Colonel Samuel Selden

Captured at battle of Kip’s Bay and died in captivity on Oct. 11, 1776

 Rouse the People to see their Danger. Stir them up by all that is dear in this life. Our Wives, our Children, our property, our Liberty is at Stake…

Colonel Samuel Selden [1]

Militia
Militia

During the Revolutionary War many men paid an extraordinary price to ensure the liberty of others; men possessed of all that was desirable – land, wealth, prestige, and importance in the social and political structure of their community. When war erupted in America in 1775, there was no logical cause for these citizens to heed the call to battle. Most of their neighbors chose to remain safely at home. None were forced to sign their names to the muster of the many levies that were forming throughout the colonies. None were conscripted to endure the hardships of exposure, tireless duty, poor food, and rampant sickness. In the annuals of American history, an occasional footnote is reserved for some of these men who stepped forward and stood by their rhetoric; those who risked all, who planted seeds of a new republic so that others might garnish the fame as ‘founding fathers’; those who unselfishly gave their wealth, energies, health, and for many, their lives. For the most part these men have been buried in leaflets of time and forgotten by the histories. Samuel Selden, over fifty years of age at the time, happily married and father of nine healthy sons and daughters, was one of those men.

Colonel Samuel Selden was born in Hadlyme, Connecticut, twelve miles north of the mouth of the Connecticut River, in 1723[2] (other accounts give the date as 1720 & 1721). His father was Samuel Selden (1695-1745), son of Joseph Selden (1651-1724) and Rebecca Church (1655-1722). His mother was Deborah Dudley (1701-1799), daughter of Joseph Dudley (1680-1744) and Sarah Pratt (1679-1725). She was granddaughter and great-granddaughter of the two Dudley governors of Massachusetts. Samuel’s parents were married in 1721 and parented seven children of four girls and three boys, Samuel being the oldest. Colonel Samuel Selden’s great-grandfather, Thomas Selden of Kent, England, immigrated to Hartford Connecticut in 1639. Thomas’ son Joseph moved to Lyme, Connecticut in 1695. He resettled north to Hadlyme and purchased land along the eastern shore of the Connecticut River. Joseph’s son Samuel (father of the younger Samuel) was the youngest of Joseph’s children and he later inherited the estate along the river. The elder Samuel enlarged the homestead and willed it to his oldest son, Samuel upon his death.

Selden Homestead
Selden Homestead

Colonel Samuel Selden became one of the substantial and accomplished men of his generation. Little is known of his youth and domestic life. He worked the family farm and for a time attended the local schools. He no doubt traveled with his father to the local markets and to Hartford in order to purchase equipment, supplies, and possibly, slaves. This was the age of slavery in the north; though many of the farms had domestic bondsmen and field hands, there is nothing recorded that the Seldens purchased their own. His father was captain of his own company of militiamen. Samuel was exposed to the military at an early age as it was common practice to see the local children gathered to watch the men during their monthly drills. In 1745 (at age twenty-five) he married Elizabeth Ely (1720-1802). They had nine children who all lived to adulthood.

Samuel became active in community politics though there is no record of his being involved in the military during the French and Indian War.[3]  After that conflict, Samuel joined the growing protest against colonial taxation by England to help pay for that war. A devout patriot, he was extremely verbal in the local Committees of Safety (which were early colonial legislatures). His passion towards colonial self-rule must have induced him to join the militia; he rose through the ranks and acquired a commission as major by 1775.[4]

In 1775, there were twenty eight militia regiments in Connecticut formed into six brigades. The third Connecticut militia was made up from residents in the New London – Lyme region. That army was first organized in 1739 and was assigned to the third brigade. When hostilities with England broke out in April, 1775, the militias were reorganized. In May, the original brigades were formed into eight ‘State Regiments’ and in July, they were adopted as part of the Continental Army. Though organized, the regiments had yet to sign up militiamen as part of these new levies.[5] Though fifty five years old and in impaired health, Samuel ignored the advice of family and friends and sought a command of one of the new State Regiments. On June 20th , 1776, the Connecticut General Assembly commissioned Samuel Selden as colonel of a “Regiment now ordered to be raised in this colony, and to join the Continental Army.” It was signed by Jonathan Trumbull, Captain-General and Commander in Chief of the English Colony of Connecticut and George Wyllys, Secretary (who became adjunct and major in General Wadsworth’s Connecticut Brigade).[6] Like other Connecticut regiments recruited by Silliman, Sage, Douglass, and others, Selden organized and funded his regiment by advancing the money to equip the men. This new regiment of levies from Lyme and East Haddam was called the Fourth Connecticut State Regiment and within a month, the roster was complete.

By July of 1776, the focus of the war moved from Boston to New York City. Responding to Washington’s call for reinforcements, Governor Trumbull ordered that all readied Connecticut levies were to march to aid in the defense of New York. Colonel Selden did so immediately and his forces were placed in Brigadier General James Wadsworth’s Brigade shortly after arriving to New York.[7] The brigade was made up of other Connecticut regiments including Colonels Silliman, Gay, Sage, Douglas, Chester, & Bradley.[8]

In mid-summer, 1776, over four hundred ships of the British fleet sailed into New York Harbor and weighed anchor. The first battle was fought on Long Island on August 27th, 1776. General Wadsworth was ordered to reinforce the defenses outside of Brooklyn and sent two regiments of his brigade, Silliman and Chester.[9]  Selden’s regiment did not participate in the battle, as the rest of the brigade had remained in New York to counter an expected main attack. After the devastating defeat on Long Island, the army was reorganized into three divisions. Major General Putnam’s division was to remain in New York City to man the defenses. General Spencer’s division was stationed mid island at Harlem Heights, and General Heath’s division was to defend King’s Bridge and Westchester County. General Wadsworth’s brigade was assigned to General Putnam’s division and was stationed all along the East River from the Stuyvesant Estate in the city to Horn’s Hook, north along Harlem Creek.

The second attack by General Howe’s forces occurred on September 15th in what is now called the Battle of Kip’s Bay. Colonels Chester and Sergeant’s regiments were posted north on the East River at Horn’s Hook and Turtle Bay. Just south of them, at Kip’s Bay, Colonel Douglas’ regiment was located. Below Douglas’ forces were Gay’s and Sage’s regiments along with Generals Parsons’ and Fellows’ troops. They lined the river defenses south as far as the fortifications at Corlear’s Hook. Below them were Selden’s and Scott’s New Yorkers at the Stuyvesant Estate. Silliman, now commanding a brigade, was stationed with Putnam and Knox in the city. The blow came at Kip’s Bay. A terrible bombardment lasting over an hour conducted by five men-of-war ships firing from pistol shot range opened the invasion by an entire division of British and Hessian forces. The bombardment proved too much for Douglas’ raw troops, most of whom had been tending their farms just two weeks prior to the battle. These men ran before the invading troops who landed without opposition. General Putnam ordered Fellow’s and Parson’s regiments to go north to reinforce Douglas’ men, but the frightened militia ran headlong into the supporting troops who then joined in the panic as well.

State Regiment at Kip's Bay
State Regiment at Kip’s Bay

Despite Washington’s, Putnam’s, and Parson’s attempts to rally the men, the rout was complete. Scott and Selden saw the wisdom in escape since it would not be long before the British and Hessian forces crossed Manhattan Island to the Hudson, thereby cutting them off from the main army. They rallied their troops and hurried west and north. Scott reached Putnam’s moving column on the Bloomingdale road with his command in safety. However Selden’s men collided with a large body of Hessians on their way to the city by the Boston Post Road. After a sharp exchange in which four Hessians were killed and eight were wounded, Colonel Selden and several others were made prisoner.[10] The total list of Americans killed or missing were: 1 Colonel (Selden), 2 Lt. Colonels, 2 Majors, 5 Captains, 7 Lieutenants, and 260 enlisted men.[11]

After his capture, Selden was conveyed to the Livingston’s Sugar House on Crown Street just east of Broadway. The massive five story building had served as a goal for inimicals (loyalists to the British crown) prior to the British takeover. The British used it as a prison for those taken at Long Island and Kip’s Bay. According to Elisa Cornelius, an American captive who spent time at the prison, it was the most disagreeable place he’d ever been. The sugar house was filthy beyond description, the water in the pump was no better than at the dock, the guards were brutal, beating them and denying them nourishment; and sickness was rampant. He wrote, “The top of the House was open to the weather, so that when it rained the water ran along and through every floor and on that account it was impossible for us to keep dry.”[12]

Colonel Selden was confined along with the other ‘rebel’ soldiers on the upper floor. After a couple of weeks subjected to the gaol’s horrendous conditions, he was overcome with fever. Some of the British officers, learning of his illness, ordered that he be conveyed to more comfortable quarters in the ‘Old Provost.’ This was the city’s new gaol which stood in the northeast corner of the common, then at the northern end of Broadway, just past St. Paul’s Church. This facility became an equally “hideous place,’ as Elias Cornelius called it. However, Selden was given far better care and attended by a Dr. Thatcher, a British surgeon. It was too late. Selden succumbed to his illness on October 11th, 1776. He was buried in the Brick Church yard where the old New York Times building was later built on Nassau Street in 1851. He was given more honors than were usually accorded prisoners-or-war, whatever their rank. All the American officers who were prisoners at the time “were indulged with liberty to attend his funeral.”[13] His remains lost, a memorial to him was placed in the Selden cemetery in Hadlyme, Connecticut.[14]

Word of Colonel Selden’s death did not reach the American lines until two weeks later. Colonel Lattimore (previously a major in Selden’s militia regiment) was made commander of the fourth Connecticut regiment on November 17th, 1776.[15] Selden had been a highly respected and well liked officer. Like so many promising officers who were lost in the early stages of the war, his passing was keenly felt by Washington and his men.

Samuel had two sons who enlisted in the war. First Lieutenant Charles Selden (1756-1820) served as an adjunct in Colonel Henry Jackson’s Massachusetts regiment. He was stationed at West Point at war’s end and served there until 1784 when he was discharged.[16] He died January 1, 1820 and is buried at the Old Village Burial Ground, Troy, New York. Elijah Selden (1752-1827) was a sergeant in Parson’s tenth Continental regiment and served throughout the war escaping capture at the Battle of Long Island.[17] He is buried in the Windham Center Cemetery, Windham, Connecticut. Samuel’s brother Ezra had a son also named Ezra (1752-1784) who fought in the war and was severely wounded in the hip in July 1779 while storming the fort at Stony Point. Captain Ezra Selden was sent home; however he rejoined in 1780, and served until 1783 when he was discharged. He died a year later, December 9th; his health had worsened during the war and he ultimately succumbed to his wounds. He is buried in the Marvin Cemetery, Lyme, Connecticut. Samuel’s wife Deborah married Noadiah Brainerd soon after Samuel’s death. She is buried next to Samuel’s tombstone in Marvin Cemetery, Lyme, Connecticut.

Resources:   Booth, Mary L.  History of the City of New York.  1880:  E.P. Dutton & Company, New York, NY. Clark, Ellen McCallister & Powers, Sandra L.  Connecticut in the American Revolution.  2001: Anderson House, Washington D. C.

Force, Peter. American Archives… A Documentary History or the Origin and Progress of the North American Colonies in Six Series, Series Five vol. 1-3. 1843: Prepared and published under an authority of an act of Congress.

Gerlander, Todd L. Understanding the Connecticut Militia During the American Revolution. 

2010: Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution.  web site:  www.connecticutsar.org.

Johnston, Henry P.  The Campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn.  1878:  Published by the Long Island Historical Society, S.W. Green Printers, New York, NY

Lamb, Martha J.  History of the City of New York, Its Origin, Rise and Progress, Vol. 2.  1877: A.S. Barnes & Company, New York, NY.

Cornelius, Elias, M.D. edited by grandson Charles M. Tompkins.   Journal of Elias Cornelius, M.D., Surgeon’s Mate in the American Revolutionary Army, While a Prisoner to the British in the Provost Jail, New York, 1777 & 1778.  1894: Heitman’s Historical Register of Revolutionary War Officers.

Hart, Samuel: President of the Connecticut Historical Society.  Rolls of Connecticut Men in the French and Indian War, 1755 – 1762.  Vol. 1.  1903:  Printed for the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut.

Heitman, Francis B.  Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution.  1914:  Rare Book Shop Publishing Co., Washington D. C.

Smith, Brigadier General Stephen R.  Record of Service of Connecticut Men in the War of the Revolution.  1889:  Connecticut General Assembly, Printed in Hartford, Connecticut.


[1]  Colonel Samuel Selden, Lyme Connecticut to Captain Joshua Huntington, calling for reinforcements to be sent to New York City, July 6th, 1776.  Clark, pg. 2.
[2]  Booth, pg. 124.
[3]  A thorough search through the roster of Connecticut militia that served in the French and Indian War does not list Samuel Selden:  Rolls of Connecticut men in the French and Indian War, 1755-1762 vols. 1 & 2.  1903:  Connecticut Historical Society.
[4]  The Connecticut Assembly dated June 8th 1775 and again December 14th 1775 list Major Samuel Selden representing the district of Lyme, Connecticut: Archives, Series 4 vol. 4 pg. 267 and Archives, Series 4 vol. 5 pg. 1602.  Also the 1775 General Militia Connecticut Assembly roster lists Major Samuel of the Third Regiment of New London and Lyme, Connecticut: Smith, pg. 433.
[5]  Gerlander, website: connecticutsar.org.
[6]  Clark, pg. 12.
[7]  Archives, Ser. 5, vol. 2 page 327, lists Colonel Samuel Seldon’s fourth regiment as assigned to General Wadsworth’s Brigade.
[8]  Johnston, pg. 129
[9]  Ibid, pg. 149
[10]  Lamb, Vol. 2 pp 124-125
[11]  Archives Ser. 5, vol. 1, pg. 522
[12]  Elias Cornelius, pg. 4
[13]  Booth, pg. 124.
[14]  “Find a Grave” on the internet lists Samuel buried besides his wife at Marin Cemetery, Lyme, CT.  Booth and Lamb state that he was buried in the Church Brick Yard in New York City shortly after his death, receiving full military honors by the British army.  There is no recorded history that his remains were removed to Connecticut.
[15]  Archives Ser. 5, vol. 3, pg. 124.
[16]  Smith, pgs. 262, 403, 667.
[17]  Ibid, pg. 100

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