Happy Women’s Month, Monroe history lovers. In my ongoing research into Monroe’s rich historic past, there appears to be one constant throughout. It’s a man’s world. But behind every successful man in our history, there was very likely a strong woman. So, with near everything in print dedicated almost exclusively to men, you can appreciate the challenge I faced when trying to research the historic details of a Monroe woman worthy of historic celebration. Fortunately for me, the choice was right before my eyes.
This Women’s Month, the Monroe Historical Society proudly celebrates the factual history of Hannah Tomlinson-Hovey, inarguably the most famous woman in all of Monroe’s history. Of course, the majority of our readership will know her as Hannah Cranna, the legendary witch of Monroe. Now, before you fire up your torches and sharpen your pitchforks to hunt me down, hear me out. I promise you; this isn’t going to be a witch hunt. Oh no, far from it. This is the verified history of an amazing woman who once lived in our town, the strong woman behind the man. Can you handle this, Monroe? Are you really ready? Well, as the society’s historian, I’m making an executive decision. IT’S TIME. Let’s begin.
Hannah Tomlinson was born in Huntington, CT (Shelton, CT) in 1763, the daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth Tomlinson. At age 20 she married Captain James Hovey, who was born in Cambridge, MA in 1740, the son of John and Susannah Hovey. As an underaged boy, with his father’s permission, James served as a soldier within the army, but he fell ill and was forced to return home. As a man, he became a sea-captain and secured two commissions from the Continental Congress as a Captain in the Privateer Service, hunting, and capturing British ships in the Atlantic waters off the east coast. In 1778, as captain of the Rhode Island brigantine named Fairfield, his and another privateer ship named Wooster, captured a prized British brigantine bound for either Newport, RI or New York City.
After Captain James and Hannah married on April 9, 1783, he sailed primarily out of Stratford, CT on his schooner named Swallow. Just one year after their marriage, in August of 1784, on the day of the birth of their first child James, Captain Hovey was shipwrecked and absent from home for six years. During those years, he had another vessel built of mahogany, and after his long absence, sailed back into New Haven Harbor in 1790. James’ and Hannah’s reunion bore four more children, but not all the news was good. Their second son Thomas, born in 1795, perished at only 9 days. Their first son James, born in 1784 while his father was at sea, died on foreign soil on the Island of Curacao in 1806 at age 21.
Hannah Tomlinson-Hovey was clearly a very strong woman who had to deal with countless challenges and deep personal loss, and all while supporting her family alone while her husband was missing or away fighting the British on the high seas for the independence of our fledgling nation. After the Revolutionary War, the Hoveys settled in Monroe on a small farm. According to tradition, their property was located on Old Newtown Road at the summit of the hill, almost directly opposite from Stepney Elementary School. Captain James died in 1829 and Hannah followed in 1831. They and their 5 children are buried in the Tomlinson family section of the Long Hill Burial Ground at 275 Long Hill Avenue in Shelton, CT. You won’t find any witch there, only the strong woman behind the man, her family and our country.
In 1909, members of the Mary Silliman Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Bridgeport, CT met for a quilting bee to create a commemorative quilt, an homage to their ancestors who bravely fought and sacrificed for our independent nation. In Row #12/Block #5 of this hand-sewn historic document, you’ll find the names Captain James Hovey and Hannah Tomlinson Hovey. Since 2011 this quilt has been in the collection of the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington D.C., an artifact of great American historic and genealogical significance. As you can now see, Hannah Tomlinson-Hovey is both figuratively and literally a thread in the very fabric of America. As we celebrate Monroe’s Bicentennial this year, and America’s semiquincentennial (250th) in 2026, I say its high time we celebrate the most important woman in all of Monroe’s history. Not the legend mind you, but the woman. Don’t you agree?
Can the factual American history of Hannah Tomlinson-Hovey and the legend of Hannah Cranna coexist within the same space? I believe they can, and apparently, I’m willing to bet on it. What are your thoughts, Monroe? Would you like to learn more about Monroe’s most famous, and henceforth most celebrated woman? The primary details are out now, and we can’t put them back. I hope you’ve enjoyed this Women’s History Month post from the Monroe Historical Society. Please share this with your family and friends or anyone else who may have an interest in Monroe’s rich history. Thank you all sincerely for your continued interest, and please join us in celebrating Monroe’s Hannah Tomlinson-Hovey.
Historian, Monroe Historical Society
Our Past is Always Present