On this day in 1776, General George Washington appoints Major General Israel Putnam commander of the troops in New York. In his new capacity, Putnam was expected to execute plans for the defense of New York City and its waterways.
A veteran military man, Putnam had served as a lieutenant in the Connecticut militia during the French and Indian War, where he survived capture by Caughnawaga Indians at Detroit and led regiments in the victories at Ticonderoga and Montreal. Connecticut elected Putnam to the colony’s General Assembly in 1766 in the wake of the Stamp Act Crisis. He was also among the founders of the Sons of Liberty in Connecticut. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Putnam received a commission as a general in the Continental Army under General George Washington.
Putnam’s leadership and battlefield experience served him and the Continental Army most admirably at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, where he helped develop strategy and distinguished himself on the battlefield. Shortly after taking command of the New York troops in March 1776, though, Putnam’s career took a downturn. In August 1776, British troops forced his retreat at the Battle of Long Island. After retreating again from the New York battles for Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton in 1777, General Washington began to doubt Putnam’s leadership. Considered one of Washington’s most valuable military men at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Putnam began to be seen as an ineffective leader. Still, he continued serving in the Continental Army until suffering a career-ending stroke in December 1779.
Israel Putnam was not the only member of his extended family to end his life in disrepute. His ancestors were among the residents of Salem Village (modern-day Danvers), Massachusetts, to execute 20 of their neighbors after accusing them of witchcraft in the famous trials of 1692.