For over a century, the Minuteman has stood as Westport’s most beloved symbol. Harry Daniel Webster’s statue was dedicated in June 1910.
But this will make you feel really old: The skirmish it commemorates — the Battle of Compo Hill — took place 126 years before that.
According to Mollie Donovan and Dorothy Curran, 2000 British troops under the direction of General William Tryon landed at Compo Beach at dusk on April 25, 1777. Tory loyalists planned to guide them up Compo Road to Cross Highway, across to Redding Road, then north through Redding and Bethel to Danbury, where they would burn a major munitions depot.
Patriots fired a few shots at the corner of the Post Road and Compo, but the British marched on. In Danbury they destroyed the Continental Army’s munitions, then headed back toward their waiting ships at Compo.
Hastily assembled patriot forces fought them in the fierce Battle of Ridgefield. Led by Brigadier General Benedict Arnold — not yet a traitor — and outnumbered 3 to 1, the patriots deployed a strategy of selective engagement.
The next day — April 28, 1777 — patriot marksmen waited on Compo Hill (the current site of Minuteman Hill road). They did not stop the redcoats — 20 colonials were killed, and between 40 and 80 wounded when the British made a shoulder to shoulder charge with fixed bayonets — but they gave them a fight.
Graves of some of the patriots who fell that day lie along Compo Beach Road, just past the Minuteman statue.
Though Tryon returned to burn Norwalk and Fairfield, never again during the American Revolution did British troops venture inland in Connecticut.
This Friday (April 26) the Westport Historical Society celebrates the 236th anniversary of that engagement. There’s a 6 p.m. lecture by John Reznikoff (a professional document and signature authenticator with Rockwell Art and Framing), plus a display of historic documents related to the skirmish.
All documents are available for purchase. If you can’t make Friday’s event, additional sale days are Saturday (April 27, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sunday (April 28, 12 to 4 p.m.).
And if you can’t make any of those days, at least think about the Battle of Compo Hill. That’s the reason our Minuteman stands guard, facing Compo Road.
Like his fellow patriots 236 years ago, he’s ready to give the Brits his best shot.