Revolutionary War prisoners with smallpox remembered in Milford

MILFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Independence Day is not only a day of celebrating, but it is also a day of remembrance, at least in one shoreline town. The signing of the Declaration of Independence was just the start. Actually getting independence from England took fighting and sacrifice. Freedom is not free.

“Ever since 1776 we’ve had people stepping up to do that, many of them from Milford,” said past Veterans of Foreign Wars State Commander Gregory Smith at the beginning of Milford’s Independence Day parade.Related Content: Yale to display historic documents for Independence Day

In Milford, each July 4th they march from City Hall to the town cemetery in honor of, not just that declaration, but also of a little-known bit of heroism that started on New Year’s eve, 1776.

At that point, the war was well underway. The British had captured a couple hundred American soldiers, and put them on a prison ship sailing out of New York, up Long Island Sound. Then they found out some of their captives had smallpox. The British didn’t want to catch the deadly disease as there was no cure. So, on a cold winter’s night, they dumped their prisoners in Milford.

“200 infirmed prisoners, and they were cast off onto Gulf Beach, and Captain Stephen Stow, a local Milford resident, tended to them, ministered to them, sacrificing his own life,” explained Milford Mayor Ben Blake.

The marching ends at the monument to Captain Stow. He succumbed to smallpox, as did 46 of the prisoners under his care, but thanks to the sacrifices made by Stow and other townspeople, the rest of the American soldiers lived to fight again.

“This is the highest level of sacrifice to their country, tending to these American patriots, and we remember that each and every year,” said Mayor Blake. “He is one of our local town heroes.”

They also honor more recent heroes. A wreath is laid next to the monument in honor of each veterans organization, and they read the names of those lost this past year. It is an excellent reminder that, even though the uniforms and weapons have changed, freedom is still not free.

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