PART I. The Early Settlements
Settlement proceeded first in Connecticut, with western Massachusetts following considerably behind. At the beginning of the white settlement of Connecticut there were approximately 6,000 native Americans living in the state, the majority of them in the eastern half. Many of the tribes in Connecticut belonged to the Algonquin Federation. The traditional enemy of the Algonquins was the Iroquois who gradually gained domination over all the tribes of the northeast. The Iroquois were a confederation of five Indian tribes, one of which were the warlike Mohawks. At the beginning of the 1600s a branch of the Mohawks, known as the Pequots (literally "killers of men"), subjugated the Algonquin tribes in Connecticut and established their headquarters near present day Mystic, Connecticut.
The Indians soon had to face the onslaught of a new challenge: white settlers. The first white men to have any permanent dealings with what became the state of Connecticut were the Dutch. As early as 1614 Adrien Block, a navigator for the Dutch West India Company, explored the Connecticut River sailing north as far as the treacherous Enfield rapids above Hartford. In 1633 the Dutch established a fort (called the "House of Hope") at present-day Hartford.
The English were not far behind. As early as 1631 the tribe known as the Podunks, living in the east Hartford area, traveled to Boston and Plymouth and urged the English to settle in Connecticut so that they could help them in their battles with the Pequots. The English, of course, were very eager to settle along the Connecticut River for it offered the best long-range possibilities for the expansion of the lucrative fur trade.
In the 1630's settlers coming from Massachusetts settlements established Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford. In 1634 the Reverend Thomas Hooker of Newtown (Cambridge) sent twenty-four people to the Hartford area to prepare the way for the new settlement. The following year the minister and his Puritan followers journeyed overland to Connecticut to settle the town they named Newtown. In the same year Lion Gardiner (of Gardiner's Island, Long Island fame) founded Old Saybrook at the mouth of the Connecticut River. To insure English domination of the fur trade of the Connecticut River valley a settlement further up the river was needed. In 1636 William Pynchon established a trading post and settlement at Agawam, later to become Springfield, twenty miles north of Hartford.
As the white settlements proceeded apace the native Americans became more worried. This was especially true of the dominant Pequots. In 1637 war between the whites and the Pequots began. This was the first large-scale military conflict on the New England frontier. The end result was the virtual extinction of the Pequots. This cleared the way for more rapid expansion of the white settlement of the area.
In 1638 religious idealists established New Haven Colony. The colony consisted of six towns: New Haven; Milford (1639); Guilford (1639); Stamford (1641); Southold on Long Island (1641); and Branford (1644). In 1639, Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor collaborated to produce the Fundamental Orders. This is considered by some to be America's first written constitution. The three settlements also formed the Connecticut Colony. The New Haven Colony jealously resisted unification with Connecticut Colony, but was finally forced into a union in 1665. Later settlements in Connecticut included New London, settled in 1646 by John Winthrop, Jr., and Groton (1649). Connecticut Colony wanted Springfield to be part of its territory, but a bitter dispute over the price of corn caused Pynchon to throw in with the Massachusetts authorities.
This section visits four of the early English settlements in Connecticut: Windsor, Wethersfield, Farmington, and New Haven/Guilford. The first three settlements are in the greater Hartford area. Unfortunately, except for downtown Hartford's old burial ground, virtually nothing remains of the early settlement period in Hartford. The same is true of Springfield.
While visiting New Haven, a tour is taken of nearby Guilford, which permits a visit to an English medieval house. This conveniently provides a nice introduction to English architecture. The English "great hall" is straight out of the Dark Ages. In this single room structure the entire family carried out all their household activities, including cooking, eating, and sleeping. Other rooms may or may not have been attached to the great hall. The earliest American colonists lived in such a one room hall with a chimney attached on the outside of the hall.
The "great hall" later became partitioned into a hall-and- parlor house of a single story. Adding a second story to this hall-and-parlor house resulted in the "two over two" type house. This means that there were two rooms on the first floor and two rooms on the second floor with a central chimney separating the two rooms on each floor. Therefore, these houses are two stories high, but only one room deep.
Some of the features of an early English hall are: a beamed ceiling often with a central supporting beam (called the "summer beam") that joins the fireplace at a right angle; huge cooking fireplace with a mantel of hewn wood; whitewashed plaster walls; the use of pegs instead of closets for hanging clothes; and a high-backed settle to keep off cold draughts and trap heat from the fireplace.
As the family grew, a room in the form of a lean-to might be added to the rear first-floor with the roof extending to cover it. This transformed the "two over two" house into either a "saltbox" or a Cape Cod house.
Other features of the "two over two" and the "saltbox" houses are: steeply pitched roofs with the gables on the side of the houses; small casement windows (i.e., windows that open outward rather than upwards as in sash windows); no overhanging eaves or cornice detailing; and batten doors (i.e., doors made with the boards running vertically).
In interior decoration the Jacobean style (1600-1650) dominated in England during the reign of King James I. This style appeared in the New England colonies in the late 1600s and early 1700s and has been called the American Jacobean or Pilgrim style. Oak was the preferred wood and the decoration was mostly geometric.
The architectural style of the latter colonial period is known as Georgian. This style dominated American building for almost the entire eighteenth century. Borrowing classical details from the Italian Renaissance, its emphasis on balance and harmony is seen in the symmetrical composition of the buildings. Windows are aligned horizontally and vertically in symmetrical rows. There is often a pedimented projecting pavilion with columns or pilasters (i.e., half columns attached to a wall). The windows often have double-hung sashes with many small panes that are opened via an upward thrust, as opposed to being pushed outward and to the side (as in earlier casement windows). A term frequently encountered is Palladian window. This is a large arched window flanked on both sides by a smaller arched window.
The idea of balance also appears in Georgian interiors. There are matching rooms on either side of a central hallway. The idea of balance is even seen within the individual rooms themselves. For instance, there are often matching mirrors exactly lined up on either side of the room.
This period encompassed many interior styles. The William and Mary style (1700-1725) had wainscoted (i.e., wood paneled) walls and raised panels, painted walls, and bold curved ornamentation. Some characteristics of the furniture are: trumpet legs (resembles a trumpet turned upside-down); curved stretchers (crosspieces or rungs connecting legs of chairs, tables, etc.); Spanish feet (rectangular ribbed feet enlarged at the base); and japanning (where black lacquer is painted on a surface and then polished to a mirror-smooth finish).
The Queen Anne style (1725-1760) had wainscoted walls with recessed panels. The most distinguishing characteristic of the furniture is the use of the cabriole leg. The name originated from the Spanish word for goat, because the furniture leg resembled the bent rear leg of this animal. The leg is shaped in a double curve with the upper part bending out and the curve swinging in toward the foot.
And lastly, the Chippendale style (1760-1790) stemmed from the application of French "rococo" ideas to Queen Anne furniture. The French style, using elaborate ornamentation emphasizing curves, dominated during the reign of Louis XV. Favorite decorative forms are shells and rocks. Some of the characteristics of Chippendale furniture are: addition of the ball-and-claw foot (i.e., an eagle's claws clasping a ball) ending to the cabriole leg; use of acanthus leaf (i.e., looks like a many-lobed maple leaf) decoration on the Queen Anne leg; pierced splats on chair backs; and latticework (i.e., a crisscross pattern formed by narrow bars) in the Chinese style (a result of the increasing trade with China).
While touring colonial houses in lower New England, you might notice several calimanca coverlets. The process used to create the rubbery looking surface of the coverlet has been lost. Some believe the makers put heat and pressure on a mixture of applied egg whites.
Chapter 1. Wethersfield , Windsor, and Farmington
This chapter concentrates on the pre-Revolutionary War sites in this trip. (See the chapter on Wethersfield in the Revolutionary War for another day trip to Wethersfield).
In 1633 John Oldham from Watertown in the Massachusetts Bay Colony explored the Connecticut River. The following year he and some companions built temporary housing and passed the winter at Wethersfield. With the arrival of warmer weather other settlers, many also from Watertown, arrived from Massachusetts Bay.
In 1636 the Pequots killed John Oldham on Block Island. This incident led to the Pequot War as both sides escalated their vengeance.
In April 1637, 200 Pequots attacked Wethersfield, and in what came to be known as the Wethersfield massacre, killed six men and three women and captured two girls. The Indians also kept the Saybrook Fort in a virtual state of siege, and captured and tortured to death many settlers. They even roasted alive one poor young man.
A colonial force under Captain John Mason tracked the warring Pequots. Uncas, a Mohegan ally, supplied seventy braves to help Captain Mason. The men set ashore at what is now Wickford, Rhode Island. Seventy-seven Englishmen and their Indian allies marched westward. They crossed the Mystic River and camped at today's Porter's Rocks. During the night they could hear the exultations of the Pequot victory celebration. The enemy had seen the colonial ships returning from the Rhode Island drop-off point and had mistakenly concluded that the colonials had given up their mission. This assumption proved their undoing. The colonials attacked at dawn, catching the enemy still asleep. They set the wigwams afire. Men, women, and children perished in the fires. Those trying to escape were cut down by the sword or shot. The soldiers later reported that it was a terrible sight to watch the fires consume the men and women and long remembered the stench of burning flesh. In all, the English killed some four to five hundred native Americans at what is now West Mystic. (There is a statue of Captain John Mason on the site of the Indian fort in West Mystic, where Clift Street ends at Pequot Avenue.)
Other expeditions mounted against the Pequots succeeded in virtually exterminating the tribe. Captain Israel Stoughton with Massachusetts troops and Captain John Mason with Connecticut men joined forces at the mouth of the Thames River. They then marched to the fort at Saybrook. Via boats they traveled to New Haven harbor. After a march of some twenty miles, they chased the Pequots into a large swamp, which today is in the Town of Fairfield. The Pequots were able to break out of the developing encirclement, but many were tracked down and killed. The Pequot leader Sassacus and some of his most loyal warriors escaped to the land of the Mohawks. Instead of providing refuge, the Mohawks beheaded all of them save one escapee, and sent their scalps to the English. (There is a monument to the fight in the swamp alongside Route 1 at Southport commemorating the July 1637 day "the Pequot nation died."
Uncas, who had helped the English defeat the Pequots, now became the head of the Mohegans. James Fenimore Cooper wrote about him, the last of the Mohegans. You can visit the descendants of Uncas at the Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum (Norwich- New London Turnpike in Uncasville).
Now that the Indian danger was over, agricultural expansion could proceed in the Hartford area. Red onions flourished in Wethersfield and the town became known as "Oniontown." Trader exported many onions, along with other agricultural products, to the West Indies. Considering the importance of this trade for the town, it is not surprising that the first ship built in Connecticut, the "Tryall," was built in Wethersfield in 1649 at the shipyard of Thomas Deming.
Broad Street Green
The Broad Street Green became the center of the residential section of the old town. Colonial militia trained on this green.
Old Academy Museum
150 Main Street, Wethersfield, CT
This 1801 former school house is now home to the Wethersfield Historical Society and to a local history museum. The structure was also used as the Town Hall and Public Library, and four different churches held meetings here.
249 Broad Street, corner of Marsh Street, Wethersfield, CT (Open Tues-Sun 12-4, June 1-Oct 15; Thurs & Sun 12-4, May 15 to May 31)
One of the attractions of the town was its status as a trading town with warehouses and wharfs on the Connecticut River. In 1676 Lieutenant John Buttolph of Boston settled in Wethersfield. This merchant and glover became one of the town's leading citizens, even serving as constable and selectman. He died in 1692, sixteen years after his arrival. His son David inherited land in Wethersfield. David was a cordwainer (trading in leather).
The Buttolph-Williams house dates from 1693 and is the oldest restored dwelling in Wethersfield. David Buttolph may have moved the frame of this house from another location. He did not live here long, however, as in 1698 he moved to Simsbury where he could practice his tannery business in peace (tanneries being well-known for their stench). There were many other owners including Robert Turner, Benjamin Belden, Daniel Williams, and James Vibert.
The house is a good example of a "two over two" structure. You can tour the house museum, which boasts of having the most completely furnished seventeenth century kitchen in New England. They have more articles here than an ordinary family would have, including early wooden-ware, wrought iron, a half circle settle, and a pair of early high chairs. There is also a kitchen sleeping chamber with a calamanca coverlet. The parlor has an oaken court cupboard bedecked with seventeenth century pewter chargers (large plates with sunken centers) and candlesticks, a trestle foot gateleg table, and a tall bannister back chair. The guide will show you the posset pot with spout and lid, which held a drink of milk, alcohol, and herbs, especially used to feed invalids.
Michael Griswold House (private)
116 Garden Street, Wethersfield, CT
A contemporary of David Buttolph was Ensign Michael Griswold, Jr. Michael Griswold, Sr. had come to Wethersfield as early as 1647 and built a house on the present site around 1650. Senior died in 1684 and Junior probably replaced or rebuilt his parents' home soon after his marriage in 1692. This saltbox house has a Greek Revival style architrave (i.e., ) above the double door (added around 1830).
Nathaniel Stillman House (private)
468 Main Street, Wethersfield, CT
In 1711, David Buttolph's older brother, George, sold their father's old house to merchant George Stillman, who had come to town from Hadley, Massachusetts in 1708 or earlier. Stillman's son, Nathaniel, built this center chimney colonial house in 1743. Notice the increased number and size of the windows as compared to the two houses described above.
Marsh Street, across from Sergeant Latimer house, Wethersfield, CT
Behind the Congregational Church (1761) is a graveyard. The oldest stone is that of Leonard Chester, dating from 1648.
The Cove Warehouse
This is the only remaining warehouse of six built on Wethersfield Cove before 1700 to handle the valley, coastal, and West Indian trade. The others were swept away by a flood about 1700. The town probably once stored its red onions here. Towns people restored the warehouse in 1934. It now houses a collection of marine charts, ship models, fishing and net-making gear, and nautical instruments.
Other Sites to Visit
In Wethersfield you can visit three houses, the Webb-Deane-Stevens houses (203-215 Main Street). See the chapter on Wethersfield in the Revolutionary War. You can combine this trip with a tour of Windsor (see the next chapter). In Hartford you can see the Harriet Beecher Stowe-Mark Twain houses, as well as many other sites.
In 1633 William Holmes of Plymouth had sailed past the Dutch guns at Dutch Point and founded a trading post at Windsor. In 1635 sixty families set out for Windsor, little knowing of the hardships awaiting them. These Windsor settlers had first arrived in Boston in 1630 aboard the ship "Mary and John." After a few years of residence in Dorchester in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, differences between the new immigrants and their hosts led to the former's emigration to Windsor. Starting their journey in late autumn, the settlers ran into cold weather and a scarcity of food. The river froze, thereby preventing a supply ship from reaching them. Part of the group had to make an overland trek back to the Bay Colony. Fortunately, with the help of local tribes, those who remained were able to hold out until warmer weather arrived.
The settlement itself was on the west side of the Connecticut River across from the mouth of the Scantic River. In 1637, out of the fear of possible attack by Pequots, the newcomers built a fence around a part of their settlement north of the Farmington River.
This green marks the center of the palisaded area of the old settlement. In the center of the green is the "Ship Monument to Original Settlers," a tablet with a rendering of the ship "Mary and John." The monument marks the site of the settlement's first meeting house and lists the names of the original settlers.
Lt. Walter Fyler House
96 Palisado Avenue, Windsor, CT (Open Tues-Sat 10-12 & 1-4, April-Nov)
This house is located at the southeast corner of the once- palisaded area of the Windsor settlement. Lt. Fyler received the piece of land on which the house sits for his services in the Pequot War, 1636-1638. The house is perhaps the oldest frame building in the state of Connecticut, being built by Lt. Fyler in 1640. The original building was of the one-room, end-chimney type.
The owner died in 1685. Succeeding generations of Fylers lived in the house until 1773 when a sea captain, Alexander Allyn, purchased the house. In fact, many sea captains owned houses near the Green. Windsor was a port of entry and at times six or seven vessels would be tied up waiting to be loaded or unloaded. The house faced the original Boston Post Road and served at one time as the Windsor Post Office. Today the house is connected by a breezeway to the Wilson Museum, a local historical museum. Among the many items here, be sure to see the order of payment to General Israel Putnam for his wages for the marched relief of Boston in April 1775 during the American Revolution.
The Palisado Cemetery
Across the street from the Fyler house, and behind the First Congregational Church (1794), Windsor, CT
Here is perhaps the oldest tombstone in the state--that of Reverend Ephraim Hait, who died September 4, 1644. Also here are the tombstones of Reverend John Warham, leader of the Puritan group of Windsor settlers; Oliver Ellsworth (second Supreme Court Justice of the United States); and Roger Wolcott (a governor of Connecticut).
Corner Poquonock Avenue and East Street, Windsor, CT
This is the oldest gristmill in Connecticut. It was a gift of the town to its minister, the Reverend John Warham, in 1640. The exterior was remodeled in the early nineteenth century. Here millers ground corn for almost 300 years.
Other Sites to Visit
You can combine this tour with a tour of Wethersfield. Nearby is the Oliver Ellsworth Homestead at 778 Palisado Avenue. There are also many sites to see in Hartford. On your way back from Hartford stop and see the Amasa Day House, Moodus Green (Route 151 -- Route 2, Exit 16), in Moodus, located southeast of Middletown. Here are three generations of Day family heirlooms, including unusual stairwell stenciling, wrought iron, toys, mirrors, and shelf clocks.
Founded in 1640 Farmington was at one time the third largest town in Connecticut, larger even than Hartford. It was also a very prosperous town with many wealthy merchants, some of which formed the Farmington East India Company for overseas trade.
37 High Street, Farmington, CT (Open Wed-Sun 12-4, May 1-Oct 31; Sun 12-4, March-April, Nov-Dec)
This house, built around 1660, is one of the oldest and best preserved frame houses in the state. Notice the "framed overhang" of the second story with its pendants. Also note the central chimney plan. Moreover, note the casement windows that open outwards instead of upwards as is the case with sash windows. The lean-to in the rear dates from about 1760.
The relatively wealthy Stanleys came to Newtown, Massachusetts from Kent, England in 1634. The father died and his brother adopted the young John Stanley. The family came to Hartford in order to obtain more land. Ten years later John married Sarah Scott and moved to Main Street, Farmington. Fifteen years later John built this house on what is now High Street.
The family spent most of their time in the hall with its bee-hive oven. They used a saw-horse table that they could take down in order to save space. The parlor has a drop-leaf table, Queen Anne chest, Connecticut clock, and a day bed for resting (a status symbol). The kitchen lean-to was added in 1760. Along the walls in the hall chamber they stored jarred goods, which would freeze in winter (there being no fire place in the room). In the parlor chamber is a Queen Anne highboy and a calimanca coverlet.
John Stanley lived here until his death in 1706. Two other owners lived in the house before 1736 at which time Reverend Whitman (whose wife was Sarah Stoddard from Northampton, Massachusetts) bought the house for his second of seven children. This child, Solomon, was the Town Clerk for twenty-four years. The Barneys were the last owners.
Farmington has over 100 buildings (mostly privately owned) that were built before 1835. Close to the Stanley-Whitman House is the Judd Homestead (private) built in 1697. The town is obviously wealthy with many large houses on Main and High streets. On Main Street is the First Church of Christ Congregational (organized in 1652 by the "seven pillars:" Roger Newton, Stephen Hart, Thomas J. Judd, John Bronson, John Cowles, Thomas Thomson, and Robert Porter). It was designed by Captain Judah Woodruff, a carpenter who taught himself architecture. He also designed the house at 66 Main Street. In front of the church is the Sarah Porter Memorial building, given by pupils of Miss Porter and dedicated in 1902. At this combination Sunday School and community center, you will find a portrait of the great African leader, Cinque. Farmington had been actively involved in the underground railroad. So it was natural that the town was the temporary refuge of some Mendi Africans in 1839. These Africans had mutinied on the Spanish slave ship, "Amistad", as it headed for South America. The former slaves killed all but two of the Spaniards, who they commanded to navigate them back to Africa. The white navigators duped the Africans and sailed the ship into Long Island Sound. The dispute over the disposition of the intended slaves went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and helped cement the abolitionist movement. The leader of the Africans was Cinque. The Supreme Court finally decided in their favor and they were able to return to Africa. A few who died are buried in the Farmington cemetery.
Across Main Street is the John Hart house (1747) with central chimney. South of the church on Main and Church streets is the Major Timothy Cowles house (1815) at 87 Main Street. Also further south is the Thomas Hart Hooker house (1768). The ill-fated Farmington Canal, completed in 1828, went through the town of Farmington on its way from New Haven to Northampton, Massachusetts. The canal could not, however, stop the gradual eclipse of Farmington, especially by cities like Hartford. On Farmington's Main Street is the 1830 Federal brick Union Hotel, built by Major Timothy Cowles, that once served travelers on the canal. It is now the administration building for Miss Porter's School, an internationally known private girls' academy. Jackie Onassis Kennedy attended Miss Porter's School. The school has about fifty buildings of a multitude of styles and around 300 students.
On the west side of Main Street beyond the Porter Homestead at the corner of Maple and Main is the General George Cowles House (private). The house was a wedding gift to George Cowles (1780- 1860) and his bride, Abigail Deming, from his father, Solomon Cowles. George was a member of the state legislature in 1815 and from 1821-1824. He was instrumental in forming the Farmington Canal Company. The house is a Georgian mansion with handsome two-story columned portico. A Palladian window is located in the massive pediment. Behind the window is a ballroom.
The Samuel Cowles House (private) is at the southwest corner of Main Street and Meadow Road. It is also known as Oldgate because of the handsome entrance gate, which was inspired by a watergate on the Thames designed by Christopher Wren. Captain Solomon Cowles purchased the house here in 1782. The house was rebuilt in 1786 for his son Zenas. The designer was William Spratt. Prisoners from New-Gate Prison in East Granby did the actual construction work. Further additions were made in 1900 by Rear Admiral William Sheffield Cowles and his wife, Anna Roosevelt Cowles, sister of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Other Sites to Visit
While in Farmington you may want to visit the Hill-Stead Museum at 35 Mountain Road. The famed architect Stanford White designed this Colonial Revival mansion for industrialist Alfred Pope. The house contains an outstanding collection of French impressionist art. See the chapter on canals for more information on the Farmington Canal.
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