Looking Back, Moving Forward
History comes alive with the battle of Ridgefield
Taimi Herman holds General Marquis de Lafayette’s belt buckle, given to her ancestor Jeremiah Keeler, at Keeler Tavern Museum.
Photo by Stan Godlewski
After the British surrendered at Yorktown, young Jeremiah Keeler set out for home—on foot. By all accounts it was a difficult journey—about 440 miles from Virginia from Connecticut. Food was scarce, and the 23-year-old combat veteran was injured.
That Keeler walked the entire way wasn’t uncommon. What was uncommon was what he used as support—a sword presented to him by the Marquis de Lafayette in appreciation for his faithfulness and courage in the Battle of Yorktown.
Today, a photograph of a 93-year-old Jeremiah holding the sword—the tip of which was rounded because he used it as a staff, a copper buckle, and shoe buckles—resides at the Keeler Tavern Museum on Main Street, courtesy of a longtime Fairfield resident Wally Herman. Because Keeler’s older brother was Timothy Keeler, proprietor of the Keeler Tavern, it was an obvious choice for Herman. “I felt like this is where everything belonged. More people interested in these things may see them now better than when they were hiding under my grandmother’s, and then my mother’s bed in a wooden box,” Herman says.
The artifacts serve as tangible reminders of the sacrifices the early colonists made for independence as well as the importance of keeping alive family history through the ages. “One cannot underestimate the historic importance of Jeremiah Keeler’s patriotic service in the Revolutionary War,” explains Erika Askin, Keeler Tavern Museum curator of collections.
“We are grateful to Wally Herman for his donation. Having the gift helps flesh out more about Jeremiah as a human being. He was willing to risk his life for this cause. It’s almost as if he’s in the room with you,” Askin says.
Born in 1760, Keeler was just 16 when the British marched on Ridgefield. At the time his older brother Timothy, Jr. ran Keeler Tavern while another brother, Thaddeus, served as a captain in the Continental Army. A known Patriot, Timothy smelted musket balls in the basement, an act that later prompted the British to fire a canon at the tavern.
One month after the battle, Jeremiah enlisted in the regular Continental Army. Soon afterwards Baron von Steuben, who served as inspector general and major general of the Continental Army, selected Keeler to join the Light Infantry under Lafayette’s command.
Keeler was promoted to the rank of Orderly Sergeant and saw action in the Battles of Jamestown and Monmouth. But it was at Yorktown where young Keeler distinguished himself. Storming British fortifications, the Connecticut Yankee was the second soldier among the Americans to scale the redoubt. Keeler’s daring earned him Lafayette’s respect. When he was discharged in 1783 he was presented with the sword he had carried through battle as part of the “Lafayette Brigade of Light Infantry.”
The buckle, which would have been part of a leather sash worn over the uniform, is a historical treasure indeed, Ashkin says. Stamped on the buckle are the words E Pluribus Unum, Latin for “out of many, one.” Adopted in 1776, the slogan signifies that it was a homegrown Patriot buckle. Those words still appear on US currency and on the great seal.
This year marks the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgefield. The April 29 event, organized by the Masons of Jerusalem Lodge 49, will include upwards of 100 participants from across the country re-enacting the British march from Danbury through Ridgefield and on to Westport.
Reenactment organizers said they hope the event spurs lively debate and reflection about our country. “Our ancestors were exactly like us with the same dreams, except they were working with a simpler set of tools. If we are to advance forward, it is up to us to look back on the past with a fresh set of eyes in order to learn from their successes and mistakes or we will suffer to remain in a vicious cycle of blindness,” says organizer Robert J. Gorman, Jr.
Herman remembers his grandmother telling him about his illustrious ancestor when he was growing up and showing him the artifacts. Respect for this history has passed through the generations of the Herman family, and recently, Herman’s daughter Taimi became a member of Fairfield’s Eunice Dennie Burr Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “I’ve always loved history and wanted to honor that more by being part of an organization that helps keep history alive,” she says. She and her dad recently discovered that after Jeremiah returned home, he married Huldah Hull. Today Fairfield’s Hulls Highway and Hull’s Farm Road bear the family name.
DOWN MAIN STREET On Apr 29, 2017 town will be filled with loyalists and patriots, when actors perform the Battle of Ridgefied through town, with skirmishes on Rte. 116, where Gen. Wooster died, and Main Street, where Benedict Arnold lost his horse.
With the help of re-enactor Thomas Traue, we were able to ask Arnold a few quetions in our article Talking with Benedict Arnold.