A few months ago, I came across a map purporting to show the route taken by more than 4,200 captive British and German soldiers and their American escorts through my part of Connecticut back in November of 1778. They were members of the so called "Convention Troops" surrendered by General Burgoyne after Saratoga under very generous terms that Congress subsequently nullified. Instead on marching to Boston for evacuation back to Europe, they languished for a year in Cambridge and Rutland Massachusetts while their status was challenged. Ultimately Congress decided to send the Convention Army from Massachusetts to Charlotteville Virginia on what is thought to be the longest march of the Revolution. Part of that route crossed through Northcentral and Northwestern Connecticut.
Intrigued, I called up Connecticut State Archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni and learned that no formal archeological assessment has been done in Connecticut for the encampments of the Convention Army, as was done for sites associated with Rochambeau’s march through the State in 1781. It seems reasonable to assume that Burgoyne’s Convention troops, along with their militia and Continental army escorts, would likewise leave evidence in the archaeological record at their encampment sites, provided there has not been excessive disturbance since then, and that there is sufficient documentation available in the historical record to help pinpoint the location of these encampments.
I offered to undertake a research project drawing on available historical evidence to document the route taken by the Convention Army as it passed through Connecticut from Massachusetts to New York with the goal of locating, if possible, the various places where it encamped and providing the basis for potential archeological study.
I have now written my report and believe we have solid evidence for several encampment sites in a number of communities in Northwest Connecticut. Entitled Documentary Evidence for the Route of the Convention Army through Connecticut in November 1778, it provides historical background for the Convention troops that marched from Massachusetts through Connecticut on their way to Virginia. It identifies confusion and false assumptions made in the secondary source record between the movement in 1777 of certain groups of captives taken before the Convention, and those surrendered in Burgoyne’s capitulation. It examines evidence for the number of Convention troops that passed through Connecticut in 1778, their unit composition, and order of march. It also records details about the Continental and militia troops that comprised their military escorts.
It also examines evidence for the route of march of the six divisions of the Convention Army through Connecticut, documenting wherever possible the dates and places passed and the most likely roads travelled based on historical map evidence, contemporary primary sources and local records. It confirms that Convention Troops entered the State at Enfield, crossed the Connecticut River and proceeded through portions of the modern Connecticut towns of Suffield, Granby, Simsbury, Canton, New Hartford, Barkhamsted, Winchester, Colebrook, Norfolk, North Canaan, Canaan, Salisbury and Sharon, with encampments at various places along the route. One of the more exciting discoveries in this research is evidence for identifies another potential route of march for at least some of the German troops escorted by Poor’s Continental Brigade from Norfolk to New Milford via South Canaan and Kent, Connecticut.
Finally, it provides documentary details for each known place of encampment, considering how often sites may have been used by successive divisions of the Convention Army as they passed through, and assessing the quality of the available evidence to pinpoint likely areas for future archaeological research. Some of these encampments were located within structures such as barns, while others were in open fields and hillsides. Officers often found their own accommodations in local homes and taverns. This report also describes the current condition of likely encampment sites, and estimates patterns of land use since 1778 that may affect the quality of the remaining archaeological record.
Those with an interest in reading the whole thing can contact me directly. I'll share some of the primary source material and more interesting findings in subsequent posts.