Revolutionary skirmish captures a time past

“You’ve got to stay awake for the battle,” a young mother urged her youngster as they followed the crowd heading to the Morehouse fields on Saturday. “They’re going to burn down the farmhouse.”

It was actually the barn that was caught in a conflagration during a skirmish between patriots and British regiments that highlighted “Celebrate Easton: Revolutionary War Weekend Re-enactment.”

The much-anticipated barn burning on the grounds of the former Ebenezer Morehouse farm came amidst a battle between re-enactors from the Fifth and Sixth Connecticut Regiments, who portrayed those on both sides of the conflict.

“Celebrate Easton,” sponsored by the Historical Society of Easton and the Parks and Recreation Department, aimed to generate community spirit, create interest in local history and raise money for the historical society.

The event recreated the day — July 18, 1782 —when Morehouse and five other men were taken prisoner by a British raiding party that  landed at Compo Beach, Westport. The foraging party was bent on plunder and destruction. Morehouse so irritated his captors that the British marched to his farm and burned it.

“[Morehouse] couldn’t stop running his mouth,” said Thomas Angels, the battlefield master of ceremonies, who is commander of the Fifth Connecticut Regiment, an honorary unit formed in 1975.

Angels added a colorful narrative as the local patriots assembled to do battle and the British approached from the back of the property and moved toward the barn.

The local regiments fired their muskets at the British as smoke rose and wafted across the field on the breezy, warm afternoon.

“The American forces are trying to push the British back,” Angels said.

Some ran at the soldiers on horseback, and one dragoon sliced a tossed pumpkin in half with his sword.

Eventually, the British beat a retreat, but not before setting the barn afire.

“Picking on an unarmed family wasn’t difficult,” Angels said, and today, more than 200 years later, “there’s nothing left of the farm buildings, because the British destroyed them.”

Chester Burley, event organizer and historical society director, who was dressed in Revolutionary garb, watched from the sidelines as the barn “burned.”

Burley and seven other men built the two-sided barn during the recent heat wave

He described the recreation as “a Hollywood stage.”

After discussions with the Easton Fire Department, smoke bombs, not incendiaries, were used to mimic the barn burning, he said. Otherwise a fire truck would have been stationed next to the structure, taking away from the authentic setting.

Ryan Wheatley, 5, sat on his father David’s shoulders to watch the action.

Ryan thought the best part of the skirmish was “when they caught the barn on fire.”

Other children shouted “Boo, British!” during the skirmish, while their parents snapped photos with their cell phones.

Mary Lynn Maloney of Bridgeport was there with her grandchildren, Josephine, Wyatt and Calvin Ellis of Fairfield, and Daisy Peterson said her attendance was a requirement of her AP history project at Weston High School.

The crowd of a few hundred shouted “Hip, huzzah!” as a column of soldiers led the defeated British off the battlefield and discharged their weapons in a “battalion fire.”

Such a deafening display would have been “very impressive,” Angels said, if 1,000 or 2,000 men had been on the field.

He gave Saturday’s audience tidbits of information that helped to paint a more personal picture of Revolutionary War times.

— “The Revolutionary War was actually the country’s first Civil War,” he said, since many people living here fought on both sides of the conflict.

— Because the fife and drum could be heard over the noise of battle, the drummer would beat a message of retreat or advance.

— On the battlefield, a regiment’s meals were cooked on braziers, similar to modern-day hibachis, and full meals were cooked in large pots set on tripods.

“You got to throw everything in the pot,” Angels said.

Abby Sweet of Portland portrayed Rufus Wheaton in Saturday’s re-enactment.

“There were a few cases of women signing up [to fight],” Sweet said, “but it wasn’t allowed.”

Deborah Sampson was a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to fight in the Revolutionary War, she said.

Sampson saw a doctor after she was injured, and he discovered her secret.

Despite the deception, “she was honorably discharged,” Sweet said.