History of Redding > My Brother Sam is Dead > Analysis > 1777 British Raid on Danbury  

April 26, 1777 British Raid on Danbury, Connecticut

British Raid of Danbury, 1777

The British Army's march through Redding Ridge is the only direct contact Redding residents had with British troops in the Revolution. It created much excitement and afforded the Collier's an opportunity to bring that excitement to life in my brother Sam is dead. Twenty-four vessels carrying around 1,550 regular British troops and some 300 Loyalist militiamen from "Browne's Provincial Corps", many of whom were originally from Connecticut, arrived on the shores of Compo Beach in Westport, Connecticut on April 25, 1777. Their mission: destroy the rebel military supply depot at Danbury, Connecticut.

Lord Howe, the commander of the British troops, stationed at New York City, had long meditated an attack on Connecticut and news of provisions being stored at Danbury provided the incentive he desired. Howe chose William Tryon, the deposed British governor of New York, as Commander and two military men: Brigadier General James Agnew, second in command and Brigadier General Sir William Erskine as third in command for the expedition.

Tryon had been Governor of New York up until the Revolution and was said to have been consumed with "an inveterate hatred and thirst for revenge" on the rebel Yankees. He had a special grudge against Connecticut, the sturdy little colony that had thwarted him in a variety of ways: "Her horseman had scattered organs of revolutionary propaganda through the streets of New York; her "Sons of Liberty" had plotted against him even in his own city; treated with contempt his proclamations, using them as specimens of the governor's pleasant humor."

Tryon had the further merit of being intimately acquainted with the towns and landscape of Connecticut. He had been as far inland as Litchfield, had probably visited Danbury, and had been dined and feted at Norwalk, Fairfield, and New Haven. He seems to have acted as a *guide to the expedition while giving **Agnew and Erskine the responsibility of tactical operations.

*Tryon was aided by local Tories who had fled from the area and joined the British army. The locals intimate knowledge of the roadways and landscape in and around Southwestern Connecticut was a vital asset to the British troops.

**Agnew was injured at some point during the weekend and Erskine took over as second in command.; He was very capable in that role. Earlier that winter, Erskine had led a foraging expedition to New Jersey in which "he routed the rebels with great slaughter; he took no prisoners."

Via 40 or 50 flatboats the troops disembarked at Compo between five and six in the afternoon, and that same evening marched to Fairfield, about seven miles distant, where they encamped for the night.

News that the British had landed at Compo, encamped at Fairfield, and would march through Redding the next day, was conveyed to the residents at an early hour, and occasioned the greatest consternation and excitement. Money and valuables were hastily secreted in wells and other places of concealment; horses and cattle were driven into the forests, and the inhabitants along the enemy's probable route held themselves in readiness for instant flight.

Location of first engagement between the British and local militia. Corner of Post Road & Compo Beach Road, Westport, Connecticut.

On receiving intelligence of the landing at Compo, Captain Zalmon Read mustered his company of militia, and forthwith marched to intercept the invaders. At a place called Couch's Rock, in Weston, Connecticut, they came suddenly upon a British flanking company and were taken as prisoners. Town selectman, James Rogers, Timothy Parsons, Russell Bartlett and 13 year old, Jacob Patchen were among the prisoners. In Charles Burr Todd's History of Redding, Todd relates that:

"Timothy Parsons, had a fine musket which he particularly valued; this a British soldier took, and dashed to pieces on the stones, saying it should waste no more rebel bullets."

Meanwhile, Colonel Joseph Platt Cooke, commander of the 16th militia regiment in Danbury, had followed General Gold S. Silliman's instructions and sent all available men from Danbury to Fairfield. Silliman mistakenly assumed that the British intended to attack Fairfield. Other troops were sent toward the Hudson River, in response to a number of ships the British had strategically positioned there to confuse the American generals. This left the Military Depot at Danbury in a vulnerable state.

On the morning of the 26th, at a very seasonable hour (11am-12 noon), the British troops arrived and halted at Redding Ridge. During the halt the main body of the troops remained under arms on the green in front of the Anglican Church. Tryon, Agnew, and Erskine were invited into Esquire William Heron's home (the first house south of the Christ Church Episcopal, no longer in existence). Here they were reported to have been "hospitably entertained with cake, wine, and it is presumed, many hopeful prognostications of the speedy collapse of the rebellion."

Shortly after their meeting, a file of soldiers entered the house of Lieutenant Stephen Betts, a prominent patriot who lived across the street from the church and seized him. Daniel Sanford, his son, Jeremiah Sanford (19 years old), and 16 year old, Benjamin Lines, met a like fate. Three of Redding's loyalists joined British Troops on this day: Samuel Hawley, James Gray, and Joseph Lyon. Lyon had been in hiding for 33 days.

As the army prepared to resume its march north, a horseman was observed spurring rapidly down *Couch Hill Road (present day- Sunset Hill Road) toward them. He was within musket shot before discovering their presence and though he turned to fly when he saw their red coats, he was shot, and severely wounded in the attempt. He proved to be a messenger from Colonel Cooke in Danbury, bearing dispatches to General Silliman. His name was Lambert Lockwood. Tryon had formerly known him in Norwalk, where Lockwood had rendered him a service, and Tryon seems to have acted on this occasion with some kindness, as he released him on parole, and allowed him to be taken into a house so his wounds could be dressed.

*Bethel, CT historians have the same narrative occurring on Hoyt's Hill in Bethel. Luther Holcolm is the unfortunate horseman in Bethel's rendition of the story. Whomever the horseman actually was he was likely carrying an S.O.S. from Cooke; Danbury was in grave danger.

All in all, the British troops spent one to two hours on Redding Ridge before resuming their march to Danbury with the **Redding militiamen captured in Weston, Patriots Stephen Betts, Daniel Sanford, Jeremiah Sanford and a non-combatant (B. Lines) captured in Redding. One British soldier, Bernard Keeler, deserted at Redding Ridge and lived in town until his death in 1827.

**Betts, Bartlett, Lines, Patchen, and most of the Redding militiamen would all eventually return to Redding. Daniel Sanford, Jeremiah Sanford, Daniel Chapman, and David Fairchild died in captivity while being held in the "sugar houses" of New York, where sanitation was deplorable and disease was rampant.

As the British marched toward Danbury, the remaining patriots of Redding anxiously awaited the approach of the Patriot troops in pursuit. At length they came in view, marching wearily, in sodden, disordered ranks, a small army of five hundred men and boys, led by Brigadier General Silliman. They were comprised of soldiers from the companies of Colonel Lamb's battalion of artillery, with three rusty cannon, a field-piece, part of the artillery company of Fairfield, and sixty Continentals; the rest were an untrained assemblage, chiefly old men and boys. It was eight o'clock in the evening when the troops arrived at Redding Ridge-an evening as disagreeable as a northeast rainstorm with its attendant darkness could make it. Here the troops halted an hour for rest and refreshment. At the expiration of that time a bugle was heard from far down the turnpike; then the tramp of horsemen was heard and presently Major General Wooster and Brigadier General Arnold, dashed into the village of Redding Ridge.

On hearing that the British were so far ahead, it is said that Arnold became so enraged that he could scarcely keep his seat, and his terrible oaths fell on his auditor's ears like thunder claps. Wooster at once assumed command, and the column moved forward through the muddy and heavily rutted roadway as far as Bethel, where it halted for the night.

At Danbury, but three miles distant, Tryon's force was at rest, and might have been annihilated by a determined effort, but the Continental command was hampered by the weather conditions, heavily rutted roadways and fatigue.

Benedict Arnold to McDougall, West Redding, April 27th, 1777, 10am:

"Last night at half past eleven, General Wooster, General Silliman and myself with six hundred militia arrived at Bethel, *eight miles from Danbury. The excessive heavy rains rendered their arms useless, and many of the troops were much fatigued having marched thirty miles in the course of the day without refreshment."

*distances from Danbury vary from 2.5 miles to 8 miles, depending on who is reporting back to their superiors. In this case Arnold incorrectly states they were 8 miles from Danbury; They were within 3 miles of Danbury, at the intersection of Elizabeth Street and Blackman Avenue.

The British had reached Danbury at approximately 5:00 pm and driven off the Patriots who had been attempting to remove supplies. Later that evening, seven patriot defenders who had stayed behind opened fire on British troops from a house in town owned by Major Daniel Starr, among the patriots was "Ned", a slave of Redding's Samuel Smith. Two companies of British regulars charged and put the dwelling to the torch killing all the men inside.

*This was the story behind the beheading of Ned in My Brother Sam is Dead.

Before their departure early the next morning, the British had destroyed much of the Rebel's depot: barrels of pork and beef, barrels of flour, bushels of grain, hogsheads of rum and wine, thousands of shoes, stockings and tents among other supplies. Provisions the Continental troops would long for come the winter of 1778-79.

Following the events of April 26th and 27th, Redding played a supporting role to the Continental army's efforts in the War of Independence.

May 8, 1778, Captain Zalmon Read and Asahel Fitch were appointed to provide "shirts, shoes, stockings and other articles of clothing for the Continental soldiers."

December 17, 1778, another committee was appointed to care for the families of the following soldiers from Redding: Nathan Coley, Stephen Meeker, Elias Bixby, Jeremiah Sherwood, Samuel Remong. These soldiers were among General Israel Putnam's encampment in Redding.


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The Setting of My Brother Sam is Dead, Redding Connecticut

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Real-Life Characters portrayed in the My Brother Sam is Dead

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Taverns of the Colonial Period

Camp Life and Orders Relating to Redding's Encampment

Loyalists (Tories) of Redding, CT

Cow-boys and Skinners

What is a Brown Bess?

Locations & Towns Mentioned in My Brother Sam is Dead

Colonial Money, Commissary Notes, Financing the War and Inflation Issues

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