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Sunday, April 26, 2015

In Just a Minute, Town Steps Back 238 Years

By James Lomuscio

As David Perkins, outfitted in Colonial garb and holding a Brown Bess, flintlock musket, spoke, his story made the time since April 25, 1777 seem the illusion, not his costumed presence.

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A flash, a crack and a boom precedes billowing black powder smoke as Todd Gerlander, dressed as a Minute Man, shows his prowess today with a Brown Bess flintlock minus the lead ball. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com

It was as if the invading British ships had just anchored a mile off Westport’s Compo Beach, and longboats filled with Redcoats were being lowered.

“Imagine seeing longboats full of Redcoats going over the side,” Perkins, a Bethel resident and a member of the 11th Connecticut Regiment Militia, said during an encampment redaction on Jesup Green today. “It’s going to take several minutes for these boats to come ashore.

“So, you’d run to ring a church bell, a meeting hall bell, or fire off a cannon two times to indicate it was a foe,” Perkins added.

And all able bodied men ages 16 to 60 would scurry like today’s first responders, having to show up at the village green. They were the Minute Men patriots who took up their arms in a minute’s notice, he said.

“Westport probably had several Minute Man companies,” Perkins noted at the encampment, one of several town events held today for Minute Man Day.

The day sponsored by the Westport Library, the Westport Historical Society, the Westport Young Woman’s League and the Westport Arts Center was town-wide celebration not only of the men who fought back against the invasion of the British as they marched toward Danbury to destroy munitions.

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Westporter Richard Fogel today holds out America’s earliest flag, the Bedford Flag, with the Latin slogan translated to mean, “Conquer or Die.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com

It also feted the life-sized Minute Man statue positioned at the Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road for the past 105 years.

Perkins waxed philosophically about the meaning of the term Minute Man, as well as the significance of the statue and the day’s celebration.

“It means that in time of national emergency, if something in your town happened, a catastrophe, you would not run from it, but go off to help,” he said.

“You’d have to show up,” Perkins added. “You’d bring your musket, your powder, your shot. And you had to be ready in a minute.”

The day’s events began at 8:30 a.m. with the 37th Annual Minute Man Race, 5K and 10K. The encampment was scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from noon to 2 p.m. there were Minute Man walking tours of Compo Beach, starting at the Ned Dimes Marina.

From 2:30 to 4 p.m. in the Westport Library’s McManus Room , Town Curator Kathie Bennewitz choreographed the Minute Man Monument’s restoration, followed by local history storyteller Ed Hynes offering his interpretation of the British landing at Compo.

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David Perkins of Bethel, a member of the 11th Connecticut Regiment Militia, recreated the day the British landed at Compo Beach. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com

Russell Wintalla of Somers was dressed as his fifth great grandfather Maj. Benomi Benson, who marched on Lexington, Mass. during the Revolutionary War. Wintalla spent much of the day near the statue, fielding questions from those on the walking tours as they came from Compo to the monument.

“They’d come up to me and ask if they could have their picture taken with me,” Wintalla said.

Run by the Connecticut’s Sons of the American Revolution, the encampment featured white tents with bare ground floors, four costumed Minute Men, Perkins’s wife Patricia Perkins in period dress and an array of Colonial flags.

According to Todd Gerlander, who demonstrated firing his black powder musket, lead free, several times, the earliest flag of the fledgling country was known as the Bedford Flag.

It depicts a sword brandished by a mighty arm from the heavens and the Latin words, “Vince aut Morire,” meaning “conquer or die.”

“The arm is the arm of God holding the sword, and when that flag flew over the North Bridge in Concord, Mass., the British stopped,” said Lee Gerlander, a Tolland resident and Todd Gerlander’s father.

In Westport, Perkins said there must have only been 30 to 50 Minute Men ready to stave off the advancing Redcoats numbering around 400.

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Patricia Perkins (r) was in period dress today along with her husband David. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“They were outnumbered,” he said, though not defeatist.

The patriots would fire their muskets, which were not accurate since they had no rifling, to hold the British at bay, or at least delay their advance, Perkins said.

Then they would retreat a bit, reload powder charges and .70-caliber balls secured with ramrods, take aim and fire again.

The stalling technique worked, he said, as residents here sent out riders to warn the other towns. In the spirit of the Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” citizens here were quick to tell others the British were coming.


Posted 04/26/15 at 07:40 PM  Permalink


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