George Denison in love and war

George Denison and Ann Borodell's property stretched from Pequotsepos Road to the Mystic River. In Mystic today, Denison Avenue parallels Borodell Avenue - modern reminders of a remarkable couple.

In 1631, 11-year-old George was aboard the Lyon when she sailed into Boston Harbor. The ship was welcomed by ceremonious cannon and musket fire in honor of another passenger, John Winthrop Jr. Young George must have liked the showy greeting even though he knew it wasn't for him.

George had blue eyes and red hair and grew up to resemble a stereotypical Viking in both appearance and behavior. His arrival in America was just the beginning of an adventuresome life.

George's family settled in Roxbury, Mass. In 1640 he married Bridget Thompson, but joy and tragedy followed in swift succession when Bridget died three years later from childbirth complications. George, motivated by grief, political fervor, or temporary indifference to danger, immediately shipped out of Boston to join Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War.

George was captured in one battle, but escaped, only to be severely wounded in another. He recuperated in Ireland at the home of John Borodell, a wealthy merchant, where he was cared for by Borodell's daughter, Ann. The patient and his nurse quickly fell in love. (I wonder how Borodell felt about his houseguest's attentions to his daughter.)

George must have been quite a charmer to persuade Ann to give up a life of comfort for an uncertain future in a wilderness. When he brought her home to Boston, he was received with a hero's welcome and his gracious bride was accepted into the community as "Lady Ann."

In 1651 George moved to New London, built a house on Hempstead Street and assumed many civic responsibilities. Over time he became militia captain, census taker, tax assessor, port inspector, town clerk, justice of the peace and deputy to the General Court. George was also on a church building committee, although he may have been more interested in construction than worship, as he was fined at least once for erratic church attendance.

In 1654 the couple moved to Mystic where their first dwelling was a lean-to surrounded by stockade fencing. It was designed for safety but it wasn't much like Ann's girlhood home.

Soon George became embroiled in a controversy over whether Stonington should be part of Connecticut or Massachusetts. When the matter was decided in Connecticut's favor, colonial leaders were so upset with George for siding with Massachusetts that they fined him and withdrew his rights and privileges, including the authority to perform marriages. George refused to pay the fine, and as an added gesture of defiance performed two illegal weddings (one of the brides was his own daughter). Eventually the unpleasantness was papered over; vigorous men like George were too valuable to be marginalized.

George had a lead role in defending Connecticut against the Wampanoags in King Phillip's War, but although he was a harsh warrior, he wasn't hostile to all Indians. He had close ties to the Mohegans, who thought enough of him to give him 2,000 acres of land. After the Pequot War he and James Avery were commissioned to identify land "for the Pequots to plant in, near the sea as convenient as possible."

George died in 1694; Ann followed him 20 years later. Today their grandson's house, Pequotsepos Manor, is on the National Register of Historic
Places.

Although a tough guy, George could also be romantic. His courtship of Ann certainly sounds romantic, and when he proposed to Bridget he wrote her a poem. (Copies are available by contacting the Denison Homestead through their website.)

George wasn't Shakespeare or even Dr. Seuss, but the effort obviously pleased Bridget. The poem begins, "Alone I am, a helper I would find," succinctly and sweetly expressing the desires of young men in every era.

Carol Sommer of Waterford is a self-proclaimed history nut. She writes a monthly history column inspired by local street signs.

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