Early in the morning of March 15, 1780, a Tory gang robbed the house of Captain Ebenezer Dayton in Bethany. Among the seven robbers was British officer Alex Graham; young Oxford resident, Henry Wooster, Jr.; and his relative, David Wooster, who lived in the Gunntown area near the Oxford/Naugatuck line.
Captain Dayton's house was chosen for robbery because he had fled from Long Island when the British occupied it. The robbers justified their theft by accusing Dayton of stealing British-held materials from Long Island.
On the night of the robbery, Dayton was in Boston on business and the house was occupied by Mrs. Dayton, her three small children, and two black children, who were either servants or slaves. The robbers burst into the house about midnight, waking Mrs. Dayton. She tried to call out to the neighbors, but nobody came to her aid.
The robbers tore up a sheet to tie her hands behind her and made her sit in a chair, placing her infant in her lap. One of the robbers held his gun near her head, holding her there for several hours. The other robbers searched the house for valuables..
Because Dayton was a merchant and peddler, many valuable items were in his home, including coats, cloaks, ladies' gowns, silk and linen handkerchiefs, various kinds of linen goods, silver shoe buckles, a spyglass, and muskets. He also had 450 pounds in gold, silver, and copper coin, plus 200 Continental paper-dollars stashed in the house.
They ordered the servants to serve them a meal, consuming the best of what the pantry held. Some of the robbers went into the cellar where they found liquor. They drank heavily, took what they could carry with them, and poured out the remainder on the ground. The total value of the property stolen or destroyed came to more than 5,000 pounds.
The robbers headed to the Gunntown area of what is now Naugatuck wher relatives of David Wooster’s parents would hide the robbers in their cellar. On their way, they came upon young Chauncey Judd, who also lived in what is now the Towantic Hill area of Oxford. Judd was returning from visiting a young lady in the area.
When Judd recognized Henry, David Wooster and others, the robbers feared he would betray them if allowed to remain free. So they took him prisoner to the Gunntown Wooster house. They wanted to drown Judd in a well in the basement, but Mrs. Wooster pleaded they not do that -- it might spoil the water!
While they remained hidden in the Wooster cellar, an alarm went out for both the robbers and the missing Chauncey Judd. After hiding in the house for a number of days, they felt it was best to leave the area completely. They traveled down Riggs Street to Oxford Center. There they hid for several days in the barn of Captain John Wooster.
Then they set out for the Housatonic River, going by boat toward Stratford. They successfully crossed over to Long Island. Some Derby folks, who had heard of the alarm for Judd, saw the robbers with their prisoner heading for Long Island. The townspeople sent out two whaleboats and crews to pursue the robbers.
The robbers, having arrived on Long Island, thought they were safe and stopped their flight for rest. While they rested the Derby, crews caught up with them and captured all but one of the robbers; they also recovered all the stolen goods.
The robbers were put to trial in New Haven. Graham, the leader, was executed. The others were sent to Newgate Prison.
Among those sentenced was young Henry Wooster, Jr., whose father operated the other Wooster Tavern on Oxford Road. He was sentenced to four years in prison. However, conditions at the prison were primitive, and Henry made plans to escape.
Henry was able to make a key that he used to unlock his chains while in the cavern at night. He would put the chains back on early in the morning so that he could work the mines with the other prisoners. The guards had no suspicions about his nightly efforts. Wooster explored the various caverns to the mine and eventually found a potential escape route through a narrow drain. By working to clear the shaft to the drain, he was eventually able to escape.
Wooster took several others with him one night and crawled through the passage, fleeing to the nearby woods. The guards realized their escape the next morning and captured all but Henry within a short time.
Henry was able to hide himself by remaining in a thick hemlock tree on a nearby mountain all night. The next night he began to flee, finally getting to New London. There he boarded an English ship and enlisted in the British navy.
A descendant of the Wooster family wrote:
"Four years after the termination of the war, one day in the dusk of the evening, a traveler came to the house of Henry Wooster, Senior, in Derby, and asked permission to lodge there that night. He was weary and footsore, he said, and could go no further. Hospitality in such cases was a habit of New England, and his request was granted.
"Mrs. Wooster was then engaged in preparing a kettle of hasty-pudding for the family supper, and at her invitation the traveler partook of the repast. In the course of it, he contrived to turn the conversation upon her own family, and especially of her absent son. She recounted with a mother's partiality his amiable qualities, his manly strength and agility. Won by the interest he seemed to manifest in her story, she bewailed the sad occasion of his falling in with a stranger who had persuaded him to go off on a foolish expedition as she said, against a piratical Yankee, and that in consequence, he had got into Newgate Prison, but after a while he with others broke out, since which she had heard nothing from him and presumed he must be dead.
"At length, after hearing the sad story of the good woman the traveler assumed his natural speech and manner and announced himself as her missing son! At first she was incredulous, and unable to recognize him, 'till opening the bosom of his shirt, he showed her a mark on his breast. This well-remembered mark convinced her of his identity. She fell on his neck and like the father of the prodigal, wept tears of joy over her long-lost boy."
The story of Chauncey Judd was popularized in a historical novel by Israel P. Warren’s Chauncey Judd, or a Boy Stolen. The full-length book is available online at http://www.our-oxford.info/military/Revolution/c_judd-book-text/Chauncey%20Judd.html. It is also available as a Kindle Ebook, available for free download at http://www.oxford-historical-society.org .