April 26: British Forces Attack, Burn Danbury


During the American Revolution, the western Connecticut town of Danbury served as a critical supply depot for Continental Army troops stationed in New England and the strategically important Hudson River Valley.

In early 1777, Royal Governor William Tryon of New York moved to sever the Americans’ Danbury supply line. He did so by launching British forces’ deepest raid of the American Revolution into the interior of Connecticut. On April 25th, 1777, Tryon landed with over 1,800 British and loyalist troops on the shores of Compo Beach in modern-day Westport and began a grueling 24-hour march north to Danbury.

A 1924 map depicting the route of William Tryon’s raid of April 1777. (Click to enlarge.)

Tryon’s raid was bold and unexpected. American forces were confident that because Danbury was 25 miles from the shore, it was too far inland to be at risk from British attack. As a result, the depot was guarded by only two small companies of militia. Local minutemen and scouts who spotted the British force marching inland raced to warn their local communities of the incoming threat, but the Americans were unable to muster an effective or organized resistance before Tryon reached the Danbury depot.

Thanks to the scouts’ warnings, Danbury patriots were able to move a few critical items — including a considerable number of medical supplies — out of town before Tryon’s troops stormed in. But with the English outnumbering the depot’s defenders by over 10 to 1, the fate of the depot was certain. The British quickly brushed aside the patriot defense and took control of the Continental Army provisions.

Lacking the wagons needed to transport the captured supplies back to the Connecticut coast, the British opted to destroy them. They stacked huge piles of dry goods and military material in Danbury’s streets and set them on fire. Later, as it became clear gathering colonial forces were about to launch a counter attack, the British hurriedly set fire to nearly two dozen homes believed to be storing more patriot supplies. (They were careful, however, to spare the homes of known loyalists.)

Though the town was spared from complete destruction, the Danbury Raid of April 26, 1777 was a major setback for a Continental Army desperately struggling to supply its troops with food, equipment, and munitions. And after the town was burned, the threat from (and to) Tryon’s forces was far from over. A contentious running battle erupted between the march-weary British and furious American forces in the nearby town of Ridgefield the very next day that would dog the British all the way back to its original landing site.

A memorial near Westport’s Compo Beach, where William Tryon landed in April 1777 with over 1,800 troops, commemorates the local minutemen who warned nearby communities about the impending British raid.

Further Reading

Richard Buel, “The Burning of Danbury,” connecticuthistory.org

Juan Miguel Fernandez, “Connecticut Raids,” George Washington Digital Encyclopedia

William Hanford Burr, “The Invasion of Connecticut by the British,” The Connecticut Magazine