Sentinel salute: Minute Man Monument's legacy celebrated
Updated 6:52 pm, Sunday, April 26, 2015
Thanks to the Westport Historical Society, people on Sunday got a chance to walk a centuries-old path through Westport history.
This weekend marked the 238th anniversary of the Battle of Compo, where British troops landed on April 25, 1777, and battled local militia in a march toward Danbury. Last year's restoration of the 105-year-old Minute Man Monument served as a the centerpiece for several related events throughout the day, including an encampment of Revolutionary War troop re-creationists on Jesup Green.
"It's a monument to the Battle of Compo Hill," said historian Ed Hynes, who led a walk from the beach over to the statue, which has evolved into Westport's signature landmark, at Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road.
The monument, unveiled in 1910, underwent a restoration process over a period of about five months last year. The project, which cost about $70,000, included restoring a powder horn strap missing from the militia soldier and fixing broken anchors, as well as washing and waxing the figure, which had last been refurbished in the 1990s.
The stone base of the statue was raised 18 inches, which originally had been assembled from stones donated by local residents.
More InformationFor more photos of a busy spring weekend, check the WESTPORT NEWS: www.westport-news.com.
Hynes made history come alive for those taking the walking tours, with a detailed description of how 1,600 British soldiers, aided by about 200 Loyalist volunteers from Long Island, set sail from New York City on April 22. "The patriots had a supply depot in Danbury," he said, which was the goal of the invaders. He noted that Connecticut was known as a provision state during the war and that the British "desperately needed the material."
A storm, however, delayed the arrival of the British ships. "They didn't land until April 25," which was a Friday, at around 3 p.m., led by Capt. Henry Duncan. "It took them a long time to get organized," the historian said, so the British march inland didn't begin until about 9 p.m., when they proceeded up a route that roughly is now Compo Road.
Though there was a minor skirmish when they hit "the Country Road," which would later become Post Road/Route 1, led by a tiny group of local militia men known as the Gallant 17, a more intensive battle didn't begin until the British were in Danbury Saturday night. There, despite efforts to bribe locals into helping them bring provisions back to their ship off Westport, they were unable to transport their plunder back, so they burned it all. "They spent Saturday night burning supplies," Hynes said.
Meanwhile, Norwich-born Benedict Arnold, the notorious American turncoat who initially was an esteemed general for the rebels during the Revolutionary War prior to his defection, assembled troops to meet them on their way back in Ridgefield. "Arnold set up a line across Main Street," Hynes said, which put a significant dent in their mission.
"At this point the British were getting very nervous," he said, as amassed patriot troops now numbered around 2,000. Though they returned back toward their ship through Wilton, Duncan's troops weren't likely to be able to cross the Saugatuck River near what would become Westport's Cross Highway North, since the Americans controlled the bridge.
But some of the locals fighting with the British informed Duncan about a ford up river, so they traveled along what would later become Red Coat Road and crossed the river by what is now a popular trout fishing area at the bottom of Ford Road. "Then they made a beeline line down the other side of the Saugatuck," stopped to take the bridge back from the other side and reassembled their full force.
When the British troops reached Compo, however, local militia men were ready for them on Compo Hill, adjacent to today's site of the Minute Man -- a tribute to their stand. It was here that some of the most intense fighting took place, and where many bodies of the fallen militia were buried at the Compo Colonial Cemetery.
Nearly 200 men were killed on both sides of the clash and, as a result of the disastrous mission, the British never again left sight of their ships during the rest of the war while their troops marched inland.
"I loved it," Ted Aldrich of Westport said of the walking tour. "The guy was a genius," he said of Hynes. "He not only knows the events, but he knows the dates."
"I thought it was terrific," said Toni Morton Dimes, whose late husband is paid tribute by the Ned Dimes Marina, named in his honor, where Sunday's tours began. "It filled in a lot more detail than I'd ever known, and I was intending to find out about."
"Our goal was to no longer have people think about this as a Minute Man statue and more as a Minute Man monument," said Town Curator Kathleen Bennewitz.