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The History and People of Connecticut
© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini

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Historical Review 1.12   
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Native Americans

          Connecticut has been home to humans for over 10,000 years. This time period has been categorized into four eras of Native American history: Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland, and Historic. The first people to live in Connecticut were the Paleo-Indians. After the last ice age, these people migrated across the land bridge Alaska shared with Asia and settled in the Northeast. They lived a nomadic lifestyle, surviving by hunting animals and gathering plants and nuts. They migrated to different locations throughout the year in search of food and made camps in river and stream valleys. Using primitive weapons and moving with the seasons, the Paleo-Indians learned to survive in the harsh Northeastern weather and were able to sustain themselves for thousands of years.

          The Archaic Period, which lasted from about 9,000 to 3,000 years ago, saw significant changes in the Native peoples' environment and way of life. The climate warmed and became more hospitable to diverse plants and animals. The abundance of edible plants and animals helped sustain larger human populations. The Archaic Indians lived similarly to the Paleo-Indians. They were still nomadic, often returning to the same camps on a seasonal basis. They hunted and gathered food, which was more abundant; therefore easier to find. The major change in ancient Indian life came during the Woodland period.

            The Woodland Period, lasting from 3,000 to 400 years ago, witnessed many Native American advances. Tools and pottery became more sophisticated, the bow and arrow was invented, and plants were domesticated. These improvements allowed for even larger populations than during the Archaic period. Instead of temporary camps, villages were created, ending the seasonal nomadic routine. Corn, beans, and squash were grown to compliment the hunted and gathered food.

          Connecticut's modern Indians are defined as the tribes who occupied the area during the time of European exploration and settlement in the 17th century. There were as many as sixteen different Native American tribes in Connecticut.(1) These people lived in small villages, were partly nomadic, and depended on agriculture. They first felt the presence of Europeans before they actually arrived in their area. In 1633, small pox spread throughout the Connecticut Indian population after being transmitted to the Indians of Massachusetts by Europeans. From this point on, European contact only brought the Native Americans more disease, warfare, and encroachment that decimated their population. Many of the Indians fled, while others assimilated. Presently there are five Indian Reservationsin Connecticut, although the majority of people in Connecticut with Native American heritage don't live on reservations.

Native American Tribes

  • Paugasetts (Fairfield County)
  • Siwanogs (Fairfield County)
  • Quinnipiacs (New Haven)
  • Tunixis (Hartford)
  • Podunk (Hartford)
  • Poquinok (Hartford)
  • Nipmuks (northeast)
  • Mohegans (northeast)
  • Pequots (Coastal-Thames River)

Colonial Connecticut: From the Dutch to the English Settlers

          The Dutch, who were interested in setting up trade with the Native Americans, were the first Europeans to explore the area that is now Connecticut. In 1614, Adrien Block was sent up the Connecticut River in search of a trading location. The Dutch set up a trading post, called the House of Good Hope, at present-day Hartford in 1633. Their interest was not that of settlement, but of new trade opportunities. Conversely, the English settlers of Massachusetts were primarily concerned with settlement, and were soon spreading into the Connecticut area. The English colonists first began to explore the Connecticut lands in 1632, and within a year, settlers had arrived. The first English settlers came from Plymouth, Massachusetts and created the town of Windsor. The winter was harsh, and many returned to Massachusetts. However, more colonists arrived in the spring, and the settlement continued to grow. The towns of Hartford and Wethersfield were founded soon after. Known as the River Towns, Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield, became the focal point of Connecticut settlement during the early 17th century, and provided migrants for other Connecticut towns.

          Early Connecticut settlement patterns followed two distinct routes, along the Connecticut River and along the coast. The first coastal towns included Saybrook, New Haven, Milford, Greenwich, Fairfield, New London, and Stonington. Native American relations and border disputes dictated the expansion of the coastal and river settlements. The land north of Windsor was claimed by both Connecticut and Massachusetts, so settlers ran the risk of being caught in a border dispute. The colonists did not have peaceful relations with the Natives who lived south of Windsor, so settlement did not spread to there until 1646.(2) Towns began to grow more rapidly as the Native Americans left the area, resulting in the creation of 24 new towns between 1650 and 1720. Most of the towns were in the Connecticut River Valley and were inhabited by settlers from the towns of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield.

Population (1790)
Other European
          The early settlers of Connecticut were very homogeneous, originally migrating from the counties of southeastern, southwestern, northern, and central England. The majority of these people were farmers and servants; smaller percentages were craftsmen. The population remained overwhelmingly English during the 18th century, but by 1790, Connecticut was home to a significant number of Scottish settlers. Scots were present in Connecticut during the early

Colonial period, which is reflected in the Scottish settlement of Scotland, founded near Windham in 1700. However, the majority of Scottish settlers arrived later in the 18th century. By 1790, there were over 6,000 Scots in Connecticut.

Connecticut During the Revolution

          Connecticut was home to both pro-England supporters (Tories/Loyalists) and patriots. The strong Puritan base and the colony's reliance on self-government created many hostilities towards British rule. The people of Connecticut reacted in severe opposition to the Stamp Act, Sugar Act, and the Townshend Duties, all of which were taxes implemented by England on the Colonies during the 1760s. There was also a strong pro-England movement in the western part of Connecticut, which was home to a large population of Anglicans (adherents to the Church of England). Loyalty in Connecticut could be viewed regionally; the strongest Loyalist contingency lied in the west, and the strongest anti-British sentiment was found in the east.

          In 1766, the eastern anti-England contingency had taken over the Council, shifting the power away from the Loyalists. From this point on, Connecticut showed its support for the colonies by participating in the non-importation movement, where the colonists boycotted British goods. Further support was shown when Connecticut supported Massachusetts during the Boston Tea Party incident.

          After the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776, Connecticut's Tories were identified and disarmed. Over 1,000 Loyalists fled to New York to escape harsh treatment in Connecticut.(3) Once the war began, Connecticut contributed men and provisions for the war effort. Known as the "Provision State," Connecticut supplied food, including corn, rye, wheat, oats, barley, flax, vegetables, and fruit from the fertile Thames River Valleys.(4) Clothing, gunpowder and other weaponry were also among Connecticut's contributions.

          Connecticut was not home to prolonged military engagements, only small battles. Benedict Arnold's attack on New London in 1781 became Connecticut's most famous battle. During this attack, eighty people at Fort Griswold were killed and the town of New London was destroyed. Connecticut's Navy achieved more success than its troops, capturing over forty British ships throughout the duration of the war. Connecticut privateers, who were legally sanctioned pirates, captured hundreds of British ships and confiscated both men and booty in the name of war.

          Connecticut's representatives, Roger Sherman, Oliver Ellsworth, and William Samuel Johnson, were essential to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia following the war. Sherman's proposed "Connecticut Compromise" was crucial in breaking a deadlock at the convention. The compromise set up what we know today as the House of Representatives and the Senate. Connecticut was the fifth state to ratify the constitution, officially joining the union in January of 1788.

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(1) Bruce Fraser. "Connecticut to 1763," Laptop Encyclopedia of Connecticut History, <www.ctheritage.org/encyclopedia.htm>
Albert E. Van Dusen, Connecticut, (New York: Random House, 1961), 53.
(3) Fraser.
(4) David M. Roth. Connecticut: A Bicentennial History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979), 95.

By Rickie Lazzerini

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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