Today in 1777, one day after troops under William Tryon destroyed the Continental Army’s supply depot in Danbury, Patriot soldiers and militiamen struck back in the town of Ridgefield.
The town of Ridgefield was located several miles south of Danbury along the route Tryon’s forces were taking back to their ships. There, some 700 Continental Army troops and Connecticut militiamen converged, under the leadership of Connecticut-born generals David Wooster, Gold Selleck Silliman, and Benedict Arnold. In two major confrontations, they opened fire on the British column of nearly 2,000 troops.
The British ultimately reached present-day Westport and the safety of their ships, but at a significant cost: 100 to 150 British and Loyalist men had been killed or wounded, and another 40 captured. The Patriots, in addition to their 20 fatalities, had 40 to 80 men wounded.
As the fighting moved south, graves were hastily dug and the fallen interred. A mass grave was reportedly placed near the site of the ridgetop fighting, which is said to hold the bodies of 16 British and eight American combatants. It’s specific location is unknown, and an archeological investigation using ground penetrating radar in 2010 failed to locate it.
In December, 2019, however, workmen conducting home renovations in a basement along the line of battle uncovered human bones. Subsequent investigations by the state medical examiner and a recovery exhumation by state archaeologist Nicholas Bellamtoni revealed the presence of five robust male skeletons dating from the 18th century and buried in a manner that suggests hasty interment. Forensic investigations of the skeletal remains currently being conducted at a number of universities may confirm the hypothesis that these are the remains of men who fell in the Battle of Ridgefield’s fiercest encounter, whose lives are remembered today in Connecticut history.
The Battle of Ridgefield is depicted in the award-winning children’s book My Brother Sam is Dead by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier, and in “Mary Silliman’s War,” a feature-length film produced by PBS. It was the only inland battle fought in Connecticut during the Revolutionary War; thanks in part to the resistance encountered during their retreat, the British Army never again staged an attack on any Connecticut location beyond the immediate coastline.
Nathaniel Philbrick, “Benedict Arnold and the Battle of Ridgefield,” Excerpt from Valiant Ambition (Reprinted with permission in Connecticut Explored)
Richard Buel, “The Burning of Danbury,” connecticuthistory.org
Zak Failla, “Fourth Skeleton Found in Ridgefield,” dailyvoice.com