New Haven during the War of the Revolution, July 5, 1779

War-Scarred Relics of the Revolution, by Frances Phipps

“On July 4, 1779, the evening before the British invaded New Haven, a pall of humid air hung over the township (then much larger in area than it is today, because it included the now‐separate towns of East Haven, North Haven, Hamden and West Haven and parts of Bethany and Woodbridge). The wind was almost dead still. Nonetheless, just after sunset, those who could bear the heat attended a community meeting at the Middle Church on the green to plan the next day’s celebration of the third anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Most were well on their way home when the first alarm was given. Three cannon shots signaled the approach pf a British fleet. People in New Haven, however, paid little attention. The sight of British ships patrolling Long Island Sound was common and most of the residents believed the fleet, if it intended harm, was on its way to strike at the much more important harbors of New London or Newport.

They were wrong. What happened in New Haven on Monday, July 5, 1779, will be simulated as closely as possible this coming weekend when members of the Brigade of the American Revolution re‐enact the fighting at Lighthouse Point in East Haven, at what is now Fort Nathan Hale and West Haven. Today there are just five 18th‐century houses left in the Greater New Haven area. One, rebuilt in 1780, in chides what remains of the first house burned by the British that day 200 years ago.

The Amos Morris house, now a museum‐house of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, stands on the same foundation as did its predecessor in 1779, near Morris Cove, then called Solitary Cove, or sometimes the Little Neck. Built to a central‐hallway design, the frame house has stone gable ends, end chimneys, a lean‐to addition and an ell. The massive gable ends and the old chimneys remain from the 1779 house, the wooden parts of which were burned by the British.

British forces commanded by Maj. Gen. William Tryon, had landed near Lighthouse Point about noon. The first farm they reached was that of Amos Morris. According to the Rev. Chauncey Goodrich, writing in 1867, Mr. Morris and his son, Amos Jr., ‘had built the fine new house only a few years before the war (probably in 1767). On that memorable morning, Mr. Morris with his large family had been busy in the early hours removing furniture and the like to hiding places they hoped might be secure.’

‘Some moveables were hidden in ditches,’ Alfred W. Morris, a descendant, wrote in 1850, ‘some in a bushy swale, and some property was carried to the woods, whither the stock, except the swine, were driven. The swine took fright at the discharge of muskets and took shelter in a field of rye. The women and children were hurried away so late that they heard the whistling of bullets from the guns of the enemy.’

‘The old gentleman himself, with his hired man, remained at the house, securing the property as long as he thought prudent. His last act, before leaving, was to spread a table of refreshments for the British soldiers’ entertainment, with the hope of rendering them more favorably disposed and thus saving his buildings. But his house, barn and buildings for the manufacture of salt and cider, were burned.’

Just how many of the Morris family movables eventually were recovered from the woods is not known; but many pieces of furniture owned by the family and their friends in the last part of the 18th century can be seen at the old house today.

Of special interest next weekend will be the old maple chest and the cannonball said to have torn a hole in one side of the chest. On July 5, 1779, the chest stood in the front room of the house belonging to Theophilus Munson on Chapel Street, just west of College. According to family tradition, one of the random shots fired to keep townspeople away from the center green passed into the house and pierced the chest.

The house itself bears another scar of battle. The lintel above the doorway leading to a back addition is charred to about one‐quarter of its depth, not enough in those necessarily thrifty days of 1780 to render it unusable when the house was rebuilt.

The family portraits of Amos Jr., of daughter Lorinda Morris and her husband, Samuel Hathaway of Suffield, a schoolteacher, probably painted in 1788, provide clues to some of the house furnishings. The Connecticut country Chippendale chair, painted a bright orange‐red, in which Lorinda sat for her portrait, still stands nearby in the parlor. So, too, does the earlier corner chair, used by Amos when his likeness was painted.

The Morris house, open regularly Wednesday through Friday from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M., will be open to visitors also next Saturday and Sunday.

All in all, New Haven had an easier time than did many towns during the Revolution. When the battle was over, the actual damage was relatively small. Eleven houses had been burned in East Haven, six stores and six barns were razed, mostly at the harborside to cover the withdrawal of British troops as they rowed back to their men‐of-war. Seven small boats were burned, and a privateer, the sloop Guilford, was commandeered. Twenty‐two Americans were taken prisoner; and according to The Connecticut Journal of July 7, 1779, ‘Our loss is 27 killed and 19 wounded.’

In recent years when questions have arisen as to why there are so few 18th century buildings left in New Haven, common and incorrect answer has been that the town was burned by the British during the Revolution.

But ‘the truth is,’ Thomas R. Trowbridge Jr., wrote in 1876, ‘that some years since, we had here in New Haven a very large number of ancient, conservative‐looking houses. They were good, comfortable old houses, and New Haven felt proud of her colonial souvenirs and of her slow and gradual progress.’

‘Suddenly, from various directions, there came a vast number of men who were called in the New Haven vernacular ‘interlopers.’ These men, not content with purchasing venerable buildings — though generally paying their full value — went to work and deliberately pulled them down and in their stead erected their great British stores and warerooms, their great churches and mansard‐roofed houses, created new streets, paved them, and sewered them. Entirely disregarding the most passionate treaties and prayers of the ‘old town born,’ they made New Haven a city.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machines, “War-Scarred Relics of the Revolution,” by Frances Phipps, Sunday, June 24, 1979

“In 1779 at the British invasion Roger Sherman’s house was among the first to be entered and ransacked by the redcoats who appropriated every portable article of value in the building.”
-Excerpt courtesy of, “Yale and the City of Elms,” by William Emery Decrow, 1882. (top) Image courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, “Map of the Invasion of New Haven, July 5, 1779,” by Ezra Stiles, 1779

The New Haven Raid

“One trip back to New Haven Sherman had not planned, but it was perhaps the most eventful of the lot. On July 13, 1779, Cyrus Griffin of Virginia wrote to Jefferson, ‘The Enemy with a body of five thousand men have plundered and destroyed New Haven in Connecticut; they carried off the wife and children of old Shearman [sic] the member of Congress; yesterday he left this City full of anxiety and trouble; I pity the Lady and Children exceedingly, but I have no tender feelings for the old fellow on many accounts.’ He added that the report is not ‘ascertained to satisfaction,’ but it was enough to get Sherman moving northward in a hurry. The report was inaccurate as to the kidnapping of Rebecca and her brood, for there is no indication that she was ever carried off. (An Adonijah Sherman, no relation, was taken prisoner by the British, Goodrich, ‘Invasion,’ p.79.)

Sherman’s son, William, however, did have his house ransacked as his wife and seven children fled the rapacious lobsterbacks with only what they could carry, and so William was left with, ‘Seven helpless children naked to clothe and to feed.’ A letter to Governor Trumbull from an unidentified correspondent says of the British raid, ‘I cannot enumerate all the houses that were rifled — Mrs. Woorsters, Parson Edwards and his Brothers — Mr. Todds — Deacon Lymans — Mr. Shermans…’ were the worst damaged. But Roger’s as well as William’s house was broken into.

The attack had taken place on the 5th of July in the midst of preparations for the Fourth of July celebration (the Fourth being a Sunday) and the damage, mostly to private homes, amounted to about 15,660 pounds. (This is the official figure. Estimates at the time put it at over 25,000 pounds. Stiles, Lit. Diary. III: 111-12.) Sherman’s share was twenty-six pounds and nine pence which was paid to him by the state in October. His son, William, who desperately needed the money, was not so lucky. While the ruins were still smoking on the 6th, he petitioned for a bit over forty pounds as losses due to the raid, which was not paid until after his death. The damage to Roger Sherman’s estate did not destroy his morale, however, for less than two weeks later he was off again to Lebanon for meetings of the Council of Safety, and by the end of September he was back for Congress.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Internet Archive, “Roger Sherman’s Connecticut: Yankee politics and the American Revolution,” by Christopher Collier, 1971

“Large mahogany Secretary, that belonged to Roger Sherman. It was injured at the time of the invasion of New Haven by the British, in July, 1779. The glass doors were broken and the secret drawers ransacked. –Mrs. Elizabeth S. Thacher.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Archive.org, “Hand-book of the Centennial Exhibition of Antiquarian and Revolutionary Relics: held in New Haven Connecticut from June 10th to July 2d, 1875, in aid of the National Centennial Fund of Philadelphia,” by Centennial Exhibition of Antiquarian and Revolutionary Relics, 1875

Deacon Ball

“He was chosen of the First church in New Haven, 1771, and served twenty-eight years, till he died. He was witness to the will of Hon. Roger Sherman, proved 1793; his son Stephen Ball, and brother-in-law and kinsman, Jeremiah Atwater, being the other two witnesses. He was a large land-owner. His house, according to the map of 1748, stood on Chapel street, about where the Yale Colonial Art building now stands. At the time of the British invasion of New Haven, in 1779, he had in his charge the silver communion service of the First church, some of the cups of which are very valuable from historical associations. How to save this silver? The wide, open chimneys of those days usually contained a shelf inside high enough to be beyond common reaching distance. Taking his little daughter Mary, then about twelve years old, he lifted her into the chimney with the silver in her hands, which she deposited on the shelf. The soldiers rummaged everywhere for valuables, but failed to discover it, and so it was saved and is still in use. Deacon Ball was taken prisoner on this occasion, and was being marched down Chapel street, when Mr. Jared Ingersoll saw him and obtained his release.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Google Books, “Atwater History and Genealogy, Volume 1,” by Francis Atwater, 1901

“Nine large blocks comprised the center of New Haven, where four churches, a courthouse, a prison and the buildings of Yale College surrounded the center block of New Haven Green. Residents lived in about 300 houses, many beautifully constructed with colonial-style architecture.

The year 1779 was the first that residents of New Haven decided to publicly celebrate the independence of the United States, but since July 4 fell on a Sunday, out of respect for the Sabbath the Puritan-descended citizenry planned to hold their gala, complete with a militia parade, on the following day. Collier’s Royal Navy squadron appeared on the horizon on the afternoon of July 4 but was still headed east, and, to the militia observing from the coast, the ships appeared to be bound for another destination.

Yale president Ezra Stiles observed, ‘A lethargy seemed to have seized the inhabitants, who would believe the fleet would pass by in the morning.’ The milita shore patrols continued while residents slept, relieved that the fleet was gone.

On duty in the early morning hours of July 5 was twenty-year-old Thomas Painter, who had been a militiaman for only three months. Painter recalled that at about 2:00 A.M., ‘as it was a starlight night,’ he saw the Royal Navy squadron turn and head towards the shore. Painter fired an alarm gun to alert the town and then ran to his uncle’s house to tell him about the landing. The ships came in close and dropped anchor near Savin Rock at the western mouth of New Haven Harbor.

The boom of the signal gun led to the ringing of church bells and the long roll of militia drums, which woke Yale president Ezra Stile, who had an inquisitive mind. A short list of his interests includes meteorology, astronomy, physics, silk cultures, horticulture, political science, philosophy, and languages. Now awakened, Stiles climbed the steeple of the college chapel as soon as there was enough daylight to see more than a few hundred yards, looked towards the coast, and was shocked to see dozens of British ships anchored off the harbor. ‘All then knew our fate,’ he wrote later.

He quickly left his perch and sent his four daughters to the nearby town of Carmel. With his youngest son, Stiles gathered the college records, his silver tableware, and important belongings and sent them out of town on a cart. Then he dismissed the college students.

The landings near Savin Rock at the New Haven harbor was a spectacle of the military might of the British Empire. The masts of Collier’s fifty-three ships crowded the horizon. Red, white and blue British ensigns flew from every vessel. To cover the landings the warships Camilla, Greyhound, Scorpion, and Virginia anchored as close to shore as their draughts allowed, and their black cannon pointed menacingly toward the beach. Flat-bottomed landing barges, each packed with up to sixty soldiers and rowed by twenty blue-jacketed sailors, were lowered from each transport and then turned their bows toward the shore. As the boats touched the beach the soldiers poured out and formed their long ranks.

North of West Haven Green the American militia gathered, summoned by the church bells, alarm guns, and drum rolls. The American militia was outnumbered ten to one, so Capt. Hillhouse concealed his men behind a stone wall and watched as Gen. Garth’s soldiers marched north from West Haven in neat ranks. When the advance guard of the Redcoats came within musket range, the Yankee militiamen rose and fired.

Yale student Elizur Goodrich wrote later about the action: ‘We fired on them several times, then chased them the length of three or four fields as they retreated.’ The main body of the British column immediately formed a line of battle, counterattacked, covered the ground quickly and nearly surrounded the Yankees. Goodrich continued: ‘It was now our turn to run, and we did for our lives.’

Retreating with the militia, Thomas Painter wrote that he ran through the fields ‘at the top of my speed, and the bullets after me like a shower of hail, which seemed to prostrate the grass around me.’

After he took care of his family and Yale college, Ezra Stiles rode around the New Haven area observing the action. He saw the scrape between the militiamen and Garth’s soldiers and said that as a result of the Yankee musket fire the Redcoats ‘marched in a huddled confusion.’

Ezra Stiles remembered: ‘The northern militia and those from Darby by this time crowded in and pressed on all side – and some behaved with amazing intrepidity. One captain drew up and threw himself and his whole company directly before the enemy’s column and gave and received the fire… The battle became very severe and bloody for a short time, when a number was killed on both sides.’

Gen. Tryon reported that Garth’s men were ‘under a continuous fire,’ but the American militia was outgunned and fought a fighting retreat to the northwest corner of New Haven, where Garth finally entered the town at about 1:00 P.M., ‘not without opposition, loss, and fatigue,’ as Tryon recorded. The column reached New Haven Green. Gen. Garth sent a message to Tryon that recommended immediately burning the town. ‘This place is almost entirely deserted,’ he reported, ‘and therefore merits the flames.’

Gen. Tryon was experiencing his own troubles with rebel resistance when he received Garth’s message about burning the town. Tryon’s division had landed on the east side of New Haven Harbor at about 10:00 A.M., after Garth’s division was ashore. Just as with Garth’s earlier landings, the barges rowed in 1,500 men. A fifty-man company of East Haven militia led by Captains Josiah Bradley and Amos Morris took position on the shore with three field guns and opened fire. An officer of the King’s American Regiment stood up in his boat and shouted, ‘Disperse, ye rebels!’ – and a militia sharpshooter killed him with a single musket shot.

Tyron reported that that militia’s field guns ‘annoyed’ his soldiers, and Commodore Collier disclosed a bit of the British fear of American sharpshooters when he wrote that the the landing was opposed ‘by some companies of riflemen,’ whom he described as ‘excellent marksmen, with rifle-barreled guns’ who ‘concealed themselves in the bushes.’

A deadly routine developed as the invading troops moved further inland. The American militia concealed themselves behind the fences that ran along the roads and when the British column came close, the Yankees rose from behind their cover, fired, and then fell back. Each volley forced the British to stop, deploy into a line of battle, counterattack, and re-form into a column formation to march down the road. Militia Capt. Josiah Bradley hid his men along one road and told them, ‘Wait until you can see their eyes and then fire and run.’

The pursuit of militiamen frustrated and exhausted the Redcoats. New England militiamen had used these classic guerrilla tactics at the opening battles of the war outside Boston on April 19, 1775, when they decimated the British ranks and shocked the king’s officers with the intensity of their resistance. The methods were equally effective at New Haven.

By early afternoon the British column advanced barely three miles from its landing beach. Tryon still had another two miles to go before he could cross the Quinnipiac River and unite with Gen. Garth’s division in New Haven. Unable to advance further, Tryon held his position south of the Quinnipiac and set up headquarters on Beacon Hill.

The message bearing Gen. Garth’s note that recommended burning New Haven probably reached Tryon on Beacon Hill. In response, Tryon took Leavenworth’s Ferry across the Quinnipiac to New Haven and convened a council of war with Garth, Commodore Collier, and Col. Fanning of the King’s American Regiment to decide how to proceed with the raid at New Haven. Musket shots still cracked sporadically and the officers agreed that strong rebel forces remained outside the town.

At some point during the conference Tryon and Garth decided not to burn New Haven. Legend states that Loyalist leaders, including Col. Fanning, asked the British commanders to spare the town, and that Garth consented, saying, ‘Tis too pretty a place to burn.’

But in his report to Gen. Clinton, Tryon attributed the decision to their belief that the gathering rebel militia would soon outnumber the British force as well as outgun them with heavy cannon. The officers agreed that, for the evening, Garth’s division would occupy New Haven while Tryon’s division held Beacon Hill. Tryon also remembered that Gen. Clinton’s orders had emphasized that it was ‘not advisable to stay any time… Your business must be done in 24 or 48 hours.’ With the rebel militia gathering and his commander’s orders in mind, Tryon decided his force would depart the next morning.

Before the soldiers settled in for the evening, one of Garth’s officers walked onto New Haven Green and read aloud from an open address from Tryon and Collier to the residents of Connecticut. ‘Your town, your property, yourselves, lie within the grasp of the power whose forbearance you have ungenerously construed into fear. Can the strength of your whole province cope with the force which might at any time be poured through every district in your country? You are conscious it cannot. Why, then, will you persist in a ruinous and ill-judged resistance? We hoped that you would recover from the frenzy which has distracted this unhappy country; and we believe the day to be near come when the greater part of this continent will begin to blush at their delusion.’

Tryon and Collier were overly optimistic in their expectations for the residents of New Haven to repudiate the rebellion. Collier recalled, ‘Such inhabitants that remained in their homes had a sentinel at their doors granted them, to prevent any irregularities. But even this mark of indulgence was treated with baseness and treachery inherent in these people. The very sentinels placed as their safeguards were villainously shot and murdered from the upper windows!’ Several balls whistled past Collier as he surveyed the town with a party of officers.

Some unknown citizens left casks of West Indian rum out near the Green, possibly in an effort to curry favor from the Redcoats. Exhausted from the day’s combat in the sweltering heat, frustrated by fighting the elusive American militia, and fueled by free rum, British soldiers vented their anger on the civilian population, as a contemporary newspaper recounted: ‘New Haven was delivered up… to promiscuous plunder; in which, besides robbing the inhabitants of their watches, money, plate, buckles, clothing, bedding, and provisions, etc., they broke and destroyed househould furniture and other property to a very great amount.’

At dawn on July 6 the British raiding force set fire to six port buildings and seven vessels suspected to be privateers and then marched to the New Haven wharf and Black Rock Fort to embark for their ships. A dense fog covered the area and the British movements caught most American militiamen off guard. Gen Tryon reported that ‘there was not a shot fired to molest the retreat,’ but a few militiamen, like Capt. Jedediah Andrews, sniped at the Redcoats as they departed. The last British vessel slipped its cable from the wharf in the afternoon.

Yale College president Ezra Stiles returned to New Haven soon after the British departure. He had ‘a mixt sense of joy and sorrow’ because the Redcoats left the college buildings relatively undamaged but the rest of the town was a scene of ‘plunder, rapes, murder, bayoneting, indelicacies towards the sex, insolence and abuse and insult towards the inhabitants in general.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of Google Books, “George Washington and the Final British Campaign for the Hudson River, 1779,” by Michael Schellhammer, 2012

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