Battle of Ridgefield reenactment: Redcoats and Colonial patriots will fight again on Main Street Saturday
“Tryon’s whole column then surged forward, triggering a murderous fire …”
—Keith Jones, Farmers Against the Crown
The British at the barricade, cutlasses and cannonfire!
Colonial militia will again stand and fight the redcoats on Main Street this Saturday, April 29, as the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgefield is celebrated with a re-enactment of the Revolutionary War encounter remembered for heroics from Gen. Benedict Arnold, a mortal wound to Gen. David Wooster, and a cannonball shot by the British that is still lodged in a beam of the Keeler Tavern.
A parade will march down Main Street about 10:45 Saturday morning just before the battle, and the re-enactment is expected to end at about 2 with a ceremony at Lounsbury House honoring wounded American and British veterans.
“The symbolism we’re trying to accomplish there is, Once we were adversaries, now we’re steadfast allies,” said Lou Demchuk of Ridgefield’s Jerusalem 49 Masonic Lodge, the principal organizers of the weekend’s events.
Saturday’s battle re-enactment will highlight a weekend of activities that start with history talks on Thursday and Friday night and run through religious services Sunday morning.
There’ll be three encampments of re-enactors — the British in Ballard Park, and Colonials at Keeler Tavern and the Ridgefield Historical Society’s Scott House — with soldiers sleeping in tents Friday and Saturday night, and all three encampment grounds open to the public on Saturday until 5 p.m.
The Masons are hosting a black tie gala with dinner and swing music Saturday at Lounsbury House.
And Sunday, April 30, there’ll be an open-air period religious service in Ballard Park at 9 a.m.
The Masons will conduct a graveside memorial service for Gen. Wooster on Sunday at 11 at Wooster Cemetery in Danbury.
There’ll also be a lecture and cemetery tour at Ridgebury Congregational Church at 1 p.m., and the Olde Town Cemetery will have tours of Revolutionary War graves from 1 to 4 Sunday.
In putting on the battle reenactment the Masons are honoring Major General David Wooster, the father of Freemasonry in Connecticut, who with Generals Benedict Arnold and Gold Selleck Silliman marshaled colonial resistance to the British in April 1777. Gen. Wooster was shot by the British off North Salem Road as he led colonial militia’s harassment of their rearguard, and died a five days later.
The Battle of Ridgefield was part of a four-day British incursion into Connecticut in late April 1777. Some 2,000 British troops sailed from New York, landed in what is now Westport from ships anchored off Compo Beach, and marched to Danbury where they burned Colonial supplies. As they made their way back through Ridgebury and through north and central Ridgefield, the British were harassed by Colonial forces and then were confronted at the north end of what is now Main Street with a barricade manned by colonial militia drawn from as far as Stratford, Greenwich, Newtown and Kent. The British fought their way south and camped overnight in an area off what is now Wilton Road West, and left the next day to fight the Colonials again at Saugatuck Bridge and Compo Hill in Westport, then part of Fairfield, as they returned to their ships waiting in Long Island Sound.
Main Street action
Saturday’s battle re-enactment will close Main Street from about 10:30 to 2, with southbound traffic diverted down Pound Street to High Ridge, and letting out onto West Lane (Route 35), where it can return to Main Street at the fountain or go west toward New York. Northbound traffic will be diverted down Branchville Road (Route 102) to East Ridge and then take Grove Street back to Route 35/Danbury Road.
A parade from Gilbert Street to Lounsbury House will start things off at about 10:45.
The fighting is expected to begin about 11:30 with a skirmish near Casagmo, where a barricade manned by patriot militia confronted the British. A monument in Casagmo’s stone wall honors soldiers of both sides who were killed in the battle and buried nearby:
“In defense of American Independence at the Battle of Ridgefield, April 27, 1777, died eight patriots, who were laid in these grounds companioned by 16 British soldiers, living, their enemies, dying, their guests. In honor of service and sacrifice, this memorial was placed for the strengthening of hearts.”
From Casagmo, the battle will move south along Main Street, with engagements planned at various locations: near the library and Ballard Park; just south of the Catoonah Street intersection near town hall; and at the Veterans Memorial by Lounsbury House — where there will be barricades recalling those built by patriot militia on north Main Street in the real battle. The re-enactment will end by Jesse Lee Methodist Church, with a British cannon being fired at Keeler Tavern.
The battle re-creation is expected to end about 1:45 or 2, and then British and Colonial re-enactors will march to Lounsbury House for the ceremony honoring veterans.
To provide extra parking on the day of the battle, there will shuttle buses from the Barlow Mountain and Scotland parking lot to the village starting about 9:30. If the that lot fills up, buses will start picking people up at the high school. Return buses after the battle will leave from Main Street in front of the library, with the last bus back scheduled to leave at 5:30.
Battle weekend will start off with two talks.
American Journalism 1777-2017 is a talk scheduled for Thursday evening, April 27, at 7:30 at St.Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Main Street by Andrew Julien, editor and chief of The Hartford Courant.
A talk on the battle’s history, “Separating Fact from Legend,” by Keith M. Jones III, the founding president of the Ridgefield Historical Society, whose book Farmers Against the Crown is considered the definitive account of the battle, takes place Friday evening, April 28, at 7 p.m. in the North Hall of St. Stephen’s Church. It’s free and reservations are required, but the historical society has a waiting list at this point.
Walking tours of the battle area are being planned by the historical society Saturday, leaving at 9, 9:30 and 10 from battle monument in the stone wall by Casagmo and ending at Keeler Tavern. Guides will share battle history and point out landmarks, such as historic homes and churches.
Reservations for all events may be made at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-438-5821.
Colonial-era music will be played in front of the Ridgefield Library before the battle, with fiddler and music historian Paul Woodiel accompanied by Will Welling on fife, drum and fiddle.
Artisans will demonstrate such crafts as blacksmithing, barrel making (or “cooperage”) and chair caning. There’ll be games for children, and the Western Connecticut Youth orchestra will play patriotic music. Costumed docents will give tours of Keeler Tavern’s period rooms. And, of course, visitors will be able to see the cannonball shot during the battle that is still lodged in one of the tavern’s wooden corner-posts.
A field hospital will part of the Colonial army encampment at the historical society’s Scott House on Sunset Lane, from 10 to 5, with re-enactors from Connecticut’s Fourth and Sixth Regiments. It will feature Dr. Amos Baker with his collection of 18th-Century medical tools, and women camp followers demonstrating campfire cooking. The Germantown Ancients Fife and Drum Corps will perform in the afternoon.
The three encampments of re-enactors will be settings for all kinds of related activities.
The British encampment in Ballard Park will be open Saturday from 9 to 5. Re-enactors, in costume and character, are expected from His Majesty’s 54th Regiment of Foot and Ninth Regiment of Foot. After the battle, they’ll be performing British army drills, and there’ll be activities such as musket-ball smelting.
The American encampment at Keeler Tavern will also be open from 9 to 5, with lots of activities before and after the fighting. Admission to the museum will be free on Saturday. Re-enactors from the Fifth Connecticut Regiment, camping out, will be in character. Historic characters meeting the public and sharing their stories will include Gen. Arnold, a leader of patriot troops at the battle; patriot tavern keepers Timothy and Esther Keeler; and Sybil Ludington, the 15-year-old girl who made a Paul Revere-like ride through New York farms and villages, sounding the alarm of the attack on Danbury and rousing members of her father’s Colonial militia troop.
The 240th Anniversary Black Tie Gala in honor of Gen. Wooster and the Battle of Ridgefield will take place Saturday night at the Community Center’s Lounsbury House on Main Street. Cocktails start at 5 and the dinner is served at 6:30.
The dinner is being prepared by two award-winning chefs, Tyler Anderson of Millwright’s Tavern in Simsbury and Luke Venner of Elm in New Canaan. The menu will be consist exclusively of ingredients that would have been available in 1777 Ridgefield, including wines and a specially brewed pumpkin ale based on George Washington’s recipe.
The music for the evening will be provided by the Glenn Hansen Orchestra.
The dinner will include a silent auction of 17th- and 18th-Century Americana and historical pieces, such as letter signed by George Washington, a 1794 map of the East Coast, and an original oil painting of President George Washington.
Tickets to the gala dinner are $175 each, or $1,500 for a table of 10. They’re available at battleofridgefield.org.
The Masons invite people to join them for a graveside memorial service featuring a Continental Army Honor Guard for Gen. Wooster, the founder of Connecticut freemasonry and a leader of patriot forces who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Ridgefield. The service is at 11 at Wooster Cemetery, 20 Ellsworth Avenue, Danbury.
Ridgebury Congregational Church will host a discussion, “Conversion 1777, Loyalist to Patriot,” at 1, followed by a guided tour of Ridgebury Cemetery’s graves of Revolutionary War veterans.
Olde Town Cemetery will have self-guided walking tours from 1 to 4. The cemetery is at 45 North Salem Road (Route 116), and adjoins other cemeteries off Mapleshade Road and North Street.
Local Masons have been working hard on the event, with support from such organizations as the historical society and the Keeler Tavern, to create an entertaining and educational re-enactment of the April 1777 battle that may not be one of most famous but was still a significant event in the Revolutionary War.
“After the Battle of Ridgefield,” said local Mason Lou Demchuk, “the British never came inland in Connecticut again.”