Washington Ate Here

by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, June 1998)

This past month I uncovered a baffling bit of Bolton's history—baffling because its importance makes it difficult to understand why it has been forgotten.

I found the record of General Washington’s visit to Bolton in "Washington's Travels in New England: A Chronological Itinerary," by Charles Eugene Claghorn III. This comprehensive analysis of Washington’s travels in New England is abstracted from his diaries and other writings, his expense accounts in the Library of Congress, and information from local libraries and historical societies. A copy of this document is now available at the Bentley Memorial Library.

Bolton was settled by a group of puritanical people who formed the first local government in a meeting house that later became the Bolton Congregational Church. The Rose Farm (also known as Valley View Farm) on Bolton Center Road was where the early Bolton pastors lived. In fact, the foundation of the current house on the site is the original. In 1723 the town passed a law that said citizens over 16 years of age were to work a total of six days mending the pastor’s fences and clearing his land. Many young Bolton men and women built those beautiful stone walls of Valley View.

The pastor in 1781 was the Reverend George Colton, a Yale graduate well known in Connecticut as the "High Priest of Bolton." The appellation was fitting because he stood 6 feet 8 inches tall.

Prior to the final battle at Yorktown, George Washington had not fought a battle for three years, chiefly because of want of guns, clothing, and ammunition for his men. America was close to bankruptcy and defeat, and Washington’s army had dwindled to under 3,000 troops. In the coming battle, however, George Washington dreamed of finally winning the Revolution. He stopped in Bolton on his way to finalize those battle plans with General Rochambeau.

Had Washington only scraped the mud from his boots or shaken the dust from his cape, he would have added to the history of Bolton. But on March 4, 1781, General Washington dined at Reverend George Colton’s house. The French had already inspected every planned camp site in Connecticut, and Washington and Colton knew Bolton was to be a very important site. The town was asked to raise 20 tons of hay to feed the recently purchased horses of the French army.

On June 21, 1781, and for a period of four days, the entire French army passed through Bolton, camping on Valley View Farm. Reverend George Colton was written up in the Paris newspapers when he offered to adopt one of the French camp follower children. Valley View Farm has yielded up as proof of this occupancy one cannon ball (a knee buster type), several musket balls, silver and copper coins, French uniform buttons, buckles, and other artifacts. State Representative Pam Sawyer recently succeeded in getting money set aside to list the Revolutionary Road and the camp sites in the National Register of Historic Places.

I found there was also a second time when George Washington passed through Bolton. This was when, as President, he toured the states seeking support for the recently drafted American Constitution. On November 9, 1789, he proceeded on what is now Route 44, passing through the Quarryville area of Bolton.

If Bolton is to avoid being swallowed up in faceless urban blight, then our schools need to teach the local history that gives us our identity. We need to give our children roots first, and then their wings.