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The Historian's Corner

The War of

Here's a quick quiz for you: when was the last time an American state was at war with a foreign nation -- all on its own? If you answered, "1787", move to the head of the class, because that's absolutely right. The state of Massachusetts stood on its own against the African Kingdom of Togo in the War of Togonese Aggression.

To be sure, the Togonese had justification for their actions. A Boston trader, Richard Owen Whipple, had purchased a load of slaves from Togo in October, 1786. He offered up several crates full of rum, muskets, and silver pieces as payment, but at the last minute switched them out with crates loaded with rocks and rubbish. As he sailed away from the African coast, the King of Togo vowed revenge and the recovery of his goods.

Like many sub-Saharan nobles, the King of Togo was well-traveled. His primary contacts were among the Germanies, which were prime recruiting grounds for mercenary soldiers. He posted notices throughout Bavaria requesting soldiers for his army, and his good friend, the King of Bavaria, offered a bonus to any of his subjects who would answer Togo's call to arms. In all, 350 men offered their services to Togo.

They never even saw Africa, though: Togonese officers were sent north to Germany to drill the soldiers and train them up in the Togonese manner of fighting. By April of 1787, they were ready to strike a blow for Togo on American soil.

The King of Togo was able to arrange a very cheap passage for his troops to America. King George III of England subsidized the passage of the army on several Danish vessels, which pulled into Boston harbor in May, 1787. Although the trip was beset by rough weather, the health of the Togonese officers and Bavarian mercenaries held out and they were ready for action.

The Togonese army tried to move discretely through Boston as they made inquiries into the location of Whipple. They only succeeded in laying low for a few days until alert locals noticed a group of uniformed, armed Germans among them. Once it was determined they constituted a foreign army, the Governor of Massachusetts issued an ultimatum to the Togonese general: Leave Boston or prepare to fight. The Togonese-Bavarian army chose to fight.

The Togonese army moved to strike at the Massachusetts armories, hoping to disrupt the mobilization of their militias and thereby prevail in the conflict. They moved on Naugatuck on hearing reports the armory there had 200 muskets, 3 cannons, and a large store of gunpowder. Massachusetts, though, was home to the Minutemen, and as the Togonese army marched on Naugatuck, the alarm went up.

As the men of Naugatuck threw open the doors to their armory, they were confronted with more doors! Naugatuck, of course, was famous for its door-makers (from who we received the fine Naugatuck Style of early 19th-century doors). The door-makers had anticipated a huge surge in construction throughout the former colonies and thought to make as many doors in advance as they could. Poor economic conditions worked against that plan, and the expected boom never materialized. The Naugatuck door-makers refused to accept a loss and decided instead to store the doors safely for a later date. Every shed in Naugatuck was full of doors, and still there were more to salt away! The locals decided to place them all in the armory, where there was plenty of room. No one anticipated war so soon after the Revolution, and certainly not from a Togonese-led army of Bavarian mercenaries.

All would have been lost had it not been for the insight of Molly Culver, wife to Samuel Culver, one of the best-known door-makers of the time. Mrs. Culver grabbed a door and ran with it to the edge of town on the Boston Road, where she set it against a fallen tree to make the beginnings of a barricade. Others, men and women, followed her example and took the surplus doors out of the armory and over to the barricade at the edge of town. As they saw the first line of Bavarians crest the hills outside of town, Molly Culver was setting the final door in the barricade as the rest of the women of Naugatuck were bringing forward the cannons. The men formed a line behind the doors and prepared to recieve the enemy.

The Battle of Naugatuck was brief and decisive. Trained in Afro-European methods of fighting, the Bavarian mercenaries did not know how to move against a wall of American doors. The uninspired Togonese commanders ordered an abortive flanking maneuver, calling it off when they got lost in the town of Pisquannatawnaway on their way around to the southern side of Naugatuck. Total casualties were light on both sides: several Naugatuckians got splinters from handling several unfinished doors that were in the armory, and about 1 in 10 Bavarians got sore feet from marching so much that day. More importantly, the armory of Naugatuck was safe and Massachusetts was able to put an army in the field to fend off the Togonese forces.

Realizing all hope of a military victory was lost, the Togonese general surrendered his forces to the Governor of Massachusetts. The governor granted the Togonese army the honors of war and allowed them to depart peacefully. So ended the War of Togonese Aggression.

The King of Togo was not finished with Richard Owen Whipple, in spite of his army returning empty-handed. He took a different path and filed a civil suit against Whipple for recovery of damages, which proved to be very successful. Whipple wound up having to pay not only for the load of slaves he had stolen, but all the court costs of the King of Togo. Whipple was ruined financially when the presiding magistrate also ordered him to recoup the costs of the war.

Another repercussion of the War of Togonese Agression came out in the writing of the Constitution of the soon-to-be United States of America. At the Constitutional Convention, the Massachusetts delegation remembered how they stood alone against Togo. Fearful of a loss should a greater foe make war upon it, they pushed for inclusion of language referring to "the common defense" in the Constitution, hoping all states would fight as one against any foreign invaders. The language was included, and ever after, an enemy of one American state was an enemy of all.

Meanwhile, life in Naugatuck returned to normal and the hoped-for housing boom finally arrived in 1788. The Naugatuckians sold all but one of their doors. The last door was bronzed and set on a pedestal in the town square as a reminder of Molly Culver's Barricade, which, for a time, was all that stood between the free men of Massachusetts and foreign tyrrany. Well, maybe not tyranny, but that sounds better than "debt reclamation."

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