Monthly Archives: April 2014

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There are historical references to the hill back to 1653.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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The Henry Whitfield State Museum stands as a Reminder of a Time Little Remembered in Connecticut’s Past

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This year marks the 375th anniversary of what began as a home for the Rev. Henry Whitfield in Guilford. He built a home and helped found a town.

It was 19 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth when the Rev. Whitfield, leading a group of fellow Puritans arrived here with a desire to worship as they pleased. It would be the forerunner of journeys taken by so many others in succeeding generations.

The community they hoped to form would be an outpost from the deadly challenges back in England, a country tearing itself apart in what would become known as the English Civil War, a protracted period of sectarian strife. Today, as Connecticut Public Television has noted, the home is one of Connecticut’s Cultural Treasures.

His home, the Henry Whitfield State Museum, one of three museums owned and operated by the state, has a number of historic milestones to its credit. Among them:

  • The oldest home in Connecticut.
  • The oldest stone house in New England.
  • Connecticut’s first state museum, opened in 1899.

Accompany CPTV on this brief walk through an early part of Connecticut’s past.

 

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The Henry Whitfield State Museum

HOURS

January – April 22, 2014

  • Open by appointment Monday-Friday, 10:00-4:30.
  • Regular admission fees (no discount coupons or library passes accepted).
  • Call 203-453-2457 or e-mail whitfieldmuseum@ct.gov for details or to make a reservation.

May 1 – December 14, 2014

  • Open Wednesday-Sunday, 10:00-4:30 (last tickets sold at 4:00 pm).

CLOSED Mondays, Tuesdays, July 4, and Thanksgiving Day

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History in the Making This Summer Aboard the Charles W. Morgan

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The Mystic Seaport has announced that 79 individuals from a variety of  backgrounds will be on board the Charles W. Morgan on different legs of her history-making voyage this summer.

The Seaport is calling them The Voyagers. They will be witnesses to history, recording and then sharing their experiences during this unprecedented voyage  when the world’s last remaining wooden whale ship and the oldest U.S. commercial sailing vessel afloat, sets sail nearly a century (93 years) after her whaling days ended.

In less than a month, May 17, Morgan will leave the Henry B. DuPont Preservation Shipyard at Mystic Seaport and head to New London where the final preparations will be made for the unprecedented 38th voyage.

See who was selected to ride the Morgan into history

General Israel Putnam who “dared lead where others dared to follow”

 

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The Revolutionary War found Israel Putnam plowing his fields in the northeastern part of Connecticut. It was April 20, 1775 when a messenger had arrived with the electrifying news from Lexington, where the previous day British Red Coats had fired on the militia and had “killed six men and wounded four others”.  The opening shot of the war for independence had been fired, a shot that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote was “heard round the world”.

Putnam put aside the plow, assembled his citizen soldiers and raced toward Boston. He arrived in time to engage the enemy at the Battle of Bunker Hill, also a storied feature of American history.

He may, or may not, have uttered the immortal words “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” but he led his rag-tag army valiantly and would rise to a senior leadership position in the Continental Army before the fighting ended in 1781.

He is immortalized in two Connecticut locations, his hometown of Brooklyn, where he is buried under a monumental statute of him astride his horse, as if he were about to charge off into battle, and in Redding, where he oversaw “Connecticut’s Valley Forge” in the winter of 1778-79, suppressing a mutiny and keeping his young soldiers together so they could resume the struggle in the spring.

Putnam’s courage and daring had been tested in earlier times, particularly in the French and Indian Wars, and even his exploits in slaying “the last wolf” in Connecticut, but it would be his service in the Continental Army that would earn him a place in history.

First Union General Killed in Civil War was Connecticut Native

 

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When General Nathaniel Lyon came home to Connecticut for the last time in September 1861, thousands of mourners filled the countryside to observe when the body of the first Union Army General to be killed in the Civil War was laid to rest in the family plot in Eastford.

 The governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island were there, along with the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and other dignitaries of the day.

 Lyon was shot from his horse and killed while rallying his troops against a much larger Confederate force in the Battle of Wilson Creek. The battle is little known today, but his efforts were credited with keeping Missouri from joining the confederacy.

 His aggressive stance on behalf of the Union made Lyon a national hero. En route home, the casket was greeted by large numbers of mourners. In New York City alone, where his body lay in state, more than 15,000 were said to have paid their last respects.

 The burial ground in the small town in northeastern Connecticut is located on a terraced  hillside that runs up from the street and below it, the Natchaug River. The site features a marble monument that contains a carved figure of Gen. Lyon, in full-dress uniform, astride a horse.  Three Civil War cannon were placed at the site, but only one remains upright. The two at each corner have long-since pitched into the soft earth.

 The marble that made it easier for the stone carver to work, also has contributed to its deterioration. It has been badly beaten down by time, but retains a majestic presence that calls up past glory.

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General Lyon Cemetery

35 General Lyon Road, off SR 198

Phoenixville section of Eastford, CT

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Benedict Arnold and the Revolutionary War in Connecticut

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As every American student has been taught, the Revolutionary War began in Massachusetts with skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, and ended six years later in Yorktown Virginia with the surrender of Lord Cornwallis.

In between a number of battles pitted the Red Coats of King George III against the home-grown army of another George, the man who would become widely known as the father of our country, George Washington.

Although Connecticut played a significant role in the war, it largely escaped the military engagements, except for a pair of battles that had little strategic value. They, however, shared one of the war’s more unusual aspects.

Benedict Arnold played a major role in both—first as a senior commander for the Americans toward the war’s beginning at the Battle of Ridgefield in the western part of Connecticut and then for the British toward the end in the eastern part of the state at Fort Griswold. You might call them the Bookend Battles and it could be noted that Arnold was the only general to command troops on each side.

The first engagement, coming two years after “the shot heard round the world” in Massachusetts, saw Benedict Arnold as one of three generals leading the Americans who were mobilized after the British came ashore and burned provisions stored for the rebels in the western Connecticut town of Danbury. He acted heroically then.

But four years later, after a disgruntled Arnold—a Connecticut native–switched sides, it would be a different story.

In the campaign that included the Battle of Fort Griswold, sometimes known as the Battle of Groton Heights, Arnold’s troops also marched through New London on the opposite side of the Thames River, routing forces at the thinly defended Fort Trumbull at the river’s mouth before torching the city.

Today, the only outward sign of the struggle is on the Groton side, where visitors can walk through the preserved battle site and an adjacent museum.

At Ridgefield, a good place to get a focus on the battle and the series of skirmishes that ran through the town is at the Keeler Tavern Museum, where guided tours are offered. While there, don’t forget to look at the British cannon ball still lodged in the wall.

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Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park

Groton, Connecticut

Open seasonally

860- 449-6877

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Keeler Tavern Museum

132 Main St.

Ridgefield, Connecticut

Phone: 203-438-5485
Email: info@keelertavernmuseum.org

 

 

 

 

Connecticut’s Samuel Huntington Helped Found a Nation

 

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Samuel Huntington had a limited formal education, yet he rose from humble beginnings in eastern Connecticut to the very pinnacle of national power.  And he did so in most trying times. Three of his brothers were sent to Yale in preparation for careers in the ministry, but not Samuel—the fourth of ten children. At age 16, he was apprenticed to a cooper, a craftsman in Colonial America who fashioned wood into shapes that would be used in the making of barrels. Barrels were important in the merchant economy, but Samuel Huntington would spend his life shaping something more significant, more lasting. Instead, he would help shape a young nation.

Huntington would study law, using books borrowed from the library of Rev. Ebenezer Devotion, his father-in-law, and others borrowed from local lawyers.  Through the early years, he continued to help his father on the family farm in what today is Scotland, Connecticut.

At 27, he was admitted to the bar, moved to Norwich and launched a political career that would propel him to national prominence in the struggle to achieve independence from England and in the challenging early years of the young republic.

In 1779, he assumed the presidency of the Continental Congress, serving in that capacity until 1781 when ill health forced his resignation and return to his home state.

During his tenure, the Articles of Confederation, our nation’s first basic governing document, was adopted and the name United States accepted.  Because of that, some believe it was he, and not George Washington, who was the first president of the United States. Whether that is the case or not, he was a consequential figure in the formation of our country.

The Articles, allowing for decentralized governing authority with broad powers given the states, proved ineffective to meet the challenges of the young nation. It continued in force until the United States Constitution took effect in 1789.

In addition to his national service, Huntington’s long record of public service includes key positions in his home state, including ten years as governor.  As governor, Huntington presided over the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, becoming the fifth to do so in on Jan. 9, 1788. He had returned home, but was still serving his country.

Today his home is a museum that welcomes visitors between May and October each year.  Finely restored, it offers an opportunity to walk through the rooms where one of our nation’s early statesmen spent his formative years.

The Huntington Homestead

36 Huntington Road (Route 14)

Scotland, Connecticut

(860) 456-8381

 

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