On July 8, 2013, nearly a hundred people milled about the Fairfield Museum and History Center, reviewing the Philip Trager photography exhibit as well as the IMAGES exhibit, open to professional and amateur photographers alike. They were all waiting for the annual historic walking tour, called The Burning of Fairfield, to begin. It's an interesting coincidence, because photographs freeze poignant moments in time just as the tour captures and re-creates one of the most meaningful events in the town's history.
"Good evening," boomed Walt Matis, Museum Program & Volunteer Coordinator, getting the attention of the visiting history buffs. "Nearly 230 years ago this gathering would have been very different." He continued to paint a verbal picture of the day the British invaded Fairfield. The Revolutionary war was well underway and had come to Connecticut. At approximately 4:30 am, their ships had been sighted off the coast, but were then lost behind an incoming fog. By 10 am, that fog had rolled out and revealed to the townspeople forty-seven war ships at anchor along the current Jennings, Penfield and South Pine Creek; some 2,500 Crown forces ready to invade. In the end, thirty-three houses and buildings would be destroyed in town; only five around the Town Green would survive. Tour attendees were privy to an eye-opening diorama of which homes were burned compared with the few that survived.
The actors in costume braved the heat of the day to walk guests to points of historic interest and read excerpts from letters, reports, diaries and depositions of eyewitnesses. Many were from women, including Eunice Burr of the Burr Homestead.
By 5 p.m., the area from Fairfield to Green’s Farm belonged to the British. Other town’s militias came to the town's aid, driving the British out, but, in all, some 97 homes, 66 barns, 47 shops, 2 schools, 2 meeting houses, 1 church, the courthouse, and jail were all gone.
By hearing first accounts, seeing actual homes and buildings, walking the same grounds, one connects personally to the events of that time. One recognizes that in some ways, the town was not prepared for the violence of the British soldiers. In hindsight, the people of Fairfield showed remarkable bravery to confront opposition and determination to rebuild for its own, independent future.