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Fairfield's Revolutionary legacy a hot topic in Sunday tour

Updated 6:43 am, Sunday, July 7, 2013

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  • The July 7, 1779, burning of Fairfield by the British is recounted by Walter Matis, from the Fairfield Museum, during last year's tour. The tour takes place July 7, rain or shine. Photo: Contributed Photo
    The July 7, 1779, burning of Fairfield by the British is recounted by Walter Matis, from the Fairfield Museum, during last year's tour. The tour takes place July 7, rain or shine. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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During the American Revolutionary War -- long before the incorporation of communities like Westport, Bridgeport and Easton -- Fairfield was a busy harbor town and thriving commercial center.

Consequently, it was a town the British became intent on destroying. And so they did. On July 7, 1779, British forces came ashore and burned much of Fairfield to the ground.

To commemorate the 234th anniversary of this event, the Fairfield Museum and History Center plans a "Burning of Fairfield Walking Tour" on Sunday afternoon, rain or shine.

The fifth annual tour will begin and end at the museum, and include about a mile of walking on and around historic Town Hall Green, with outdoor stops at various historic houses along the way, according to Walter D. Matis, the museum's program and volunteer coordinator.

According to Matis, the tour "brings to life this exciting piece of Fairfield's history" with costumed actors and interpreters portraying prominent citizens.

Apparently, there are no drawings or engravings from the era that depict the fiery attack by British troops on Fairfield, so, "We paint a picture of the event through words -- from first-person accounts, depositions, diaries, letters and military orders," explained Matis, who will don era-appropriate garb to serve as a guide for Sunday's tour.

"These are the real words of Fairfield citizens who lived through the burning of Fairfield. As visitors walk along, they will hear what people saw and experienced as the town was under attack. It's quite special to hear these actual words."

Matis pointed out that on the morning of July 7, 1779, the people of Fairfield awoke to a warning shot from the nearby fort at Black Rock, signaling that a British fleet was spotted off the coast.

Fairfield was under British attack for two days, with troops burning virtually all of its buildings, he said. There were also attacks on New Haven and Norwalk.

"Following the burning of ... 1779, there was ongoing worry among citizens about a repeat attack," Matis said.

This concern eventually led to the construction of the Powderhouse in Fairfield, which is behind what is now Tomlinson Middle School on Unquowa Road.

Matis said that although the tour never strays far from the green, he encourages participants to wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a bottle or two of water, especially if it's hot -- as the forecast says it will be. Portable lightweight folding chairs can also be helpful, he added.

Fairfield Museum and History Center, 370 Beach Road. Sunday, 4 to 6 p.m., rain or shine. $8; registration required. 203-259-1598; or online at http://conta.cc/13mx0Ym