John Trumbull Birthplace

Lebanon Town, New London County, CT

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The John Trumbull Birthplace (169 West Town Street) was designated as a National Landmark in 1966 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]


The John Trumbull Birthplace, also known as the Governor Jonathan Trumbull House, was a wedding present to Jonathan and Faith Trumbull — a two-story, five-bay clapboarded frame house, of simple early Georgian design, with a steep gable roof and a large square central chimney. Both the front door and the four flanking first-story windows are topped by pediments with molding broken on the slope. The windows have twelve-over-twelve lights, and there is a row of panes below the pediment of the door, which is flanked by fluted pilasters.

The flues of three separate stacks unite as one central chimney in the attic. This unusual device allows for a central hall and stairway on the first two floors. The first floor contains a parlor, dining room, and bedroom. The ell in the center rear, a slightly later addition, has the kitchen and pantry.

The second floor has five chambers. At the head of the stairs is the small room which served as a secret office when the British Government put a price on Governor Trumbull's head. The only window in this room is a small shuttered opening, 27 inches square, placed high in the wall, well above the head of a seated person. Outside the office door is the sentinel's box in which a guard was stationed night and day during the Revolutionary War. A tunnel led from this room, behind the chimney, to the War Office next door.

The most interesting interior features are the window shutters with heart-shaped cutouts, the finely detailed main staircase, and the paneling in the rooms. The house contains some original Trumbull furniture and many valuable colonial pieces, including a large pewter collection.

Trumbull's house and estate was worth over 4,000 pounds at the beginning of the War for Independence. He owned valuable furniture, a library, a store adjacent to his house, and a considerable amount of land and livestock. The house, a very well-furnished mansion of the time, originally stood at the intersection of Town Street and Colchester Road.

Little is known about the property for the forty-five years before 1830, when Deacon Gillett sold it to Mrs. Eunice Backus Mason who then had it moved to its present site on West Town Road, facing the southwestern corner of the Common. Little altered since its construction, the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution bought the house in 1934. A modern cottage, where the curator resides, is connected by two ells, to the rear of the original house, and this addition has apparently been built since the Daughters of the American Revolution acquired the house.

The John Trumbull Birthplace, (Governor Jonathan Trumbull House) was quite thoroughly restored about five years ago and today is very well maintained as a house museum. The colonial ambiance of Lebanon Common is preserved today by the fact that the town did not remain a busy trade center and is now a much quieter little town, off on a side road of rural eastern Connecticut.

Within the property boundaries, but not a part of this landmark is the Wadsworth Stable, an architecturally and historically interesting structure, believed to date from 1730. It was moved from the Hartford estate of Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth when his home was destroyed in 1954. The stable sheltered the horses of Washington, Lafayette, Rochambeau and de Ternay when these leaders met at the Wadsworth Mansion September 20-21, 1781.

Unfortunately both the War Office and the Trumbull House have been moved from their original sites and the office is not included in the D.A.R. property.


Joseph Trumbull constructed this house as a wedding present for his son, Jonathan, who became governor of Connecticut. From 1769 to 1784 he directed state operations from this house and during the Revolution it served as a headquarters of the Continental forces, a meeting place for American and French leaders and a major source of supplies for the troops. The residence was also the birthplace of Jonathan's son, John Trumbull, painter of historical scenes.

Built between 1735 and 1740, the Trumbull House is a fine and little-altered example of an early Georgian frame house.

Biography: John Trumbull

Portraitist and painter of historical subjects, John Trumbull (1756-1843) is best known for his paintings of leaders and dramatic scenes of the Revolutionary War.

Trumbull early developed an interest in art; but his father, feeling that painting was not a fit occupation for a gentleman, tried to discourage him. When John Trumbull was 15, his father sent him to Harvard, where, inspired by meeting John Copley, he began to copy works of art. Following his graduation in 1773, he continued to paint.

With the outbreak of the Revolution, Trumbull put his artistic ability to use as a maker of military maps. This talent helped him to rise quickly in the Continental ranks, and for a brief time he served as Washington's aide-de-camp. However, in 1777, he resigned his commission and settled in Boston to study art. The next year he served as volunteer aide-de-camp to General John Sullivan in the Rhode Island campaign; but, following the campaign, returned to Boston.

In 1780 he went to England where he spent several months studying under Benjamin West. Arrested on a charge of treason, he fled to the Continent upon his release from prison; and, after spending some time there, returned to the United States. In 1784 he returned to London where he again became a pupil of West. In a childhood accident, Trumbull had lost the sight of one eye and, for this reason, West urged him to paint small pictures. This led Trumbull to compress his heroic, sweeping compositions into canvases probably more concentrated and powerful than West's own.

Returning to America in 1789, Trumbull traveled from New Hampshire to South Carolina painting portraits of the new nation's leaders, and sketching the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. With this material, he composed his most important works. Outstanding among these was his "Declaration of Independence." In this canvas, only 30 inches wide, are 48 portrait figures, all grouped naturally and convincingly in a manner suitable to the solemn occasion. Although the subject lacked action, Trumbull managed to convey its excitement.

After 1794, Trumbull produced little of real merit. He remained, however, an important figure in American art. He was commissioned in 1817 to paint four Revolutionary War scenes for the rotunda of the Capitol, thus becoming the first American painter to receive a commission from the Federal Government. In 1832 Yale University opened a gallery devoted to Trumbull's paintings. This gallery was one of the first art museums in the English-speaking world.

History: Jonathan Trumbull House

In 1735 Jonathan Trumbull married Faith Robinson and his father, Joseph, began construction of this house for them. The Trumbulls had six children, all born here. Joseph was the first Commissary General to the Continental Army, Jonathan also became Governor of Connecticut, Faith married General Jedidiah Huntington, Mary married William Williams of Lebanon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, David, and John who was a well known artist, often called the painter of the Revolution.

Lebanon was on one of the most travelled routes between New York and Boston in colonial days. From here Jonathan Trumbull managed the family's considerable trade with the West Indies, England, Amsterdam and Hamburg, importing directly from the mother countries to ports along the coast and the Connecticut River, on ships he either owned or chartered himself. Lebanon early became known as a center of revolutionary military activity and Jonathan Trumbull, the most prominent citizen of the town, was the only colonial governor to espouse the revolutionary cause.

During the winter of 1780-81, the mile-long Common was used as a parade ground for 200 Hussars under Duc de Lauzun, who were quartered here. Later that winter the Count de Rochambeau arrived with five regiments that camped in Lebanon until June 23, 1781, when the French troops left to join the Continental forces at Yorktown.

Originally located adjacent to the Trumbull house, and connected to it by a secret passageway was Jonathan Trumbull's store, often called the War Office. This building was a northern supply headquarters of the Continental forces in Connecticut and was only second to Massachusetts in the amount of men and money it supplied Washington's army. In 1780 Washington desperately sent to Jonathan Trumbull for food and the Governor responded with a train of ox sleds bearing 1,500 barrels of beef and 3,000 barrels of pork. Washington once said that "except for Jonathan Trumbull, the war could not have been carried to a successful termination."

In the War Office, the back room of the store, the Council of Safety of Connecticut held over 1,100 meetings. Here plans were made for outfitting privateers, troop levies were issued, and conferences were held with Washington, Jefferson, Lafayette, Rochambeau, de Lauzun, Adams, Jay, Benjamin Franklin, and his son William, former Tory Governor of New Jersey, who was held prisoner in Lebanon.


Connecticut — A Guide to its Roads, Lore and People (American Guide Series) Boston, 1938.

Sizer, Theodore, The Works of Colonel John Trumbull, New Haven, Conn., 1950.

Sizer, Theodore, "John Trumbull" Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1936.

Labaree, Leonard W., "Jonathan Trumbull" Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1936.

Levin, Phyllis Lee, Great Historic Houses of America, New York, 1970.

Sizer, Theodore, The Works of Colonel John Trumbull, New Haven, Conn., 1950.

Sizer, Theodore, "John Trumbull" Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1936.

‡ Blanche Higgins Schroer, Landmark Review Project and Charles W. Snell, National Park Service, Historic Sites Survey, John Trumbull Birthplace, nomination document, 1975, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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Street Names
Town Street West


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