by Karl Kurtz
In an excellent commentary on Congress, "The Best Way to Fix Government Dysfunction," Lee Hamilton of the Center on Congress at Indiana University tells a story about the dedication to duty of a Connecticut state legislator, Col. Abraham Davenport, on a "dark day" in New England in 1780 that many thought to be the Judgment Day.
I had never heard the story before, so I did a search on Abraham Davenport and found a marvelous Stamford Historical Society website. It turns out that I probably should have known about Col. Davenport, as John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem about him, John F. Kennedy quoted him numerous times in his 1960 presidential campaign, and the Connecticut Legislature commemorated him on the 200th anniversary of the dark day in 1980:
...Abraham’s character was firm, even stern, constant in his dedication to his responsibilities concerning all of community and church life, which at this time were a single entity. Nothing embodies this better than his role during New England’s famous Dark Day—a day where the skies of the Northeast, for no explicable reason remained almost completely dim. Davenport’s resolve during this troubling time is described by Timothy Dwight of Yale in his Travels in New England and New York, published 1822.
“The 19th of May, 1780, was a remarkably dark day. Candles were lighted in many houses; the birds were silent and disappeared; and the fowls retired to roost. The legislature of Connecticut was then in session at Hartford. A very general opinion prevailed that the Day of Judgment was at hand. The House of Representatives, being unable to transact their business, adjourned. A proposal to adjourn the Council [Senate or Upper House] was under consideration. When the opinion of Col. Davenport was asked, he answered, ‘I am against an adjournment. The Day of Judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.”