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An Amazing—& “Ordinary”—Powder House Day

by David Sepulveda | Apr 23, 2013 1:26 pm

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Posted to: Downtown

DAVID SEPULVEDA PHOTO The Governor’s Foot Guard program read in part, “RE-ENACTMENT—DEMANDING THE KEYS TO THE POWDER HOUSE OF SELECTMEN ON MONDAY, APRIL 24, 1775.”

But don’t call them re-enactors. At least not in the presence of Major Commandant Gary W. Stegina, who Saturday commanded the Second Company of the Governor’s Foot Guard of Connecticut in the 238th annual observance known as Powder House Day on the New Haven Green.   

“We are not re-enactors - we are the real deal,” said Commandant Stegina in acknowledgement of the fact that while the Second Governor’s Foot Guard  does engage in historical re-enactments and important ceremonial functions, “technically, under the Connecticut Gen. Statutes, the four militia units are considered ‘organized militia’ and part of the ‘Armed Forces of the State of Connecticut of which the National Guard is a part.’” The work of the Second Company throughout the state far exceeds the pomp and ceremony often associated with the unit and resulted in over 20,000 volunteer hours donated to the state in 2012. 

“Powder House Day celebrates Benedict Arnold and the Second Company Governor’s Foot Guard who, in reaction to British attacks on Colonists in Massachusetts, were the first signed, organized unit to rebel against the British at the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775,” wrote New Haven historian and Taste of New Haven owner Colin M. Caplan. Caplan helped organize Saturday’s Powder House Day events, which culminated in a brief ceremony at Ordinary, the recently restored site of the former Richter’s Cafe, and home to various New Haven hotels throughout its history.

Ordinary is also the original site of Beers Tavern, where Benedict Arnold is said to have demanded the keys to the powder house as he mobilized the New Haven militia for its march to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the Revolution was joined.

Much of the drama of that celebrated day and other historical events and people are captured in a visual timeline created by Caplan and installed in a back area of Ordinary. Caplan noted the timeliness of the Powder House Day event in the wake of the tragic events in Boston, and the exemplary way in which the community has come together in a spirit of mutual support—“not unlike the early patriots who left New Haven in support of fellow colonists in Massachusetts.”

Powder House Day proceedings Saturday began at City Hall for “The Demand of The Keys” ceremony followed by a procession to Center Church on the Green and a service that included the “Departure of the Command” and sermon by Reverend Mister John Depastino. The Battalion Review, conducted on the lower Green, was a visually stunning display of formality, punctuated by sharp verbal commands of officers, presentations and the patriotic sounds of the fife and drum and Field Music Corps band. 

Crossing diagonally on the upper Green, the Second Company Governor’s Foot Guard headed to Ordinary, the final destination, for a presentation to the bar’s owners of a special plaque commemorating Powder House Day— an artifact that will add to the bar’s thick, historical ambiance.

Outside Ordinary, New Haven Museum Education Director Michelle Cheng was helping to celebrate Powder House Day and New Haven’s history with an array of crafts for children, and displays that included a two-sided Benedict Arnold doll—one side bearing a red uniform, the other, blue. The doll, which is hand-made in New Haven, is available at the New Haven Museum, along with a slate of programs for school groups, individuals and families, “designed to connect New Haven’s history in a fun way,” according to Cheng.

Inside Ordinary, tall glasses of gold, amber and frothy dark beers were raised in celebration of another successful Powder House Day celebration. Veteran Second Company member and Captain Albert Edwards, who believes there is another side and story to the vilification of Benedict Arnold as a traitor, joined the Company in 1971. He said he continues to enjoy the history and camaraderie associated with the Foot Guard and is proud of the Company’s contributions.

Captain Richard Greenalch underscored the Second Company’s outreach efforts in recruiting new members for its Rifle Companies, Field Music Unit and Marching Band. “No military experience is required and membership is open to both men and women,” he noted.  As the Second Company website admonishes on its recruitment page, “Be a Part of History.”  Along with the specialized training, members are issued a real uniform, (not a costume) supplied by Connecticut’s Military Department, which may include the uniform’s most distinguishing feature, the “Shako”—or, in civilian parlance, the towering bear skin hat that is a symbol of this unique service organization.  To learn more about the Second Company Governor’s Foot Guard, visit the website.

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posted by: Lsep on April 23, 2013  6:39pm

I live when history comes alive in New Haven! Great article!

posted by: Colin M. Caplan on April 24, 2013  2:21pm

New Haven is a lucky place to have so many people, from near and far, committed to continuing the ancient traditions that helped secure this place as a melting pot of many. I am proud to call New Haven home!

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