J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, August 01, 2022

In memory of Capt. Joseph Booth

A tweet from Emily Sneff sent me on the track of an item that appeared in the Connecticut Courant of Hartford on 29 July 1776:
Last Sunday a Child was baptised by the Rev. Mr. [Joseph] Perry of East Windsor, by the Name of INDEPENDENCE.
That news item was reprinted in the New-England Chronicle.

The Courant appeared on Mondays, so “Last Sunday” probably meant not the day before but a week before then: 21 July.

That single sentence still left a lot of questions. Who was the couple who chose to name their child Independence? Was that a boy’s name or a girl’s name? What happened to that child later in life?

So I went looking for Independence. And I found two different babies baptized Independence in central Connecticut in the summer of 1776, with the possibility of still more. Here’s one story.

Joseph Booth (1736–1810) of Enfield, Connecticut, served in the colonial forces during the French and Indian War when he was in his early twenties. Booth’s diary recording that experience and a miscellany of later events, from family milestones to sermon topics to household accounts, has been digitized by the Connecticut Historical Society.

In 1762 Joseph Booth married Mary Hale (1733–1809), born in Glastonbury. They had their first child a year later, “Mary Hale junr.” as Joseph noted in his diary. Booth recorded another child every two or three years after that: David, Annis, Lydia, another Joseph, Peter, Eliphalet… All of the Booth babies survived infancy and lived into the nineteenth century.

That brings us up to the outbreak of war. Heitman’s Historical Register lists a Joseph Booth serving as an ensign in Erastus Wolcott’s Connecticut state regiment from December 1775 to February 1776 and a captain in Comfort Sage’s state regiment from June to December 1776.

One Booth family genealogy, Genealogical Records of Some of the Descendants of Robert Boothe, of Saco, Maine, 1642 by J. H. Booth (1877), quotes a commission signed by Gov. Jonathan Trumbull on 20 June 1776 naming Joseph Booth as a captain. Another, One Branch of the Booth Family Showing the Lines of Connection with One Hundred Massachusetts Bay Colonists by Charles Edwin Booth (1910), states that commission was issued on 21 Mar 1777.

I can’t sort all that out. It’s possible these commissions refer to multiple men. There might have been separate commissions in the Connecticut militia and the state’s short-term forces. And the family chroniclers did make some errors.

All sources agree, however, that Joseph Booth served in the American military early in the Revolutionary War, reaching the rank of captain. Wolcott’s regiment was on the siege lines at Boston in the first months of 1776, and Sage’s was at the Battle of White Plains. But Booth, reaching the age of forty in 1776 and being the father of several young children, was on missions that took him away from Enfield for a few months at most, not years.

TOMORROW: The child Independence was born.

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