I’d like to ask if you could tell me why a Petersburg, Va. foundry in the early 1800’s would create a number of andirons in the likeness of Israel Putnam, rather than someone else more famous like G Washington. ThanksQuestioning the fame of Israel Putnam (1718-1790) shows that you’re not from Connecticut. I’m not, either, so I can answer the question.
In the early republic, Gen. Putnam was to Connecticut what Stonewall Jackson was to the Old Dominion after Reconstruction, except that the state didn’t also have a Robert E. Lee to share the attention. Connecticut’s modern household-name Revolutionary heroes hadn’t yet been discovered: Nathan Hale was still nothing more than an agent caught and hanged on his first mission, and the legend of Sybil Ludington was unknown outside her immediate family (if it was known there).
Putnam had been famous before the Revolution began because of his personal bravery, both in fighting against French and Indians and in bagging a wolf on his farm. Private soldiers also seem to have remained fond of “Old Put,” who could never act as aloofly as Washington. (He was also popular with a small coterie of British officers he had befriended during the earlier wars.) As a result, Connecticut and areas settled by folks from that state provided a strong market for Putnam memorabilia. The Petersburg foundry might also have made souvenirs of Washington and other Revolutionary heroes, of course.
Putnam’s actual record during the Revolutionary War never matched those early expectations. In the early 1800s there was an ongoing and sometimes vituperative argument over whether he or Col. William Prescott was in command at Bunker Hill. Now historians agree that Putnam spent most of his time riding around behind the lines unsuccessfully urging more provincial troops to join the fray.
Putnam didn’t have the strategic sense to match his personal bravery. He was forced into retreat at the Battle of Long Island in 1776, and abandoned Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery to the British in 1777. Washington then assigned him to recruiting duty and later to regional commands. In 1779, Putnam suffered a bad stroke and had to retire to his farm.
Despite that record, early U.S. historians treated Putnam very well, listing him among the Continental Army’s most important commanders. Col. David Humphreys, a former aide (who was also from Connecticut), wrote a laudatory biography of the general in 1818. The general’s hasty retreat from British troops in Greenwich was turned (with a little massaging of the facts) into a legend. Even now, admirers and descendants of “Old Put” can be fervently loyal.