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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Major General Jabez Huntington (1719-1786): His World and Some of his Kin

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

This post offers just a glimpse into some of the people close to Jabez during his lifetime. There are so many it will be impossible to write about them all. Merchants, ministers, enslaved workers, politicians, ship captains, kin, cousins. The list goes on.

Jabez HUNTINGTON by Revolutionary War artist John Trumbull (1756-1843).
Half-size, full-length portrait of Major General Jabez HUNTINGTON by John Trumbull (1756-1843). Reportedly first commissioned portrait done by Trumbull (in 1777). Jabez had just been made sole Major General of Connecticut militia. Here he is showing us his well-fitted troops ready to defend the Connecticut coastline. Portrait owned by the Connecticut State Library.

Despite his wealth and privilege, it cannot have been easy being Major General Jabez Huntington (1719-1786).

First, as a young man, he endured a lot of premature deaths of close family members: three brothers, his first wife, his father, a daughter, and grandchildren. With the exception of his wife, they all probably died of Yellow Fever (or other diseases). Then, Jabez spent the prime of his life enduring the stressful Revolutionary War era. He was one of many unsung hero "Founding Fathers."

Jabez' eldest son Jedediah HUNTINGTON (1743-1818) in his plain clothes. Miniature painted by John Trumbull in the post-war era. Owned by the Connecticut Museum of Culture and History.

Sandwiched between his popular and successful father Captain Joshua (1698-1745) and his firstborn go-getter son Jedediah, Jabez wore many political and military hats all while trying to advance an inherited mercantile empire. General Assembly meetings, Council of Safety meetings, commissary planning, militia duty, and shelling out his own money and resources for the war took its toll and he famously died from the stress caused by it--everyone knew it.

He was not the only one in his merchant circle to be mentally and physically overcome by the war. The Trumbull family of Lebanon also lost family members during the war years. These two families were notable for their provisioning of the Continental Army and Connecticut militia and trying to protect the port of New London from invasion.

But before all that Revolutionary War mess, Jabez inherited a fortune (particularly in land) and then created more wealth in the 1740s-1760s through a savvy and lucky merchant/mercantile career enabled by the hard physical work of not-free laborers like Boston TrowTrow (1706-1772) and Samuel Huntington. These two men (and more) helped the Jabez Huntington family business: farming, animal husbandry, tanning, coopering, etc. Boston died in 1772 at the age of 66 and Samuel went on to fight for his country in the Revolution and was freed in 1781.

Important person in Jabez' world: Boston TrowTrow (1706-1772) Gravesite located in Norwichtown cemetery. Not free workers like Boston helped merchants make their fortunes (as well as not free workers in the sugar islands!). In turn, these fortunes were used to help win the war against Great Britain. In his 60s, Boston was a Black governor of Norwich from 1770-1772. Gravestone in remarkable condition probably thanks to recent cleaning. Photo taken by historian Dave from Norwich.

By luck of birth, Jabez was at the top of the New London County social and political ladder with other Huntington cousins such as Hezekiah (1696-1773), Benjamin (1736-1800), and future signer of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel (1731-1798).

Advantageous marriage unions continued to be very important to the children of Joshua and Hannah Huntington. Jabez married first Elizabeth Backus (1721-1745) of the Yantic neighborhood of Norwich. The Backus' made their respectable wealth off of their colonial manufactured goods. Elizabeth's brother was the famous American Baptist: Isaac Backus (1724-1806).

Isaac Backus, famous American Baptist and Patriot leader. Also, the brother-in-law of Jabez Huntington.
Jabez' brother-in-law, the Reverend Isaac Backus (1724-1806). Portrait located at the National Archives?

Elizabeth died a few weeks after giving birth to her second son Andrew. In keeping with Puritan traditions, little Andrew was named for Jabez' deceased brother. Roughly two months later Jabez would bury his own father, Joshua. Needless to say, 1745 was a very tough year for him.

One year later Jabez married the young Hannah Williams (1726-1807) of Pomfret, CT. She was the educated daughter of Congregational minister Ebenezer Williams.

Hannah's mother was Penelope Chester from Wethersfield. The Chesters were also merchants, surprise! Hannah and Jabez' daughter Elizabeth married Captain John Chester (in the 1770s)--possibly her second cousin. What a complex web these merchant families wove! And messed up DNA unfortunately.

Jabez and Hannah's daughter Elizabeth "Betsey" Chester and Captain John Chester of Wethersfield, CT. They were second cousins--typical of this era! Portraits were done in 1795 by artist Joseph Steward. Privately owned.

Finally we have some portraits of the people I am writing about in my book. It is so helpful to study them.


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