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Tryon’s Descent on New Haven

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

July 7.—On Sunday night last, (4th,) a fleet of British ships and vessels were observed -in Long Island Sound, standing towards New Haven, and about two o’clock the next morning the fleet, consisting of the Camilla and Scorpion men-of-war, with tenders, row-galleys, and transports, to the number of forty-eight, commanded by Sir George Collier, anchored off West Haven. They had on board, it is said, between two and three thousand land forces, commanded by Governor Tryon, who, a little after sunrise, landed most of the troops on West Haven Point. The alarm guns were fired, the drums beat to arms, and every preparation which the confusion and distress of the inhabitants (on the near and sudden approach of so terrible an enemy) would permit, was made for defence and resistance. The bridge on the western road was taken up, and a number of field-pieces were placed and served to such advantage as prevented the enemy’s approaching the town by that route. They then proceeded on the west side of the creek, in order to cross at the bridge on the Amity road, but were bravely opposed by small parties of Americans, particularly by about twenty-five under the command of a lieutenant of the militia, who drove upwards of two hundred of the enemy for near half a mile, and retarded their getting into the town for about three hours, giving all the women, except those who entertained too favorable an opinion of them, time to escape.

The British intended to have destroyed the powder and paper mills, the latter of which several of them entered, but were obliged to retire (before they had time to do any mischief) by a party of Americans posted there and at the bridge, who made fourteen of them prisoners. The main body of the enemy in a column, and two flanking parties, then forded the stream, some distance below the bridge, and proceeded through the enclosed grounds to the town. The people, though yet assembled in very small numbers, kept up a scattering fire with them all the way to the entrance of the town, and several were killed and wounded on each side. Between twelve and one o’clock the enemy entered the town in the most malignant disposition, enraged by the opposition from a number much inferior to their own, proud of their superiority, ashamed of the difficulty of overcoming the resistance of so small a number, and cruel in their resentment. They vented their fury upon the persons and effects of all who unfortunately fell under their power. They plundered the houses of every thing they could carry away or convert to their own use, and broke or destroyed every whole article of household goods and furniture, together with the window glass and sashes. A few houses, however, escaped plunder, and a few persons abuse. These were such as were either noted Tories, or those that had been particularly recommended by such of those at whose houses the officers happened to put up, or who were spared through caprice or accident. Some few of the inhabitants, both male and female, were noted Tories, who stayed in through choice, and were glad of such visitants. Some others, though professing to be Whigs, had conceived a good opinion of the enemy, and believed they would behave well and politely to those who were peaceable and did not oppose them. These, too, stayed in of choice; a very small number, and no women among them that we have heard of, were unwillingly caught in town, having no opportunity to get out. The few men who stayed in town, most of whom were old, infirm, or Tories, were treated with the greatest abuse and insolent ferocity—stripped and plundered of every thing valuable about them, and on the slightest pretences, or even without any pretence at all, inhumanly stabbed with bayonets, shot, or otherwise murdered, with circumstances of savage and wanton cruelty. One Kennedy, a noted Tory who rejoiced at their coming, they plundered of his buckles, &c., and on his expressing some resentment, immediately stabbed him to death. A very old man of the name of English, (whose daughter was busy in providing for their entertainment,) on expression of reproof, uttered in the most gentle, inoffensive manner, they murdered by running through the body several times with bayonets; and as he lay on his back bleeding on the floor in the agonies of death, his daughter coming in, exclaimed— “Oh! how could you murder my poor old father so cruelly?” One of them asking, “Is he your father?” to which she answered, “Oh! yes, he is my father,” the inhuman villain immediately stood and stamped on his breast, and then upon his face, crushing down his nose. Mr. Bears, the elder, a man of a most respectable and inoffensive character, had been entertaining them in his own house, in the most liberal and obliging manner, treating them with good wine and punch; one of them who had been out, came in, and charged him with having fired a gun out of the window, and presenting a gun, swore he would kill him for it immediately. Mr. Bears seeing by the ruffian’s motions that he intended to murder him, denied that he had fired any gun, or knew or believed that any had been fired out of the house; and said, “You see I am an old, infirm man; I am not able to do you any hurt, and have done nothing to oppose you; all I have is in your hands—why should you take away my life?” Unmoved by this remonstrance, the villain immediately shot him, giving him a mortal wound.

One Tuttle, (a man who on some late very great losses and misfortunes, occasioned by his having espoused the cause of the British tyrant, had lost his senses and been in a state of distraction, not having spoken a word for above six weeks before the time,) being met by some of the British cut-throats, they asked him a question, which he not regarding, and making no answer, they stabbed with a bayonet, which some person of the town seeing, told them the man was crazy, and had not spoken a word these six weeks. “Damn him,” replied the murderer, “it is time he should be made to speak;” and forcing the point of the bayonet into his mouth, thrust it into his tongue, drew it out and cut it off. The man died in a few hours. And so firmly were these British miscreants possessed of the diabolical spirit of murder, that it did not quit them in the last stage of life, but went with them into eternity, to attend them at their appearance before their Judge! One Mr. Gilbert, a man advanced in years, having faithfully attended his duty in the field, in defence of the just rights and liberty of his country against the invasion of the bloody tyrants, happened to give a mortal-wound to one of their officers, and afterwards was taken prisoner by the enemy, and brought to the man he had wounded. The dying wretch, instigated by infernal malice and revenge, said to the men under his command, “That man has murdered me; kill him, kill him!” And this murderous order was instantly executed accordingly; so that both spirits took their departure nearly together, and might, perhaps, together be summoned to make their appearance before the awful tribunal. What a contrast in their circumstances!

The behavior of this crew of British miscreants to the unhappy women, who conceiving too favorable an opinion of them, and confiding in their politeness and generosity, had stayed in town and trusted themselves in their hands; to these they behaved with worse than savage cruelty, and though most, if not all of them, were reputed of Tory principles, yet very few, if any, of the young women, (except some who fled for protection to a few protected persons) nor not all the old, or even the negroes, escaped violation—some in the presence of their husbands, and others by great numbers successively. Some of these unhappy victims they carried off with them in their vessels. These are some of the exploits of Britons (long famous for justice and generosity, but now, alas! how fallen) at New Haven.

After keeping possession of the town all night, (and a night of horror it was to the inhabitants,) pretty early yesterday morning a considerable body of militia, being collected tinder the command of General Ward, General Hart, and other officers, and great numbers continually coming in from every quarter, the enemy unexpectedly and with great stillness and despatch, retreated with their vessels, taking with them about twenty of the inhabitants prisoners, with three or four families, and a few other persons who chose to accompany them.

While the British General Garth, with his division, plundered New Haven, Sir George Collier brought his fleet into the harbor, landed Governor Tryon with the rest of the troops, at East Haven, and then began a heavy cannonade on the little fort at Black Rock, which was handsomely defended as long as it was tenable, and then evacuated. On Tuesday afternoon the militia collected in such numbers, and pressed so close upon Governor Tryon that he thought best to retreat on board his fleet, and before morning had set sail to the westward.

The abusive and cruel treatment of the inhabitants of New Haven, the wanton and malicious destruction of that part of their property that could not be carried away, and the burning of the warehouses on the wharf with the vessels that lay there, as also part of the houses at East Haven, sufficiently prove that it was not owing to good will that the town of New Haven was not burned. The most probable conjecture is, that it was spared for the sake of the plunder.

The American loss at New Haven is twenty-three killed and fifteen wounded; that of the enemy cannot be exactly ascertained, but is known to exceed one hundred, and some report one hundred and fifty, among which are two adjutants, and some other officers they much lament. The number of Americans killed, exceeding that of the wounded, has been uncommon in former wars, but has frequently happened in this between Britain and America, and can only be accounted for by supposing that they generally murder our wounded men that fall into their hands.1


1 New York Journal, July 19.