Way Back When: The British burning of Greens Farms
Connecticut — and indeed, most coastal Fairfield County towns — played a critical role in the Revolutionary War.
George Washington even based a team of spies, the Culper Ring, in loyalist Long Island in the town of Setauket, a strategic position which allowed Faifield’s Patriots to access information about British troop movements and plans.
The war famously touched Westport’s shores by 1777. On April 25, British forces landed at Compo Beach to begin their notorious march to Danbury, where they were to collect supplies and food. The Minutemen of Westport faced off nearly 2,000 British troops.
But 1777 wasn’t the only year Westport — then situated largely in Greens Farms or the West Parrish of Fairfield — witnessed Revolutionary conflict firsthand. The British returned in 1779 under Gen. William Tryon, who boldly led 2,500 troops from their base of operations in Long Island to the Connecticut coast in broad daylight.
July 7, 1779, marked the beginning of a dramatic and violent pillaging of Fairfield County’s port towns. Tryon and his troops first burned buildings in Fairfield to the ground, then headed west to the Greens Farms area in modern-day Westport.
The casualties were staggering: 97 homes, 67 barns, 48 stores, two school houses, the county house and two meeting houses. Among the meeting houses destroyed was the Greens Farms Congregational Church.
The British reduced the entire building, once located off the modern Sherwood Island Connector, to nothing.
All that remains of the original church is a silver communion tankard. The Rev. Ebenezer Jesup and his wife managed to save it by throwing it down a well near their home, which also burned to the ground.
Today, the church still keeps the tankard as a tangible memory of Westport’s closest encounter to destruction at the hands of the British. It also stands as a reminder of Westport’s consistent involvement in one of the most significant chapters in United States history.
The Westport and Norwalk Historical Societies will commemorate the 240th anniversary of the burning of Greens Farms on July 13. They will host a Colonial Day and a re-enactment of the battle that took place between Norwalk militias and British troops.
For more information visit westporthistory.org and norwalkhistory.org. The Westport Historical Society has been a cultural and educational organization dedicated to preserving, presenting and celebrating the history of Westport since its founding in 1889.