The Minuteman, Benedict Arnold And The Battle Of Compo Hill

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.

The Minuteman statue in 1912 -- 2 years after its dedication.

The Minuteman statue in 1912 — 2 years after its dedication.

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.

British forces landed at Compo Beach, marched to Danbury, marched back south and -- after the Battle of Compo Hill -- retreated to Long Island.

British forces landed at Compo Beach, marched to Danbury, returned south and — after the Battle of Compo Hill — retreated to Long Island.

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.

One of the documents on display -- and for sale -- at the Westport Historical Society this weekend.

One of the documents on display — and for sale — at the Westport Historical Society this weekend.

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.

The Minuteman statue today.

The Minuteman statue today.

17 responses to “The Minuteman, Benedict Arnold And The Battle Of Compo Hill

  1. Iconic…
    More memories than I care to remember… as an 8 year old almost falling of the Country Squires tailgate on the way to the beach because Dad went around it a little hot, getting my car a little sideways while skipping out of class at Staples, seeing classmates lucky to grab a town job cutting the grass for the ‘big bucks’ …
    It is the entrance to the beach and everything good that happened there while growing up.
    Thanks Dan for this.

  2. Thank you, Dan, for reminding us of the historical importance of this week. In 2002 the Historical Society published a definitive book of the British landing and raid on Danbury, by Damien Douglas, entitled The Bridge Not Taken, Benedict Arnold Outwitted. It is beautifully designed by Miggs Burroughs and is available for purchase at the WHS Remarkable Gift Shop. The late Barbara Raymond encouraged Mr. Douglas to research the 1777 raid and he discovered a long unkown British made map that shed light on the route. I have fond memories of an event that Barbara and I planned to commemorate the 225th anniversary. Gavin Anderson played the part of General Tryon and Jeff Mayer played Benedict Arnold. They were both brilliant! It was so much fun. I wish we did it every year on this date so all of Westport would know the part we played in the Revolutionary War. In the mean time, we have The Minuteman to remind us.

    PS: The Patriots were buried at Grey’s Creek, a little cemetery on the grounds of Longshore. The British were buried on Compo Beach Rd.

  3. Joyce Barnhart

    And that’s why the Minute Man is facing north, the direction the Colonials faced to engage the enemy as they returned to their ships, instead of south towards the ships the troops came from. The WHS has a booklet of the “Jennings Trail”, a route around town pointing out many places of historic interest. WYWL members used to train as docents to guide Westport kids in bus trips of the trail, named after Bessie Jennings.

  4. General David Wooster, originally from Stratford, alerted Arnold to the British movement. Patriot forces were gathered and the Battle of Ridgefield followed. Wooster’s men harassed the rear of Tryon’s troops as they returned to the coast. Wooster was mortally wounded in Ridgefield, and died in Danbury on May 2, 1777. I am proud to have David Wooster as an ancestor who fought for the independence of our country. I am sure there are many Westporters who hold local ties to our country’s fight for independence.

  5. pgaherin-dacey@comcast.net

    where is grave yard the one at the end of exit road/golf course at longshore?

    • Yes…I don’t play golf so am unsure of which hole it is near, but the cemetery is near the end of the exit road from Longshore. Peter Jennings has done a brochure of the cemeteries in town called Buried In Our Past, available at where else? The Westport Historical Society!

  6. Charles Halper

    Dan:

    When we moved into our house on Little Fox Lane 42 plus years ago, there was a sign at the bottom of our property next to the Saugatuck river (where there had been a ford in the river –hence the bottom of Clinton Ave. becomes Ford Road) that said that the Redcoats had crossed at that spot en route to Danbury , April 25, 1777.. We were told by the woman who had owned the property before (Mrs. Philip Dunning) that the Redcoats had gone up South Compo Road from Compo Beach, then to North Compo, then straight to Clinton Ave. and crossed the Saugatuck making their way to Route 7 en route to Danbury—-hence Little Fox Lane is in proximity to Redcoat Road and Cavalry Road.

    Roe and Chuck Halper

    • Wow — I never put Redcoat Road and Cavalry Road together with the legendary battle. THANKS for the info!

    • Maggie Feczko

      Chuck, The route was actually north on Compo to Cross Highway, up Redding Road and then north to Danbury. On the return the British came south on 33 and then onto what is now Rte 7, south on Wilton Road, and then forded the river by your house instead of taking the bridge at what is now Canal St. which is how Benedict Arnold anticipated them to travel. The forded the river and then traveled south on Compo down to Compo Hill where the Minutemen put up a brief battle.

  7. Every time I go by this statue, I am reminded of one of my favorite “I Love Lucy” episodes. I don’t know if many people remember this about this show, but Lucy and Ricky, ended up moving out of NYC and bought a house in Westport. In this particular episode, The Town of Westport chose Ricky to dedicate this statue (in the show) with a special ceremony at Jesup Green. And we all know how Lucy got into trouble, and some how she broke the statue shortly before the ceremony. With no way to fix it before the ceremony, she dressed up like a Minute Man soldier and painted herself silver and then she hid behind the curtain at the ceremony. The little dog came up to Lucy and then Ricky discovered her in place of the statue, calling his usual “LUCY!!! ” in his Cuban accent and she had that guilty look she had whenever she did something wrong. A Classic! Here is the HULU link to watch this episode (# 26 in the 6th season. about 30 mins). Enjoy!
    http://www.tv.com/shows/i-love-lucy/the-ricardos-dedicate-a-statue-17277/

    Another little know fact is that, do you know why they call Tar Rock Road, just south of the train tracks off of South Compo Road, this name?? I was told that this is where the colonists poured tar on the Rock, and lite it when the British troops landed at Compo to warn Danbury. There was a series of of other locations between Westport and Danbury that also used a tar fire to signal this British invasion.

  8. Thank you! In all the imaging that goes on as we learn this history, I always wonder what it was like for the Redcoats so far from home, and what it was like for their families.

    • Woog's Willy

      You’re sympathetic to the savage and brutal Brits, who massacred hundreds of thousands of Americans? Seriously?

    • David Stalling

      Diane Cady: Your comment reminds me of a great piece of historical fiction I read years ago (while still at Staples) called “The Hessian,” by Howard Fast, about a young Hessian (German soldiers hired by the British to fight the American rebels) who is caught and put on trial in a small New England town. The story focuses a lot on the young Hessian soldier’s thoughts, feelings and experiences. It’s very well researched and well written.

  9. David Stalling

    I think it was in Woody Klein’s good book, “Westport, Connecticut: the story of a New England town’s rise to prominence,” (published in 2000) that I read the first person to spot the British ships was a woman who was boiling sea water on the beach to make salt. It’s a scene that sticks out in my mind every time I visit Compo and try to imagine what that must have been like and what life must have been like in Westport back then.

    When I was a kid, one of my older brother’s friends found a canon ball beneath an old stonewall that was determined to be from one of the British ships, and occasionally we’d hear about old bullets and shrapnel being discovered within trees.

    My friends and I would sometimes hide behind stonewalls with makeshift “muskets” and pretend we were ambushing the Redcoats. None of us, of course, wanted to be Benedict Arnold nor the British.

    Westport has an interesting history, for sure. Thanks for the good, informative post, Dan.

    I highly recommend Woody Klein’s fine book.

  10. Only if Estelle Margolis were around back then….