George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Norwalk, Conn., Officials and Lieutenant Colonel Stephen St. John, 9 July 1779

From Norwalk, Conn., Officials and
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen St. John

Friday Norwalk [Conn.]
July 9th 1779

May it please your Excellency

The Exigency of our Affairs will be a sufficient Apology for this Address & your Excellency’s Readiness to releive the distressed Inhabitants of the United States gives us Hopes that it may not be in vain— Our Situation is truly alarming & distressing A large Fleet in the Sound with three or four thousand Troops have this Week plundered New-Haven & burned their Stores & burned Part of East-Haven1 The Day before Yesterday they entered Fairfield & in the most inhuman & wanton Manner they burned almost the whole of that elegant Town together with a great Part of the Parish of Green’s farms not sparing the sumptuous Houses dedicated to the Worship of God2 & gave out that Yesterday we should share the same Fate & we beleive they would have executed their Threats but the Wind would not permit them & this Morning they have come to in Huntington Bay nearly opposite3 This Morning Col. Hooker Commandant at Horseneck sent Express that the Enemy were at Rye-Neck marching this Way that they were six thousand Foot & one thousand Horse & we have no Force any Way adequate to oppose them4 We have sent to his Excellency the Governor but there has not been Time for an Answer The Militia are collecting but will by no Means be sufficient to oppose such an Army We must therefore suffer our Houses & Substance to be plundered & burned unless we can obtain Assistance from your Excellency This County has afforded great Quantities of Provision for the Continental Army & now We have a fine Harvest but cannot gather it should the Enemy succeed it will be an Accession to them we entreat your Excellency to commiserate our distressed Condition & afford us such Relief as Your Excellency shall judge consistent with the general Good5—In Behalf of the Inhabitants your Excellency’s most obedient & humbl. Servants

Thaddeus Betts6 Justice of Peace
Stephen St john,7 Lt Coll
Samuel Gruman8 } Selectmen
Matthew Marvine9
David Comstock10
Nathl Benedict11


1For the British raid on New Haven, Conn., 5–6 July, see Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., to GW, 7 July, and n.1 to that document.

2A letter from Andrew Eliot, a minister in Fairfield, Conn., to his brother John Eliot, dated 15 July, described the British raid on that town, which began on 7 July and concluded the next day. Eliot’s letter reads: “The British fleet and army, with the American refugees that had possessed and plundered New Haven, set sail from that distressed place on the 6th instant. About four o’clock the next morning the approach of the fleet was announced by the firing of a gun from a small fort we have on Grover’s Hill, contiguous to the Sound. They seemed, however, to be passing by, and about seven o’clock we with pleasure beheld them all to the westward of us, steering, as we thought, to New York. A very thick fog came on, which entirely deprived us of the sight of them till between the hours of nine and ten, when, the mist clearing away, we beheld the whole fleet under our western shore, and some of them close in Kensie’s Point. They presently came to anchor, and lay till about four in the afternoon, when they began to land their troops a little to the east of Kensie’s Point, at a place called the Pines. From thence the troops marched along the beach until they came to a lane opposite the centre of the town, through which they proceeded, and in about an hour paraded in their divisions on the green, between the meeting-house and court-house. From thence they detached their guards, and, dividing into small parties, began their infernal business. …

“The Hessians were first let loose for rapine and plunder. They entered the houses, attacked the persons of Whig and Tory indiscriminately: breaking open desks, trunks, closets, and taking away everything of value. They robbed women of their buckles, rings, bonnets, aprons, and handkerchiefs. They abused them with the foulest and most profane language, threatened their lives without the least regard to the most earnest cries and entreaties. Looking-glasses, china, and all kinds of furniture were soon dashed to pieces.

“Another party that came on were the American refugees, who, in revenge for their confiscated estates, carried on the same direful business. They were not, however, so abusive to the women as the former, but appeared very furious against the town and country. The Britons, by what I could learn, were the least inveterate; some of the officers seemed to pity the misfortunes of the country, but in excuse said that they had no other way to gain their authority over us. Individuals among the British troops were, however, exceedingly abusive, especially to women. Some were forced to submit to the most indelicate and rough treatment in defense of their virtue, and now bear the bruises of horrid conflict.

“About an hour before sunset the conflagration began at the house of Mr. Isaac Jennings, …

“At sunrise some considerable part of the town was standing, but in about two hours the flames became general. The burning-parties carried on their business with horrible alacrity, headed by one or two persons who were born and bred in the neighboring towns …

“About eight o’clock the enemy sounded a retreat. We had some satisfaction, amidst our sorrow and distress, to see that the meeting-house and a few other buildings remained. But the rear-guard, consisting of a banditti the vilest that was ever let loose among men, set fire to everything which Gen. Tryon had left. … Happily, our people came in and extinguished the flames in several houses, so that we are not entirely destitute.

“The rear-guard, which behaved in so scandalous a manner, were chiefly German troops, called Yaugers. They carry a small rifle-gun and fight in a skulking manner, like our Indians. They may be properly called sons of plunder and devastation” (Hurd, Fairfield County, 283–84; see also Samuel Holden Parsons to GW, 31 July, n.2; Samuel Whiting to Trumbull, 9 July, in Trumbull Papers, description begins The Trumbull Papers. 4 vols. Boston, 1885-1902. In Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th ser., vols. 9–10; 7th ser., vols. 2–3. description ends 3:404–5; and Buel, Dear Liberty, 191–92).

Green’s Farms, originally known as Fairfield West Parish, was, and is, part of Westport, Conn., and apparently took its name from John Green, an early settler and successful farmer.

3For the British raid on Norwalk, 10–11 July, see Parsons to GW, 11 July; see also GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 7 July, source note.

4Noadiah Hooker (1737–1823) served as a captain in the 2d Connecticut Regiment from May to December 1775 and was with Col. Erastus Wolcott’s Connecticut State Regiment at Boston in early 1776. As colonel of his own Connecticut militia regiment, Hooker again performed service in the Continental army at Peekskill, N.Y., during April–May 1777. He became colonel of the 15th Regiment of Connecticut militia, composed of companies from Farmington and Harwinton, in May 1779. He served as town treasurer for Farmington for many years after the war.

5GW replied to the Norwalk officials in a letter of 11 July.

6Thaddeus Betts (1724–1807) graduated from Yale in 1745 and spent most of his career as a physician in Norwalk. He represented that town in the Connecticut general assembly, 1774–76, and was commissioned Norwalk’s leading magistrate in May 1776.

7Stephen St. John (1736–1785) was appointed a major in the Connecticut militia in May 1775, and he served in the 9th Regiment after being promoted to lieutenant colonel in May 1777. A party of Associated Loyalists captured St. John and one of his sons in April 1781. Both were paroled that September. St. John represented Norwalk in the Connecticut general assembly at the time of his death.

8Samuel Gruman (Grumman; 1725–1804) held various local offices in Norwalk during and after the Revolutionary War.

9Matthew Marvin (Marvine; 1734–1791), who descended from early Connecticut settlers, was elected a Norwalk selectman in December 1778 and again in 1779 and 1782.

10David Comstock (1720–1783) held various local offices in Norwalk.

11Either Nathaniel Benedict (c.1716–1806) or his son, Nathaniel Benedict, Jr. (1744–1833), could have been a Norwalk selectman in 1779. The older Benedict replaced his father as deacon of the First Congregational Church in Norwalk and served in that position for thirty-two years. His son served as a sergeant in the Connecticut militia in 1776 and 1777.

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