On July 7, 1779, during the Revolutionary War, the British anchored a fleet of warships off the coast of Fairfield, Connecticut. The British soldiers waited for the fog to lift so that they could come ashore and punish Fairfield, a Patriot stronghold in Loyalist territory. Many residents who saw the ships off the coast sought safety in nearby Greenfield Hill, but others stayed to protect their property.
Once ashore, an estimated 2,000 British troops, under the leadership of General William Tryon, burned the town. By the end of the day, 97 homes, 67 barns, 48 stores, 2 schools, a courthouse, 2 meetinghouses and the county jail had been destroyed. When President George Washington visited the town a decade later, he noted that the devastation could still be seen and that “there are the chimneys of many burnt houses standing.”
Many of the residents who lost their homes were offered the choice of money or an equivalent value of land from the half-million acres owned by Connecticut in what is now part of Ohio. Many took the property in what came to be called “the Fire Lands” and never returned.