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Database: Israel Putnam

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B. 1718

Israel Putnam (more affectionately known as "Old Put") is something of a legendary figure in Revolutionary War history, and possibly its best-known soldier - a bit of a folk hero, if you will.

Putnam was born in Massachusetts, but later moved to Connecticut to take up farming. He's credited with killing the last wolf in the colony - crawling into its den with a musket, a torch, and a rope tied around his feet so he could be pulled back out. He really didn't like wolves. Oh, and I believe I mentioned he was a folk hero? That's only part of it.

He joined the colonial militia during the French and Indian war, where he earned a reputation for bravery and inspiring the soldiers around him. He was captured by a group of Kanien'kehá:ka in 1758, and rescued just before he was to be executed. In 1762 he was shipwrecked in Cuba while on a campaign there where - you'll love this - he learned about cigars. He became a habitual smoker, and is credited with introducing the cigar to the colonies.

After the war ended, Putnam returned to Connecticut, where he was a vocal opponent of the British tax policies that led to the Revolution. When he learned about the battle of Lexington and Concord, he immediately signed up for the Continental Army and was named Brigadier General of the Connecticut forces. He commanded troops at Bunker Hill - and the near-success of the rebels there sealed his reputation.

Washington had high hopes for Putnam as a leader, and he was named Washington's second-in-command in New York just prior to the battle of Long Island. Unfortunately, Putnam was a good soldier by a poor tactician. The battle at Long Island was a rout. Putnam fared no better at his next post guarding forts on the Hudson River, where he was outmatched by General Henry Clinton. After that, Putnam requested to be assigned to recruitment and Washington agreed.

Still. At least he had cigars.

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