by Katie Kaimer
APRIL 26 marked the anniversary of Danbury’s first attempts to gain independence in the American Revolution. Over the course of April 24 to 27, 1777, Danbury was under siege of the British. Houses were burned, livestock were slaughtered and militiamen were alerted by a 16-year-old girl on horseback.
The rum-soaked British retreated on the rainy morning of April 27, Danbury ablaze behind them.
by Katie Kaimer
Danbury was a developing spot for local farmers when it became a town in 1687. Eventually the need for a turnpike arose so that farmers could supply their goods to Danbury’s inhabitants. A pathway system was created as a way to trade surplus crops, as well as to establish the town as a center of commerce.
Since Danbury lay on a river, had flat roads and housed a military hospital on Park Avenue, the town became a safe haven for the storage of military supplies during the American Revolution. Thus, in the latter part of 1776, Danbury became a supply depot for military leaders of the Continental Army who passed through New England.
Tryon’s 2,000-men expedition sailed from New York the night of April 24, 1777. His fleet dropped anchor at Compo Point in Norwalk–now Westport–at around 4pm on April 25. The troops marched eight miles inland and camped for the night.
“Gather at Ludington’s. They British are burning Danbury!”
While the British came marching, General Selleck Silliman of the American army was proceeding with his own troops. He mistakenly sent all his available men from Danbury to Fairfield, thinking that was where the British intended their attack. Thus, Danbury was left in a susceptible state.
The enemy reached Danbury mid-afternoon on Saturday, April 26. Shortly before 3pm, General Tryon set up a headquarters in Nehemiah Dibble’s home on South Street. They started searching for supplies and carried out the mission of destroying the military depot. But General Tryon would come to realize that his force would be nearly helpless; his men were quickly embracing New England rum.
In the meantime, British Generals Agnew and Erskine approached the house of Benjamin Knapp, a local tanner. Knapp’s house stood on what is now White Street. The Generals proceeded to kill his livestock and chop it to pieces on the floor of his home. As this was occurring, the neighboring townsmen drew their own forces together. This made Knapp nervous because he could not prove to the Generals that he was not a patriot. The British could easily destroy his home.
General Tryon would come to realize that the British force would be nearly helpless; his men were quickly embracing New England rum.
19 houses and even more buildings were burned, including the Episcopal Church on South Street, a house on the east side of Main Street(where a pine tree now stands), a blacksmith shop and the meetinghouse of the New Danbury Society.The Tory house, marked with a red cloth, were not burned.
News of Danbury’s flames traveled fast. Sybil Ludington, a sixteen-year-old girl, helped spread the news to neighboring towns.
Her father was Colonel Henry Ludington, commander of the seventh regiment of Duchess County Militia, composed of 400 men. At the time of the attack they were scattered among the area and there was virtually no time to organize.
Sybil, who knew the area well, journeyed on a 40-mile horse ride during a thunderstorm to warn her father’s militiamen, shouting “Gather at Ludington’s. They British are burning Danbury!”
Not only did she have to avoid the British, but also outlaws, or “Skinners,” who pledged no loyalty to either side of the War. Later, Sybil became known as the female Paul Revere.
In the midst of the attacks, the early morning was accompanied by rainfall. The rain could not abate the flames, and sparks spread fires among other buildings simultaneously. Eventually gunfire ceased because troops could not fire in the rain. The house of Major Taylor, which stood on the southwest corner of what are now South and Mountainville Streets, was the last house fired by the British before General Tryon withdrew his troops.
With the fire under way, the British began to retreat. Their exit lit the morning of Sunday, April 27.