The true story of Putnam Cottage

As a direct descendent of the builders of this building I get really tired seeing such inaccurate depictions of the history of this place since accurate information readily available on the internet. Israel Knapp built the first structure in 1731 on the property where Putnam Cottage stands. Even the name is a misnomer. Israel Putnam did not make his famous ride from that tavern. The Putnam Cottage organization and the Putnam Hill Chapter DAR claims the tavern was built in 1692 or "could have been built prior to this date". They have confused this building with the old Knapp farm. Timothy Knapp got that land in 1708 not 1692. The DAR goes on to say Captain Israel Knapp, inherited the house in 1729. Israel did inherit half the family farm from his father Timothy Knapp but that was miles from the tavern. A different web site had the building erected a decade after it had its liquor license.

The tavern was the center point for a ghastly set of scandals during the Revolutionary War. The tavern had been cleared by the local Safety Committee, as a place safe from spies. Timothy Knapp who ran the tavern was a Tory spy.

When was the tavern built -

The first structure which would become Putnam Cottage was built on the Kings Highway, now route 1, in Greenwich, CT circa 1731 by Captain Israel Knapp born in 1705. We assume the first structure was erected the first year the land was purchased. A structural analysis confirms the two stages of construction and that the estimated dates for the two stages are reasonable. No part of the structure was consistant with 17th century building techniques. His son Timothy Knapp (born 1730) converted the building into a tavern in 1754. Until Timothy Knapp was discovered to be a spy in 1777, he was the charming and cleaver innkeeper who spied on the Yankee officers during the American Revolution while plying them with drinks and jokes. While Timothy ran the inn, it was the favorite tavern in Greenwich and a very popular place to stay for travelers going to and from New York City on the Kings Highway. Before he was discovered, no one suspected he was a spy. The tavern was certified as 'safe' by the Safety Committee. I had to say this because most of the legends about the tavern indicate dark goings on in the place and the good town's people shunned it. That was the town trying to get its pride back. When Israel Jr died in 1790, the tavern was sold to the Stacy family probably because it was no longer profitable. I suspect the tavern held dark memories for the town folk; plus Israel Jr and his family may not have been very entertaining.

Since Putnam's ride took place in I779, two years after Timothy Sr was sent to the mine, the general would not have been staying at Knapp's Tavern. He preferred to stay at a lively place. The present town historian, Joseph Zeranski, published a detailed study of Putnam's Ride in 2001 which concluded that it was very unlikely Putnam started his ride at Knapp's Tavern. This was deduced from analyzing eye witness reports and figuring out where the witness saw Putnam. Putnam's path indicates he started much closer to the NY/CT border than Knapps Tanern which is on the opposite edge of the Horseneck. A copy of the pamphlet can be purchased at the Greenwich Historical Society. The name Putnam's Cottage is a mistake. I do thank the DAR for preserving the structure. The town has a great place to start the reenactment of the ride which I heartily endorse.

Below is the detail to support the above synopsis of this page. I will provide links to information about this building and to the evidence, I used to formulate my theory. I will also add some information about Timothy Knapp's two sons that were murdered mostly because their dad was a spy and that they were dangerously handsome. The most informative link was written by Spencer P Mead in 1911. Most of information needed to understand Knapp's Tavern is in this book. Mead was the great historian of Greenwich CT. When he did his research, over a century ago, the original documents were more readable and more complete than what has been preserved on microfilm.

Ye Historie of Ye Town of Greenwich, County of Fairfield and State of Connecticut pages 172 - 177

I will refer to this as YeOld. This provides an excellent source of information about the tavern and about the history of Greenwich. The only real mistake Mead makes about the tavern and it owners is small. Timothy Sr. ran the tavern as the spymaster not either of the Israel Knapps. Had he taken time to analyze the various legends he would have figured that out many legends state the tavern owner's son was shot. This could only point to Timothy. Spencer wanted to make it clear that neither Israel was a Tory. Many of Israel Jr's descendants still lived in Greenwich. His descendants owned the town's funeral parlor. When his book came out, Tory resentment was still sharp in Greenwich.

Putnam Cottage

Putnam Cottage - Wikipedia

Putnam Hill DAR

The key mistake the DAR makes could be that they confused the tavern with the Knapp farm. At the time they bought the house to preserve it the local history was not very accurate. I have an extract from one publication and a link to another. The linked book uses that same wrong date. The farm not the tavern was the only land Israel inherited from his dad and it was part of the original land settlement of the 17th century but the dispersal of the land took a great deal of time to be careful and fair. The land was purchased by 27 land owners from the Horsacky Indians in 1672. Timothy Knapp wasn't even a land owner at that time. Timothy's dad purchased the land. The land had to be surveyed before it was disbursed. Small parcels where given out quickly so all the land owners had some land to work and live on. The first allotment did not have to be fair because the second allotment would compensate for any inequities. Decades later, all the land was surveyed and the final disbursement provided each person received a final tally and quality of land proportional to what they paid into the fund that bought the land. The region is called the Horseneck for the original owners, not that they raised horses on the land. I guess the document S. P. Mead read the H looked like an M. I got to see a copy of a different original version where the first letter of the tribe's name was and H. The farm was part of the second wave of land distribution. According to the public record, the land where the farm stood was granted to Timothy in 1708.

Unlike how it is today, a heavily forested area, back then it was all pasture. The 'horse neck' of Greenwich was largest fine pasture close to New York City. Greenwich was rich with livestock. Leather goods and salted meat were the two main exports of Greenwich. It was known for making sturdy shoes. The national men's store Joseph A Bank(s) started as a New York City shoe store and the shoes during colonial times were made in Greenwich. The Banks family that started the store lived next door to the Knapp farm.

 Here are excerpts from the Greenwich land transfers. Note Prudence must need money so she sells her half to her brother who then sells it back to her. Israel, along with being a prosperous farmer was the Justice of the Peace and was quite well to do.

Land transfers for the farm
Dec. 21, 1708, Timothy KNAPP is granted a parcel of land.
March 5, 1729, Timothy KNAPP deeded land to his son, Israel KNAPP, one-half interest in homestead at Greenwich, Old Town.
Feb. 27, 1733, Prudence KNAPP sold to Israel KNAPP all her right, title, and interest in the estate of her father, Timothy KNAPP.
Nov. 6, 1734 Prudence KNAPP bought land of Israel KNAPP.
Jan. 21, 1752, Timothy KNAPP, son of Israel KNAPP, sold land to John FERRIS.
Jun 20 1795 John and Mary KNAPP Mesnard sold land to William KNAPP.

Most of these can be found either in YeOld and at the Greenwich CT section for the Gen Web project. The 1795 record is only in the microfilmed public documents in Greenwich and Hartford.

The the actual transfer document. Note the description of the "West forty". Israel got the West 40 acres of his father's estate. At the bottom it states Mary was given the authority to sell the land from her Grand Father, Israel Knapp in his last will and testament. I added the will at the bottom of this page.

The 1752 sale mentions that the sale was approved by Israel Knapp. This indicates that Timothy was able to use the land as his but the land wasn't really his. It is likely only a few towns people really knew that Israel still owned all the property Timothy used as his own. In Israel's will probated on 8/28/1783 it is apparent he provided lavish wedding gifts to his children but they were only loans until he died. That will had been changed in 1777 Timothy was disinherited see YeOld page 173. He is left with life use of the farm for him and his wife to be divided among their children after their death. John and Mary Mesnard sell this farm to William Knapp for what they sold an acre of land a few years later. I believe the farm was a gift probably to the eldest son of Timothy's eldest son Thomas. Thomas was lynched by the Loyalist Col Jame Delancey. It seems likely his father talked Thomas to turn himself in. Had he not done this the farm would have been William's eventually.

This farm has nothing to do with the tavern.  The land sold in 1795 is described as the 'West Forty of said Greenwich containing thirty some acres'. This refers to the original 40 acres of which several acres were sold to fund the building of the tavern. The document also states Mary is executing her grandfather Israel Knapp's will. The will only mentions one farm, the family farm to be divided among Timothy's children after both their parents die. 

Pages 114 - 120 Among old New England inns By Mary Caroline Crawford

This book published in 1907 relates in some detail some of the history of the tavern and even transcribes Timothy Knapp's gift to Israel in 1729. Not there is only one building that is given to Israel, the farm.  The author may have used the same reference DAR used that stated Timothy Knapp bought the land for the tavern in 1692. The DAR purchased the building and its land in 1902. In 1911 S. P. Mead published YeOld which contains a far more accurate history of the tavern.

The family of Timothy Knapp

I was able the find many legends about the Knapp family in McDonald Papers.  These were first hand accounts of the Revolutionary War recorded by John McDonnald and his secretary between 1844 and 1850.  There were 30 or so pages of legends of the Knapp family and the tavern.  What was made very clear was the entire family was unnaturally attractive especially the two older brothers.  Any time one of them was mentioned it was common to have the person stating how handsome he was.  Several old women claimed 70 years afterwards, he was the most handsome young man she had ever laid eyes on.  They were also the best dresser, dancer, fiddler and the best horseman in the town.  Men and women alike admired them. When young women saw one of the two even for a moment remembered them for the rest of their lives.  Thomas Knapp was a favorite of James Delacney because he was witty and a great story teller.  He was also the finest rider in a company of elite riders. The likely reason the tavern was so popular is it was manned with so many entertaining Knapps.  Unfortunately, the two oldest were killed in part because of their looks.

The Tavern

In YeOld Mead states "As near as can be ascertained, the land on which the Putnam Cottage now stands was granted by the Town of Greenwich to Nathan Whelpley, who sold the same to Israel Knapp in 1731. Knapp probably built the cottage about 1731 and in 1754 was granted a license to keep a public house of entertainment or strong drink in Greenwich.

I believe it was Timothy who rebuilt the structure into a tavern in 1754. He had to sell part of his farm in 1753 to finish it. Since his father owned the land and the tavern out-right he was the one to apply for the license. I suspect most of the town believed Timothy to be the owner. It was Timothy who was the spy master and he used several of his sons and other young men as message carriers. They would need to cross a heavily guarded border both coming and going so that required great horsemanship. Timothy/Thomas was supposed to be the fastest/best rider in the town. The 2 boys are used interchangeably 70 year later in the McDonald Papers. I believed he was found out and turned in by his daughter Mary. This may explain why a spy master was not hanged but only sent to Simsbury mine. A deal was likely struck between the safety committee and who ever turned him in. The town elders had other reasons to forgo hanging him. Hanging him would have made public that the safety committee allowed George Washington and Israel Putnam to be spied on. They had approved that tavern as the safe place for the officers to stay, eat and drink. 

Extract from Conn. Magazine, Vol. X, third quarter, 1906. 'The Tavern and the Old Post Road', by Norman Talcott:

Among the most inveterate Tories was the Innkeeper, Israel Knapp (1705-1783) and it is said that his tavern was for a long time, a secret meeting place for those who sought to defeat the patriot cause. It is certain he was held in ill repute by all good patriots, and his name was on the dangerous list held by the Committee of Safety. The old innkeeper s favorite son, Timothy, though as ardent a Tory as his father, was in love with the beautiful daughter of the patriot, Jonathan Mead, who lived nearby. Tradition says that the girl reciprocated his affections but she was imbued with a spirit of loyalty to the cause of the Revolutionists that made her indignantly refuse when Timothy sought her hand in marriage. The youth, as might be expected was deeply hurt. He called to her reproachfully and angrily as he left the house that evening: "You will speak to me one day, but I shall never answer you." He little knew how true were his words. One evening shortly afterwards when he was approaching the house, perhaps to make another attempt to win the maid, her father, mistaking him for a "cow-boy" (a name for Tory guerrillas) marauder shot him through the heart. The girl recognized him, threw herself upon his lifeless body and implored him to speak, but he was dead. The body lies buried on the grounds of the ancient inn.

Israel Sr. was known as a patriot not a Tory. Timothy Knapp Jr was killed by Titus Mead. His father, Timothy Sr. must have been the Innkeeper keeping to the logic of this legend. Titus claimed he shot the boy as mistaken identity. Because the lad was shot through the heart, much of the town speculated he was shot as a Tory. 

I speculate Titus discovered his daughter Sarah was going to elope with her beau before dawn. Because Tim was ‘the catch of the town’, the only way Titus could prevent the marriage was to kill the boy. Sarah only pretended to spurn him. The town of Greenwich thought Timothy Jr. was a patriotic hero since he stole Goliah, the price horse of Col. James Delancey the most hated man in Greenwich. James was the infamous Loyalist Col who led daring raids of light infantry deep into Yankee territory looting and burning farms. Greenwich suffered greatly from his raids. Titus was on the safety committee and would have been one of the few in town who knew Timothy Knapp Jr. had been a courier for British intelligence.

This information was tightly held because the affair was so scandalous to the town elders so the truth leaked out slowly. Timothy was caught in 1777 the beginning of the war. His father probably took over running the tavern for the rest of the war. It is no wonder towns folk assumed Israel was the spy. What further confused the town folk is Thomas was killed for stealing Goliah. The town all knew Timothy stole the horse because he paraded the horse through town. When both boys were killed in quick succession it was assumed Timothy was lynched by James Delancey and Thomas was shot by Titus Mead. Titus Mead did not clear this up while he lived. I am sure Titus lived to regret keeping his word that he would kill the lad if he ever stepped foot on his property again. Sarah probably loved the 17 yr old and the lad wasn't really a Tory he just liked adventure. After Titus died, his memoir revealed the truth. This is why all the legends have Thomas being shot by Titus Mead and Timothy was the one that was hung. No one ever figured out that the names were just reversed even though some legends linked the two killings as brothers.

I suspect Thomas got a young woman pregnant who James loved and Thomas would not marry her, maybe he was already married. James died and old man who never married. When he was asked late in life what was the worst thing that happened to him during the American Revolution he stated that someone stole his prize horse. He had been imprisoned in Simsbury Mine a true Hell Hole. His heart was broken so badly he never recovered from it and that is why he never married. The Delanceys were more arrogant and used to getting their way than anyone else in the entire region.  The were the 'royalty of the colonies'. The incident must have eaten him from within like cancer.  In the McDonald Papers an eye witness saw Thomas just before the hanging claimed Thomas was a bastard. She must have heard the women's gossip while she visited the Head Quarters where Thomas was hung. 70 years later didn’t clearly remember what she heard. 

I believe Timothy Sr. worked a deal with the head of British intelligence Oliver Delancey Jr. James first cousin. James was to turn Thomas in for trial. Thomas was brought to HQ at first light but wasn't hung until noon. I suspect James was pondering was the hanging worth his career. His uncle Oliver Delancey Sr. was the head of the Loyalist forces. I am sure James was disobeying a secret order. There are several eye witness accounts of the initial meeting between James and Thomas. James was furious while Thomas had a twinkle in his eye because he believed he was to go free. This is the opposite of what would be expected from a captured horse thief. It is clear the men hated each other. All the Delanceys had legendary tempers. As it was, James was lucky because when he was captured the transfer orders were written for him to fight in the southern swamps of GA or SC.

I think what snapped Timothy's reserve was Thomas was hung because he followed his father's orders. He may have told a family member such as his daughter Mary in his misery. Who probably turned him in to Israel Sr. I read a letter she wrote to her son Andrew that was the basis of that part of the Mesnard Legend. She must have been staying with her father during his morning of his two sons. At this time she was married and had 3 young childern the youngest, my ancester, was about 1 years old. His son Timothy was shot shortly after Thomas was lynched. I think she was there to insure he didn't run away and to make sure some didn't hang him while he properly mourned. She mentions when a crowd of 'Wags' came for her father just before dawn. Timothy was plowing his fields in the twilight to avoid notice. Wags were the equivelant of a red necked patriot. Mary came out to the porch. They saw her and turned around, went to the barn and looted it. This indicates to me that Mary had the backing of the town elders. Even though she was illiterate she was the one that sold the family farm with the help of her husband, a literate gentleman. Her grandfather must have left her in charge because he trusted her judgment. The legend used Wigs instead of Wags. When adding Mary's letter to his legend, Eri Mesnard probably did not recognize the derogatory word probably not used past the Revolutionary War and replaced it with a word he knew.

Check out this link to the Mesnard Legend.The legend a scan of the original document is there. This legend should dispell any doubt that Timothy Knapp Sr father of Mary Knapp was the Tory and that her brothers were the ones killed. The legend has both killings rolled into one even but has enough detail from both the murders to statisfy any open mind. Although they miss-remembered the names they didn't make any mistakes that the murders were close kin to the Mesnards. Since that same Mary sold the family farm by the will of her grandfather Israel Knapp there can be no question that her father was the spy at Knapps Tavern.

I have almost completed a book that takes the needed to explain all the clues in depth which takes about 30 pages. I can't do that here.  Ron Mesnard

It is unlikely that Putnam stayed at the tavern the night of his famous ride.  It is unlikely that Putnam stayed at the tavern the night of his famous ride.  Timothy and Thomas Knapp were known and admired as very charming by most accounts in the McDonald Papers.

One of the young spies complained of his treatment when caught.  He was whipped then told to leave town if he knew what was good for him. I suspect Timothy Jr also got the same treatment.
Here is a link to

Many of the beginning clues for my research came from one of the Mesnard Legends. You can view the document yourself.

The Mesnard Legend

The bottom of Page 399 from the probated wills, The last will and testement of Israel Knapp. My transcription is below it.

Here is a transcription as best as I can make out 399 Isreal Knapp of Greenwich in Fairfield County in the state of Conneticut in New England being of sound mind and nmemory for which God Almighty be thanks ? Laboring under bodily disorders and wishing and ? ? that is appointed for all men ? Trusting that my charge will soon some as now ? My mind is in this my last will and testament as for ?? In the first? I give my sole to God who gave it? Me hoping in this many through? Then ? for the lord Jeasus Christ as for the pardon of all my sins and my body to the earth to be buried in a ? and Christian mannor according to the direction? Of my executor furafter? Named. Having hope in the ?tion of just and leaving such worldly goods and lands as it hath ? God to ? me within this life my will is that first? My just debts? And funeral expences be paid & that the remainder to be dispersed of in the following mannor ? Impromis? I give and bequeath into my living and beloved

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wife Elizabeth the one third of what shall be left of my personel estate after my debts are paid to be her own absolutely & also I give unto my said wife the ? and ? of the ? third part of of my personel estate during her natral life I as I give ? said wife and horse and side saddle over and above the above. Dover? To be her own absolutely in ? ? I give and bequest unto my ? ? be living son Timothy Knapp five pounds lawful money I also give my said son and his wife ? The use and improvement? Of that farm of land where in He now lives ? about forty acres during? The ? Of their natural lives which I take to be ? ? ? And a portion of my estate I have already given him and after the death of my said son and

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his wife may stay in that the ? farm of land will? Be equally divided amoung the living children of my said son them and this men? ? forever ---- Item I give and bequest to my living son Isreal Knapp All and sing? Of my estate real? And funeral remains? His and revision? With having ? and farm with All the ? ? belonging to him and his And ? signs? Forever excepting what I shall his after? In This will give unto my daughter ? Item I give and bequest unto my living daughter Mary Mead Twentyfive pounds lawful money amounting what she ? At her marriage ? ? -------- Item I give and bequest unto my living daughter Elizabeth Knapp three acres of land at the south end of the road so ? bounded South + West by ? Husted North by my land and East by a highway and also ? Twentyfive pounds lawful money out of my estate & I give To my daughter a good feather bed ? and pillows Two ? pillow cases tow ? white and the blankets also I give unto my said daughter the use and impriovements of in of a bed room in my now dwelling house so long as she remains unmarried. Item I give and bequest unto my living daughter Hannah Hustus Twentyfive pounds lawful money accounting for What she has already received at her marriage --- Item I give and bequest unto my living daughter Mary? Knapp Twentyfive pounds lawful money to be paid to her out of my estate> I also give to my said daughter one good feather bed and blankets -------------- Item It is to be understood that my will is that several legacies? given to my daughter shall be shall be paid to them ? my ? out of my movable estate if there should

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