Fairfield Famous: Thaddeus and Eunice Burr

The long, proud history of the Burr name, and the couple considered the town’s first family



As the grandson of Peter Burr, chief justice of Colonial Connecticut’s original Supreme Court, Thaddeus Burr inherited considerable social position and one of Fairfield’s most prosperous farming estates.  

While he was the kind of Yale-educated gentleman farmer whom local historians say probably never actually plowed his own fields, Burr took his relative leisure as a call to leadership. He was the town’s First Selectman, a Justice of the Peace, sheriff and represented the town in Connecticut’s General Assembly for a decade. Long before his profile was elevated by the American Revolution, he and his wife, Eunice Dennie Burr, the daughter of an affluent merchant, were considered the town's first family.

“In terms of wealth, they were what you might call today a one percenter,” explains Walter Matis, program and volunteer coordinator of the Fairfield Museum and History Center. “The family moved in the most elite social circles—not only in Fairfield, but also throughout the Colonies—before, during and after the war.”

Indeed from George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette, the sociable Burrs kept company with a Who’s Who of Colonial-era luminaries, even offering their Post Road homestead for the elegant wedding of John Hancock (yes, that John Hancock) to Dorothy Quincy.

In July 1779 the Burrs cemented their enduring status in town history when they became central figures in one of the most dramatic chapters in Fairfield’s 375-year history: the devastating burning of local homes and buildings by British troops.

Despite Eunice Burr’s solicitation of a written promise from invading General William Tyron that her home would be spared, the mansion was the last of some 190 buildings in town set ablaze by retreating troops.

Eunice testified in a post-war deposition that the troops even stripped her of her valuable silver shoe buckles, rings and buttons before destroying her property, sending her fleeing to hide in marshlands behind her home.

The Burrs would endure and go on to build an even grander home, which still  stands in the town’s center today, and became even more committed to the new Republic and their community.

Thaddeus, along with fellow Fairfielder Jonathan Sturges, represented the town at the 1789 state convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. Eunice went on to help establish Fairfield Academy, a private school that took the lead in educating girls as well as boys.

 

Although it hasn’t been a private home for more than fifty years, the Burr Homestead is, arguably, Fairfield’s most historic landmark. The Georgian-style mansion that stands at 739 Old Post Road was the second Fairfield home of Colonial luminaries Thaddeus and Eunice Burr. It was designed by renowned carpenter Daniel Dimon and built in 1790. It replaced the couple’s prior, and perhaps more modest, residence, which was one of 190 Fairfield buildings—including schools, churches and private homes—burned by British troops in July 1779.

Local lore has long held the building was modeled after John Hancock’s Boston mansion. Aside from Hancock being a close family friend, there’s no actual evidence that the Burr Homestead is a deliberate or an exact replica. “We don’t actually have a drawing of Hancock’s home,” says Walter Matis of the Fairfield Museum and History Center. Still, he adds, “it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that—just as we often do today—one friend took ideas for his home from that of a friend he admired.”

After their deaths (Thaddeus in 1801 and Eunice in 1805), the home was inherited by a nephew and later sold to flour mogul Obadiah Johns. It eventually became the residence of DeVer Warner, owner of Bridgeport’s famed corset factory. Over the years, the home underwent several renovations. The homestead became town property in 1962 and is now managed by the Fairfield Museum and History Center, which continues to lease it for special events, continuing the social traditions it had when the Burrs called it home.

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