Events commemorate British march through Wilton in 1777
Late April was a rough time for patriots in these parts 240 years ago.
Some 1,800 troops under British General William Tryon looted storehouses of supplies in a raid on Danbury — including 1,690 valuable tents. Then, on April 27, they marched southeast, engaging in the Battle of Ridgefield after encountering resistance from several hundred members of the Connecticut Militia. Under Generals Benedict Arnold and Benjamin Gold Silliman the patriots inflicted casualties on the redcoats but did not stop them.
Major General David Wooster was mortally wounded on what is now Route 116 — North Salem Road — with a historical marker signaling where he fell. Jesse Nichols of Wilton saw Arnold nearly captured after his horse — struck by nine bullets — was killed. The Connecticut Militia included several members from Wilton who were led by Lt. Seth Abbott.
The next day, April 28, the British headed south along Ridgefield Road through Wilton, causing considerable mayhem.
Benjamin Keeler of Bald Hill — 742 Ridgefield Road — was arrested. It is thought he probably fired upon the British.
The British took several cows from Samuel Keeler IV, of 652 Ridgefield Road, and a large brass kettle was destroyed at Thaddeus Sterling’s home. At Samuel Middlebrook’s, of Middlebrook Farm, the British broke a large mirror and drained a hogshead of rum. The family escaped.
Mercy Comstock avoided a similar fate. The wife of Capt. Samuel Comstock, whose house is at 433 Ridgefield Road, set her table with food and wine, then buried the silver and hid on the hill behind the house. When the British came, they consumed the feast, but left the rest of the house alone.
The British almost certainly did not expect to encounter Daniel Gregory’s elderly mother when they entered the house at 11 Belden Hill Road. There she shook a fireplace poker at them “to show them which side I am on.”
Heading east, the British crossed the Norwalk River north of Merwin Meadows. At the bridge over the river they found and destroyed 100 barrels of rum, weapons, bullets and powder, more tents, and the forge and bellows of blacksmith Clapp Raymond.
A skirmish with 500 Continental Army troops took place on Chestnut Hill — soldiers who came from Wooster’s troops in Ridgefield — and from the ridge Tryon could see more militia — led by Benedict Arnold — waiting for him at the bridge over the Saugatuck River.
Tryon opted for fording the river at what is now the intersection of Ford Road and Clinton Avenue in Westport — today marked by a monument — and after another skirmish at the shore reached his ships at Compo Beach.
Arnold’s actions earned him a promotion to major general, but without the seniority he felt he deserved — a slight he would not forget.
To commemorate these events, the Battle of Ridgefield will be re-enacted on April 29. Here in Wilton a number of events are also planned:
- Colonial Cookery and Customs for Kids on Saturday, April 29, 11-12:30, at Wilton Historical Society. Children will make Patriot Hand Pies, small pies meant to be eaten on the run, as Seth Abbott may have done. Members: $10; non-members $15. Space is limited, register by contacting email@example.com or call 203-762-7257.
- Wilton native and history lover Ed Hynes will give a talk on the 1777 Danbury Raid and Battle of Ridgefield on Friday, April 28, 12:30 to 1:30, with an introduction by state Rep. Gail Lavielle. Free to society members, $10 for non-members. Register at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-762-7257.
- The society is planning a Patriot Dinner on Saturday, April 29, from 6:30 to 9:30, to commemorate the British Raid on Danbury. There will be Colonial-style food, Colonial music, and an account of Wilton’s part in the raid told by historian Bob Russell. Guests are encouraged to come as a patriot, a redcoat, or themselves. Members: $50; non-members: $75. RSVP to email@example.com or call 203-762-7257.
The Wilton Historical Society is 224 Danbury Road. Information: wiltonhistorical.org.
—from material supplied by the Wilton Historical Society