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“Our Youthful Hero, Bold in Arms”

By Brandon Lisi, Curator

The protagonist of this story is Samuel Elmer Jr. of Sharon, a strapping young lieutenant in the continental army and the son of a colonel. In 1777, Samuel came home to Sharon on furlough to visit his family. The Declaration of Independence had been signed the previous summer, and at that time, the war seemed somewhat removed from the Connecticut backcountry.

Then, on a rainy April night, a rider came charging through the town, banging on the shutters of every home, and shouting: “The British are Burning Danbury!”

This was a crisis for the revolutionary cause. Danbury was an important regional trading and manufacturing center at the intersection of several major roads. It also served as a supply depot for the continental army: storing food, clothes, medicine, weapons – commodities that the revolutionaries badly needed.

Consider that 8 months after the attack on Danbury, Washington’s army would suffer through a brutal winter at Valley Forge and face an ongoing supply problem that they never truly resolved.

So to lose a supply center like Danbury would worsen an already desperate situation. Samuel Elmer knew it. He was one of the first to rouse from his sleep and organize with the local militiamen, including Lieutenant Colonel Ebenezer Gay (a local merchant and financier of the Continental Army).

They all marched south with great haste, not knowing that they were already too late.

Danbury was lightly defended by a garrison of only 150 militiamen, up against nearly 2000 British regulars and loyalists under the command of New York’s Royal Governor: Major General William Tyron. He had sailed up Long Island Sound to conduct a raid behind enemy lines.

Before dawn on April 26th, the British entered Danbury, burning much of the town and its 22 storehouses, including 1000 barrels of flour, 4000 barrels of salted beef, 5000 pairs of shoes and stockings, and just for good measure: the town’s printing press. (Clearly, the British knew where to hit the Americans hardest.)

Thankfully for the people of Danbury, they had received ample warning of the attack. Legends speak of Sybil Ludington (the 17-year-old daughter of Colonel Henry Luddington), who rode 40 miles across Putnam County to warn the people of Danbury and the surrounding towns of the incoming British forces.

The residents of Danbury evacuated with the supplies they could carry to New Milford and immediately began organizing with the local militias (including Sharon’s).

Leading them were two Connecticut residents: Major General David Wooster and Brigadier General Benedict Arnold (three years later, Arnold would be wearing a different uniform).

The day after the burning of Danbury, the revolutionaries would meet the British at Ridgefield. However, American militiamen were no match for British regulars in open battle.

General Wooster was mortally wounded trying to rally his troops, and the call for a retreat sounded from the American ranks. But Samuel Elmer refused to surrender. This brave young officer shouted to his men, “For God’s sake, don’t retreat! Don’t run! March up the hill and drive them off!”

As he spoke these words, he was struck by a bullet, dying in the arms of his uncle, George Pardee, living long enough to utter, “Uncle George, I am a dead man.”

The Americans were routed. Reports vary on the number of casualties, but all estimates range in the hundreds on both sides. Though the British had achieved a tactical victory, American resistance was fiercer than expected, and this would be the last inland operation in Connecticut of the entire war.

The Sharon militia hadn’t succeeded in saving Danbury, but they had fought valiantly and demonstrated the extent of America’s resolve.

Samuel Elmer was initially buried on the spot where he was killed. But he was later moved to the cemetery at Green’s Farm, where he still rests today. His epitaph reads:

Our youthful hero, bold in arms,

His country’s cause his bosom warms;

To save her rights fond to engage,

And guard her from a tyrant’s rage,

Flies to ye field of blood and death,

And gloriously resigns his breath.

The gravesite of Lt. Samuel Elmer at the Lower Green’s Farms Colonial Burying Ground in Westport, CT.
Photo by Brandon Lisi (September 13th, 2021)
The gravesite of Lt. Samuel Elmer at the Lower Green’s Farms Colonial Burying Ground in Westport, CT. Photo by Brandon Lisi (September 13th, 2021)

Sources and Further Reading:

Sedgwick, Charles F. General History of the Town of Sharon, 40-41. Sharon, CT: Sharon Historical Society, 2000.

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