George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons, 10 July 1779

From Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons

Norwalk [Conn.] 10th July 1779

Dear General

I arrived here last night and find the fleet which transport the British Incendiaries is returned to Huntington Bay opposite to this Town where they now are.1 The Troops employd for these purposes are, by the best information I can get, about 2,000 commanded by Governor Tryon. At New Haven the few Militia gathered in season to oppose the enemys progress, behavd with great resolution and repulse’d them in two attempts to posses themselves of the bridge over the river the west of the Town. after this repulse they made a Circuit of about two miles & entered the town on another quarter. The Militia kept constantly harasing them whilst they continued in Town—and it is probable they left it sooner than they intended; At East Haven a smart action took place between the inhabitants of the Village & the Enemy soon after landing, in which the inhabitants appeared inferior to the Britons in nothing but numbers. The loss in Killd and wounded on each side in these skirmishes are considerable, their Numbers I have not been able to ascertain, but, from accounts of deserters & Prisoners, about 160 of the wounded were carried on Board the fleet. At Fairfield a considerable skirmish happened at landing, with loss on both sides. After the enemy had possesed themselves of the Town, they attempted to take the little fort which was bravely & successfully defended by Lt Jarvis and about 20 men, the Enemy dismounted all his Cannon but one—and beat down great part of the works, but could not succeed in their Intentions to take the fort.2 They have burnt East Haven, the whole of Fairfield, except four houses, & the greatest part of Green’s Farms3—plundered New Haven of every thing they could carry off. Their Brutality and savageness here is unequal’d by any Barbarities Britons have exhibited to our notice before or during the war. The Murder of Old Men, Abuses of Women and little Children will make but a small part of the Black list.4 By Accounts from Horseneck the Enemy have advanced in force within one mile of that place, their numbers are said to be from 6. to 8,000 with 12 field peices near 1,000 horse, and about 300 waggons, the numbers are doubtless exagerated but I beleive they are in very considerable Force in that quarter. I shall go to Horseneck this morning & obtain fuller information. about 1,000 continental Troops will give great Confidence to the Militia and will serve exceedingly good purposes. I cannot ask them unless the Post at West point can be secured & this body spared for the purpose; I am still inclined to beleive these movements are primarily designd to draw our strength from West Point to facilitate an Attempt upon the object of Importance the enemy can have in view; Should they fail in their views, they may probably distress the country exceedingly by the ravages they will commit. I had rather see all the Towns on the Coast of my Country in flames, than the Enemy should possess West Point; but I feel most sensibly the distress of my Freinds and am certain your Excellency will do every thing to releive them which the General good of the Country will permit you.5 I am With the Greatest Respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedt Servt

Saml H. Parsons

Copy, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, enclosed in GW to John Jay, 13 July, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169.

1GW had ordered Parsons to take direction of the Connecticut militia responding to British raids along the coast of that state in early July (see GW to Parsons, 8 July; see also GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 7 July, source note). For details on the attack against Norwalk, see Parsons to GW, 11 July.

2Lt. Isaac Jarvis and his militia command defended Fort Black Rock on Grover’s Hill in Fairfield County against British attacks on 7–8 July (see Schenck, History of Fairfield, description begins Elizabeth Hubbell Schenck. The History of Fairfield, Fairfield County, Connecticut: From 1700 to 1800. New York, 1905. description ends 386–90).

3See Norwalk, Conn., Officials and Lieutenant Colonel Stephen St. John to GW, 9 July.

4For depositions describing British excesses at New Haven and Fairfield, see Parsons to GW, 31 July, notes 1 and 2.

5A reply from GW’s aide-de-camp Richard Kidder Meade to Parsons, dated 11 July, reads: “His Excellency desires me to return you his thanks for your letter of the last evening—Genl Heath with the two Connecticut Brigades would have marched this day had the weather been fair—they will be in motion so soon as it clears up. As Genl Heaths movements will depend of those of the enemy, The Genl begs of you, to give him the earliest & most precise information, of any material change in their situation” (DLC:GW).

Index Entries