Chapter 10. Stonington

John Winthrop Jr. laid out New London, Connecticut. One of the men who helped him was the blacksmith and gunsmith William Chesebrough of Plymouth Colony. Chesebrough decided he did not like the location very much, so, on his way back to Massachusetts, he chose the present Stonington, on the west bank of Wequetequock Cove. In 1649 Chesebrough built the first house in Stonington. A marker on the spot where his house stood is located on the cove bank in Wequetequock. It was more than one hundred years before the first house was erected at Long Point, now Stonington. Edward and John Denison, son and grandson of George Denison, a shipbuilder from Westerly, built the house that stood on what is now Cannon Square.

Wadawanuck Park
Water and Broad streets, Stonington, CT

Late in 1774 the British Navy sent their ship the "Rose" under the command of Captain James Wallace to America to stop further smuggling. The people of Rhode Island had destroyed a number of smaller Royal Navy ships that had been sent for this purpose. However, this new ship was so effective in its efforts that the decreased employment lead to a reduction in Newport's population by four-fifths by mid 1775. In August 1775 Captain Wallace of the Rose demanded that Stonington surrender its stores of cattle and provisions. William Stanton gathered the Stonington men to a place just north of the square here. Captain Oliver Smith's company soon joined them. Then they marched to Brown's wharf. The British landing force suffered so many losses that Captain Wallace of the "Rose" decided to bombard the village. However, he ultimately gave up as the people of Stonington would not surrender. Subsequently, a fort was built at Stonington. Moreover, the Continental Congress decided to start a Navy to combat the Rose. October 13, 1775 marks the official date of the founding of the American Navy. In 1779, while patrolling the Savannah, Georgia coast, the Rose ran into a French invasion fleet. The captain ordered the ship stripped of all its armament and valuables, and then sunk the vessel. Some of the materials have been recovered and are now incorporated into the restored Rose located in Bridgeport at Captain's Cove Seaport.

Congregational Church
Corner of Main and Elm streets, Stonington, CT

Eels House
Corner of Main and Grand streets

Reverend Nathaniel Eels was pastor in two Stonington churches, and a leader of an army unit from Stonington during the Revolutionary War.

Captain Amos Palmer House
Corner of Main and Wall streets

This was the home of Captain Amos Palmer, as well as being home to Whistler's mother and children for a short time. A cannonball fired from the British ship Rose rolled out the front door of this house and past the place where Captain Palmer stood. The captain waited until the ball cooled and then brought it to the American forces and fired it back at the ship, scoring a direct hit.

Major George Washington Whistler of Fort Wayne, Indiana became one of the nation's first railroad builders. He started the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and later the Boston, Springfield, and Albany Railroad. He had seven children in all. His second wife was Anna MacNeill Whistler, a sister of Dr. George E. Palmer's wife of Stonington. Their son, James MacNeill Whistler, became a famous artist. The major and his family lived in Stonington for a short period while he worked on the railroad from Providence to Stonington (leaving in 1840). The family also stayed for a brief period with Mrs. Palmer in Stonington in 1842, while the major (and his future artist son) were in Russia. The artist painted the famous portrait of his mother in 1872.

Cannon Square
At junction of Water and Main streets, Stonington, CT

This was the site of the first house built on Long Point, now Stonington. Also here are two eighteen pound guns that serve as monuments to the gallant defense of the people of Stonington during the War of 1812. On August 9, 1814, four British vessels entered Stonington harbor. Their commander was Commodore Thomas Hardy. He sent a message saying he was about to destroy the town, but would give the inhabitants an hour to get the women and children out. The Stonington defenders took their stand near the end of the peninsula. The British bombardment began at eight p.m. The American cannoneers' return fire sank one of the barges and forced the bomb-ship to retreat. The land barges tried to land, but a six-pound cannon discouraged them. The bombing stopped at midnight, only to begin again at sunrise the next day. Local militia had arrived by that time. Captain Jeremiah Holmes also arrived. He proved so accurate with the cannon that one of the British ships had to retreat to save itself. The British could only land their troops when the Americans ran out of ammunition. However, just in time, ammunition arrived from New London. The British kept up their bombardment until noon of August 12. They finally gave up and sailed away. The victorious town had not lost a single life, nor a single house. It is estimated that the British bombarded the town with more than 60 tons of metal and 170 bombs.

Old Lighthouse Museum
7 Water Street, Stonington, CT (Open Tues-Sun 11-4:30, May-Oct)

This is the first government-operated lighthouse in Connecticut, built in 1823 and reconstructed on higher ground in 1840. It was discontinued in 1889. It houses displays of nineteenth century portraits, whaling and fishing gear, swords, cannonballs, toys, articles from the oriental trade, decoys, stoneware, and children's room. There is a special exhibit on Captain Nathaniel Brown Palmer, who was born in Stonington in 1799. In the winter of 1820-1821 he discovered the Antarctic continent. Stonington was the focus of the New England sealing industry. Upstairs is a model of the steamboat "Rhode Island" of the Stonington line. Here also are some pictures of the Hotel Wadawanuck which for fifty-six years stood in what is now Wadawanuck Square. Workers built it in 1837 to serve the passengers of the Stonington and Providence Railroad and those of the connecting steamboat line from New York. In addition, there are portraits of "Plymouth Rock" and the "Cornelius Vanderbilt," both of the Stonington Line. In 1882 the last of the crucial Railroad bridges, this one over the Thames River, was completed and Stonington began to fade. By the 1890's workers tore down Hotel Wadawanuck.

Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer House
Water Street near Harmony Street, Stonington, CT

This is the boyhood home of the discoverer of the Antarctic.

Other Sites

On your way back from Stonington, see the "H.M.S. Rose" in Bridgeport at Captain's Cove Seaport, 1 Bostwick Avenue (I-95 Exit 26). This is a replica of the British warship that moved the colonists to found the American navy during the Revolutionary War.


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