The Life of Lt. Asa Lay
By: Karl Crump, USMC- Retired
Daniel Lay said to his three sons; "We shall have war, this country will not endure the tyranny of England and one of you must enlist in the service of your country. You, Daniel, cannot go for you have a sick wife and seven children dependent upon you. Not you James, for you, are subject to falling sickness fits. The light falls upon you Asa, and your brothers must support your family while you are gone."
Asa Lay was born on April 11, 1749 in Westbrook Connecticut and was the third of four sons born of Daniel Lay (1712-1782) and Anna Bull (1712-1790).
In the early morning hours of April 19, 1775, the British army had marched from Boston and was going to Concord, Massachusetts to confiscate the black powder and shot that local militias had stored there. Once reaching Lexington, Massachusetts they were confronted by the Lexington Militia. After a brief and tense standoff, a shot rang out on the quiet green in Lexington Massachusetts. This shot was known as “the shot heard ‘round the world” was the beginning of the War of Independence.
Express riders would spread the word about what had happened there to all the colonies going as far south as Georgia. Around noon, April 20, 1775, a rider would knock on the door of the Connecticut Governor, Jonathan Trumbull. The Governor would call for a special session of the General Assembly to clarify Connecticut’s response to the news.
Several militia companies, upon hearing of the fighting in Boston, marched immediately to Boston. This included Captain William Coit’s Fourth Company of the 6th Connecticut Militia.
Just days after the alarm, Asa Lay enlisted in Captain (Dr.) John Ely’s 9th Company of the 6th Connecticut Militia and on May 8, 1775, was promoted as Corporal in that same company. Four weeks later in June 1775, Asa was again promoted as an Orderly Sergeant and three months later in November 1775 he became Adjutant of the 6th Connecticut Militia.
The first task of the 6th Connecticut militia during 1775 was breaking of ground for many forts along the Long Island Sound of Connecticut and Asa's spade what is the first to break ground at the direction of Fort Groton.
In 1776, Asa appears to have been a thorn in the British side as a reward was offered "over 100 pounds for the head of the Adjutant who rode the Whitehorse.”
October 25, 1776, at the Battle of White Plains, Asa was sent to call in the pickets nearest the enemy whose command, at that point, was held by an officer with whom he was acquainted. That officer had been in camp but a fortnight and had not seen actual service. The officer asked Asa “What he should do?” Asa replied "I advise you to obey orders". As the danger increased for the officer, he asked Asa the same question and the reply was the same “I advise you to obey orders ". The officer obeyed orders and succeeded in retreating with safety and honor.
January 1, 1777, Asa received his commission as first lieutenant in Captain Elisha Ely's Company of the 6th Connecticut Regiment, Connecticut Line of the Continental Army. Robert Starr, my cousin, has possession of the promotion warrant signed by John Jay.
January 1, 1777 so many other changes for the 6th Connecticut Regiment. Colonel William Douglas was briefly in command before health problems compelled him to retire, and In May 1777 Colonel Meigs Took Colonel Douglas’ place. At this time the 6th Connecticut uniform changed from the yellow binding on the hat to the leather caps called "Meigs Leather Cap". Most of the year in 1777 the 6th Connecticut was encamped in Peekskill, New York. There was a saying in the department that "if Washington wanted anything done in the quickest possible time he sent Colonel Meigs, and if Meigs Has something to be done in an instant he sent Asa Lay. "
An incident of the Hudson River campaign one day, Asa cross the river to the west side where are the enemy was in search of adventure. Looking around he saw a man with a pannikin (a small cup or bowl) in his hand. "Come to me or I'll shoot you" Asa said. The Dutchman came up to Asa, Asa asks "What are you doing on the sloop?" In answer, Asa learns from the man that the Tinder was getting supplies from a British man of war farther up the river they only had two or three-man we're on board at present the others had gone to a house dance. Asa's reply "If you guide me to the house I'll let you go but if you pilot me wrong I'll kill you." They made it within the sound of a fiddle playing and he let the man go. The British sailors were easily captured and taken to a convenient place where two of the sailors were disrobed. Asa and another man, disguised in the sailors clothes, rowed to the tender. Asa Yelled "Surrender!" and took 22 British sailors as prisoners. The sloop was not needed anymore and was burned.
December 1777, General Baron von Steuben arrived in America and was received with the highest military honors. General Washington assigned a detail 30 men for the service of protecting the Baron and requested Steuben to take any lieutenant to be their officer. It was Lieutenant Asa Lay who was chosen. For many weeks Asa was with Von Steuben and the General was impressed by what he saw in the camp at Valley Forge. With the lack of common comforts and general distress "No European army could be kept together it's such conditions."
While at Valley Forge, Asa met Mrs. Washington at the dinner table of the General talked but little while Mrs. Washington incessantly chatted right and left with her guests. Once in awhile the general would lay down his knife and fork and throw back his head with a hearty laugh at some hers sayings. The soldiers often remarked among themselves that Washington was very fond of his wife.
On or about March 20 or April 1, 1778, 200 British troops landed on Greenwich Point to destroy a quantity of flour on the beach above the point in burn a row galley they filled there. 15 men under Asa Lay Reinforced by local inhabitants attacked, and prevented the destruction of the flour without a loss of a man killed or wounded. Later the party of 15 led by Asa Lay crossed from Horses Neck to Long Island and cut to sloops out of Hampstead, Long Island, one was deeply laden with wood and the other was with vegetables which they took safely to Horses Neck and unloaded.
The Battle of Monmouth, June 19, 1778, the 6th Connecticut was under the department of Major General Parsons, his duty was to watch the flank of the enemy from sunrise to 4 PM and success was varied sometimes by advancing sometimes retreating, Asa at last charged his men and drove the British back at the point of a bayonet while in final pursuit. Asa past a spring of water guarded by a company of Americans, which lay 30 British soldiers dead without a wound overcome by heat, and they lay down to drink and never rose. Asa had nothing to eat all day, he filled his canteen with whiskey and water which sustained him. His musket often so hot from frequent firing that he could not hold it. The heat was frightful on that day and the suffering was very great.
Asa in 1778 to 1779 has been serving in the secret service until his capture in January 1779. He had crossed from Connecticut to Long Island with 30 men and three boats. Asa received his papers and was returning To Connecticut when the wind blew his boat to the island shore At Llyde Neck. Finding it impossible to get away until the storm blew over took cover onshore for 36 hours, no food or whether relief. a British officer approached and ordered Asa and his men to come out of hiding or be shot, Asa destroying the papers he was given prior to arrest, was court-martialed by the British and was sentenced to remain a prisoner until exchanged. Unfortunately there were no British prisoners of equal rank. He remained a POW in Flatbush, New York until he's released on parole in autumn 1780.
Extremely sick from his time in prison, Asa concerned with pay to help support his family back in Connecticut went to go see General Washington in Morristown. After speaking with the commander Asa went home to recover his health. On May 10, 1780 Asa Was promoted to captain lieutenant of the 6th Connecticut Regiment. On August 25, 1780 Asa Lay was promoted to captain in the 4th Connecticut regiment while still in recovery.
When Captain Asa Lay returns to the army camp at West Point, the 6th Connecticut was disbanded and was merged into the 4th Connecticut regiment. Asa was in charge of 65 men and he trained his men to be a model company, like his model Steuben, Asa was strict in discipline but was generous in his ways toward his men.
In 1781, Asa contracted dysentery and was unable to lead his company to Yorktown and his second lieutenant, who had led the company To Yorktown, was found to have been wounded during the first charge of the siege. Asa was placed back in charge after his recovery of General Baron Von Steuben's protection detail for the remainder of the war. In 1783 Asa returned home to West Brook, still full heart to help his fellow veterans, and received a commission as captain in the 5th Company 7th Connecticut militia.
In 1786, Gov Oliver Wolcott Sr, who was his wife’s Sara 2nd cousin, promotes Asa as Lieutenant Colonel of the 7th Connecticut Militia.
In March 1787, my fourth great grandfather was named Asa Lay Hero and Asa’s mentor, Steuben Lay was born. From 1787 to 1813 Asa raised his family with Sarah, worked as the farm, trained his regiment of Connecticut militia; help this fellow veterans and community until his death on February 23, 1813.
Asa was riding by a family who is moving the body of a man who had died from malignant fever, Asa helped the family. A few days later Asa had been contaminated by the fever dies. Today he is buried next to his wife at the old burial ground across the street from the Westbrook Congregational church. Asa Family lives on and his story is still spoken and told to every generation. My fifth great grandfather one of the greatest heroes of the American Revolution.
Excerpts from the book "growing with America colonial roots" by Joseph fox
Asa Lay Pension file W. 20412
Richard Lay Journal (2nd son of Asa Lay)