Jonathan Trumbull—born on 12 October 1710, at Lebanon, Conn.—graduated from Harvard College in 1727 and returned to Lebanon to prepare for the ministry. After the death of his brother Joseph, who had been their father's business associate, he joined his father in business in 1731. Trumbull soon made a name for himself in commerce, establishing direct trade relationships with Great Britain instead of dealing through intermediaries in Boston or New York, as most Connecticut merchants had done. His business acumen enabled his enterprises to flourish, until an unexplained reversal in 1766 threw his firm into virtual bankruptcy.
While engaged in commercial ventures, he was active in politics and eventually rose to be speaker of the Connecticut General Assembly. He advanced to the Deputy Governorship in 1766 and served in that capacity for three and one-half years. With the death of Governor William Pitkin in October 1769, Trumbull became the governor of the colony. During the decade between the Stamp Act and the Battle of Lexington, while tensions increased between the 13 colonies and Great Britain and war clouds thickened over English settlements in North America, Trumbull staunchly supported colonial rights.
Trumbull’s major contribution to the Continental cause, though, lay in harnessing his business skill to the pressing task of providing war material for the Continental Army. He made Connecticut a primary source for supplies for General Washington's troops, assuring them a somewhat steady—-if sparse—flow of food, clothing, and munitions.
Late in the war, a whispering campaign, later determined to probably have been started by the British in order to discredit him, weakened his political position in his home state. While completely vindicated by a legislative investigation of his administration in January 1782, Trumbull continued to lose popularity in Connecticut because of his controversial, unpopular plan for half-pay for disbanded officers from the Continental Army.
Wearied by political life, Trumbull retired from public life in May 1784 and devoted the remainder of his life to the study of theology. Trumbull died on 17 August 1785. Bolstered by his unshakable faith that "the Lord reigneth," he had substantially aided the Continental cause during the War for Independence.
(Gy.: t. 123; Ibp. 72'4"; b. 19'7"; dph. 6'2"; cpl. 80; a. 1 18-pdr., 1 12-pdr., 2 9-pdrs., 6 6-pdrs.)
The first Trumbull—a shoal-draft galley built on Lake Champlain at Skenesboro, N.Y., under the direction of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold—was launched on 10 September 1776 and began active service soon thereafter, Capt. Seth Warner in command.
Trumbull transported a draft of reinforcements to Crown Point, N.Y., as General Arnold's forces sought to hurry to completion a squadron of small vessels— mostly galleys and cannon-carrying gondolas, or "gun-dalows"—to oppose the expected British push down the lake toward Fort Ticonderoga. The Americans sought to retain possession of the lake—which they had controlled since early in the war—and thus engaged in a shipbuilding race with the British, who were also constructing a fleet of specially designed lake craft. Since there were no roads parallel to the lake, the British were forced to launch their invasion southward by water instead of by land. Control of Lake Champlain was thus vital to the success of British plans.
Trumbull was among Arnold's vessels that anchored in the lee of Valcour Island, south of Plattsburgh, N.Y., by early October, to await the British onslaught. With 25 ships, the British outnumbered the Americans by 10; and, in view of this numerical inferiority, Arnold's second-in-command urged a withdrawal. Nevertheless, despite his squadron's inferiority, Arnold bravely stood and fought.
Initially, the Americans' position favored them, as on the morning of 11 October 1776, Capt. Thomas Pringle's 25-vessel "fleet" sailed past Valcour Island and failed to discover Arnold's ships until he was south of them. Then, forced to attack from the leeward, Pringle's ships sailed up to meet Arnold's which were deployed in a crescent-shaped formation, anchored across Valcour Bay. In the resultant action, the Americans suffered heavy damage to Washington, Congress, and New York; and the loss of Royal Savage and Philadelphia. The action ended at nightfall when the British withdrew and anchored, thinking that the Americans could not escape.
Under cover of darkness and fog, the surviving ships in Arnold's squadron muffled their oars to slip past the unsuspecting British. However, before they could reach safety, a contrary wind sprang up and slowed their progress southward. The British weighed anchor, gave chase, and soon overhauled the Americans. In the ensuing battle, Arnold lost his own flagship, the galley Congress, and five other ships.
Trumbull escaped the holocaust, only to be captured by the British the following year, 1777, and was eventually destroyed.
Thus, the Battle of Valcour Island ended in a crushing tactical defeat for the Americans since it all but annihilated Arnold's flotilla and left the British in full control of Lake Champlain. However, the dominance of Arnold's little warships on the lake during the first year and one-half of the Revolutionary War had prevented British troops from invading the newly independent colonies from Canada through the Lake Champlain, Lake George, Hudson River corridor. Then, when the Royal Navy finally did manage to best Arnold's flotilla at Valcour Island in the autumn of 1776, winter was too close to permit English land forces to take advantage of British victory by a thrust down the corridor to attack Washington's army from the rear. This gave the colonies additional time to recruit, train, and arm the forces which the following year stopped a British invasion in a decisive victory at Saratoga, N.Y., which has been called the turning point of the American Revolution. Thus, while losing on a tactical level at Valcour, the Americans won a strategic victory which ultimately enabled them to achieve independence.