The following biography of General David Wooster was copied from pages 667 - 674 of Samuel Orcutt’s The History of the Old Town of Derby, Connecticut, 1642-1880 .

General David Wooster

Was born March 2, 1710, being the son of Abraham Wooster, and grandson of Edward Wooster one of the first three or four settlers of Derby. Abraham Wooster, father of the general, removed from Derby about 1706, to Stratford, in the south-east corner of what is now Huntington where he remained until about 1720, when he settled in Quaker’s Farm, in Derby, where he resided until his decease. Several deeds recorded in Derby prove these statements, and in which he is said to be a mason (i.e., a stone-mason). He was living as late as 1743. David was therefore born in Stratford, and was ten or eleven years old when he removed with his father to Quaker’s Farm. He was graduated at Yale College in 1738. Something more would probably have been known of his early life but for the burning of all his family papers by the British when they pillaged New Haven In 1779.

When the Spanish War broke out in 1739, he was employed as first lieutenant, and in 1745, as captain of a coast guard. In 1746 he married in New Haven, the beautiful and accomplished daughter of Thomas Clap, who was president of Yale College; but neither the society of a charming companion, his love of classic lore, nor his youthful inclination for a learned profession could restrain his devotion to the interests of his country. He continued in the service, and was appointed captain in Colonel Burr’s regiment which formed a part of the troops sent by Connecticut in the celebrated expedition against Louisburg in 1745.

He there proved himself an active, spirited officer, and bore a distinguished part in the siege and capture of that strong fortress. He was retained among the colonial troops to keep possession of the conquest he had assisted in effecting, and he was soon after selected among the American officers to take charge of a cartel ship for France and England. He was not permitted to land in France, but was received in England with distinguished honor. The young American officer, as he was called, was presented to the King and became the favorite of the court and the people. The King admitted him in the regular service and presented him with a captaincy in Sir William Pepperell’s regiment, with half pay for life. His likeness at full length was taken and transferred to the periodicals of that day. The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, which took place in 1748, restored Louisburg to France, and the young American officer to private life and his family.

He was not, however, permitted to remain long in this situation, for the attempts at settling the boundaries between the French and the English North American possessions having proved vain, the war of 1756 followed; and in this great contest Gen. Wooster was soon thought as a man qualified for a higher sphere, and was appointed colonel of a regiment raised in Connecticut, and afterwards to the command of a brigade, in which station he remained until the peace of 1763, when he returned again to his family, bearing many marks of his valor and intrepidity.

Soon after the close of this war he engaged in mercantile business in New Haven, and held the office of his majesty’s collector of the customs for that port. He was highly respected both in his private and public character.

In the great contest between England and the North American colonies, Gen. Wooster took no doubtful part; and although an officer in the British regular establishment entitled to half pay for life, he did not hesitate to take sides with his native country, and his pen and his sword were actively employed in the defense of its rights.

After the battle of Lexington he was fully aware that the sword alone must decide the contest. Under those circumstances he, as well as other military men of experience, saw at once how important it was for the Americans to get possession of the fortresses of the country, together with the cannon, armsand military store there deposited. The peculiar situation of the fort at Ticonderoga, commanding the great pass between the North Atlantic colonies and Canada, did not escape his notice. He, therefore, with a few others of kindred spirit while engaged in the General Assembly in May, 1775, planned the expedition from Connecticut to seize upon and retain that fortress; and to enable them to carry their plans into execution, they privately obtained a loan of eighteen hundred dollars from the treasury of the state, for which they became personally responsible. Such was the secrecy and dispatch in planning and executing this measure that on the 10th of May, as is well known, this fort was surprised and delivered up to Allen and Arnold, and their brave followers. This step, one of the boldest taken at that period of the contest, was at the sole risk and responsibility of Gen. Wooster and other individuals. Congress, when informed of this transaction, recommended that an inventory of the cannon and military stores found in the fort should be taken "in order as they say, that they may be safely returned when the restoration of the former harmony between Great Britain and these colonies, so ardently wished fir by the latter, shall render it prudent and consistent with the overruling of self-preservation."

The military experience, as well as the daring spirit of Gen. Wooster, recommended him to Congress when raising an army of defense, and among the eight brigadier-generals appointed by that body on the 22nd of June, 1775, he was the third in rank. The operations of that year were principally confined to the vicinity of Boston, and to an expedition against Canada and Quebec, under the command of Gen. Montgomery, who held the second rank among the brigadier-generals. The death of their distinguished leader under the walls of Quebec was severely felt by the Americans.

During the campaign of 1776 Gen. Wooster was employed principally in Canada, and at one time had the command of the Continental troops in that quarter.

After this expedition he returned home and was then appointed first major-general of the militia of his state. During the whole winter of 1776-77 he was employed in protecting Connecticut against the enemy, and particularly the neighborhood of Danbury, where large magazines of provisions and other articles had been collected by Americans. He had just returned to New Haven from one of his tours when he heard on Friday, the 15th of April, 1777, that a body of two thousand men, sent from New York on the preceding day, had effected a landing at Norwalk and Fairfield for the purpose of destroying the magazines at Danbury, which object they accomplished the next day, having found little or no obstacle on their way.

Immediately on hearing this news Gens. Wooster and Arnold set off from New Haven to join the militia hastily collected by Gen. Silliman. In consequence of heavy rain the militia they had ordered to be sent to them from New Haven did not arrive until the 20th in the evening in the vicinity of Danbury. The number of the militia thus collected was about six hundred men, and with this small force it was determined to attack the enemy on the following morning in their retreat, and for this purpose a part of the men were put under the command of Gen. Wooster, and a part under Gen. Arnold. With his handful of men Gen. Wooster the next morning pursued the enemy, regardless of the inequality of the numbers. But being inexperienced militia, and the enemy having several field-pieces, our men, after doing considerable execution, were broken and gave way. The General was rallying them when he received a mortal wound. A musket ball took him obliquely, broke his back-bone, lodged within him and could not be extracted. He was removed from the field, had his wound treated by Doct. Turner, and was then conveyed to Danbury, where all possible care was taken of him. The surgeons were from the first aware of the danger of the case, and informed the General of their apprehensions, which he heard with the greatest composure. His wife and son had been sent for, and arrived soon enough to receive his parting benediction. He told them that he was dying, but with strong hope and persuasion that his country would gain its independence. How gloriously his presentiment has been verified!

The symptoms soon became alarming, and on the second day of May he died, at the age of sixty-seven. His remains were deposited in the church-yard of that village, which he had thus volunteered to protect.

The historian of that day (Gordon), in relating this transaction, says of him: "The General behaved with great valor, and lost his life gloriously in defending the liberties of America, at the advanced age of seventy."

Duly sensible of the loss the country had sustained in the death of Gen. Wooster, and justly appreciating his merits and services, the lower House of Congress passed a resolution in 1822, to erect a monument to Gen. Wooster, and that five hundred dollars should be appropriated for that end, but the Senate did not concur, because of so many bills of that kind being presented at that time. [Benson J. Lossing’s "Field Book of the Revolution."]

Although neglect is certainly involved in the long delay in suitably marking the resting-place of the remains of Gen. Wooster, it is yet a subject of congratulations that it has resulted in the planting of a more beautiful and appropriate shaft that would have been done by the comparatively small sum proposed by Congress. This satisfaction is increased by the reflection that the citizens of his native state, and especially of the town he lost his life in defending, united in the final consummation of the act of justice.

Of generous impulses,

"Large was his beauty and his soul sincere,"

calm and unruffled under great or minor public difficulties, of tall, fine, commanding personal appearance, those who knew him best have likened him to our beloved Washington. Traduced, libeled, and even insulted by jealous, designing officers, especially the traitorous Arnold, his name and virtues now stand out in beautiful and shining contrast with the deeds of those who maligned him while living. We must not forget that General Wooster was a high toned Christian, and one of the few who occasionally officiated as chaplain as well as chief of his army, praying to the God of battles for success in a cause which has shed its blessings upon untold millions.

The following sketch of the family of General David Wooster was left in the hand-writing of Mrs. Mary Clapp Turner, granddaughter of General Wooster.

"Mrs. Mary Clapp Wooster was the widow of Gen. David Wooster, who fell in defense of his country between Danbury and Ridgefield. She was the daughter and only surviving child of David [sic – Other sources say "Thomas."] Clap, President of Yale College. She married at the age of sixteen, and was the mother of three [sic – Other sources, Jacobus included, say there was still another daughter, who also appears to have died in infancy.] children, two daughters and one son, the eldest, a daughter, died when not quite a year old.

"The properties of this lady’s understanding and of her heart were such as are rarely found in the same person. The powers of her mind were strong, active and firm. These were awakened, enlightened and enlarged by an early, uniform and well regulated education. Her understanding was enriched by a great variety of useful information. Her knowledge of New England, particularly Connecticut was extensive and minute. She was conversant with all the historical and natural curiosities of this country. Her society was much sought, and her conversation much employed by persons of literature. The pleasure in noting these characteristics would be much less than it is were we obliged to stop here. What most distinguished, most adorned and most ennobled her was the gospel of the Son of God. This she professed in early life, and from that period to the day of her decease, lived steadily under its influence. Though fervent and animated on all topics, whenever she opened her lips on the subject of religion, her fervor second to glow, and her animation kindled in proportion to the magnitude of the subject. She was charitable to the poor, sympathetic to the afflicted, and benevolent to all. She passed through many scenes. Her early days were strewed with flowers, but the later part of her life was full of disappointments and afflictions. But all these troubles she bore with equanimity and fortitude. As she approached the close of her life, her relish for religion increased, and her relish for everything else abated. Her conversation was principally about heaven and heavenly things. It was the result of choice, not of necessity. While her body was a prey to disease, her soul seemed more and more above this world. Her exhibition of the realities of religion during the last days of her life, made those who conversed with her forget all her former greatness, and proficiency in other things. In the character of the Christian we are willing to forget every other conspicuous trait which justly and singularly belonged to her. Her light seemed to be truly that of the just, which shineth more and more until the perfect day. She was born in 1726, and died in New Haven at the age of seventy-eight.

"Her son, Thomas Wooster, was sent to Europe. On his return he married Lydia Sheldon, by whom he had five sons and one daughter. He served as a colonel in the Revolutionary war. After the war he went with his family to New Orleans. Business rendered it necessary for him to go to New Haven, and on his return to New Orleans the ship was lost and he was never heard of. His widow with her family returned to New York. Four of her sons went to sea, and two were lost. The fifth son, Charles Whitney [sic -- Most other sources say "Whiting." Whiting was the maiden name of Mary Clap Wooster’s mother.] Wooster, married Fanny Stebbins, daughter of Simon, who was the son of Theophilis, who was the son of Boni (Benoni), who built the house now standing in Ridgefield, between 1708 and 1762 (who was the son of Thomas of Deerfield, Mass., who was the son of Roland, who came to this country in 1628, who was the son of Sir Thomas of Suffolk county, in the west of England). The house in Ridgefield has holes over the door made by bullets which were fired when the battle was fought in which Gen. Wooster was wounded.

"Charles W. Wooster had command of the forts around the harbor of New York, during the three years’ war of 1812, under the title of Major of the Sea Fencibles. After the war he went to Chili [sic], and was made admiral of their navy. He died at San Francisco in 1848.

"He had two sons; one died in infancy, the second Charles F. Wooster, was educated at West Point, served in the Florida war, and the war with Mexico. At the battle of Chihuahua, though Col. Doniphan had command, yet it was through his advice and counsel the victory was gained; he gave the directions of all the movements. To use the words of Major Porter, ‘he [sic] didn’t know what fear was.’ His talents were fine and he had all the qualities of an officer. He was captain of the Fourth Artillery. He died at Fort Brown, Texas, on the 14th of February, 1856, aged thirty-nine years. His remains were brought to Brooklyn, and are interred in the family lot in Greenwood Cemetery. His name and his mother’s (whose remains are there also) are on one side of the monument and Stebbins on the other. By the foregoing it will be apparent that four generations in succession were in the service of their country."

An incident without romance occurred under Gen. Wooster’s command, which illustrates forcibly some of the characters that upheld the Revolution, for had there not been much of this decided and thorough character among the Americans, notwithstanding all that was exhibited to the contrary, the independence of the colonies would never have been gained.

Caleb Tomlinson of Huntington, father of Charles Tomlinson, not long since living in Huntington, aged nearly four score years, was sent by Gen. Wooster with a dispatch to Gen. Washington. Being from the same neighborhood as Gen. Wooster, young Tomlinson was selected because the General knew him to be a plucky Yankee, although a little uncultivated in his manners, and one to be trusted for the discharge of duty.

Arriving at head-quarters he asked to see Gen. Washington, to which the guard replied: "You cannot see him." "But I must, I have a dispatch for him from Gen. Wooster." The guard reported to Gen. Washington, and returned answer that he could be admitted. Washington was seated at a rude table writing when Tomlinson handed him the dispatch, and Washington on reading it nodded assent and asked, "Anything more?" "Nothing but an answer direct from you," said Tomlinson. "Do you presume to tell me what I must do," inquired the General. "No, General, but I’ll be damned if I leave these quarters without something to show that I have discharged my duty as a soldier." Rising from his seat Washington remarked, "You are from Connecticut, I perceive." "I am, sir," was the reply. Tapping him on the shoulder the General said, "Young man, I wish to the God of battles I had more such soldiers as you. You shall be granted your request."
Copyright © Kenneth Jennings Wooster
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File created: June 30, 1999.
File modified: December 18, 2002.