Fairfield Now - Summer 2007
History comes full circle
By Nina M. Riccio
History, the saying goes, is written by the winners. So it should come as no surprise that most American history classes make little mention of the fact that there was a sizable contingent of colonists loyal to ol' George (the one in England, not the one at Valley Forge) back in 1776. Few museums or historical sites even acknowledge that they existed, and a quick perusal of the Norton Anthology of American Literature reveals not one bit of Loyalist prose. In fact, only the most intrepid researcher types are likely to dig deep enough to discover that the move toward American independence was far from unanimous among the colonists.
While traveling in New Brunswick, Canada, Dr. Bob Liftig, adjunct professor of English, came upon a house he thought looked like a Connecticut saltbox - and the investigation began.
The colonists of Old Fairfield (an area that included parts of Bridgeport, Westport, Redding, and Easton back in the day) leaned mainly towards independence, while 30 percent or so called themselves neutral. That left an estimated 6 percent who were Loyalists. Daniel Morehouse and his brothers were among them. They were a prosperous family in Redding Ridge, an area that was known as a hotbed of Loyalist sentiment. After the Patriots decided to throw the lot in jail, Daniel ran away to fight for the British. When the war was over in 1783, he, along with approximately 70,000 other Loyalists, had their property confiscated and were offered passage to Canada, Bermuda, or England. Daniel sailed to Canada and began life over again, marrying the daughter of another Loyalist, running a sawmill, and producing a brood of children.
Two hundred and twenty three years later, enter Dr. Bob Liftig, an adjunct professor of American literature at University College, whose idea of fun in the sun is to trek around historical sites and see what interesting bits of information he can gather for his classes. "You have one hour," his wife, Inez, warned him when they arrived at Kings Landing, a restored historical village in New Brunswick, Canada. It wasn't long before Dr. Liftig spotted a house "that looked just like a Connecticut saltbox," he remembers. A conversation with the docent revealed that the house was not only a Connecticut saltbox, it had been built by Daniel Morehouse and modeled exactly on the 1727 farmhouse he grew up in back in the States.
In his quest to learn more about the Loyalists and Morehouses in Fairfield, Dr. Liftig spent a great deal of time that summer at the Fairfield Historical Society. The more he learned, the more he realized that the perceptions students have of the era are wrong. "The Revolution is presented in school as a fight between brave and noble Patriots struggling against the tyranny of the king. In reality, the situation was more complex," he says. "It was in essence our first civil war, with colonists taking sides against each other, some switching sides as the tide of the war turned, and with many hoping for reconciliation with England. Loyalist churches were closed, and many Loyalists saw their property confiscated."
He also uncovered some little-known information about Black Loyalists - slaves who fought for the Crown because they were promised freedom. It made Dr. Liftig question how impartial the colonial literature presented in the Norton Anthology, the standard text required in his "Early American Literature" class and hundreds of other such courses around the country, actually was. To create a better balance, he added oral reports on the Loyalists, the Morehouse family, and the history of Redding Ridge to his usual list of research topics. "I wanted my students to understand local history because it's so pertinent to American literature, and it's important for them to see what they are reading in the proper historical context," he says.
One of his students was eager to learn more about the Loyalists in Redding. Andrea Rink, a school nurse from Redding who enrolled at University College to finish the bachelor's degree she began long ago, uncovered a wealth of Loyalist history in Redding, including the fact that the Episcopalian church in town, with its fiery preacher, was the center for Loyalist activity.
Tasked by her professor with "finding a Morehouse," Rink soon found that there is no one from the once prosperous and prolific family left in town. There was, however, an Andrew Morehouse working as a computer specialist in her school. But he denied he could have any connection with the Loyalists of Redding, noting that his family was all from Canada. Some sleuthing, with the help of a genealogy book Andrew's uncle had put together years ago, revealed that Andrew Morehouse is descended directly from one of Daniel's brothers. And so it came to be that, 10 generations after the Loyalist Morehouses were run out of town, Rink and Liftig were able to put together a reunion of local Morehouses at the old family homestead in Redding.
When challenged by Dr. Bob Liftig (right) to find a living member of the Morehouse family, Andrea Rink rose to the occasion. After hours of research, she found one - Andrew Morehouse - in the most amazing of places.
"I really get excited when I can get my students to realize they are living where there was real history being made," says Liftig. "Fairfield was burned in 1779, and the Patriots retreated to Bellarmine Hill - the same hill that Fairfield students go sledding on in the winter."
Dr. Liftig also had his students submit their Loyalist term papers to the Fairfield Historical Society's archives, and the writings they uncovered to the editors of the Norton Anthology for consideration in its next edition. "If you went by the most popular anthology of American literature ever published, the American Revolution was uncontested - what would be called in a later age, a 'slam dunker,'" says Dr. Liftig. "Like most of us, my students had been taught to view the Revolution as a conflict between heroes and villains, but there were many well-meaning people on both sides, and quite a few who were just waiting to see which way the wind was blowing before they chose their sides. There were hotheads, too, but perhaps the largest group just wanted the turmoil to be over and done with, so that they could get on with living their lives in peace and prosperity."