Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Local legend has it that the first time a Christmas tree was put up and decorated in the United States of America appears to have occurred in Windsor, Connecticut. A German POW in the Revolutionary War wanted to mark Christmas with a symbol of home.
He was a mercenary soldier, part of the Hessian troops employed by the British. His name was Hendrick Roddemore. He was taken captive during the Battle of Bennington, Vermont in August 1777, where American commander General John Stark’s colonial troops defeated the British. Have a look here at our previous post on the Bennington Battle Monument.
Hundreds of Hessian troops were taken prisoner, and many were transported to Boston, then transferred in small groups around the region. Hendrick Roddemore was sent to the Pine Meadows section of Windsor, Connecticut on the Connecticut River. Later the area became the separate town of Windsor Locks.
He was put in custody of Samuel Denslow, who owned a 100-acre farm. In a small cabin here, perhaps a day or two before Christmas, 1777, Roddemore took the extraordinary action of cutting a small growing tree from outdoors and put it inside the cabin. We can imagine simple decorations, and may well imagine the curiosity of his captors. Not only were Christmas trees not used to celebrate Christmas in the United States at that time, but Christmas itself wasn’t usually celebrated in New England, where our Puritan founders still held sway over our consciousness. Christmas was not widely celebrated here until the following century. Even up until around World War II, Thanksgiving was the larger holiday in New England.
Christmas was something those New Yorkers did.
The small cabin on West Street is no longer there, but the Noden-Reed Farm is now the home of the Windsor Locks Historical Society, and there is a stone marker planted on what is reckoned to be the site of the first indoor Christmas tree in the United States.