Pirates and Privateers on Long Island Sound
By Dan Shine
This week’s column has been contributed by notable local historian and author Peter Malia:
I was about 10 when word spread like wild fire that a construction worker found a stash of colonial coins in the rubble of an old house being torn down near the corner of Savin Avenue and Main Street.
Close on the heels of that news came the discovery of some musket balls lodged in a tree near that same house. My father explained that the musket balls could well have come from British and Hessian soldiers who marched up what is now Savin Avenue to the Green during the American Revolution in 1779. One older gent who lived down the street from us was rumored to a family Bible that bore the scars of a British bayonet being thrust through it.
Taken together, those events fueled the imaginations of my friends and me, and we started digging up our own backyards in search of buried treasure. Within a few days, we got tired of digging holes with no return and our dreams of buried treasure waned away like a warm summer breeze.
It wasn’t until years later that I revisited some of those old stories associated with the British Invasion of 1779. As it turned out, there was a grain of truth to a number of them.
As a shoreline community, West Haven was on the front lines of the American Revolution. What we never learned in school, however, was the real life-and-death struggle of West Haveners to simply survive the war.
The village proved to be an easy target for repeated raids by British, Loyalist, and irregular troops, many of whom were former residents who left because of their loyalty to the King. Arriving in the dead of night, the raiders plundered livestock, weapons, valuables, crops, and food on at least a dozen occasions, and likely many more that went unrecorded. Locals even took to burying their valuables for safekeeping.
Sadly, they may not have survived to recover them—which helps to explain their discovery many years later.
In one major raid, 150 Loyalist troops landed on West Haven’s shore front in a sloop and several whaleboats, then marched to the homes of Major Elisha Painter and Deliverance Painter on Main Street.
They killed Major Painter as well as Hannah Kimberly and Philemon Smith. They then kidnapped 17 others and sailed off for New York after burning a few homes for good measure.
Tragically, their boat carrying the prisoners floundered in bad weather off Stratford Point. A number of prisoners—including 80-year-old Deliverance Painter—drowned.
To be continued