Greenwich residents are familiar with the name Putnam - Putnam Avenue, Putnam Trust, Putnam Cottage, Putnam Park, etc. There's even a Putnam CT. The name Putnam comes from a Revolutionay War hero - General Israel Putnam. Anyone who has spent anytime here is aware of his famous ride down "Put's" Hill. But Putnam had an illustrious career beyond Greenwich.
Israel Putnam was born in Danvers MA in 1718. He moved to Pomfret CT in northeastern Connecticut in 1740. He served with Roger's Rangers during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Putnam barely avoided being burned at the stake by Native-Americans when a French officer came to his rescue. In 1759 he participated in the Battle of Ticonderoga and Montreal. In later years, he barely escaped drowning when he was invading Cuba. During Pontiac's Rebellion, he served in Detroit.
On April 20, 1775, the day after the Battle of Lexington, legend has it that Putnam abandoned his plow and horses right in the middle of his field to ride to Boston to volunteer. He was appointed one of four Major Generals under George Washington. In June of 1775, he fought in the Battle of Bunker (Breed's) Hill. Legend has it that it was he who gave the command not to shoot "until you see the whites of their eyes" and not General Prescott.
There is much conjecture about the circumstances behind Putnam's ride down "Put's" Hill. One tale has him shaving in the morning at Knapp's Tavern (Putnam Cottage). One of his men alerts him that General Tryon's men are raiding Greenwich. Mead says Putnam saw the advancing British out a window when he was shaving. Putnam ran out the back door and jumped on his horse, barely escaping capture. He came to the steep hill. (This is on the Post Road near Greenwich High School). After sizing up the situation, he rode down the steep slope. The British took chase. Someone fired a shot, and it passed through his hat. (This hat can be seen today on display at Putnam Cottage.) Putnam shook his fist at the British, and cursed them. He rode to Fort Nonsense in Stamford for reinforcements, and by the time he got back, the British had retreated to New York.
The steps we see today were not the steps that Putnam rode down. These were in a different location. Steps were cut into the rock below the monument many years later. It's believed he rode down a dirt cartpath north of the turnpike and came out on the road.
Putnam was given command over Long Island due to his heroics. Unfortunately, this was when his fortunes started to change. He had to effect a hasty retreat. Congress was unhappy with his defeat, and Washington decided to assign him to recruiting duty - somewhat of a demotion. Eventually, Putnam was given command of Forts Montgomerey and Clinton in the Hudson highlands. However, he subsequently abandoned these, and was called up in front of an inquiry board. General Putnam was exonerated of all wrong doing. In 1779, he suffered a paralyzing stroke, which shortened his military career. He died in 1790.
In 1900, the Putnam Hill Chapter of the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution) commemorated a monument on the "brow" of the hill. The inscription reads,
"This marks the spot where on February 26, 1779, General Israel Putnam, cut off from his soldiers and pursued by British Cavalry, galloped down this rocky steep and escaped, daring to lead where not one of many hundred foes dared to follow."
Today, there is a statue of Putnam located in Bushnell Park in Hartford near the statehouse. There is a statue in Brooklyn CT of him on his horse. Today he is considered a hero of the American Revolutionary War.