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An Historic Mansion
BEING AN ACCOUNT OF
The Thaddeus Burr Homestead
FRANK S. CHILD
AN HISTORIC MANSION
it was about eight o'clock on the morning of
April 22ncl 1775 that a messenger brought the news
of Lexington to Fairfield. The Honorable Thaddeus
Burr, High Sherifi^ of the County, was standing on
the porch of his mansion, discussing with Colonel
Silliman and Mr. Jonathan Sturges the prospects of
war. A horseman galloping down the street, came
to a sudden halt in front of the three members of the
Town Committee of Correspondence. A packet
was thrust into the hands of Colonel Silliman. Break-
ing the seal he read as follows:
"To All Friends of American Liberty: Be it
known that this morning (April 19th) before break of
day a brigade consisting of about one thousand or
two thousand men landed at Phipp's farm Cam-
bridge, Sr marched to Lexington, where they found
a company of our Colonial Militia in arms, upon
whom they fired without provocation, &- killed six
men &- wounded four others. By an express from
Boston we find another brigade are on the march
from Boston, supposed to be about one thousand.
The bearer Trail Bissell is charged to alarm the coun-
try quite to Connecticut &- all persons are desired to
furnish him with fresh horses as they may be needed.
I have spoken with several who have seen the dead
&- the wounded.
One of the Committee of S'y."
This document — a postscript signed by the Fair-
field Committee being added — was forwarded imme-
diately to New York and Philadelphia. The session
of the Town Committee of War ended by sending
out a call to arms. From this time forth the Burr
mansion was a center of vigorous, patriotic propa-
ganda for the Independence of the Colonies.
Mean\A/hile certain Boston friends were hurried-
ly planning to visit Mr. and Mrs. Burr. For the night
that Paul Revere brought the news of General
Gage's march ConcordvA^ard, —
"It was one by the village clock"
"When he galloped into Lexington — "
John Hancock and Samuel Adams, tarrying in the
parsonage, were routed from their sleep and told to es-
cape, since they \A/ere special objects of enmity.
They hastened on to Concord. Aunt Lydia Han-
cock and Dorothy CJuincy watched the fray on Lex-
ington Green, then fled to the adjoining town when
the "embattled farmer" had discharged his duty — and
later in the company of Hancock and Adams pursued
their way to Fairfield.
The master and mistress of Burr homestead gave a
cordial w^elcome to the refugees. Mr. Hancock and
Mr. Adams pushed forward speedily to Philadelphia.
The ladies remained in the grateful security o^ their
friends' home. We can easily fancy the reluctance
with which the lover of the fascinating Dorothy Q.
parted from his lady love. For it must be frankly con-
fessed that her devoted John spent many disquieting
hours in thought of his fiancee and occasionally gave
way to mournful plaints.
Young Aaron Burr, law student in the School of
Judge Gould at Litchfield, passed this way during
the season. Fairfield native town of his father Dr.
Burr had delightful associations for the family.
What more natural than that this famous gallant visit
his cousin Thaddeus and pay homage to the gay
charmer tarrying in the old homestead ? So we are
told that he hied him down from the hill country and
lingered long in the radiance of her company. But
happily for the Honorable John in the Quaker City
Aunt Lydia Hancock kept a close watch on the
flirtatious Boston belle. The ever present duenna
showed a solicitious vigilance so that our young law
student made no startling advances. Aunt Lydia had
set her heart on the union of the Quincy and Hancock
families. John \^/as to inherit her fortune and Doro-
thy must share it. The wit and beauty of Miss Quincy,
her grace of manner, matched the brilliancy and
witching power of Burr, scion of a remarkable stock.
Nevertheless it was only the surface of the Hancock
Qyincy courtship \^/hich became slightly ruffled.
Young Burr heard the call of country and plunged in-
to the stern warfare of the colonies.
On the 28th of June 1775 General Washington
passed through Fairfield en route for Cambridge,
where he was to take command of the Continental
Army. Tradition has it that he paid his respects to
the people of the Burr mansion, having learned that
the daughter of the patriot Edmund Qyincy, engaged
to marry the President of the Continental Congress,
was a guest in the house. And when General
Washington, returning from Cambridge the follow-
ing April passed through the town. Aunt Lydia
Hancock was there, not able to go back to the Bos-
ton house. Three days later the good lady breathed
her last, the victim of apoplexy, and her body was
borne from the homestead across the Green down
Beach Lane to the ancient God's Acre. Strange to
say it was Mr. and Mrs. Burr who erected the stone
marking her final resting place— a service which one
might think should have been rendered by her
nephew and heir, the opulent Boston merchant.
The season which followed the advent of Mrs.
Hancock and Dorothy Q. in Fairfield was a gay one
in spite of war and trouble. There were many
guests entertained in the Burr mansion— the statesmen
and soldiers of New England making it their stopping
place as they passed to and fro between Boston and
Philadelphia- One of these visitors was Dr. Benja^
min Church who had been appointed head of the
Army Hospital. Poor man! He was found guilty
of treason a little later, expelled from the Massachu-
setts legislature, confined in Norwich jail, and finally
banished to the West Indies. He came from Phila-
delphia to Fairfield laden with nuptial treasures for
the bride elect, and was therefore a most welcome
guest. The delicate finery gave the house the ap-
pearance of vanity fair and drove away for the time
being thoughts and fears concerning impending peril.
Here is a characteristic love letter which Dr.
Church brought with him for the fair maiden :
''My Dr Dolly -
1 am almost prevailed on to think
that my letters to my Aunt &- you are not read,
for I cannot obtain a reply, I have ask'd a mil-
lion questions 6r not an answer to one, I beg'd
you to let me know what things my Aunt want-'
ed 6- you &■ many other matters 1 wanted to
know, but not one answer. I really Take it
extreme unkind, pray my Dr. use not so much
Ceremony &- Reservedness, why can't you use
freedom in writing, be not afraid of me, I want
Long Letters. I am glad the little things I sent
you are agreeable. Why did you not write
me of the top of the Umbrella. 1 am so sorry it
was spoiled, but I will send you another by my
Express wch will go in a few days. How did
my Aunt like her gown &- do let me know if the
Stockings suited her: she had better send a pat-
tern shoe and stocking, 1 warrant 1 will suit her.
The Inclosed letter for your Father you will
read &- seal &- forward him, you will observe 1
mention in it your writing your Sister Katy about
a few necessaries for Katy Sewall, what you
think Right let her have &- Roy James, this only
between you &- 1: do write your Father 1 should
be glad to hear from him £r I Beg, my Dear
Dolly you will write me often &- long Letters, I
will forgive the past if you will mend in future.
Do ask my Aunt to make me up &- send me a
Watch String, &- do you send me another, I
wear them out fast. I want some little thing of
Remember to all Friends with you as if
nam'd. I am called upon &- must obey.
I have sent you by Doer Church in a paper
Box Directed to you, the following things for
your acceptance, &- which I do insist you wear,
if you do not I shall think the Donor is the
2 pair white silk stockings which
4 pr. white thread I think will fit you
1 pr. Black Satin shoes, the other
I pr Black Calem Co. Shall be sent when done.
1 very pretty light Hat
1 neat Airy Summer Cloak, (I ask Doer. Church)
I wish these may please you. I shall be
gratified if they do, please write me, I will at-
tend to all your Commands.
Adieu, my Dr. Girl &- believe me to be with
great Esteem £r Affection,
Yours without Reserve
Remember me to Katy Brackett."
Is not this an ardent epistle, revealing a devoted
lover, pining For news, words of endearment and all
the sweet confidences of courtship ? And it mattered
not to the anxious lover that he was " call'd upon &-
must obey." He would take time to search the
stores and shops in Philadelphia, select stockings, caps,
fans, laces, silks, shoes, hats and the innumerable ar-
ticles pertaining to the bridal outfit. For Fairfield did
not ofl^er to the maiden any notable variety of these
precious goods ; and Boston was closed to trade these
days so that it fell to the happy lot of the bridegroom
to select and purchase a considerable portion of
Dorothy Quincy's trousseau.
Let us hope that the lady spent more time in her
bed-room composing newsy, romantic efl^usions for
Mr. Hancock so that the strenuousness of service in
the Continental Congress might be graciously mitiga-
ted. "I want some little thing of your doing."
Was it possible that the social life of the Burr Home^
stead was so delightfully exacting and the beaux of the
county capital so numerous that the Boston belle
found only scraps of time for writing to her lover ?
it was finally decided that the wedding must be
in Fairfield. John Hancock had become impatient —
no prospect of a speedy return to Boston appeared —
the days grew darker and darker with war clouds.
So the preparations \A/ere hurried forward by Aunt
Lydia — the gowns all finished and the guests invited.
Mr. and Mrs. Burr did the honors of the occasion.
It was late in August when all thing being ready
the President of the Continental Congress with his
coach and four drew up before the residence of
Thaddeus Burr. In one of his letters to Dorothy Q,
addressed care of Mr. Burr, Colonel Hancock had
disclaimed his love of parade. It seems that vy/hen
passing through New York, certain enthusiastic per^
sons had unfastened his horses, formed two lines of
gentlemen helpers and pulled the cumbrous vehicle and
its honored occupant down along the crowded
thoroughfares of the city. " The number of specta^
tors increased to perhaps seven thousand or more,"
writes the lover to his lady. Modestly he begs the
young patriots to desist but they will honor him in
spite of all diffidence and courteous opposition. The
reader surmises that our Honorable John was not
altogether averse to such pageantry since on
numerous occasions considerable display and magnifi^
cence attended the gentleman. But Connecticut
could not well give him such a reception on the
wedding day. The gentry of the neighborhood
gathered for the occasion and many of the elect
families of the Colony were witnesses of the
ceremony. Several New England statesmen con-
tributed their dignity to the festivities. All that
Mr. and Mrs. Burr could give by way of grace,
courtesy and benediction was bestowed unstintedly
upon the happy pair. The Rev. Andrew Eliot Jr.
pastor of the village Church performed the ceremony.
He was an old friend of both families, son of Dr.
Andrew Eliot of the North Church Boston. Mrs.
Eliot Sr. who had fled with her children to Fairfield
was among the Boston friends present for the
ceremony. The brief service was followed by the
usual felicitations while the young people crowding
the mansion and overflowing into the yard remarked
the elegance and brilliancy of toilets displayed both by
the men and women of the company. Silver buckles,
white silk stockings, knee breeches of varied hues,
scarlet vests and velvet coats with rufiled shirts and
broad fine neckgear adorned the masculine fraternity
while the ladies were radient in silks and laces, lofty
head-dress, resplendent jewelry and the precious heir-
looms of old families. The record of marriage in
the Church Register, preceded by that of Jack negro
servant to David Barlow and Mary negro servant to
Deacon Hill, is as follovy/s :
The Honorable John Hancock Esqr. and
Miss Dorothy Quincy both of Boston
were married at Fairfield
Pr Andrew Eliot V.D.M."
It is a legend connected with the event that when
the guests paid their attention to the ample refresh-
ments provided for them an alarm was sounded and
the bridal party persuaded to leave in haste, since it
was a fact that the British continued their endeavors
to kidnap the President of the Continental Congress.
The party rode on to Philadelphia where Mrs. Han^
cock was soon "packing up commissions to be sent
to officers appointed by Congress," or engaged with
her scissors in "trimming off the rough edges of the
bills of credit issued by Congress and signed by the
The months following this important event at the
Burr mansion were by no means quiet or unevent-
ful. A succession of guests — refugees, patriots, states-
men, soldiers — sat at the hospitable board of the
High Sheriff. Lyman Hall, a signer of the Declara-
tion of Independence from Georgia, who had
married a sister of Thaddeus Burr's in the fifties, had
come north to discharge his official duties. Governor
Trumbull not infrequently sought advice and fellow-
ship here for Mr. Burr became a member of the
Governor's Council and shared the grave responsibili-
ties of state. Both John Adams and Samuel made
this house their stopping place. Amos Deane, Roger
Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Ellsworth, Sam-
uel Otis, tarried now and again beneath the Burr
roof. Here there convened many a conference of
local and colonial celebrities for purposes of devising
patriotic measures. And meanwhile the social at-
mosphere grew more and more delightful as the
circle of fellowship broadened and the hopes of the
sons of liberty enlarged.
An interesting letter from Thaddeus Burr is pre-
served in the Emmett Collection of the New York
Public Library. It is dated the last Sunday of
August, 1778 and it marks the day when General
LaFayette enjoyed the hospitality of the family :
'' The latest accounts we have from Rhode
Island are Friday evening last, by the Marquis
De Lafayette, aid-de-camp, \A/ho arrived at
my house on Sunday evening on the way to
General Washington. He informed me that
the determination there was to hold the ground
we had got, that General Hancock had gone to
Boston to make provision for marching the
French troops from there to Rhode Island, that
the Marquis was to set out for Boston on Fri-
day to take command of the troops, that it \^/as
agreed that all the French fleet \^/hich were in
condition to put to sea were immediately to
return to Rhode Island, that General Sullivan
had imprudently given out in general orders
some reflections upon the French nation Sr
Count D'Estaing, of which I suppose even you
will hear. . . . Last Sabbath at noon passed us a
fleet of war a hundred sail with a fine wind,
which I think, must arrive at Rhode Island be^
fore the French fleet : should that be the case I
fear the consequences. But God hath great
things for us. I hope for the best."
Colonel Tallmadge the secret service patriot serv-
ing General Washington these days had frequent
occasion to visit Mr. Burr, while David Humphreys
of Derby who sang the dirge over the burning of
Fairfield and later became U. S. Minister to Portugal
and Spain sojourned here in the atmosphere of culture
and refinement, meeting Joel Barlow the young poet
who composed patriotic songs, haunted the social
circle in Burr mansion and finally went to war.
These two young poets joined with Timothy Dwight
in writing spirited lyrics which our soldiers sang with
great gusto and the boys on Fairfield streets repeated
in a happy frenzy of patriotism. Joel Barlow's
family gave the name to Barlow's plain. Joel was
popular in the county capital. His poetry gave him
great distinction and when later in life he lived abroad,
representing the United States as Minister to France
for a brief period, something of his fame and honor
was shared by the friends who gathered beneath the
roof of the Burr Homestead.
Among the eminent men who had enjoyed the
friendship of these hospitable entertainers was
Governor Tryon of New York. This English sol-
dier and statesman was now engaged in harrassing the
shores of Long Island Sound. He had passed up and
down the waters looking vindictively upon certain
towns and cities. Fairfield the county capital, center
of provincial society, home of the Revolutionary
leaders in western Connecticut w^as well known to
Governor Tryon for he had been the guest of the
Burrs and had enjoyed the fellowship of their delight-
ful circle. As Fairfield was taking such prominent
part in the war, he decided to punish the town.
The story of the burning has been oft repeated.
Mrs. Burr's own narrative of experience is that
which interests us at this time. Her affidavit is given
in Hinman's book on Connecticut in the Revolution.
The men folks were with the Continental troops
or attending to public afFairs so that at the first this
attack on Fairfield wa^ unresisted. As soon as pos-
sible the local militia rallied but meanwhile the village
was given over to the fire fiends and nearly every
building went up in flames.
General Tryon, mindful of social obligations, had
promised to save the Burr mansion, hie called twice
upon Mrs. Burr. Sentries were placed to guard the
property. But the slave of a citizen living on main
street fired a shot from one of the upper windows
in the house and killed a British soldier. Immediately
the maddened soldiers rushed into the place, dragged
the negro down the stairs, through the hall, into the
street, soaked a blanket in rum, vyrapped it about the
wretch and then fired it.
On his last call upon Mrs. Burr, General Tryon
asked for pen, ink and paper and sitting down at her
writing desk wrote a protection for her which on his
withdrawal he put into her hands. But hardly was
he gone before ruffians entered the house and began
their brutal annoyances.
"I have a protection from General Tryon," said
Mrs. Burr as they attempted familiarity with her.
" Tryon be damned " they roughly shouted. And
snatching the piece of paper from her hands one of
the men tore it into many fragments and scattered the
pieces to the winds.
"Mrs. Burr," says Dr. Timothy D wight in his
story of the assault, " was adorned with all the quali^
ties which give distinction to her sex : possessed of
fine accomplishments and a dignity of character
scarcely rivaled : and probably had never known
what it was to be treated with disrespect or even
But the lady's appeals were in vain. General
Tryon had marched away leaving a lot of miscreants
to finish the work of destruction. They seized Mrs.
Burr and stripped the silver buckles from her shoes.
While some of the ruffians were rifling her desk and
tearing down the damask curtains and smashing the
huge mirrors and turning things topsy-turvy, others
chased the frightened mistress through her house,
attempting to dispoil her of the very clothes which
she wore, throwing her down upon the ground
when they reached the garden in their efforts to
wrench from her grip a watch which she prized
highly as a precious heirloom. They stole her
pocket-book, snatched the gold sleeve buttons from
her wrists and drove her with frightened, struggling
attendants into the meadow and thicket beyond the
garden, w^here in the shelter of wild shrubbery and
tangled vines enswathed by heavy clouds of smoke
darkening the village, she and her friends escaped
the brutality of the drunken mercenaries. But the
mansion had been fired by the riotous crew while
the mistress was struggling with the invaders. No
time to save garments, furniture, works of art or
library. All the accumulations of years — the treasures
of wealth and refinement — were burned before their
eyes, flames illuminating the black sky above them-
" Ye smoking ruins, marks of hostile ire,"
''Ye ashes warm, which drink the tears that
"Ye desolated plains, my voice inspire,"
" And give soft music to the song of woe/'
" How pleasant Fairfield, on the enraptured
" Rose thy tall spires and oped thy social halls."
" How oft my bosom beat with pure delight "
"At yonder spot where stand thy darkened
The lament of Colonel Humphreys pictures
something o^ the desolation. Mrs. Burr however
was not the woman to waste time in lamentation.
Hiding in the thickets until the Hessians had left the
place, she finally emerged and set herself and friends
to the task of mitigating sufl^ering and comforting the
There was an old storehouse on the estate which
had withstood the attack of fire. This grateful
shelter was immediately occupied and a goodly com^
pany of people invited to share the place. The
militia under Colonel Tallmadge camped on the
Green and people returning to their charred houses
built temporary shelters along the street.
On the coming of Mr. Burr, noxA/ that the smoke
of conflagration had lifted, there was the quickening
of hope and energy. The old warehouse, speedily
converted into what Prof. Silliman of Yale in remin-
iscences of Fairfield called a '' neat, commodious
mansion," became the center of renewed life for the
town. Here for many months the old friends gath-
ered, braving their numerous distresses and working
tirelessly for the success of the American army.
When Governor Hancock again passed through
town he stayed as usual with the Burrs and proposed
that his host rebuild as quickly as possible, pledging
his assissance in case Mr. Burr's new house was
modelled after the Hancock house in Boston. The
High Sherifl^, agreeable to this suggession, began his
preparations for rebuilding and Governor Hancock
supplied timber and glass. Daniel Dimon, the pop-
ular architect or carpenter of the period in Fairfield,
was the builder of the new mansion.
A portion of the property had been in the
possession of the Burr family for several generations
dating back to the middle of the seventeenth century.
Peter Burr, Chief Justice of the Colony, "who in^
herited it from the second Jehu, bequeathed it to son
Thaddeus in 1725 who passed it on to Thaddeus of
Revolutionary fame in 1755.
The new mansion patterned somewhat after the
Hancock house was a dignified and handsome struc-
ture, three stories high with gambrel roof and dormer
windows. The rooms were large and high between
joints, a great hall making welcome the guests as they
entered through the classic porch and ample door-
way. Generous glass in the massive door and nar-
row windows on each side, gave light and cheer to
the spacious interior-
There were no family keepsakes or antique pieces
with which to adorn the new mansion, but with the
better times came proper furniture. And during all
the period guests came and went with the usual
freedom. Dr. Dwight was accustomed to ride down
from Greenfield nearly every Saturday afternoon and
drink tea with the friends assembled. He was cul-
tivating strawberries in his garden at this time. Per-
haps in June he brought his friends a pailful. And
assuredly as he wrote his famous poem " Greenfield
Hill," he must have brought some portions o^ the
manuscript with him that Mr. and Mrs. Burr might
give him their opinion of his muse. Can we not
hear him reading his description of the village
wrapped in flames?
" On yon bright plain, with beauty gay,"
"Where waters, wind &- cattle play,"
" \A/here gardens, groves &- orchards bloom,"
" Unconscious of her coming doom "
"Once Fairfield smiled."
The artist Trumbull was one of the elect com-
pany who tarried now and again beneath the roof"
tree and brought to his friends the gossip of the art
fraternity which numbered the Burrs among their
patrons. Copley came to Fairfield and endeared
himself to these gracious entertainers for he painted
the notable portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Burr— reckoned
as fine work as his genius affords. The portraits are
now in New York— owned by the descendants of
Thaddeus Burr's brother. They were exhibited in
the Academy of Design a few years ago and won
great praise. The pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Burr
in the Historical Society \A/ere taken from these
The mansion passed to General Gershom Burr
on the death of his uncle and aunt. General Burr
sold the property to Mr. O. W. Jones who repaired
and enlarged it, taking out the dormer windows and
lifting the roof, taking away the porch and building
the broad veranda With its lofty massive fluted col-
umns. Other changes have recently been made, but
it remains a noble, stately mansion, transmitting a
wealth of history and tradition to the latest genera-
tion. For two hundred years The Homestead was
identified with the Burr name and during that long
period it spake eloquently for faith, culture, patriotism,
social worth and progressive life.
Quite fitting was it that the Daughters of the
American Revolution in Fairfield should choose for
their name the Eunice Dennie Burr Chapter — thus
honoring the lady who for so many years kept open
house for soldiers, statesmen and leaders in colony
The mansion stands in the midst of spacious
grounds, shaded by magnificent old trees, the box-
bordered walk leading from the street gate to the
pillared veranda. At the rear where Mrs. Burr
fondly tended her marigolds and roses, her pinks,
hollyhocks and peonies, there now spreads before the
eye an old fashioned garden, sweet and bright with
flowers which remind us of days when cocked hats
and powdered wigs and lofty coiffures and quilted
silk bonnets were in vogue. The massive arba vitae
hedge which shields the garden from the east v^ind
dates back generations. Varied vistas of the sea are
framed by masses of shrubbery and the graceful
foliage of stalwart elms. The old charm of the Bun-
Homestead still lingers about the place. Art, nature,
history vie with each other in their generous gifts
and interesting associations.
PD 1. 8 1..
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