by Katrina Council
The Winter Encampment at Redding, Connecticut, is not where many would think soldiers were sent to. Still, after the burning of Danbury, Washington wanted his troops to be closer to supply lines, and he wanted his troops to be able to keep an eye on troop movements through Connecticut into New York. The burning of Danbury occurred on April 21, 1777. The British burned the supply depot, tents, and homes on their way to Long Island.1 This rampage by the British troops went unnoticed by the Americans until the very end, and the Americans were outnumbered, so they could not go after the British soldiers to try and defeat them. This event made George Washington see that he needed troops near Danbury to protect the area, thus the winter encampment at Redding, Connecticut. Below is a picture of a replica of the officers’ cabins; it is wood and stone, the roof has shingles on it, the top is also made of wood logs, and there is an awning made of wood shingles that hangs over the front door. It looks like a comfortable home.
The Redding Encampment was one of General George Washington’s troops’ winter encampments. Redding, Connecticut, is a strategic location for an encampment. In pre-revolutionary times it was the home of two militias: the East Militia, 1754, commanded by Captain Joshua Hall, Lit. James Morgan, Ensign Daniel Lyon, and the West Militia, 1754, were controlled by Captain Samuel Sanford, Lt. Daniel Hull, and Ensign John Read. Both of these militias also served with the British in the French and Indian War. George Washington split the Continental Army into three groups to surround New York. Major General Israel Putnam and 3000 troops came to Connecticut to settle their winter encampment between 1778-1779. Unlike the winter encampment at Valley Forge in 1777, life at the Redding Encampment, what the settlement looked like, where it was geographically in Redding, CT, and what the troops did until they left the following year are all strange stories to most Americans.
Fairfield County, Redding, Connecticut, is located on the state’s southwest tip. This location is relatively close to New York City, so George Washington sent Israel Putnam and his troops there. Before the winter encampment was erected, many troops were in the area; the British troops marched towards Danbury to stop the patriots from stealing weapons from the supply depot that the British had set up there.3 This winter encampment was to keep a lookout for activities in New York City.
You can find a map of the area where the camp is located above. The map shows where the headquarters was located and where anyone could find the lookout tower, which was very important to see if troops were coming in from New York City or any surrounding area. The lookout sits at the bottom of the camp, possibly to make it easier to warn the infantry that someone is coming. As you walk up the hill into the encampment, you will see the first set of tents; then you continue straight, and to the right is the second set of tents; the last and final stage of tents is at the furthest point, the top of the hill.
David A. Poirier, in his article about the camp, outlines what the actual base looked like. He states that the center was laid out with three camps in the three sheltered valleys surrounding Redding and Bethel, CT. This is ideal for soldiers to hide from the enemy and see their approach. The camp was large, covering 183 acres of land. Although there were three campsites, the only one that we can visit today is the leading site known as Putnam Memorial State Park. This park was laid out in a way that protected it from invaders. There were one hundred and sixteen huts erected in the area, and they formed a road that was about a quarter of a mile long.5 There was a good water supply near the camp, which ensured the soldiers had water to drink and clean water to bathe, cook, and use for other purposes. The Redding History website discussed the importance of having the camp positioned so that it could be defended on all sides from anyone who tried to come in and fight them.
The camp was laid out to separate the generals from the regular soldiers. The site was destroyed once the soldiers broke camp, so there is not much left. Still, two archeological digs in 1973 and 1974 uncovered some of the old buildings and chimneys, which helped put together a rough approximation of what the grounds looked like, which is included below.6 In this depiction of the camp below, you can see two long rows; these rows are sectioned off into squares, and each square is a tent. These sites were discovered during the archaeological dig and are incomplete. You cannot see where the kitchens were, not the bathrooms. It is a very general picture of what it may have looked like when the soldiers were there.
Winter Encampments were necessary because there was not much fighting from December through February, but they were not in ideal locations. The soldiers were often underfed and overworked. After the long march to the encampment, the soldiers had to erect their lodgings and get the new base camp up and running. Further, the soldiers were not paid well and were not given the proper provisions. The jobs they would have been doing at Redding were like the general jobs every soldier of color did: cleaning, cooking, waiters, and wagoners. These jobs were not glamorous, but they were the type of jobs that blacks were given as enslaved people, and so it makes sense that they would continue to do them even after serving in the war. In letters to Jonathan Trumbull and the Connecticut Assembly, soldiers often complained of not having the essential supplies to survive. There were not enough blankets to keep warm, nor did they have enough clothes to save on their bodies.7 Overall, living at a winter encampment is not ideal, but this one served an essential purpose: to protect the munitions that the patriots had.
Several African American and Indigenous soldiers were at Redding, one was Brister Baker. There is not much known about his life, but he was born in Connecticut, born into slavery; as such, there is nothing known about his parents or his life before the war. Brister became a soldier on May 24, 1777. He served in the war until he was discharged in 1783; in the war, Baker was a member of the Connecticut Sixth Regiment, and his regiment was tasked with repairing forts all across New England and other northern states.8 Baker was discharged in 1783 and was considered free after his service in the war. He lived for nine years as a free man, and according to his pension papers on ancestry, his estate was worth 13 pounds when he died. Baker was at the Redding encampment, and there he was possibly one of the men who helped build the encampment since that is what the sixth regiment did.
1 Editors, “British Rampage Danbury, Connecticut,” History.com.
2 “1778-79 Encampment – Putnam Memorial State Park.” https://www.putnampark.org/1778-79-encampment/).
3 “1778-79 Encampment – Putnam Memorial State Park,” https://www.putnampark.org/1778-79-encampment/).
4 Poirier, David A. (1976) “Camp Reading: Logistics of a Revolutionary War Winter Encampment,” Northeast Historical Archaeology: Vol. 5 5, Article 5. https://doi.org/10.22191/neha/vol5/iss1/5 Available at: http://orb.binghamton.edu/neha/vol5/iss1/5
5 “1778-79 Encampment – Putnam Memorial State Park,” https://www.putnampark.org/1778-79-encampment/).
6 Poirier, David A. (1976) “Camp Reading: Logistics of a Revolutionary War Winter Encampment,” Northeast Historical Archaeology: 5 no. 5, https://doi.org/10.22191/neha/vol5/iss1/5 Available at: http://orb.binghamton.edu/neha/vol5/iss1/5
7 “1778-79 Encampment – Putnam Memorial State Park,” https://www.putnampark.org/1778-79-encampment/)
8 Kane Cross, “Baker, Brister (Bristol),” Oxford African American Studies Center, 28 February 2013; Accessed 27 Apr. 2022. https://oxfordaasc-com.ccsu.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/acref/9780195301731.001.0001/acref-9780195301731-e-39380.
Letter of discharge, Brister Baker, 1783, Washington Family Papers, MS 538, Box 1, Folder 14. Yale University Library, Manuscripts, and Archives.
Neimeyer, Charles Patrick. The Revolutionary War (2007).
White, David Oliver. Connecticut’s Black Soldiers, 1775–1783 (1973)
Cross, Kane. “Baker, Brister (Bristol).” Oxford African American Studies Center. 28 Feb. 2013; Accessed 27 Apr. 2022. https://oxfordaasc-com.ccsu.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/acref/9780195301731.001.0001/acref-9780195301731-e-39380.
1778-79 Encampment – Putnam Memorial State Park.” https://www.putnampark.org/1778-79-encampment/