1776 - The Last Shadow of Liberty
General Israel Putnam, aka "Old Put"
General of the Continental Army
Putnam was born in Salem Village (now Danvers), Massachusetts, on January 7, 1718. In 1740, at the age of 22, he moved west to Mortlake (now Pomfret) in northeastern Connecticut, where land was cheaper and easier for young men to buy. According to oral tradition, Putnam in his youth killed the last wolf in Connecticut with the help of a group of farmers from Mortlake. The tradition describes Putnam crawling into a den with a torch, a musket, and his feet secured with rope, in order to be quickly pulled out.
Putnam took part in the French and Indian War as a member of Rogers’ Rangers, and later led a similar company of rangers from Connecticut. He was promoted to captain in 1756 and to major in 1758. Captured on August 8, 1758 by the Kahnawake (Mohawk Indians) during a military campaign near Crown Point in New York, he was saved from being ritually burned alive by a rain storm and the last-minute intervention of a French officer.
In 1759, Putnam led a regiment into the valley of death the attack on Fort Carillon; and in 1760 he was with the British army that marched on Montreal. In 1762, he survived a shipwreck during the British expedition against Cuba that led to the capture of Havana. Major Putnam is believed to have brought back Cuban tobacco seeds to New England, which he planted in the Hartford area. This reportedly resulted in the development of the renowned Connecticut Wrapper (shade tobacco). In 1763 during Pontiac’s Rebellion, Putnam was sent with reinforcements to relieve Pontiac’s siege of Fort Detroit.
On April 20, 1775, when Putnam received news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord that started the war the day before, he left his plow in the field and rode 100 miles in eight hours, reaching Cambridge the next day and offering his services to the patriot cause. Putnam was named major general, making him second in rank in the Army of Observation that preceded the founding of the Continental Army. He was one of the primary figures at the Battle of Bunker Hill, both in its planning and on the battlefield. During that battle Putnam may have ordered William Prescott to tell his troops “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”.
Putnam joined the Continental Army when it was organized in July 1775, he was commissioned as colonel of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment, and later became brigadier of the Connecticut militia. After Bunker Hill, Putnam progressed to temporary command of the American forces in New York, while waiting for the arrival on April 13, 1776 of the commander-in-chief, Lieutenant General George Washington.