George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons, 11 July 1779

From Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons

Wilton1 [Conn.] 11th July 79

Dr Genl

In my last, I informd that the Enemy landed last Night:2 at four this Morning the Enemy on their Advance were met by the Militia & some Skirmishing insued, but without any considerable Effect on either Side; at about Six o’Clock the Troops under Genl Wolcott, & my Small Detachment of 150 Conl Troops were joind & took possession of an Emminece the North End of the Town. the Enemy advanced in our Front & on our left Flank until about 9 o’Clock when they were checkd in their Progress by the Vigorous Exertions of the Parties of Militia & Conl Troops sent out to oppose them; and in Turn were compeld to retire from Hill to Hill at some Times in great Disorder; we continued to advance upon them until near 11 o’Clock when a Column having nearly gaind our Right Flank; the Militia in the Center gave Way & retreated in Disorder; this gave the Enemy Possession of our Ground. Genl Wolcott who commanded exerted himself on this Occasion to raly the Troops & bring them to Order again; but without Effect until they had retird about Two Miles when some Troops being again formd returnd to the Aid of the Right & left Wings who had retird but a Small Distance & in Order with these the Enemy were pursued again and retreated with Precipitation to their ships.3 I have the Pleasure to assure your Excellency the Conl Troops without Exception, they being all ingagd behavd with the greatest Bravery. Capt. Betts who was the first engaged with the Enemy & who continued longest in Action deserves Particular Notice for his great Fortitude & prudent Conduct in the Battle, he continued Advancing on the Enemy until the Center of the main Body gave way & he with his Party advancd near a Mile at the Time by his Prudence were able to effect a regular Retreat without any considerable Loss,4 Capt. Eells on the Right & Cpt. Sherman on the Left were also ingagd & when obliged to retire kept their Order & retreated with Regularity.5 A Body of the Militia I think they were commanded by Major Porter6 & another Considerable Detachment deserve honorable mention to be made of them. I am not yet able to assertain our own or the Enemy’s Loss but in my next shall be able to give a more particular Account. in my handful of Conl Troops, I have lost five Men kild; Lieut. Gibbs7 & Six Privates Wounded. I don’t know of any missing; some Loss the Militia have sustain’d. I am satisfied the Loss of the Enemy must have been considerable. About Twenty Boats landed on the West Side the Harbour at five o’clock & immediately began to set fire to the Buildings, they compleated burning the Town at about twelve o’Clock; this appears to have been their sole Business as they ⟨did⟩ not stay to carry off any Plunder of con⟨side⟩rable Value A few Tory Houses are left which I hope our People will burn, as the Owners are here8 and have committed no Act by which the public can seise them: I imagine Stamford will be the next object to wreck their hellish Malice upon, to that Place I shall repair to Morrow. I am fully persuaded that five Hundred more Men such as the brave Militia I have before mentiond & the 150 Conl Troops would have given the Enemy a total defeat. the Numbers of the Enemy were about 2000. our Numbers between 900 & 1100.9 I am Dr Genl yr Obedt Servt

Saml H. Parsons

ALS, DLC:GW; copy (extract), enclosed in GW to John Jay, 13 July, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy (extract), DNA:PCC, item 169. Mutilated portions of the ALS are supplied in angle brackets from the copy (extract) in DNA:PCC, item 152, which is in the writing of GW’s aide-de-camp Richard Kidder Meade.

1At this place on his manuscript, Parsons first wrote “Norwalk.” He then struck out that word and wrote “Wilton” above the line.

2The prior known letter from Parsons to GW, dated 10 July, includes no information about the British landing at Norwalk, Conn., which indicates that Parsons is referring to a letter he wrote to GW that has not been found.

3The British raid against Norwalk ended on this date (see Oliver Wolcott, Sr., to GW, 17 July; see also GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 7 July, source note).

4A deposition of “Captain Stephen Betts of Colonel Zebulon Butlers Regt in the Continental Service,” sworn at Norwalk on 26 July (misdated “June” on copy), reads: “That on the 11th Instant, while the Enemy invaded Norwalk, he with about Fifty Continental Troops, and some Militia ingaged a superior Number of the Enemy, which oblidged them to give way to an unequal Force, as they retreated John Waters a continental Soldier fell into the Enemys Hands and delivered up his Arms and begged for Life, but the Enemy notwithstanding assaulted him with Bayonets with which they stabed him in sundry places, and then one of them presented his piece, and aimed (as the Captive supposed) at his Body, but missing that the Ball shattered his Arm whereupon finding no Qua⟨r⟩ter he made a strong Effort to escape which he happily effected, soon after the above Accident, John Rich an other Continental Soldier was shot so as to fall and as the Enemy were nigh and Crowded fast on our People he desired Capt. Betts to leave him, as they could not take him off without the greatest Hazard, Capt. Betts saw Rich no more, but says Capt. Eeles of Colonel Wyllys’s Regiment told him he saw Rich after the Enemy had retreated, about two Hours after Capt. Betts saw him, he was then dead, and the Top of his Skull torn off supposed to be blown off by a Musquet to dispach him and further saith not” (DNA:PCC, item 53; see also Hinman, Historical Collection, description begins Royal R. Hinman, comp. A Historical Collection, from Official Records, Files &c., of the Part Sustained by Connecticut, during the War of the Revolution. Hartford, 1842. description ends 625–26).

Stephen Betts (1756–1832) served as a lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment between July and December 1775. He became a captain in the 2d Connecticut Regiment in January 1777 and transferred to the 3d Connecticut in January 1781. Betts was wounded at Yorktown, Va., on 14 Oct. 1781, but he remained in the service until the end of the war.

5Edward Eells (1741–1787) served as a captain in a Connecticut state regiment from June to December 1776 and at the same rank in the 3d Connecticut Regiment beginning in January 1777. He transferred to the 1st Connecticut Regiment in January 1781 and remained in the army until June 1783.

Parsons apparently is referring to Lt. John Sherman, who also served as the paymaster for the 6th Connecticut Regiment.

6Phineas Porter (1739–1804) was active in the Waterbury, Conn., militia before the war and served as a captain in the 1st Connecticut Regiment from May to December 1775. He became major in a Connecticut state regiment in June 1776 and was taken prisoner during the retreat from New York on 15 Sept. of that year. Porter later served as a major and colonel of Connecticut militia.

7Samuel Gibbs (1758–1829) became a 2d lieutenant in the 3d Connecticut Regiment in January 1777. He transferred to the Invalid Corps in November 1780 and remained in the army until April 1783.

8Wilton is inland from the Long Island Sound about six miles north of Norwalk.

9A letter from Parsons to Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., written at Stamford on 17 July, in part reads: “The destruction at Norwalk is what I have been a witness to; 132 dwelling houses, meeting house & church included, 87 barns, 22 store houses, 17 shops, 4 mills, & 5 vessels were burnt, with the wheat, hay, &c., which had been gatherd in. The wretches went of[f] with so much precipitation as left them no opportunity of committing the ourtrages on the persons of the inhabitants, which in other places they have been guilty of; enough however appeard to demonstrate the continuance of their hellish temper. Several of our soldiers, who appear to have been first wounded, were found with their skulls blow’d off by muskets dischargd into them after they were wounded” (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 3:411–13; see also Hurd, Fairfield County, 496–99). For a financial accounting of the damages to property at Norwalk, see a report dated 16 March 1780 in DNA:PCC, item 53.

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