Throughout the duration of the Revolutionary War, Connecticut citizens lived in fear of devastating British raids on shoreline communities. In the eyes of the British, Connecticut was a nest of rebel activity, home to a government that ardently supported the Patriot cause and scores of residents who smuggled, spied, and fought against the King’s troops.
On July 7, 1779, Fairfield residents’ worst fears were realized when soldiers stationed at a fort near Black Rock spotted a flotilla of British ships approaching. Later that afternoon, a force of 2,000 British and Hessian troops alighted on the beach and marched toward the center of town. Local militia harassed the line of redcoats the entire way, tearing up bridges and shooting at them from behind walls and other structures. While they didn’t succeed in repelling the invasion, they did buy enough time for a number of Fairfield residents to pack up and flee the town before the soldiers’ arrival.
As they approached the center of town, the British soldiers, under the command of General William Tryon, began looting and burning home, barns, and businesses. The raid lasted throughout the night, with local accounts later describing terrifying scenes of drunken soldiers terrorizing local residents and gleefully destroying whatever property they could lay their hands on. The British forces retreated early the following morning amid rumors of American forces mobilizing for a counter-attack nearby; while they didn’t stay long in Fairfield, the damage they wrought marked this particular raid as one of the worst experienced by Connecticans throughout the entire Revolutionary War.
It took decades for Fairfield to recover from the thorough devastation wrought by the British raid of 1779. Ten years later, as then-President George Washington stopped at a local Fairfield tavern while passing through Connecticut, he noted that “the destructive evidences of British cruelty are [still] visible both in Norwalk and Fairfield.” Once the commercial center of the southwestern section of Connecticut, Fairfield never regained the central prominence it had after the British raid of 1779; with its larger, deep-water harbor, Bridgeport soon became the hub of maritime activity in Fairfield County, and remains so to this day.
“The American Revolution: The Burning of Fairfield,” Fairfield Museum
Genevieve Reilly, “Witness to History: The Burning of Fairfield,” Connecticut Post