July 03, 2014

July 7, 1779 Fairfield, Connecticut

July 7, 1779 was the most devastating day in the annals of Fairfield history. It began a long hard struggle that lasted for many many years.The day began with Fairfielders awakening to see a fleet of British warships off the coast of Fairfield. The enemy waited until the fog lifted to come ashore and ravaged the town and abuse and rape
the women. It is a day that lives in infamy. Yet, it is also a date that goes by each
year without much notice. No parade and very little mention in the newspapers It is forgotten for the most part and only those who have lived in town most of the lives or have lived here during one of the periodic reenactments are aware of that important historic event.

It doesn't take much imagination to picture the scene that happened around four in the afternoon, as approximately 1,600 troops landed at McKenzies Point (Sasco Beach). Cannons from Grover Hill and Round Hill were fired as a warning to alert the town. Sam Rowland, a ten-year-old, ran across from his house to Trinity Episcopal Church (which was located next to where the YMCA is today) and climbed into the steeple.  He watched the British marching up the beach, on Beach Road towards the Town Hall Green.

Because the men were out on patrol or fighting elsewhere, most of the remaining residents were women, children, and the elderly. Many quickly loaded wagons and hurried to friends and relatives who lived in the hills and beyond. Others remained; not believing the British would harm them.

The British an Hessian mercenaries, under the leadership of General William Tryon, marched up Beach Road and proceeded to enter homes and steal everything of any value. A few families in town known to be loyalist were spared having their homes ravaged and burned.

Eunice Dennie Burr

Thaddeus Burr

At the Burr Homestead, Eunice Burr, wife of the most important man in town, Thaddeus Burr, didn’t believe her house would be stormed or that she would be harmed because General Tryon had been a guest of the Burrs. However, soldiers broke in many times.

Mrs. Burr gave a deposition on August 2, 1779 describing what had happened to her: s"[A] pack of the most barbarous ruffians came rushing into the house, and repeatedly accosted me with, you Dam [sic] Rebel where is your husband, he is a selectman   at the same time stripping me of my buckles, taring [sic] down the curtains of my bed, breaking the frame of my dressing glass, pulling out the draws of my table."

A British officer who entered demanded any weapons she had. She gave him those she could find and told him about the ruffians. He ordered them out, but as soon as he left, more entered, demanding cider and breaking china. Finally, General Tryon arrived and confiscated all the house deeds. When he left, another group appeared. In her deposition she wrote, "I drew back to the yard, the only shelter that I had, and there committed myself to God." Hours later Tryon returned, and in a show of compassion, assigned two sentries to guard her door and gave her a note stating the house was to be spared.

Eventually, the British retreated, though we know that the next day, about eight Southport homes and outbuildings were also burned.

Nearly a hundred structures were destroyed. Those Fairfielders who sought safety in Greenfield Hill watched in horror as the flames and smoke rose through a fierce thunder and lightning storm. When they returned to town the next day, 97 homes, 67 barns, 48 stores, two schools, a courthouse (Town Hall), the Sun Tavern, two meeting houses (Congregational and Trinity Churches), and the county jail lay in ruins. Fairfield was destroyed.

Residents who lost their homes were awarded the choice of money or an equivalent value of land from the 500,000 acres of land owned by Connecticut in what today is part of Ohio, and was known as the Western Addition. Many took the latter option and never returned. Others remained and rebuilt. Yet, even a decade later, things had not returned to normal. President Washington came through Fairfield in 1789 and wrote in his diary: [T]he destructive evidences of British cruelty are yet visible both in Norwalk and Fairfield; as there are the chimneys of many burnt houses standing in them yet.

The only houses standing today in the Old Post Road Historic District from before July 7, 1779 are 952 Old Post Road and 249, 289, 303, and 349 Beach Road. Several others, like 205 Beach Road may have been partially burned and were rebuilt. Number 543 Old Post Road was rebuilt in 1783, and Benson House (at 131 South Benson Road) was burned and rebuilt in 1779. The Sun Tavern was rebuilt in 1780, and the Burr Homestead was rebuilt in 1790.
303 Beach Road