This Day in History: The British raid military supplies in Connecticut
On this day in 1777, a British force under Major General William Tryon heads toward Connecticut. Its goal? Raid the military supplies in Danbury.
Do you remember the female Paul Revere, Sybil Ludington? Tryon’s raid is the event that prompted her brave midnight ride!
Actually, the raid prompted many brave acts during that last week in April, as thousands of men and women rushed to defend their towns.
The dominoes began to fall on April 21, when nearly 2,000 British soldiers left New York by boat. They arrived at Compo Point, in Connecticut, on April 25. By the next day, they were in Danbury, ransacking the town, setting fires, and getting drunk.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these British movements sparked a lot of activity among the Americans. Messengers took off in all directions, spreading news of the British arrival. One of these messengers ended up at the home of a militia commander: Colonel Henry Ludington. His daughter, Sybil, undertook the daunting task of riding throughout the night to muster the men in her father’s militia. Sybil is less famous than Revere, but she rode more than twice as far as he did—and through rockier roads and more sparsely settled country! She was only 16 years old.
In the meantime, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold was nearby and had also received word of the raid. He, General David Wooster, and Brigadier General Gold Silliman soon set off for Danbury with 600 men. They arrived at Bethel, just outside Danbury, on the night of April 26, not too long after the British began ransacking that town. The Americans had been riding all day, though, and the troops were tired. Arnold later wrote that the “the Excessive heavy rains, rendered their Arms useless & many of the Troops, were much fatigued haveing Marched thirty miles, in the Cours of the day without refreshment.” Arnold and Wooster decided to hold off on their attack until the next day.
By the morning of April 27, the British had left Danbury and begun their trek back to the coast, taking a return route through the town of Ridgefield. Arnold and Wooster divided their forces and took up pursuit. Wooster and his 200 men clipped the British from the rear. They had some success until Wooster fell, mortally wounded. Without their leader, Wooster’s men fell back. In the meantime, Arnold and Silliman had gone ahead to set up a barricade for the British, but Arnold found that he had barely any time to prepare before the British were upon him. He was outflanked, nearly captured, and forced into retreat.
Never one to give up, Arnold tried again the next day. By then, he had received additional reinforcements (including Ludington’s 400 men). In fact, Arnold would have about 3,000 militia by the end of the day! He set up another barricade at Saugatuck Bridge. Unfortunately, Tryon circumvented the trap with the help of a Loyalist guide. Americans made one last attempt to attack before the British boarded their ships, but they were rebuffed by a bayonet charge.
The British finally left, having suffered twice as many casualties as the Americans. Maybe worse, the series of events had caused them to lose the support of many Loyalists in the area. Those Loyalists had been shocked to see the callousness with which the British had ransacked their towns.
The British had escaped, but the venture had not gone well for them, to say the least.
Danbury Raid and the Forgotten General (Revolutionary Connecticut website) (created in partnership with the National Park Service)
James K. Martin, Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered (1997)
John C. Fredriksen, Revolutionary War Almanac (2006)
Letter to George Washington from Brigadier General Alexander McDougall (April 29, 1777) (see footnote 2)
Nathaniel Philbrick, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (2016)
Spencer Tucker, Almanac of American Military History (2012) (volume 1)