Category Archives: Early Inhabitants

Norwich’s history pre-dates the arrival of Europeans

Miantonemo 1Miantonemo 2Indian Leap

 

The eastern Connecticut city we know as Norwich was founded in 1659 by a group of English settlers, 69 founding families, who came there from Old Saybrook and bought land from the Mohegan Tribe.  As important as that date is to Norwich, its significant and varied history hardly begins there.

Sixteen years before the English arrived, Mohegan warriors, led by Uncas repulsed an attack by a numerically superior force of Narragansetts led by Miantonemo. It has been called The Battle of The Great Plain , an area we know today as the East Great Plains section of Norwich.

The Mohegans, who learned of the approaching army, quickly prepared for battle. In short order, they routed the invaders and tracked down their leader whom they later killed where he was captured, but only after Uncas got the green light from the English.

The battle that helped the English Puritan settlers consolidate their hold on southern New England, is largely forgotten, but visitors interested in early Connecticut history can visit two battle-related sites.

They could not be more different. One, Indian Leap, is at Yantic Falls, not far from where the deadly enemies squared off. Even today almost 400 years later it is visually striking. A foot bridge spanning the raging waters below affords visitors a direct view of the place where fleeing Narragansetts leapt to their deaths from a high escarpment in a desperate attempt to elude the pursuing Mohegans.

Across town in the city’s Greenville section, visitors can walk the site where Miantonemo was captured and later killed. By comparison, it is more modest, even mundane in appearance, but it is, arguably, the more significant location of the two. The capture and subsequent execution of Miantonemo removed an opponent, not only of the Mohegan tribe, but the English. He was trying to reverse the tide of English conquest by uniting the indigenous peoples who stood in their way.  It was a dispute with Uncas who favored cooperation with the English that would lead to the fateful encounter in Norwich. (Ironically, the two bitter enemies were briefly united with the English only six years earlier in the Pequot War.)

A small cut-granite monument erected two hundred years after Miantonemo’s death is perched atop a natural rock outcropping at the Greenville capture site. An information tablet outlines the significance of what took place there.  The location on a dead-end street in a residential neighborhood offers an opportunity to reflect on a part of the long and sometimes bloody march to Connecticut we know today.

Although Miantonemo lost the battle and shortly thereafter his life, he has been remembered in a number of ways. These include a large public park in Newport, Rhode Island that bears his name, Miantonomi Memorial Park.  Located on a hilltop that was later used a lookout spot during the Revolutionary War, it was the Narragansett leader’s sea of power until it was purchased by English colonists in 1637.

Although the spelling of his named varied, the U.S. Navy would name four ships after the respected Narragansett leader, including one, the USS Miantonomoh, that assisted in the D-Day landings at Normandy in World War II, and would be sunk by enemy action three months later off the coast of France.

Uncas certainly has not been forgotten, either. In 2008, the Mohegan Tribe dedicated a memorial at a traditional burial site in Norwich that had been desecrated in centuries past. Located at the intersection of Washington and Sachem streets, not far from the Indian Leap, the park is at the edge of the Royal Mohegan Burial Ground, where it is believe Uncas himself was laid to rest.

In 1833, a cornerstone to Uncas set there attracted national figures, including President Andrew Jackson and his Secretary of War, Lewis Cass. In 1840 money was raised to erect a stone obelisk at the site in memory of Uncas and in 1906 Buffalo Bill visited to honor the famed Mohegan leader. Two years later President William Howard Taft visited the Uncas Monument.

The park created in recent years by the modern Mohegan Tribe after a long struggle is a place of peace and reflection, a fitting remembrance of those who once lived and sometimes fought near there.

Directions to the Royal Mohegan Burial Ground and Indian Leap:

Take I-395 to exit 81E (state routes 2/32). At the end, turn right and follow Rts 2/32, Washington Street, to the intersection of Sachem Street, location of the burial ground. Afterwards, drive down Sachem Street for about 1/4 mile. Make a left onto Yantic Street. Indian Leap and the Yantic Falls are on the right. There is parking and the site is open year round.

 

Directions to the Miantonemo Monument:

Take I-395 to exit 81E and go to the end of the divided highway. Once there, go straight Instead of turning right as you would for the Indian Leap site and the Royal Mohegan Burial Ground. This will put you on Harland Road (Route 169). Drive until you reach Hunters Road, where you will take a right. Stay on that until the intersection of Norwich Road (Route 12), where you turn right. The monument is on Elijah Street, a left turn opposition St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

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

 

Pequot-War-battlefields-map

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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Pequot Trails take walkers through historic land

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Mister Samuel Clemens was rightly known for his skills as a writer, but he also developed a reputation as something of a walker.  It’s not possible to say with certainty, but if the Pequot Trails had been cut through the woods then, the writer we know as Mark Twain just might have ventured here from his Hartford home along with his friend, the Rev. Joseph Twichell, to take one of their famously long walks.

The seven miles of trails, developed on historic land by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, extend past the tribe’s museum and research center, along the edge of the historically and culturally important Great Cedar Swamp. Most of the trails are on level ground and easily navigated. For those up to it, a climb to the top of Lantern Hill will be rewarded with some great views from its 491-foot peak.

There are historical references to the hill back to 1653. It provided a vantage point for the Pequot sachem Sassacus to watch for approaching enemies.

In the War of 1812, it was also a lookout point known as Tarbarrel Hill. It took its name from the practice of hauling barrels of tar there and igniting them as a warning that enemy ships were approaching.

Later, portions of the hill were mined for its pure silica until the Pequots bought the property in 1996 and commenced a reclamation project.

Comprised of granite-gneiss bedrock with quartz deposits, the land was once part of Avalonia, a micro continent that started driving away from Africa about 500 million years ago. Sister formations can be found today in Africa and Newfoundland, Canada.

In telling the Connecticut story, we usually speak about the people who came here. This is an instance where “Connecticut” came to Connecticut. In more ways than one, this is a walk through the past as stimulating as it is fun for this is in a very real sense Connecticut in its natural state.

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The trails can be reached by following the pink paws on the ground from:

The Great Cedar Hotel lobby at Foxwoods;

The entrance to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center;

The parking lot at Two Trees Inn adjacent to Foxwoods on Route 214.

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Connecticut in its natural state is on display at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Torosaurus latus by Kim Zolvik

Torosaurus latus by Kim Zolvik

If your desire to see Connecticut in its natural state collides with the reality of limited time, too many other commitments, and high gas prices, then the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History would be a great place to visit. It’s all there.

The Peabody may be known for its pre-historic creatures, including the 21-foot life-size bronze statue of a Torosaurus latus  that greets visitors outside and impressive permanent exhibits and special showings inside.

Although small by comparison to the rest of the Peabody’s offerings, the display of Connecticut’s biodiversity is hard to beat.

Tucked away on the third floor between some engaging North American dioramas and adjacent to one on life in ancient Egypt, you will find Connecticut in all its natural beauty. You will see examples of 128 ecological community types, each with a distinctive combination of animals and plants.

There are the birds of Connecticut, insects and herpetology samples displayed in the exhibit. There’s the geology, with its colorful samples gleaming in the display cases. There’s even a meteorite display, and not just any old rock from outer space. This one was among the first recorded rocks that rained down on our part of the world. It fell to earth in 1807 in Weston Connecticut, leaving a ten-mile path of space debris in its wake.  The collected samples let you get an up-close look.  No Hubble telescope needed.

There’s even a section devoted to Connecticut’s Native American past, with a map, Circa 1625, whose features include sachemdoms, Indian trails and villages of the peoples who lived here before Connecticut was “discovered” by European settlers. 

Dioramas almost bring to life the state’s various regions. Displayed in eye-catching fashion are the significant variety of habitats Connecticut possesses, from the coastal salt marshes to the hardwood forests of the northwestern uplands.

Visiting the Peabody is an excellent way to explore nature before setting out to experience Connecticut’s natural history, all 3,000 sq. miles of it under one roof. _______________________________________________________________________________________

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History    

170 Whitney Ave.

New Haven, CT 06511

203-432-5050

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