Lou Sorrentino

 

Historic Site advised by Ph.D. to State Archeologist

The foundations of Beebe's mills on both sides of majestic Chapman Falls, Devils Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, CT serve as a reminder to guard our civil liberties such as Freedom of Speech, especially when the powers that be tell us they must be compromised in the name of preserving Liberty. In late 2012, this compelling Revolutionary War history story and authenticity of it's related artifacts was finally verified by an academic study. CT State Archeologist Nick Bellantoni supports this research, stating ''We have the mill, we have the stone and we have a wonderful story to go with it. It talks about people's attitudes toward each other at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and to tie it to an artifact is pretty cool.'' Best-selling Revolutionary War author Ray Raphael wrote " You've got a juicy piece of material history there, and in my mind reasonable linking to tell a big story."

Initially published in a full-page of the New York Times on 1/4/2004 titled Uncovering A Millstone Who Done It, this story concerns what happened to an English Loyalist named Abner Beebe and his gristmill in 1774. There are striking parallels evident between mob abuse in the name of Liberty in colonial times, and actions of the US government  today. The “Mob”, or “Sons of Liberty” violently enforced their local Committee of Association’s findings, even when the only offense was expressing a politically unpopular opinion. It was so common that even General George Washington approved of humiliating outspoken English Loyalist when Connecticut’s General Israel Putnam spoke out against it. For example, Abner Beebe’s uncle Jonathan was very outspoken against the Revolution, declaring that the Boston Massacre's General Gage was right in shooting at the crowd, and anyone against it deserved to have their bowels cut out.  The East Haddam Committee of Association voted Jonathan, Abner and his father William Beebe “inimical.” In effect, no one could do business with them legally and, in effect, there was no court to appeal to.

The English government in 1774 had suspended jury trials in America, choosing to send political prisoners outside America back to Britian for trials, where the government had more control. The first American version of the Bill of Rights was proclaimed as the “Declaration and Resolves” in October by the First Continental Congress of 1774.  This was a futile attempt to convince the existing English government to obey it’s own Constitution.

As a true English Loyalist, “Doct. Abner Beebe” was quoted in the Connecticut Gazette.  He “refused to be tried by said Bill of Rights”,  "the government “had a right to make whatever laws they pleased” and it was our “Duty to obey” ” Concerning representation he asserted that “they that had a mind to go back might be represented at home."  His words backfired.

Per "Origins and Progress of the American Rebellion" by Peter Oliver, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court which tried the Boston Massacre, the so-called Sons of Liberty took away  liberty in the name of liberty. In "February 1775 - A Parish Clerk of an Episcopal Church at East Haddum in Connecticut, a Man of 70 Years of Age, was taken out of his Bed in a Cold Night, & beat against his Hearth by Men who held him by his Arms & Legs. He was then laid across his Horse, without his Cloaths, & drove to a consid­erable Distance in that naked Condition. His Nephew Dr. Abner Beebe, a Physician, complained of the bad Usage of his Uncle, & spoke very freely in Favor of Government; for which he was assaulted by a Mob, stripped naked, & hot Pitch was poured upon him, which blistered his Skin. He was then carried to a Hog Sty & rubbed over with Hogs Dung. They threw the Hog's Dung in his Face, & rammed some of it down his Throat; & in that Condition exposed to a Company of Women. His House was at­tacked, his Windows broke, when one of his Children was sick, & a Child of his went into Distraction upon this Treatment. His Gristmill was broke, & Persons prevented from grinding at it, & from having any Connections with him. All these events occurred prior to the Battle of Lexington, when the rebels say the Rebellion began."

Centuries later, history repeated itself.  Accepted local history and customs were challenged with much controversy by this story becoming pubic knowledge. Striking parallels to the Sons of Liberty's treatment of Dr. Abner Beebe came out of heated public controversy by a local non-profit's lay committee.They challenged the research which re-wrote their long-cherished local folklore in 2007. As Beebe was just a doctor, the committee posed that the person who initiated the research was just a health professional, not a historian. The committee demanded even more verification even though a joint panel of DEEP experts and leaders of the local committee had already voted to accept the research and signage had been posted. Under this pressure, the DEEP had the newly posted signage taken down, called for independent verification by a historian and a planned display was put on hold.  Even so, the story was so compelling that the colonial millstone had to be removed from the falls by the DEEP for the safety of the many people who took the risk of climbing over the fence to see it. The colonial era broken millstone was actually removed from the site and is still withheld from public view in an undisclosed location.  Per the Chief of Bureau of Outdoor Recreation for the State of CT, "It was removed from the stream due to public safety concerns for the individuals who tried to climb into the water to get a first hand look and, for fear that the stone would be stolen or vandalized."

Six years later, the research verified by an academic study. application for inclusion on Historical Registers and public education projects have have been proposed to the DEEP and State Archeologist by the 2012 academic study. If you want to support guarding our civil liberties such as Freedom of Speech by having this story preserved, let CT State Archeologist Nick Bellantoni know. (Nicholas.bellantoni@uconn.edu) and Lou Sorrentino(lou.sorrentino@gmail.com)