July 4, 1779 was a Sunday. New Haven had not celebrated our country’s third year of existence that day because of the Sabbath, but The Second Company, Connecticut Governor’s Foot Guard was readying their red and blue uniforms, and brushing their tall bearskin hats in preparation for a Monday celebration and parade. A few miles down the west coast of New Haven harbor was Thomas Painter, standing coast watch on this quiet night. He was the first to see the Flagship Camille sailing up the coast under the command of Commodore Sir George Collier, accompanied by a sloop, a brig, and a galley. Painter sounded the alarm cannon, and sent a drummer into the West Haven night to sound the call to arms. By five a.m. the first division, comprised of the 54th Regiment, a Regiment of Fusiliers, the Guards, a detachment of Jägers, and four field cannon disembarked in West Haven, and were met by a resistance force of only twenty-five young Colonials. The British commander, Brigadier General Garth, annoyed by the Colonials’ resistance, turned the other way as his troops sacked and burned houses along the way to the West Haven Green. New Haven’s militia and local townsfolk hid in the underbrush along the British route, and took shots at the invaders from their concealed positions.
Meanwhile, on the East Haven side of the harbor, General Tryon, with the 23rd Royal Regiment, Landgrave’s Hessian Regiment, and “The King’s Americans”, a Tory regiment had landed at Lighthouse Point near Black Rock Fort at approximately the same time. The plan had been for both forces to march hastily toward New Haven and meet on the Green by noon. Lieutenant Pierpont was commanding the Fort, manned with only 19 local militia. They fired at the British and Hessians on the beach until the fort ran out of ammunition; then they spiked their cannon and dislodged them. Tryon sent out two patrols, one to capture the militia at Black Rock Fort and the other to disperse the forces gathering at Beacon Hill, closer to New Haven. An angry and vengeful Tryon was called to New Haven to confer with Garth. As he and his troops marched to the city, they burned buildings, killed patriot citizens, and became drunk on plentiful local rum. Local residents infiltrated the ranks of the inebriated British troops as the afternoon progressed. By nightfall, the British troops, drunk, and demoralized by the constant sniper fire and ungentlemanly harassment of the militia, welcomed the opportunity to return to their ships, but not before taking about 40 prisoners and setting fire to the barracks at Black Rock Fort.
Purcell, L. Edward & Burg, David F. World Almanac of the American Revolution, p. 210, Scripps Howard Company, New York, 1992
Stone, B. Charles. “The Invasion of New Haven: July 1779” article in Connecticut Heritage Magazine, (July 15, 1989), pp 16-20
Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution, v.2, p. 619. Macmillan Company, New York, 1952
Warren, Mary Otis. History of the Rise, Progress & Termination of the American Revolution, v2, p. 297, Reprinted by Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1989. (Originally published Boston, 1805)