This fine post-and-beam house has been home to numerous prominent Middletown figures since it was originally built in the 1750s. In 1777, Jehosaphat Starr, Jr. left this house, his birthplace, to become a Revolutionary War soldier. Within a few months the 18 year-old had been captured by the British on Long Island. He was released some months later in a prisoner of war exchange. Undaunted, Starr resumed his army service and rose to the rank of ensign.
Scores of Middletown men, from privates to generals fought in the war for America's independence. They suffered many casualties. Some were killed in battle or died under desperate conditions in British prisons. Many soldiers fell victim to exposure, dysentery, or the dreaded smallpox in American army camps.
The fortunate soldiers returned to Middletown after the American victory. Jehosaphat Starr, Jr. came home with a new wife, Mary Warne, whom he had married in New York. The couple bought this house from Jehosaphat, Sr., and raised nine children under its roof.
The land the Starr house sits on was part of the homelot of Samuel Stow, Middletown's first minister and one of the town's original proprietors in 1651. Jeremiah Wetmore, Jr., Samuel Stow's great-grandson, built the original five-bay center-chimney structure between 1752 and 1756.
Starr, Sr., known as Major Starr for his service in the French and Indian War, was a tailor who bought the house in 1756. He married Sarah Stow, whose family had by then occupied the property for over a century. It was probably they who added the three-bay addition to the east side.
This house is privately owned and is not open to the public
Not everyone in the colonies supported the cause of independence. As much as a third of the colonial population supported the Crown. These Loyalists, as the British called them, were scornfully known as Tories to the Americans.
Middletown remained fiercely pro-independence, and few of its residents defected to the British side. One who did was Irish-born Timothy Hierlihy, a farmer and veteran of the French and Indian War. Hierlihy worked as a secret agent of sorts, recruiting Loyalist troops. In 1776, Hierlihy joined the Prince of Wales regiment of American Loyalists in Long Island, receiving a commission as a British major. Doing so, he left behind a wife and nine children. His wife, Elizabeth Wetmore, was a descendant of one of Middletown's earliest settlers. She and the children faced desperate times since Hierlihy's property was confiscated for his treasonous actions. The family was eventually reunited, settling in Nova Scotia after the war.
up trouble in Middletown was Benjamin Franklin's Tory son William, the last royal governor of New Jersey. Seized for his Tory activities, Governor Franklin spent nearly a year under house arrest here at the Starr home. In return for his "parole" in Middletown, he had pledged not to continue plotting against the American cause: nevertheless, he was secretly sending information to the British. When Franklin's treachery was discovered, he was sent to Litchfield Connecticut and placed in solitary confinement.
Revolutionary War soldier Ebenezer Frothingham, Jr. wrote home to his parents in Middletown in January of 1779 describing the American soldiers' suffering: "Some of the Brigades are four days at a time without a mouthful of Meat... the Troops are almost starv'd... They suffered greatly... the greatest part of them without a Shoe to their feet..."
At the start of the Revolution, the American colonies had hardly any navy ships to face what was then the world's largest sea power. While the colonial government set about assembling, literally, a new navy, it filled out its forces with privateers. These were privately owned ships, usually merchant vessels converted into warships, licensed by the American government to attack and seize enemy shipping. The privateer owners, captains, and crews got to keep a share of the proceeds from the sale of any ships or cargoes they captured, making privateering lucrative but dangerous work.
Middletown provided no fewer than 16 privateer vessels during the Revolutionary War. One such was the schooner Bunker Hill, with ten guns and a crew of 45. It was owned by Middletown merchant Comfort Sage and captained by another local seaman, Sanford Thompson. On April 14, 1780 Captain Thompson and three of his crew were wounded in an engagement with the heavily armed British privateer Dolphin. But two weeks later Thompson pulled into port with a captured British schooner, the Lee, loaded with a rich cargo of sugar, molasses and rum.
Middletown was ideally suited to help the patriot maritime cause. The town was at the height of its prosperity, much of which was derived from shipping. It also had many skilled seamen and merchants already accustomed to great risks and rewards from their trade with the West Indies.
William VanDeursen commanded the privateer brigantine Middletown with six guns and a crew of eighteen in 1781.
Courtesy of the Middlesex County Historical Society
Motherhood in the 1700s
Sarah Stow Starr, who lived in this house for nearly three decades, married Jehosaphat Starr, Sr. in 1737. Between the ages of 18 and 42, Sarah gave birth to thirteen children - including triplets born when her husband was away serving in the French and Indian War.
Families with six to eight children were common in colonial Connecticut. Every birth carried with it the threat of death for the mother, and most couples could expect to bury at least one child. Sarah Star was a strong woman who survived her thirteen deliveries, but mourned the deaths of seven of her children who never reached adulthood. Her triplets died in infancy: four other children died in early childhood or as teenagers. One of those, Comfort Starr, went to sea at age sixteen. His ship was never heard from again.