Professor Presents Lecture on Fairfield History in Honor of Town’s 375th Anniversary
To commemorate Fairfield’s rich history on the occasion of its 375th anniversary this year, as well as Sacred Heart University’s 50th anniversary, Jennifer McLaughlin, professor of American history at Sacred Heart University, delivered a talk about how American warfare has shaped the town, from the Pequot War to present day. The presentation was held Monday evening, April 28, and McLaughlin was introduced by Michael Iannazzi, vice chairman for SHU’s 50th Anniversary celebration.
Through the lecture, titled “A Call to Arms: War and Commemoration in Fairfield from the Pequot War to the Memorial Day Parade,” McLaughlin spotlighted the most significant American conflicts over the past 375-plus years and provided comments about the level of town involvement, how residents were impacted and how events were memorialized going forward.
A lifelong Fairfield resident with children who are seventh-generation Fairfielders, McLaughlin noted that Fairfield was founded in 1639 by Roger Ludlow and fellow European settlers fleeing west from skirmishes with the Pequot Indians. Ludlow was impressed with the local landscape, which was full of fields and had direct ocean access.
During the American Revolution, most Fairfielders favored colonialism versus imperialism and, by 1776, Loyalists faced imprisonment, taxation and even physical abuse. Townspeople supported actions against the British including resistance, offering supplies to fellow colonists in neighboring states and providing militia. Fairfield was severely impacted in July 1779 when the British destroyed 97 buildings by setting fire to them. To this day, grave markers in Fairfield’s Old Burying Ground pay tribute to the fallen.
When the War of 1812 came about, Fairfielders were generally not supportive of it or actions directed by President Thomas Jefferson and his Republican party. Fairfielders took a defensive stance, enforcing fortifications along its shore and inlets. At the same time, a British blockade of trade ships on Long Island Sound made it difficult for townspeople to make a living.
Fairfielders were also averse to the Civil War, with many draft-eligible men paying to get medical exemptions. The few dozen that did participate served at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville.
World War I was a mostly abstract foreign conflict for Fairfield residents until a German ship, upon which the prominent Sturges family was sailing, was chased by British warships. At home, women sewed to contribute to the war effort and a Home Guard was established for domestic protection. In all, 450 Fairfield men and women served in the military. Their service was honored with a town Memorial Day parade, organized by the American Legion, soon after the war’s end. Every year since, the event has expanded to honor all veterans of foreign wars and civil service groups.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, drawing the U.S. into World War II, Fairfield reinstated its Home Guard, doubled its police force and increased security around its factories. The town participated in rationing, and servicemen were profiled in the local newspaper.
While Fairfield sent men to serve in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, there was more of an urgency to bring local boys home and a swirl of protests among youth with regard to Vietnam.
Today, flag planting at Greenfield Hill’s Congregational Church remembers American casualties in the Iran and Afghanistan conflicts.