“And seald is now each life that could have told” Byron-Lara. I have always regretted that I did not keep a journal of the War which beeon in 1775, being then 13 years of age, whereas I began to write 1780. (Autobiographical sketchbook, from which indented entries are quoted.)
June-Boston Port shut up-Connecticut people contributed for their relief.
April 19-War between Britain & America began.
April 24-Eighteen Sail landed at Compo 2,500 Men who marched up thro Greenfield & North Fairfield to Danbury, stayd there one night, destroyed the Stores of Provision. Our people collected & Gen. Arnold built a breastwork in Ridgefield & with 250 men stopt the whole army for 15 minutes. On our side lost Col. Gould & a considerable number more were killed.
I perfectly remember the expedition of the enemy to Danbury (1777) & was at work in my father’s garden when our people met them at Ridgefield where a temporary breastwork was thrown up of rails & behind which 250 patriots were posted under the command of Gen. Arnold who sustained the fire of the whole British army (2200 picked men) for 15 minutes till the flank guards came round the corner of the house that stood by the side of the road where they were engaged—
Arnold, mounted on a horse, rode up to the breastwork and encouraged our men to fight until his horse was shot dead under him-the soldier that shot the horse running to take Arnold, he while dropping, snatched his pistol from the holster and brought him to the ground with “Damn you, take that!”
My wife had a greatuncle (David Patchin) an experienced marksman at shooting pigeons every fall, who was used to such sport as this, having been in the old French war,—when under Abercrombie. His righthand man (as he has often told me) was shot down twice in one day & then he had seven shots when he took as he said as good sight as ever he did at pigeons,-the last time at one that came round the comer of the house about 3 rods distance. He saw him drop, & then, under cover of the smoke of the whole volley which the British poured in upon them, retreated, & when that left him, skulked behind a rock where the balls struck spat! spat! spat! in the manner of hail; but soon under cover of more smoke, he came off safely …
The place where they retreated was a cleared spot through an orchard,-no cover-& there Col. Gould of Fairfield was shot & was buried next day with the honors of war, three volleys being fired over his grave … (He married my mother’s sister.)
The firing was distinctly heard at Black Rock from Ridgefield and caused many melancholy sensations
Gen. Wooster endeavored to attack them in their rear, but his men would not come on, & there he was killed, being near 70 years of age.
“To the immortal memory of the Generals Warren, Montgomery, Mercer, Herkimer, Nash, Wooster, and all the renowned heroes that ever bled & died in the defence of their country”-was a toast given about that time that is now fresh in my memory.
April 25-A boat load with 8 or 10 men landed against Old Fort at the head of Black Rock harbor in the night & marched up to Gen. Silliman’s & took him & his son William through the broken place in the beach to Long Island, then in possession of the enemy. They were piloted by one of our own (Tories). As they passed over the beach, the old 12 pounders at the battery three times distinctly in a calm night made the windows of my chamber shake. We were soon out, expecting the next moment to be a prisoner, but sending to the battery we learned the cause. The next morning the tracks of 8 men were discernible; 2 traced to the house of Ezra Wheeler, the next neighbor, who was tried for life before Putnam (then cantoned at a wood in Redding for the convenience of fuel in winter)—he was liberated.
July 7-At 7 in the morning, the fog clearing off, the enemy’s fleet, just returned from plundering New Haven, appeared. Three guns announced an alarm—everyone busy in moving or throwing their things out of doors. About 11 o’clock 1,600 regular troops landed at the foot of the bar on town beach. Isaac Jarvis commanded the battery at the point of Grover’s Hill, Black Rock, who, as soon as the British turned to go up the beach lane, fired a 12-pounder with ball & grape- shot, & kept it going till it was so hot you could hardly bear your hand thereon.
As they approached the parade, a field piece let go a ball & grapes through them.
I was at that time on Toilsome Hill, having been just above with my father to drive cattle to our woodland, to keep them from the enemy. As we arrived at Black Rock, it was with no pleasant sensation we heard the firing back towards Barlow’s-plain, & seemed to be in danger of being hemmed in-this, however, we prevented by taking the upper bridge.
Black Rock people soon assembled on Grover’s hill, among whom were several females, where we could see the enemy marching up. A continual cracking from near Round-hill was kept up the remainder of the afternoon & sometimes from a field-piece.
The first building that appeared on fire was the guard-house at Kenzy’s point; next one at Barlow’s plain. You might from Black Rock see the fire shine through the windows & presently the fire on the outside.
At night the British placed guards round the town which were plainly seen by the burning houses,—while many a column of Fire from the flaming buildings & frequent flashes of Lightning from a western cloud with dis- charges of cannon & musquetry formed a Prospect the most Gloomy & comfortless imaginable to the poor inhabitants who, many of them sheltered only by the Canopy of Heaven, without a second Suit to their backs, or a Penny in their Purse, beholding from a Distance the fruit of all their toil & labor expiring in a Cloud of smoke & cinders.
April 25-Ezra Wheeler’s brothers Josiah and Abraham, as Tones, had their estates confiscated subsequently, but Ezra Wheeler remained in Black Rock and served as a member of the battery guard in 1779.
The town burnt all night-a cloud seemed to remain fixed in the west, from which issued frequent flashes of lightning; this, joined to many a column from the flaming buildings & frequent discharges of cannon & musketry on the British guard placed around the town; the poor inhabitants, with no shelter, with no clothing but what they had on; wives separated from their husbands & exposed to the indecencies of an infuriated soldiery, rendered truly diabolical by the spirits they found in plenty in the town,-formed a scene altogether so shocking that Fairneld will never see again, nor her present silken sons & daughters can form any conception of.
There were some instances of great bravery among the inhabitants of Fairfield. A Mr. Tucker fired from his shop on the parade at the whole army only a few rods distant, & was wounded by them in the shoulder & taken prisoner. Mr. Parsons fired from a chamber into the road & killed a British officer; then running out the back door made his escape. The enemy coming into the house, found an old negro bed-ridden; they said it was him, he declared it was not; they put the bayonet into him & burnt the house, next day my brother saw him about half burnt up & a beam lying on him.
Parsons, after this taking a prisoner, was conducting him away when he was taken prisoner himself.
Joseph Gold, a very old man & feeble, going off, stopped at a spring to drink; they commanded him to stop; he would not; they shot him.
Several women stayed in town to save their houses; but were so frighted, they said they would never again stay.
Jonathan Bulkley, living on the Green, stayed, got a protection from General Tryon & saved his house & three adjoining houses.
July 8-A Row-Galley, mounting an 18-pounder of brass, lay 5 of a mile from the Battery, & fired upon it, sending some shot over the hill; & the Battery firing on them, & hallooing with a speaking trumpet to turn their broadside towards them & they would give it to them.
Isaac Jarvis commanded at the Battery. Had he been a coward, 10 more houses would have been burnt; Squire’s, Burr’s, Silliman’s, Holbertons, Fowler’s, Chauncy’s, Widow Wheeler’s, Ichabod Wheeler’s, E. Wheeler’s, Bartrams.
About noon the enemy returned on board at Kenzy’s Point, & were pursued through the burning houses by enraged inhabitants, and at Sandy Lane the roar of the small arms was continued like the roll of a drum.
Our people would have paid them as they were embarking, had they not levelled all the stone walls near the shore where our men might get behind, & drew up their armed vessels to keep off the Americans.
It is said the Fairneld people fought much better than they did at New Haven or Norwalk, which was burnt soon after.
Map of fairfield 1779
When the British burned FairEeld this map was made for or by Lieutenant Lawru of the invading army,- hence the military accuracy of the details of gunrange and position of troops,—and hence also the many inaccuracies in the topography of the hinterland—unfamiliar, of course to a British observer. “This manuscript map is reproduced by courtesy of Louis F. Middlebrook, author, and of The Essex Institute, publisher, from “Maritime Connecticut in the American Revolution 1775-1783.”
About 40 of the enemy were found dead & 8 or 10 of ours. No doubt many were wounded & carried off with them, for about a fortnight after, when on guard at the point, I observed the remains of one washed out of the sand where they had buried him.
Eighty dwelling-houses, besides barns, stores, etc. were consumed. A Presbyterian meeting-house, Episcopalian Church & a Court-house, Green’s Farms with their meeting-house, & Mill River (Village) were burnt at the same time.
Eleven houses were left standing, some of them extinguished by our people who followed close at the heels of the English, & afforded a refuge to the poor inhabitants from a hard succeeding winter, the most terrible but one (1740) ever seen since the settlement of New England.
The severe cold quieted in some measure our fears from an attack, & made the enemy in New York tremble in their turn for fear our men should march on the ice & attack them—& affording us a long season of excellent sleighing.
Thus graciously did a kind Providence favour & defend us from an unrelenting foe, till they were tired out by the contest.
The Sabbath after, Mr. Eliot preached (from ‘Our holy & our beauti- ful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire; and all our pleasant things are laid waste’) at Holland Hill* (William Wheeler’s recollection seems here at variance with the Parish register held states that the church service of July 11th after the burning of Fairfield was held at the house Deacon Bulkley—which was one of the few houses near the Green left standing. Services on subsequent Sundays were held at Deodate Silliman’s and other houses.) where Fairfield people assembled, not daring to meet near the shore for fear of being taken prisoners, so fearful were they—& long after, they could hardly sleep in their beds.
My father had a place for his silver tankard & some silver therein, in a stonewall. Many a time he has gone in a dark night with his gun to see if no enemy’s boat came over the beach. (July 8 -The silver tankard, hidden by Captain Ichabod Wheeler, is now in the collection Historical Society in Fairfield.
Sometimes very few guards at the Battery or anywhere else. Strange that the enemy did not burn us in the four long years that the war lasted after this time. I listed as a soldier in the Guard (Upper Wharf) from May 16th till July 7th, when Fairfield was burnt, being 16 years of age. We had a double fortified 3 pounder, which sent a shot over a boat of the enemy’s, sounding at the broken place of the beach.”
About a fortnight after the Fire, I was drafted to go upon Guard a fortnight in town. We kept Guard upon the Beach & Kinsey’s point,—3 sentrys at each place. One night as we were on Guard, we heard a Boat row, & ran to the Shore & lay on the Beach ready for them, but it went to Greens Farms & landed there. News soon come to Town and as they fird the Cannon to make an alarm, one poor fellow was so affrighted that he dropt down.
Alarms almost every night, some of them false. With driving away our cattle & carting- away furniture occupied us the rest part of the year. One morning- we saw 30 ships off the Harbor.
March 18—Capt. Fry & Lieut. Willard & twenty soldiers went to Town, having been here 46 days. (Garrison of the Fort.)
March 27—I begun to study Latin Grammar with Mr. Eliot. I began my studies & so large a portion of the town consumed, the Cats & Rats took to the houses that remained in great numbers. Our roaster put down his hand to stroke one of the rats, thinking him to be poor Horace, his favorite dog.
When the town was burnt, some were for dismissing their Pastor that they could not pay him, but he courageously told them that he would continue with them even if they gave him nothing.
April 21—Taking up a Crib, we kilid 50 Rats.
May 19—Dark Day—Candles were lighted, & fowls went to roost. The Darkness was greater to the Eastward & less to the Westward. The Clouds appeared of a yellow colour like brass.
July 16—Capt. Whitney’s Vessel was carried off from Mill River & himself murdered coming out of the Cabbin.
Capt. (Nehemiah) Whitney at Mill River was sleeping unsuspiciously | in his Cabin. Hearing a noise on deck & coming up, he was knocked ]i down & killed. This, though a slight affair contributed to keep up , that continued state of fear & alarm which lasted (excepting the hard winter) for several years. What increased the danger more was a number of Tones from every town who could pilot (and often did) the enemy into every place they pleased to come. ‘
Newtown was more particularly famous for these wretches,- the ‘ Whigs from Fairneld went & took their fowls & turkeys by force s (in a mob) & brought them home.
Greenfield Hill was a place among others where a Liberty Pole was set up & the throng drank confusion to King George & hurra for , Liberty!
The Torries by night cut it down—The Whigs set it up again & plated it with iron as high as they could reach, but the Tories with a ladder sawed it off above the plates.
Aug. 17—Capt. (Caleb) Brewster returned from one of his customary cruises & brought news that they had killed Gorham Smith of a party that attempted to take their Boats & lost one of their own taken prisoner.
About this time a large number of Privateers from 4 to 12 Guns of the Enemy’s & ours are cruising in the Sound & take almost every unarmd Vessel that enters it—and when opportunity offers, plunder on both sides—
It was customary for the enemy to come from L. Island in Whaleboats (sharp at each end and manned with 8 to 10 oars) These, under cover of night, might be drawn up into some unfrequented nook while the rascals plundered & if pursued they could crawl off & soon be out of gunshot. Sometimes they would bring British goods and among them a species of velvet called Corduroy, from which this was long called the Corduroy trade.
Captain Caleb Brewster of Black Rock with 3 whale-boats about midway of the Sound against Fairneld, met 3 of the enemy’s boats, when an engagement commenced. The boat that opposed Brewster had a small piece & was leeward; there was a fresh gale & Brewster reserving his fire till within 8 or 10 rods of Hoyt, poured in a broadside & then another & boarded; there was a large Irishman in the enemy’s boat, who walked several times fore and aft, brandishing his broad- sword till Hasselton, a mighty fellow from the State of Massachusetts, snatched it from him & cut his throat from ear to ear; he died immediately.
Capt. Brewster being wounded was several times struck on the back with the steel rammer of a gun by Hoyfc On board of Hoyt’s boat all hut one were killed or wounded. In Brewster’s boat 4 were wounded— one (Judson Sturges) mortally.
Another of our boats had a swivel (gun) which killed 2 men at one shot in another of the enemy’s boats & they immediately surrendered: the enemy’s third boat escaped.
Capt. Brewster was also at the capture of Thomas, who commanded a privateer of the enemy mounting 14 guns, & manned with 35 men. Our vessel had about 70 men. The enemy hailed & ordered them to bring to.
“Aye, aye, presently.”
“Bring to, I say.”
“Aye, aye,”—and running their bowsprit across them about amid- ships, the sailing master, Hezekiah Gold exclaimed, “Strike, strike, damn you, or I’ll sink you to hell!”
Of the enemy 9 were killed & 5 wounded, not one of ours was hurt; they were taken off Stratford-point & carried into Black Rock; they had taken 2 row-boats bearing the Continental flag that morning & had the men in their hold.
Sept. 27—The Sun appeared like a Gold Ring.
Oct. 29—2 Rainbows appeared in a Cloud & those vanishing 2 more appeard.—
Nov. 21—8 boats & 100 men under Major Talmadge went to Long Island.
Nov. 23—Returnd, having burnt 400 tons of hay, took a fort with 50 men & got some plunder.
Nov. 28—Came to Mill River 20 Men—took 3 sheep & an Ox & cut the throats of 2 more which they left. Dec. 9—60 Men landed at Compo—The mail was taken from Stratfield.
Feb. 1—A Boat of the Enemy’s dragged across the Beach.
Feb. 18—A Boat came to Mill River & took 2 of the Inhabitants Prisoners, but 2 more Boats coming in, they left theirs & ran into the woods, & the People from Town went down & took Samll Osborn & another.
March 1 —This week the Enemy burnt 2 houses & a Barn,- one of them belonged to Dr. Hill.
March 4—They burnt 2 tide mills on Mill River belonging to the Perrys their party consisted of 30 in 4 boats.
March 18—Men on Long Beach saw a Boat with something pild up like goods & fird 3 rounds.
March 22—A Boat came to Mill River & plundered 2 houses & took 2 prisoners.
March 26—Eben Bartram Junr. came in a flag from the Prison Ship at New York.
April 18—Capt. Slater fell in with 7 of the Enemy’s whale- boats. He fird at them (& they at him) with 6 men & 2 swivels till he g-ot into Newfield. The guards at the upper Wharf fird upon the Boats twice with the Cannon when they went off.
May 16—2 of the enemy’s Brig’s drove Capt. Sturges in & went off by Stratford Point, fird ashore & kilid Cattle,— went to Mill River & took off 37 sheep & 15 lambs of Thaddeus Burr’s at Kinsey’s point, with 4 horses. 4 of our people collected & fird upon them as they went off & they left 7 cattle dead on the shore.
May 31—At Daybreak, 4 of the Enemy’s armed Vessels landed at Compo 200 (men) where they drove on board a number of Cattle, Sheep & Swine, & burnt the Guard House. Our folks drove them off at noon with the loss of one man killed & 2 wounded.
June 27—Near this time a great number of Whale Boats go to Long Island to plunder.
July 11—3 French frigates,—one of them 44 Guns, & a Brig,& a Sloop came off against this Harbor, got some pilots & went to Long Island.
July 12—They returned, having effected nothing.
Aug. 25—2 Sloops & a Brig having taken a Guard at West Haven, coming off by Stratford point, the Brig overset and the Hatches being open, immediately sunk—2 of the Prisoners were drowned with some of the hands. Capt. David Hawley took her Shrouds & rigging off— her Masts were seen some time at low water till easterly storm took them away— The two prisoners drove ashore about 9 days after, near theplace where they were captured.
Sept 1-A great flight of pigeons—30 dozen taken at once.
Nov 6— Off “The Cows” a vessel upset—6 men drowned.
Dec 7_A Schooner concernd in illicit trade came in—Capt. Jarvis made her a prize.
Jan. 31—19 Slays came at once to trade. Salt is 4 Dollars a Bushel.
March—7 persons went from Black Rock to Inoculation.
May 1—A privateer of 8 guns takes many Vessels on this shore—Capt. Hobby stove his Vessel.
May 14—David Patchin’s house struck.
June 24—Mr. Edwards’ wife drowned. Capt. Parks with 10 Guns & 21 men fird at a boat with 10 men—it is thought they killed most of them—off Black Rock.
Let the noise of War no more be narn’d There is a Peace once more proclaim’d.