Category Archives: Colonial and Revolutionary Past

Ethan Allen is more than a bedding and home furnishings retailer

Ethan Allen

 

Revolutionary Connecticut is what Mary Collins and Sal Lilienthal call their look at Connecticut figures in our nation’s war for independence.

One of those figures was Ethan Allen whose name is mostly associated with Vermont and the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in nearby New York. He led the famed the Green Mountain Boys and later grew into an influential figure in Vermont, but he was a son of Connecticut. Here’s a look

http://www.ctamericanrevolution.com/maps/1_Ethan_Allen_January_2013.pdf

A Revolutionary Way to Look at Connecticut’s Past

Israel Putnam, a storied figure in the Revolutionary War, is still riding high in his hometown of Brooklyn, Connecticut

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The state promotes Connecticut as being Still Revolutionary.  Now, some folks have taken the“Revolutionary” part of that slogan and developed a tour, complete with maps, images and explanations. With it, you can get a glimpse into the time when Connecticut played a significant role in the founding of our country.

Start your journey into our past here:

http://www.ctamericanrevolution.com/

Few Reminders of Benedict Arnold in His Hometown of Norwich

There’s a new book to remind us of Benedict Arnold and the devastating raid he led on New London and across the river at Fort Griswold.  (Home Grown terror: Benedict Arnold and the Burning of New London, by Eric D. Lehman).

The state maintains an impressive park and museum at Fort Griswold in Groton that focuses on the battle, but 20 miles away in Norwich, where he was born, there are few reminders. Basically, there is a historic marker noting his birth site and a dead-end street bearing his name. There is no parking available there, but the marker outlines the early family history, from his birth in 1741 as the youngest of six children born to Hannah Waterman King and Benedict Arnold III.

If you wish to get a feel for a period house with an Arnold connection, visit the Leffingwell House Museum at 348 Washington Street, a short distance away, where a guide will tell you both Arnold and George Washington were entertained, probably at different times.

 

Benedict Arnold homesite

Fairfield continues to celebrates its 375th  birthday with program on Pequot War battle program

 

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The Fairfield Museum and Research Center has a special exhibit, the Pequot War and the Founding of Fairfield, 1637-1639, that opened recently and runs through Jan. 5th.  On Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. the museum will host a talk by researchers from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center about recent discoveries related to the important battle in Fairfield nearly 400 years ago, one that led directly to the establishment of an English settlement there, one Connecticut’s earliest.

It’s all part of the town’s anniversary celebration. Before you pay a visit to the Fairfield Museum and Research Center, visit online.  There’s plenty of history there in the heart of the Historic Town Green.

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Fairfield Museum and Research Center

www.fairfieldhistory.org

370 Beach Road

Fairfield, CT 06824

1-203-259-1598

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Fort Trumbull State Park Has a Towering Presence on the Landscape and a Historic Past Whose Story is Told Here

Fort Trumbull with peopleFort Trumbull

Fort Trumbull State Park, located on sixteen acres at the entrance to New London harbor, is as unique as it is historic.  The site is dominated by a large 19th century  coastal defense fort, but that is only one aspect of the nearly 200 years worth of history that took place here.

That look back in time is offered in a lively and informative way on two floors of exhibits at the Visitors Center.  Touch screen interactive displays, theaters, dioramas, along with wall-mounted information panels combine to bring the past nicely into the present.

The story begins when the native people who lived in southeastern Connecticut called it Mamacock.

It continues through both wars to free the American colonies from the mother country, and the Civil War that nearly destroyed the young nation.  In varying degrees, Fort Trumbull played a role in each of those historic events

The colorfully illustrated displays about the War of 1812, explore the causes and actions of that largely forgotten struggle that took place 29 years after the United States and Great Britain signed a peace treaty.

In the Revolutionary War British troops landed nearby, engaged the out manned American defenders before marching inland to burn New London, a city made prosperous by a robust maritime economy. That is an important part of the story that is told here.

 Both world wars in the 20th century are explored here as well. 

Museum designers have done a commendable effort to place the Fort Trumbull story in the context of the times.

The role scientists and engineers played here in developing the sophisticated weapons needed in anti-submarine warfare is offered to visitors.  It starts with the Navy’s Experimental Research Station in 1917-1919 and progresses through the Cold War, 1949-1990, and the work done at the Underwater Sound Laboratory.

Also part of the presentations is the role Fort Trumbull played in training officers for the Revenue Cutter Service and its successor agency, the Coast Guard which maintained its academy here until 1932 when it relocated to its present site about a mile upriver.

In World War II the Merchant Marine Officers Training School was located here. The critical role play by those who sailed unarmed ships that took supplies to the war fronts is recounted in exhibit form in the Visitors Center.

Soldiers, sailors and scientists can all lay claim to a piece of the history that was made here.

Mark Twain even plays a part in the Fort Trumbull story. There’s a narrated excerpt of his short story, A Curious Experience, set at the fort during the Civil War when it served as a recruiting center for Union forces.

The fort is open for self-guided tours aided by interpretive signs and nearby is a memorial to the heroic officers of the merchant marine who died in World War II after being trained here.

History buffs can find much to like here, but it is worth a visit from those who just enjoy walks along the water and the spectacular views from atop the fort.

As it says inside the Visitors Center, Fort Trumbull State Park is a place of innovation, a place of wind, water and memories.

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Fort Trumbull State Park   http://www.ct.gov/deep/forttrumbull

50 Walbach Street

New London, CT 06320

Highway access:   I-95 Ex. 83N/84S

Phone:  860-444-7591

 Visitor’s Center and tours:  adults $6; children (6-12), $2; 5 and under, no charge.  Grounds: free.rounds opened all year, daily 8 a.m.- sunset.  Fort and Visitors Center: Memorial Day-Columbus Day, Wed. – Sunday, 9 a.m. 5 p.m.

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Henry Whitfield’s House has withstood the test of time

 

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The Henry Whitfield State Museum in Guilford is chock full of 17th-19th century furnishings and artifacts, starting with the stone structure itself, set in the middle of eight acres of nicely manicured grounds. Its historical pedigree is further confirmed in that it is the oldest house in Connecticut, and the oldest stone house in New England. It was also the first state-run museum, opened in 1899.
It was once the home of the Rev. Whitfield, one of Guilford’s original settlers who came here with a group of fellow Puritans 375 years ago this year seeking refuge from religious persecution in England.
The stone fortress-like structure contains a dazzling array of historical items, starting with a pair of chairs. Yes, chairs.
Museum curator Michael McBride feels one of them is the most important item in the collection. It belonged to William Leete, an original Guilford settler who later served as governor of both the New Haven and Connecticut colonies before they merged in 1643. “His chair is one of the few surviving artifacts associated with Connecticut’s 17th century governors,” he said.
The other chair once belonged to John Hart, the first graduate of Yale College in 1703. As interesting as that is, the Leete chair goes back to the formation of Connecticut itself.
Walking through the house visitors can see many representations of the past, and with a little imagination begin to feel what it must have been like to live in a dark, probably smoky house in considerably less space than they might be used to today.
Its collection ranges from hats to hatchets, clocks and candlesticks, and a powder horn given as a gift by soldiers to Benedict Arnold when he was first Captain of the Governor’s Foot Guard in New Haven in 1771, well before he betrayed his struggling country.
The exhibits also include an 18th century Dutch flintlock musket, Circa 1750, an exhibit on the Pequot War and a French naval sword owned by Capt. Frederick Lee, a hero in the Revenue Cutter Service that would become today’s United States Coast Guard.
Those who know the story of the Mayflower might be lucky enough to time their visit to see a small piece of that famed vessel that brought the Puritans to Plymouth Rock. It is not always on exhibit, but is in the rotation to be displayed soon.

The house is one of three buildings on the site. A visitor center contains a range of information, a gift shop and changing exhibits in two galleries. You may also make an appointment to use the research library.

Connecticut Public Television has featured the house as one of Connecticut’s cultural treasure. Before you visit, you might take a quick glimpse, courtesy of CPTV.

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Henry Whitfield State Museum
248 Old Whitfield St. Guilford, CT 06437
1-203-453-2457
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John Winthrop Jr. may have founded New London but he earned his place in history on a broader stage

John Winthrop "The Younger"

John Winthrop “The Younger”

Reminders of John Winthrop Jr. are sprinkled around modern-day New London, the city at the mouth of the Thames River which he established as an English settlement in 1646.

There’s the water-powered Old Town Mill, one of New England’s earliest, that is open by special appointment.  The grounds are open throughout the year and in season special activities are scheduled there.

There’s the towering bronze likeness perched atop a suitably inscribed granite pedestal on Bulkeley Place just off Hempstead Street. There’s also a boulevard and a school named in his honor.

Winthrop, referred to as “The Younger,” to avoid confusion with his father, also named John, who was the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The Younger would also serve as an early governor, but in Connecticut. He also would contribute to society mightily in other ways.

It could be argued that Winthrop’s work in England to obtain a royal charter freed the colony from the awkward position of not having direct permission from the Crown to exist was the bedrock act that allowed Connecticut to develop and eventually prosper as it did.

He was also a man of science, someone the historian Walter Woodward termed “a Christian alchemist,” in his insightful book Prospero’s America.

In addition to his governmental leadership, Winthrop was a serious chemist and a practical scientist, and an advocate of religious toleration. He was also a popular physician who treated an average of 12 patients daily by traveling around the colony. Woodward, the historian, writes that he may have treated up to half the population of colonial Connecticut as a doctor who made house calls.

The Connecticut city he founded has grown and changed significantly since the days of its founder, but John Winthrop, “The Younger” is still remembered there.

The Oliver Ellsworth Homestead and Museum in Windsor is welcoming visitors through  October 12.

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That name may not ring a bell with most today, but Oliver Ellsworth was one of our nation’s founders, and an important one at that. His accomplishments included:

  • As a Connecticut delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia , he was among the select few who helped draft what became our nation’s basic governing document;
  • He was Connecticut’s first United States Senator;
  • And, he was the third Chief Justice of the United States.

There were two other things that were even more important than the public offices he held. He is credited, along with fellow Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman, with developing what became known as The Connecticut Compromise, or just The Great Compromise.

The word “compromise” may be anathema to certain true believers today, but that willingness to work together on a contentious issue decided the fate of the federal legislature, and it could be argued the country itself.

The agreement called for an upper legislative chamber, a senate that had two members from each state, regardless of size. Up to that point, there were serious disagreements between the large and small states. The effort  to create a national government that could actually govern hung in the balance.

As if that weren’t enough, we can thank Ellsworth for the very name of our country. He authored an amendment that removed the word “national” and replaced it with “United States,” as in the United States of America.

The Georgian style structure in Windsor that Ellsworth called home has been expanded since it was built in 1740 and it was subject to major upgrades in more recent times by its present owners, the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution, which owns a number of historically significant properties in the state.  The Ellsworth family home  was built on land that had been in the family since 1664.

If you visit the home situated on 12 acres in the north central part of Connecticut, keep in mind that among many others who walked through the front door were two sitting U.S. Presidents, George Washington in 1789 and John Adams, a decade later in 1799. It was a measure of the respect our country’s earliest leaders held for this Connecticut native.

He called his small patch of Connecticut soil Elmwood and such was his patriotic fervor that he planted 13 elm trees there to symbolize the newly created 13 states.  The trees haven’t survived, but the noble experiment in democracy that he championed lives on.

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The Ellsworth Homestead and Museum

778 Palisado Ave.

Windsor, CT 06095

860-688-8717

Open through Oct. 12

Fridays 12:00 Noon until 4:00 PM;
Saturdays 12:00 Noon until 4:00 PM;
Sundays 1:00 PM until 4:00 PM. 

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Norwich’s Leffingwell House Museum once entertained George Washington and Benedict Arnold, but not at the same time

CT Hist Leffingwell House Museum

Christopher Leffingwell wasn’t the first owner of the stately house that bears his family name in the historic city of Norwich, but he was, arguably, the most notable.  It was his entrepreneurial skills and business sense that made him a significant supplier of provisions for Washington’s Continental Army.

The home he inherited wasn’t always as big as it became when visitors as varied as Uncas, the great Mohegan sachem, General Washington himself and his one-time neighbor, Benedict Arnold came calling.

The house built by Stephen Backus, Circa 1675, was initially a two-room structure that expanded over time as needs changed.  The initial addition  allowed it to be use as an inn and gathering spot for those historic personages and many more ordinary travelers.

The current owners, the Society of the Founders of Norwich , term it a living museum, an apt description. It is one of many house museums to be found in Connecticut, but this one has a special resonance.

In addition to being an extraordinary example of a restored example of New England Colonial architecture, the Leffingwell House Museum offers a little something for everyone’s  interests.

The eastern Connecticut city of Norwich, where the Leffingwells were among the original settlers, is one of the state’s oldest communities. It was once among its richest communities and a most productive example of our nation’s the spirit of innovation.

It played significant roles in both the Revolutionary War and again in the Civil War, where its manufacturing and commerce  aided the national causes.

Examples of this past can be found in displays throughout the Leffingwell House. These include  all manner of things from the Colonial era; items brought back from China and elsewhere by whaling captains; British-made pewter; a British uniform frock and even samplers that were used to teach young girls how to needlepoint  as their learned their alphabet and numbers.

But among the most stirring things to see is the nearly 200-year-old U.S. flag designed by Samuel Chester Reid, a navy captain and Norwich native. The flag created by Reid by was adopted by Congress as the basic American flag design. This one was found in the attic of a Norwich home and is proudly displayed.

That cherished bit of Americana alone is worth a visit, but it in terms of offerings, it is one among many.

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Leffingwell House Museum 

348 Washington St, Norwich, CT 06360
(860) 889-9440

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It’s been 400 Years Since Adraien Block Put us on the Map

 

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There are few reminders today of their early exploration of Connecticut and the Dutch impact here, including the important role played by Adraien Block, who became to the first European known to have sailed up Long Island Sound and produce a map of the shoreline and several of her inland waterways, including the mighty Connecticut River.

There’s the place name, Adraien’s Landing in Hartford, part of a vibrant waterfront development that houses the largest convention center between New York and Boston and the Connecticut Science Center fronting on the Connecticut River.

And, there are exhibits that focus on the early Dutch exploration of Connecticut at two Connecticut museums. These can be found at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex and at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center on the tribal reservation in the state’s southeastern corner.

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Connecticut River Museum 

67 Main St. Essex, 06426

860-767-8269

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 Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center 

110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket, 06338

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