Throughout the Revolutionary War, Connecticut citizens lived in fear of devastating British raids on shoreline communities. From the British perspective, Connecticut was a nest of rebel activity, both overt and covert. Not only was it home to a government that had early and ardently supported the Patriot cause, its shoreline towns openly gave shelter to legions of trader-traitors who smuggled, spied, and fought against the King’s troops. No town was worse in this regard than the Patriot stronghold of Fairfield.
On July 7, 1779, that town’s residents’ worst fears about possible British retaliation for their resistance were realized. Militia stationed at a fort near Black Rock spotted a large approaching flotilla of British war ships. Within hours, a force of 2,000 British and Hessian troops landed on the beach and began marching directly toward the town green. Vastly outnumbered local militia, hastily gathered to offer resistance, harassed the line of Redcoats the entire way. They tore up bridges and shot at the British column from behind walls, trees, and roadside buildings. While they didn’t succeed in repelling the invasion, their harassment of the British troops bought enough time to enable a number of Fairfield residents to hastily gather essentials and flee before the invading troops arrived.
As they neared the center of town, the British soldiers, under the command of General William Tryon, intentionally began looting and burning homes, barns, workshops and stores. The raid lasted throughout the night, with local accounts 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 that a large number of American forces were mobilizing for a counter-attack nearby. Although their occupation of Fairfield lasted less than a day, the damage the British soldiers wrought during that time 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 devastation. Ten years later, when 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 southwestern Connecticut, Fairfield never regained the prominence it had before the British raid. Bridgeport, with its larger, deep-water harbor, 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