Twenty French Soldiers (or Sailors)
There has been lengthy debate as to the identity of the French individuals buried in this mass grave. Local Historian, Frances Caulkins, in her “History of Norwich, Connecticut” Frances Caulkins wrote that in 1778, General Lafayette was marching his troops south from Providence and stopped in Norwich when many of his soldiers fell ill. The sick soldiers were quartered in the Court House, just off the Green, while the rest camped on the Norwichtown Green. Twenty soldiers died and were buried “along the road which leads to the town burial ground.” The story is reinforced by two memorials located near the entrance to the burial grounds to memorialize this event; one was donated by the Faith Trumbull Chapter of the DAR and the second from the “Societe National Souvenir Francais” a French historical society.
Recent research conducted by the Norwich City Historian and others have found documentation contrary to this this local legend. In 2017, Connecticut State Archeologist Dr. Brian Jones and his team conducted Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) at the site to prove there was a mass grave in front of the existing memorials. Further research indicates that French troops under the Marquis de Lafayette did not pass-through Connecticut until 1780-81, but there was a report of a prisoner exchange between the French and the British in 1778.
Many of these French prisoners were held by the British in New York on prison ships. These men were likely captured off French merchant ships or were French privateers. The French prisoners were marched from British occupied New York to the French fleet in Boston and stopped in Norwich. Local accounts indicate 5 – 600 Frenchmen arrived in Norwich on October 25, 1778. A sermon by the Rev. Benjamin Lord given on November 21, 1778, listing the deaths in his parish during the year, adding, “And also died here in a few weeks, of the French prisoners from New-York, 20.” It appears that the twenty individuals buried in the unmarked grave are French sailors, not soldiers as originally thought.
For more information, please check out the following article in The Day newspaper written by Norwich City Historian, Dale Plummer, offering some clarity to the mystery of the French Soldiers.