Today is Halloween, and many of us this time of year are mesmerized by what one could arguably call every city’s memorial to its past: cemeteries and burial sites. . With that in mind, and a nod to the looming Veterans Day celebration, I thought it was best to describe perhaps the most amazing and unique place in Norwich; Norwichtown Colonial Cemetery.
If you stand at the grave of Colonel John Durkee and his wife, you are on a small hill that offers a unique panoramic view of the graves of important patriots. Durkee was the leader of the Sons of Liberty, a radical patriotic group in the late 1760s and early 1770s. Durkee would serve most of the duration of the American Revolution as his regiment’s colonel in the Continental Army. Durkee’s gravestone is well marked and the double gravestone for him and his wife, Martha, with the cloud design is remarkable.
Durkee’s most significant and traumatic combat experience came at the Battle of Monmouth on a hot day on June 28, 1778, in New Jersey. It was there, as the brigade-level commander of a vanguard of troops, that he was shot in the right hand and had to be removed from the battlefield. Durkee recovered and served until his death of natural causes in 1782.
As you stand in front of Durkee’s Tomb and look straight through the shallow valley and towards the Huntington Crypt; Jedediah Huntington is buried there in his family grave. Jedediah fought as a brigadier general leading a brigade of several Connecticut regiments at Monmouth. In fact, he was one of the leaders who asked General Washington to move to a safer location when their position was bombarded by the British.
Using Durkee’s Tomb as a fulcrum and turning slightly to the left of Huntington’s Crypt is the grave of Hannah Waterman Arnold, the mother of the infamous Patriot General-turned-traitor, General Benedict Arnold. His tomb is one of those presented as part of the Ghost Tour organized each year by the Norwich Historical Society.
Another well-known crypt that is also part of the Ghost Tour every year is that of Samuel Huntington and his wife, Martha. If you find yourself at Durkee’s Tomb, you can see the beautifully restored crypt through the trees once the leaves start to fall. Samuel Huntington was one of four signatories of the Connecticut Declaration of Independence and later succeeded John Jay as president of the United States Congress. Locals led by Bill Stanley argued that he was the first President of the United States since he led Congress under the Articles of Confederation. Equally important, he went on to serve as governor of the state of Connecticut. The pole of the American flag was installed and inaugurated near his grave last summer.
The next time you have time to wander around, explore the Old Norwichtown Cemetery, look for Colonel Durkee’s grave, marked with American and Irish flags on the small hill, and take in the panoramic view of many incredible Patriots who are all part of Norwich’s rich history.
If you would like more information on John Durkee, please read the article A “TRULY NOBLE” RESISTANCE: THE SONS OF LIBERTY IN CONNECTICUT by Dayne Rugh published in the Journal of the American Revolution: https://allthingsliberty.com/2020 / 08 / a-noble-resistance-the-sons-of-liberty-in-connecticut /
Damien Cregeau is a professional historian with numerous publications. He has a talk on Alexander Hamilton available online through C-SPAN. Mr. Cregeau lives in a historic house in Norwich.