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The Burning of Fairfield

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

The British fleet, with the same accursed crew of abandoned, bloody miscreants who left New Haven yesterday [July 6], arrived at Fairfield this afternoon, and continued their plundering and destruction. A correspondent gives the following account of their ravages:—”About four o’clock on the morning of the seventh of July, the approach of the fleet was announced by the firing of a gun from a small fort on Grover’s Hill, contiguous to the Sound. They seemed, however, to be passing by. About seven o’clock we with pleasure beheld them all to the westward of us, steering, as we thought, for New York. A very thick fog came on which deprived us of them till between the hours of nine and ten, when, the mist clearing away, we beheld the whole fleet right under our western shore, and some of them close in with Kinzie’s Point. They presently came to anchor, and lay till about four in the afternoon, when they began to land the troops a little to the eastward of Kinzie’s Point, at a place called the Pines. From thence the troops marched along the beach until they came to a lane opposite the centre of the town, through which they proceeded, and in about an hour paraded in three divisions on the green between the meetinghouse and court house. From thence they detached their guards, and then dividing into small parties, proceeded on their infernal business. Their commanding officers were Sir George Collier by sea, Generals Tryon and Garth by land.

“The approach of the fleet was so sudden that but a few men could be collected, though the alarm guns were fired immediately upon the dissipation of the fog. There was no thought of opposing their landing, as our force was nothing to theirs. Our little party, however, posted themselves so as to annoy them to the best advantage, expecting that they would land at the Point. When our people found them landing on their left, and marching in their rear to take possession of the town, they retreated immediately to the court house green; and as the enemy advanced through the beach lane, they gave them such a warm reception with a field-piece, which threw both round and grape shot, and with their musketry, as quite disconcerted them for some time. The column, however, quickly recovered its solidity, and advancing rapidly, forced our small body to retreat to the heights back of the town, where they were joined by numbers who were coming in from the country. The enemy were likewise galled very much, as they turned from the back of the lane, by the cannon which played from Grover’s Hill.

“The town was almost cleared of inhabitants—a few women, some of them ladies of the most respectable families and character, tarried with a view of saving their property. They imagined that their sex and character would avail to such a purpose; they put such confidence in the generosity of an enemy who were once famed for humanity and politeness, and thought that kind treatment and submissive behavior from them would secure them against harsh treatment and rough usage. Alas! they were miserably mistaken; they every one bitterly repented their confidence and presumption.

“The parties that were first set loose for rapine and plunder, were the Hessians. They entered the houses, attacked the persons of Whig and Tory indiscriminately, breaking open desks, trunks, chests, closets, and taking away every thing of value; they robbed women of buckles, rings, bonnets, aprons, and handkerchiefs; they abused them with the foulest and most profane language, threatened their lives, presenting bayonets to their breasts, not in the least regarding the most earnest cries and entreaties; there was likewise heard the dashing of looking glasses, furniture, china, and whatever came in their power. A nursing infant was plundered of part of its clothing, while the bayonet was held to his mother.

“Another party that came on were the American refugees, who, in revenge for their confiscated estates, carried on the same business. They were not, however, so abusive to the women as the former, but appeared very furious against the town and country.

“The Britons were the least inveterate. Some of the officers seemed to pity the misfortunes of the country, but in excuse said they had no other way to gain their authority over us. Individuals among the British troop were exceedingly abusive, especially to women. They solicited, they attempted their chastity; and though no rape was committed, yet some were forced to submit to the most indelicate and rough treatment. They exerted their utmost strength in the defence of their virtue, and some still bear the scars and bruises of the horrid conflict.

“Just about an hour before sunset the conflagration began at the house of Josiah Jennings, which was consumed, with the neighboring buildings. In the evening, the house of Elijah Abel, Esq., sheriff of the county, was consumed, with a few others. In the night, several buildings were burnt in the main street. General Tryon was in various parts of the town—the good women begging and entreating him to spare their houses. Mr. Sayre, the Church of England’s missionary, a gentleman firmly and zealously engaged in the British interest, and who has suffered considerably in their cause, joined the women in their entreaties, begged the general to spare the town; but his request was denied. He then begged that a few houses might be kept as a shelter for some who could provide habitations nowhere else; this was likewise denied him. At length Mr. Tryon consented to spare the buildings and property of Mr. Burr and the writer of this epistle. They had both been plundered ere this. He likewise said that the houses of public worship should be spared. He was far from being in a good temper of mind during the whole affair. General Garth, at the other end of the town, treated the inhabitants with as much humanity as his errand would admit of.

“At sunrise, some considerable part of the town was standing; but in about two hours the conflagration became general. The burning pirates carried on their business with horrible alacrity, headed by two or three persons who were born and bred in the neighboring towns. All the town, from the bridge towards Stratford to the Mill river, (a few houses excepted,) were consumed.

“About eight o’clock the enemy sounded a retreat. The meeting-house and a few other houses were standing, which afforded some pleasure amidst our woe; but the rear guard, consisting of a banditti of the vilest that was ever let loose among men, set fire to every thing which General Tryon had left—the large and elegant meeting, the ministers’ houses, Mr. Burr’s, and other houses which had received protection. They tore Tryon’s protections in pieces, damn’d “General Tryon and his protections,” and abused women most shamefully; they ran off in a very disgraceful manner. Happily our men came in, and extinguished the flames in several houses, so that we are not entirely destroyed. The Church of England building was destroyed; but by whom, or at what time, I am not able to say.

“The rear guard, which behaved in such a scandalous manner, were chiefly Germans called Jagers, which carry a small rifle-gun, and fight in a skulking manner, much like our Indians. They may emphatically be called the sons of plunder and devastation.

“Our fort yet stands. The enemy sent a row galley to silence it, and there was a constant firing between them all night. One or two attempts were made to take it by parties of troops, but it was most bravely and obstinately defended by Lieutenant Isaac Jarvis, who had but twenty-three besides himself. The militia followed the bloody incendiaries to the place of embarkation, where they galled them considerably. The embarkation took place about twelve o’clock, and the cruel foe set sail for Long Island about two o’clock in the afternoon. Many were killed on both sides; the number cannot be ascertained. They carried with them several prisoners, but no person of distinction. Old Mr. Solomon Sturgis, an Irish servant belonging to Mr. Penfield, and an old negro man belonging to Mr. Jonathan Lewis, were put to the bayonet. Mr. Job Bar-tram was shot through the breast; the ball came out just under his shoulder-blade; he fought bravely, as did also many others.”1


1 New London Gazette, August 4. The British troops, after destroying Fair-field, crossed the Sound to Huntington, Long Island, where they remained until the eleventh of July, when they appeared before Norwalk.