Milford honors the common grave of 46 smallpox-infected Revolutionary War prisoners of war who died in the city in 1777 with a brownstone obelisk.
The 1852 monument, in Milford Cemetery, honors infected Continental soldiers who were released onto a Milford beach on January 1, 1777 by British forces. Many of the soldiers were able to leave Milford, but nearly a quarter died in the city.
A granite marker attached to the front (south) face of the monument reads, in part, “In honor of 46 American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in struggling for the independence of their country, this monument was erected in 1852 by the joint liberality of the General Assembly, people of Milford and other contributing friends.”
This dedication, which also explains some of the background behind the soldiers’ fate, was attached to the monument later. We’re assuming it was added in 1976 for the nation’s bicentennial, because a similar granite marker at the foot of the monument’s north face that lists Milford soldiers who fought in the revolution bears a 1976 date.
The south face also bears an inscribed Connecticut seal and 13 stars honoring the original colonies.
The east face of the brownstone obelisk bears an original inscription honoring Capt. Steven Stow, a Milford resident who cared for the infected soldiers unable to travel home. Stow contracted smallpox and died on February 8, 1777 at the age of 51.
The north and west faces list the deceased soldiers, who are buried in a common grave near the monument. The exact location of the grave is being studied by researchers, who are also looking for a time capsule mentioned in the program for the 1852 dedication.
The site has attracted considerable interest lately, with the discovery of a skull belonging to one of the prisoners at the University of Connecticut’s archaeology department. The skull, which belonged to the New Haven County Historical Society, is going to undergo DNA testing before it is buried, most likely in Milford Cemetery.
A marker on Milford’s Gulf Beach, across the harbor from the actual landing site, honors the soldiers.
One of the infected prisoners, Herman Baker of Tolland, died on an East Hartford farm while attempting to return home. His grave is within the Pratt & Whitney complex, and is maintained by the company as a tribute to American soldiers.