The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Putnam, Israel

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PUTNAM, Israel, American Revolutionary soldier: b. Salem (now Danvers), Mass., 7 Jan. 1718; d. Pomfret (now Brooklyn), Conn., 19 May 1790. His education was a desultory one. In 1740 he removed from Salem and purchased in that part of Pomfret, Conn., which is now Brooklyn, the farm where he afterward resided. It is said that he also hung out a shingle advertising entertainment for man and beast. There is also the well-known anecdote of the exploit in which he crept into the lair of a destructive wolf and there dispatched the animal. But little definite is known of Putnam's life until he is found in 1755 in receipt of a commission as captain of Connecticut volunteers in a regiment sent by the colony to aid in repelling a threatened French invasion of New York. He was present at the defeat of the French and Indians under Dieskau near the southern end of Lake George, and later was very successfully employed as a ranger and scout. In 1756 he commanded a company in Abercrombie's army, which had Crown Point as an objective, but was so outplayed by Montcalm as to be obliged to act rather defensively than offensively. He received a major's commission from the Connecticut legislature in 1757. During Abercrombie's expedition against Ticonderoga in 1758 Putnam commanded an advance guard and scouting party of 100. In the retreat following the rash and disastrous attack on the post he became aide to Abercrombie, replacing Howe, who had been shot. Having been sent out in August to capture from the enemy a large quantity of British stores, he was taken prisoner and tortured by the Indians, but rescued by a French officer. He was sent to Ticonderoga and thence to Montreal, where he was exchanged. Promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1759, he accompanied the force sent against Montreal, upon whose surrender Canada passed into English hands. In 1762 he commanded the contingent of 1,000 sent by Connecticut in the naval expedition against Havana. His vessel was wrecked off the Cuban coast, but those on board escaped by rafts, and took part in the successful attack on Havana. He was sent out against the Indians of the frontier, who, under Pontiac (q.v.), were menacing Detroit, in 1763. A peace was concluded; Putnam returned to his farm, and there remained in retirement until 1775. When the news of Lexington reached him, he is said to have been plowing, Cincinnatus-like; and at once to have turned loose the oxen and ridden to Cambridge. A Connecticut regiment was forthwith organized, and Putnam, with a brigadier's commission, appointed to command it. In May he led a battalion to Noddle's Island, where he captured a sloop and burned a schooner of the enemy. He was a participant in the battle of Breed's (Bunker) Hill, which he had helped to fortify; the chief command in the action has been claimed for him against Prescott. Trumbull, in his picture in the Capitol at Washington, shows Putnam in brilliant uniform defending a gun. Commissioned major-general in July, he was placed in command at New York, and was ranking officer within the fortifications during the battle of Long Island. After having been stationed at Philadelphia, Crosswick and Princeton, he was sent in May 1777 to command in the “Highlands” of New York. Owing to the loss of Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton, he was removed from his command; but later was restored on being acquitted by a court of inquiry. Subsequently, when he was commanding in Connecticut, Horseneck, an American outpost, was attacked by the British under Tryon. Putnam, according to the story, escaped by dashing on horseback down-hill, and eventually pursued the retreating Tryon, from whom he took 50 prisoners. In the winter of 1779 he was stricken with paralysis and incapacitated from further service. Consult ‘Lives,’ by Tarbox (1876), and Livingston (1901); Ober, ‘Old Put, the Patriot’ (1904).