Jennifer Busa
Tories, Spies, and Traitors: Divided Loyalty in Revolutionary Connecticut
Public Programs and Events Coordinator, Connecticut Historical Society

Nov. 23, 2021

“Benedict Arnold has betrayed us. Whom can we trust now?”, a question posed by General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Speaking to 39 Ys Men of Meriden in-person (and 7 more by Zoom) on Nov. 23, Jennifer Busa, Public Programs and Events Coordinator for the Connecticut Historical Society, described the deep divide in Connecticut between Loyalists (Tories, loyal to England) and Patriots (revolutionaries, seeking independence).

With about 50 percent of the state’s population siding with the revolutionary cause and about 20 percent remaining loyal to England, communities and families were often fiercely fractured by their allegiance. Loyalists’ homes were looted and property confiscated, the proceeds used to pay for troops. Loyalists were frequently wealthy landowners or government officials, members of the Church of England, and also included ethnic minorities (Scots and Germans) as well as Native Americans and African Americans (usually slaves).

Spy networks were common. CT native Nathan Hale, said to be tall and handsome, a Yale graduate and later a teacher, joined the 7th Connecticut Regiment of the Revolutionary Army. Responding to Washington’s call for spies, Hale volunteered and in 1776 secretly traveled to British-held Long Island; within a week, he was captured and hung at age 22, denied his request for a firing squad and buried in an unmarked grave. Allegedly he stated “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”.

Women of that time, who generally meekly followed their husbands’ allegiance, had some exceptions, notably 16-year-old Sybil Ludington, who rode about 40 miles through the rainy night in Putnam County, New York to warn 400 militiamen under her father’s command that the British were burning Danbury, alerting people along her way by banging on their shutters. By ride’s end, most of the 400 soldiers were ready to march.

Maj. General Benedict Arnold

Loyalist Oath

Connecticut also had its complement of traitors, including Silas Deane who as America’s first foreign diplomat (Ambassador to France) helped to arrange a treaty between the emerging America and France. But he was later accused of being a traitor by his fellow colonists for financial impropriety and describing the revolution as hopeless. And then there was Norwich native Benedict Arnold, previously captain of Connecticut’s militia, but later feeling betrayed by his fellow countrymen and becoming a British spy, eventually dying in London.

Bruce Burchsted
Restoring a 100-Year-Old Player Piano

Club member
Nov. 16, 2021

Some 20 years ago, a broken 100-year-old player piano sat unused on the 3rd floor of the First Congregational Church of Meriden, about to be dumped during a cleanout. But church member Bruce Burchsted suddenly stepped in, transporting it to his house and so beginning a 20-year saga of rehabilitation that he recounted on Nov. 16 to 35 Y’s Men of Meriden in-person (with 8 more by Zoom).

Originally built by Berkshire (piano) and Simplex (player piano mechanism) from Massachusetts in the 1920s, it sat for many years unused until its “rescue”. Burchsted initially logged about 150 hours of work, purchasing parts and setting up a workshop in his basement. But then the instrument sat idly for years, that is until the COVID pandemic arrived, causing his enforced home confinement and suddenly freeing up time for Burchsted, allowing him to restart the rehabilitation process in January 2021.

It quickly became apparent that the pneumatic device for each of the 88 piano keys would need to be repaired and rebuilt, a time-consuming task (about 90 minutes each) for these complicated mechanisms. Burchsted demonstrated with a video the multiple steps required for this lengthy rebuilding process, painstakingly done one by one.

Originally powered by pedals (similar to a pump organ), an electric pump apparatus (installed later) to power the player piano mechanism was reassembled and the bellows were repaired, plus a calibration of the pressure in each of the pneumatics was performed. Then old lead tubing for each key required replacement with new neoprene tubing. And finally stripping the purple paint exterior, refinishing the piano case to its original wood color, and inserting the entire mechanism inside the case was accomplished.

The Finished Player Piano

Reinstalling pneumatics

Calibrating a pneumatic

Today, the piano sits proudly in the living room. The paper rolls turn smoothly, studded with perforations that trigger individual notes by activating individual pneumatics. Total time for this project: about 600 hours!

Paul Colburn
Bobcats - Connecticut's Secretive Wild Cat

Master Wildlife Conservationist Volunteer
Nov. 9, 2021

Bobcats are rarely seen in Connecticut, yet are native to the state. Speaking to 43 Y’s Men of Meriden on November 9 (and another 3 by Zoom), Paul Colburn, Master Wildlife Conservationist volunteer, presented an intriguing program titled “Bobcats – Connecticut’s Secretive Wild Cat”.

Once plentiful in the state, deforestation began following the arrival of Europeans as they sought to clear land for agriculture, thus depriving these animals of habitat. Further blows came later as bobcats were hunted for their pelts and as a perceived threat to livestock; indeed, until recently, some Connecticut communities offered a cash bounty for killing them. They were declared an endangered species in 1972, effectively eliminating hunting and trapping, but today fewer than 1200 remain in the state.

Very aggressive predators, male bobcats average 18-35 lbs. and females 15-30 lbs., and sport a jaw adapted for killing prey and shearing meat, as well as excellent hearing and eyesight, with night vision eight times better than that of humans. Diet includes squirrels (43 percent), rabbits (20 percent) and deer (10 percent); indeed, a bobcat can take down a 150 lb. white tailed deer. These cats generally reach an age of 10-12 years, but are themselves subject to attack as youngsters by owls, coyotes and adult male bobcats.

Bobcat in CT

Bobcats breed in March, producing 1-4 blind kittens who nurse for two months and then remain under their mother’s care for about a year as they learn survival tactics. The fathers are polygamous, leaving the mother and cubs as soon as they are born. Cubs learn to hunt by stalking and ambushing prey; they soon master a killing leap (by adulthood, they can leap over a seven-foot fence from a sitting position).

Bobcats rarely cause conflicts with humans, but occasionally will attack a domesticated chicken. And they rarely carry rabies, with no known human rabies in CT from a bobcat bite. Research is ongoing, with 50-75 having been trapped, examined and fitted with a GPS collar.

Ken White, Ph.D
Napoleon’s history and influence
Retired Chemist and club member
Nov. 2, 2021

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making mistake”, words spoken by Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France. Speaking to 40 Y’s Men of Meriden in-person (and 4 more online) on Nov. 2, club member Ken White used a PowerPoint presentation to describe the life of this man, short in stature (5’2”) but long in charisma.

Born in Corsica in 1769, Bonaparte joined the French Army at age 15 during the French Revolution. In 1796, he married Josephine de Beauharnais and two days later took command of the French Army in Italy; he quickly went on the offensive, defeating armies from Piedmont (northwest Italy) and Austria. Blocked from next invading England by the power of the British Royal Navy, Bonaparte instead invaded Egypt; some battles were won, some lost but Egypt was never conquered during this campaign. It is erroneously alleged that French cannoneers used the Sphinx for target practice, blowing off its nose.

Established as French First Consul in 1799 following a coup supported by the French electorate, Bonaparte tried unsuccessfully to reintroduce slavery into French Guinea, and sold Louisiana (Louisiana Purchase) to America for $15M (three cents per acre). He was then crowned Emperor in 1804 in Notre Dame Cathedral, officiated by Pope Pius VII (later imprisoned by Bonaparte). He then invaded Russia in 1812 with 600,000 troops, but his wily enemy retreated while using a “scorched earth” policy; despite reaching Moscow, most French soldiers faced starvation and the brutal Russian winter, with only 100,000 surviving.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon's withdrawal from Russia (painting by Adolph Northen)

One year later, a coalition of Russia, Austria and Prussia invaded France and captured Paris. The following year, Bonaparte was forced to abdicate and was exiled to Elba. But the resilient Bonaparte escaped from the island and managed to regain control of another French army but was eventually defeated at Waterloo in 1815 as he fought the Allies. He was again exiled, this time to Saint Helena where he died in 1821 at age 51.