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Norwich patriot honored with historic portrait

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For generations, Colonel John Durkee was a name that faded into historical obscurity. Originally born in Windham, Durkee moved to Norwich as an adult where he lived in Norwich’s Bean Hill, and his exploits as a high-ranking officer in the Continental Army and leader of the Connecticut Sons of Liberty have earned it an appropriate nickname: the “Bold Bean Hiller. In recent years, Colonel John Durkee has experienced a local resurgence of recognition and research at Norwich’s Leffingwell House Museum and on July 4, 2021, the museum invites the audiences at a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the formal reveal a new and exciting contribution to the history of art and the story of Colonel John Durkee.

Frances Caulkins, author of History of Norwich Connecticut wrote of Durkee saying, “If the life of this able and valiant soldier were written in detail, it would be a work of unusual interest. What we know about Durkee is only eclipsed by what we don’t know about him. One of the many details never really known is what Colonel John Durkee actually looked like. In Norwich, Durkee operated a farm and trading business in addition to running a local inn and tavern. Into her home came her next big mark on history, the founding of Norwich’s Sons of Liberty. This secret organization of radical-minded patriots found its roots in Boston with the passage of the Stamp Act of Parliament in 1765, and their ranks quickly spread to the thirteen colonies. Indignant Connecticut residents rebelled against the Stamp Act which culminated on September 19, 1765. In a daring and astonishing maneuver, John Durkee and a band of 500 men set out from Norwich and captured Connecticut’s chief stamp agent, Jared Ingersoll, in Wethersfield. Durkee and his Sons of Liberty forced Ingersoll’s resignation and succeeded in preventing the distribution of British stamps in Connecticut. Durkee went on to have a distinguished career in the Continental Army as commander of the 20th Continental Regiment and the 4th Connecticut Regiment.

On July 4 at 11 a.m., a special commemorative event in honor of John Durkee will be held at the Leffingwell House Museum. The program will include the unveiling of a posthumous portrait of Colonel John Durkee painted by nationally renowned artist and Durkee descendant, Susan Boone Durkee. Taking inspiration from artist Gilbert Stuart, she said of the project: “I did a lot of research for the portrait using two primitive reference images… painting Colonel John was fun! He seemed to have the air of a charming boy. But the most important consideration in creating this portrait was to make it look like a vintage portrait. When asked what this portrait meant to her and her family, she commented, “Personally, I am honored to have been able to successfully create this oil portrait and to help bring recognition and humanity. to such an unsung, courageous and distinguished hero of our primitive nation.

The Leffingwell House Museum would like to express its sincere thanks to Susan Durkee, Rob Durkee, Regan Miner and Damien Cregeau for their valuable historical research on the project.

Dayne Rugh is Acting Director of the Slater Memorial Museum and President of the Society of the Founders of Norwich.