeley, offered to do the same, but the others objected. Seeley was comparatively an old man. He had been a soldier in the French war twenty years before, and it was feared that he was no longer equal to the undertaking. It was foreseen that the attempt would task all their strength, and they did not wish to be encumbered with one who, however zealous in intention, might lack in power of endurance, and possibly prove an incumbrance rather than a help. It is a part of the wickedness of war, especially a civil war, that it confounds all the distinctions of right and wrong, and both permits and encourages acts, which, in other circumstances, would be condemned as crime. An outrage committed by an opposing party is often made a justification for a similar, or even greater, outrage in retaliation. The necessary violence of regular military operations is made a pretext for multitudes of acts which can have no bearing on the final issue of the contest, and can serve only to inflict pain or annoyance on a foe. We remember the indignant sentiments expressed by a Confederate officer in the late war at the wanton cruelties inflicted by some of General Sherman's troops in their march through Georgia. A valued family picture, the portrait of an officer of the Revolution, was not only carried away, but, grown tired of the burden, the plunderer tore it from the frame and nailed it upon a tree by the road-side as a mark to shoot at. Such barbarities are indeed war, but it is war against civilization, and all the sentiments which distinguish an honorable soldier from an untutored savage.

We are slow to believe that the young men who were persuaded into this scheme of robbery by the renegade Graham were deliberate thieves in their own understanding of the term. They would doubtless have revolted from perpetrating an ordinary burglary. Their friends, too, – for David did not hesitate to disclose the scheme to his father and others at Gunntown, and to consult them as to the course to be pursued in certain contingencies, – would never have encouraged an ordinary act of crime. But Dayton had been so active in plundering the British and their tory sympathizers, that to plunder him in turn was deemed only fair play. It was, as they phrased it, paying the old pirate in his own coin. A few hundred pounds apiece, in many and valuable goods, it would be pleasant to have; and, if they only escaped the clutches of the rebel laws, – which for them had no moral force, – why need they trouble their consciences as to the way they obtained them? We are sorry to say that not a few articles of value found their way from southern cities, during the late rebellion, whose possession was justified on precisely similar grounds.

On Monday night, the storm having abated, David Wooster and his two associates started for Derby. Next day, they completed their preparations as secretly as possible, provided themselves muskets, and sacks for holding the goods, and late in the evening repaired to Wooding's residence, which they had agreed to make their rendezvous. All but Doolittle were there. He had been notified that they would call for him on the way and promised to be ready when they should come.

  1. President Stiles' MS. Diary in Library of Yale College.