For over a century, the Minute Man 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 133 years before that.
If you’ve lived in Westport a while, you know at least some of the story behind the monument.
But many new residents may pass by, on the way to the beach, and not give it a second thought.
Or they may think it’s a typical New England nod to some generic Revolutionary War soldier.
There’s much more to our Minute Man than that. On the 246th anniversary of Westport’s most famous battle, here’s the back story.
Twenty-six ships carrying 2000 British troops under the direction of General William Tryon — a force larger than at Lexington or Concord — 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 — patriots tried to capture the Redcoats at a bridge across the Saugatuck River. That forced the soldiers to march 2 miles north, and swim across.
Meanwhile, marksmen waited on Compo Hill (the current site of Minuteman Hill road).
Twenty colonials were killed, and between 40 and 80 wounded when the British made a shoulder to shoulder charge with fixed bayonets — but, wearing everyday work clothes and using hunting guns or pistols, they gave them a fight.
It was reported that resistance here was more severe than at Lexington and Concord.
Graves of some of the patriots who fell that day lie along Compo Beach Road, just past the Minuteman statue. British soldiers are buried across Gray’s Creek, by the Longshore golf course.
Though Tryon returned to burn Norwalk and Fairfield, never again during the American Revolution did British troops venture inland in Connecticut.
The next time you pass the Minute Man, think about the Battle of Compo Hill. That’s the reason our Minuteman stands guard, facing Compo Road.
Like his fellow patriots 246 years ago, he’s ready to give the Brits his best shot.
There are a number of good historical sources about the Battle of Compo Hill.
One of the most fun, colorful — and detailed — was unearthed recently by alert reader Deborah Johnson.
She discovered “The Battle of Compo Beach,” a 9-page booklet, written and illustrated by C.M. Owens.
Hand-written, with meticulous lettering, it was published by the Hillspoint PTA. Built as an elementary school in 1960 to educate Westport’s booming school-age population, and open for just over 2 decades, today it’s the Hillspoint Road childcare facility with the domed roof.
The booklet has lasted longer than the school.
Now it’s up to all of us — old-timers and newcomers alike — to keep the memory of the Battle of Compo Hill alive.
(“06880” covers Westport’s present, and past. Please support our work. Click here to contribute — and thank you!)