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Oxford's Revolutionary General

Gen. David Wooster spent part of his boyhood in Quaker Farms

The Wooster family settled in this area prior to the American Revolution. Edward Wooster settled Paugasset (now Derby) in 1654, with three other families. He lived in a house on the east side of the Naugatuck River, near the old Episcopal Cemetery at Old Towne, Derby. He married first Elizabeth French and then Tabithia Tomlinson. He was in business of hop raising.His daughter Mary was the first white child born in Derby. Edward Wooster died on July 8, 1689, at the age of 67 years.

Edward's son, Abraham, became a weaver and settled at Farmill River in Stratford soon after his marriage. About 1719, he moved to the Quaker's Farm area of Oxford. He had several children, including: Ruth, Joseph, Abraham, Sarah, Mary, Hannah and David. Of these, his son David became famous as a military man and eventually achieved fame as a Patriot hero. Gen. David Wooster lost his life in the defense of Danbury, Conn., when the British in the American Revolution attacked it.

Gen. David Wooster was born on March 2, 1710 (May 2, 1711, Old Style. For information on old style versus new style calendar usage, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Style_and_New_Style_dates).  His parents were Abraham Wooster and his wife Mary. He was born at Oronoque in Stratford. About 1719, when David would have been eight or nine years old, the family removed to the Quaker Farms area in what is now Oxford. His family occupied a building known as the Mansion House.

David Wooster graduated from Yale in 1738. It would appear that much of his life prior to attending the college in New Haven was spent in the Quaker Farms area in Oxford. The year after he graduated, he joined the provincial army. In 1745 he was a captain under Col. Burr at the capture of Louisburg. Later in the French War, he was commissioned colonel and later brigadier of the colonial militia. After the war he went into business at New Haven.

Wooster also had an opportunity to visit Europe as a result of the French War. On a ship bound for France and England, he was not allowed to land in France. In England, he was presented to the King and is said to have been a favorite of the court and of the people. He was given a captaincy in the English regiments, with half pay for life.

Returning to New Haven, he became the Royal Collector of Customs at the Port of New Haven, which provided further income in addition to his captaincy and his mercantile efforts. However, his business began to fail, and he was in financial difficulties at the outbreak of the American Revolution.

He was 65 years old when the Revolution got underway. He was appointed Major General of six Connecticut troops in 1775 and recruited from the New Haven County areas. He marched these men to New York and encamped at Harlem. During the summer he also commanded troops on Long Island, whose duties were mainly guarding the livestock.

There was some trouble concerning promotions by the Continental Congress when it began to commission generals. Wooster was named a Brigadier General and some of his junior officers were given a higher rank. He was especially upset by the appointment given to Israel Putnam, whose activities in Boston had helped earn him public recognition. Wooster bitterly resented the promotion of Putnam above him. He appealed to Connecticut's Gov. Jonathan Trumbull. The governor was either unwilling or unable to intercede on Wooster's behalf with General Washington.

Wooster was ordered into Canada in September 1775 and saw service in Montreal as military governor, in charge of supply. There, Wooster was a party to a variety of bickerings among the command of the Americans. Some historians believe the operation was doomed for failure anyway because it begun too late in the season, was uncoordinated and without adequate men, munitions and money. Wooster was eventually relieved from his command, and a Congressional investigation followed. The investigation completely exonerated Wooster, but he was never again given a Continental command.

However, Wooster remained popular here in Connecticut. He was a general in the state militia, charged to defend the borders of the state. He was at his home in New Haven in April 1777 when raiders attacked Danbury. Wooster and General Benedict Arnold - who was still one of the "good guys" in the American service at that time - went to Danbury.

The following is excerpted from an article published in the April 1777 Connecticut Journal:

"On Friday, the 25th instant, twenty six sail of the enemy's ships appeared off Norwalk Islands . . . . by 10 o'clock they had landed two brigades, consisting of upwards of two thousand men, and marched immediately for Danbury.... The handful of Continental Troops were obliged to evacuate the town, having previously secured a part of the stores, provisions, &c. The enemy on their arrival began burning and destroying the stores, houses, provisions &c. On the appearance of the enemy, the country was alarmed. . .. General Wooster and about four hundred were detached under General Arnold and General Silliman on the road leading to Norwalk. At 9 o'clock A.M. intelligence was received that the enemy had taken the road leading to Norwalk. General Wooster was advised and pursued them, with whom he came up about 11 o'clock, when a smart skirmishing ensued, in which General Wooster, who behaved with great intrepidity, unfortunately received a wound by a musket ball, thro' the groin, which it is feared will prove mortal ...

"The enemy's loss is judged to be more than double our number, and about 20 prisoners. The enemy on this occasion behaved with their usual barbarity, wantonly and cruelly murdering the wounded prisoners who fell into their hands, and plundering the inhabitants burning and destroying everything in their way ..."

Wooster died in Danbury on May 2, and was laid to rest in a local cemetery. Following his death, Congress voted funds for a monument to the general, but this was never built. It was not until 1854 that a monument was built, not by the government, but by Hiram Lodge.   Wooster is considered the "Father of Freemasonry in Connecticut," for his role in establishing the first Masonic lodge in Connecticut in 1750. Wooster was master of that lodge for a number of years.

North Callahan, writing in Connecticut's Revolutionary War Leaders, is especially harsh in his judgment of Wooster. He states, "The Dictionary of American Biography quotes two authorities as characterizing Wooster as 'A general of a hayfield,' and stating that he was 'dull and uninspired, garrulous about his thirty years of service ...  tactless, hearty rather than firm with his undisciplined troops who adored him, at times brutal toward the civilian population of Montreal.' True, he seemed to have much sickness among his soldiers, which doubtless did not help matters."

He was a man on the verge of bankruptcy when he was killed at Danbury. There is good reason to view him as a man who had nearly outlived his usefulness and was about to lose his social and economic standing. However, his legacy was transformed and he is now remembered as a Revolutionary hero who lost his life defending Danbury, Conn.

Craig Zac August 10, 2011 at 03:09 PM
Hi Dorothy, another great piece...thanks! Is there some type of meuseam of sorts in town for artifacts and stuff from oxfords early days? if not, there should be. I think it would be neat to go see old photos and stuff from the early years, I bet theres still alot of that stuff out there that people might have but not know what to do with.

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