I love random events that introduce me to people from the past. It’s a dance with a ghost, a handshake with history. This is one of those stories…
I’d driven by this monument several times over the last few years whenever I went to Foxwoods Casino for meetings. Shaped like a pawn on a chessboard, it was big and different and meaningful when placed on this spot, but seemed largely neglected and ignored by the thousands of cars that drive by going to and from the casino. I’d glance over and contemplate stopping to read the engraved tributes on the monument, but the driveway was tight and not particularly welcoming for someone zipping by in a line of cars. From the road I could read the dates on the top of the front face of the monument – 1861 1865 – the American Civil War. Just about every town that was a town during the Civil War has a monument to those who served, and in many cases died there. I resolved to pull into the tight driveway on my return from my meeting for a quick visit.
By all accounts, this monument isn’t a big draw. I may be the first person to pull into the driveway to walk around it in months. It’s lovely and all, but let’s face it, most people aren’t thinking about the Civil War and World War One veterans of Preston, Connecticut. The monument is right up on the road, but there are no flags commemorating those who fought, and on this rainy day no flag on the flagpole behind the monument either. The monument was sited on the grounds of the former mansion of General Samuel Mott, who lived here and apparently, like seemingly every soldier in the Revolutionary War, hosted General George Washington. His home is long gone, but the library that replaced the building stands watch. The library in turn has been replaced by a newer building somewhere else in town and the old one, like the monument, doesn’t appear to have a lot of visitors.
Of the four faces on the monument, two are dedicated to the Civil War veterans from Preston who served, one to the guy who paid for the monument in 1898 (That guy gets a nod if only for preserving his name for the life of that monument for a modest cash donation. Hey, you can’t take it with you…), and one face was dedicated to General Samuel Mott. That face was facing the old library, meaning it was facing away from the road… meaning that very few people ever read his name anymore.
This monument marks the dwelling place of General Samuel Mott
Soldier of the Revolution
Friend of Washington
To honor the Civil War veterans, the town offered these two tributes:
“From this town obedient to the call of patriotism and humanity went forth one hundred and fifty men as soldiers in the Civil War.”
“In grateful memory of those citizens of the town of Preston who served their country in arms in the war for the preservation of the Union.”
Interestingly, the town decided to bolt on a bronze tablet honoring the men from Preston who served in World War One below the “grateful memory” engraving. I imagine there are other memorials in town to the veterans of each war, but I found it curious that they turned the Civil War memorial into a general “War Memorial” after WWI. There’s likely a story about the bolting on of the tablet buried somewhere in the town’s history, but it speaks to Yankee frugality. At least they faced it towards the road so people could see it.
“Colonel (afterwards General) Samuel Mott, at whose house General Washington is said to have called, lived in Preston City; his house occupied the spot where now (1922) stands the Public Library of that town … Samuel Mott was appointed an Engineer in 1776. He was Lieutenant-Colonel when he served in the Northern campaign at Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Quebec…” The Descendents of Governor Thomas Wells
Samuel Mott wasn’t a big name in the Revolutionary War, but he served his country in some of the most critical battles in the early part of the war. Being promoted to general was a highly political business during the war, but it does speak to some level of respect for his accomplishments to that point. I’m sure he knew Benedict Arnold well, being a fellow Connecticut guy, and likely served under him on those early campaigns when Arnold was still a complicated hero. Arnold led troops to Quebec through Maine and was met there by General Richard Montgomery, who came up from Lake Champlain. The soldiers who laid siege on Quebec faced starvation, smallpox, and a determined enemy. They barely escaped with their lives when the British sailed up the St Lawrence River in the spring to reinforce Quebec and drive out the Northern Army. Mott is a guy who saw a lot in his time in the army.
Mott moved to Preston in 1747, and came back after the war, where he served as the Justice of the Peace. There’s a record online of the many marriages that he blessed from 1769 to 1811. He died in 1813 at the ripe old age (for the time) of 78, and likely had quite a few people remembering him fondly as the gentleman who married them. I think of that Jewish saying when I meet someone long gone randomly: We all die twice; the day we stop breathing and the day people stop saying your name. If that’s the case, Samuel Mott has a little more time with us. I appreciated the call to go visit his old stomping grounds on a rainy June afternoon. My dress shirt quickly darkened as the rain pelted down on me as I walked around the monument reading and taking pictures. Drivers buzzing by surely thought I was crazy and they may be right. But I’m glad I stopped, and I’ll be sure to give a nod to the General whenever I drive by that monument.